The stories being written in the world this week, can seem to be ones that tells of a declining mess. Perhaps nothing sharper than the disqualification of the U.S. Little League Champions from Chicago, for recruiting violations, speaks more to that fact than any other. A team of mostly, pre-pubescent children, put together through the deceitfulness of adults; for the purpose of winning baseball games. Deflate-gate, Jerry Rice’s stickem, NBC news anchor, Brian Williams with the sniper fire story, Lance Armstrong about his honest admission that he’d cheat again…that’s just one week of trivial news.
There is this drive within us to have a perfect story. We want to be great, popular, heroic, to think we can change the world and yet in the aftermath of those items mentioned above, we are left to wonder what is actually true and what is truth really worth. Ask any of these people and they would likely tell you they were doing what they thought was right at the time, given the pressures and desire to succeed. What it actually reveals is that none of us, even little league parents and coaches, have the capacity to truly do what is right and to take right action accordingly. These events (without even touching the tragic reality of terrorism) serve to contradict one of the foundational premises of the book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy: “It is for each of us to follow our own sense of rightness about where we feel called to act.” (p.28) Each of those stories involved choices by people that they felt were in accordance with their own sense rightness at the time.
However, the fact that we each, undeniably, sense that the world is in need of some form of rescue, healing or redemption is nonetheless true. Whether we are willing to subscribe to adventure of The Great Turning described by the authors, Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone, or not, we must certainly agree to the need for a greater, transcendent narrative through which we can participate towards addressing the ills of this world:
- “The question “How could the Great Turning happen through me?” invites a different story to flow through us. This type of power happens through our choices, through what we say and do and are.” (p.113)
- “When a deeper purpose acts through people, a special kind of bond can arise between them.” (p.206)
- “When we identify with something larger than ourselves, whether that be our family, a circle of friends, a team, or a community, that becomes part of who we are.” (p.90)
Too often, those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, become proponents of withdrawing from the difficulties and dangers of society. They spend time, money and energy creating predictable schedules, routines and services that have little or no impact on the needs of the community around them. The result, over the last number of decades is that church buildings are emptier than ever before, at least in our north American contexts. More tragically, people who claim to follow Christ are demonstrating little difference in their social choices than those who don’t. (While there has been a media campaign in favour of the 50 Shades of Grey movie and corresponding publicity against it, the sad reality is that the book was read (according to Barna research) by the same percentage of Christians as not. Will that change with the movie, we’ll see).
A number of years ago, I read a book called The Church of Irresistible Influence, by Arkansa pastor, Robert Lewis. This one quote has challenged me ever since I read it: “The boredom and restlessness seen everywhere in the church, I believe, is due primarily to the smallness of our purpose.” Perhaps we, as church leaders, are guilty of making God’s REALLY BIG redemptive plan for our world, too small. Perhaps we have failed to address the God-given capacity within people to be part of something bigger than themselves. It is within this framework that I would consider some of the information in Active Hope to be worthy of consideration.
The western preoccupation with selfie, self-promotion and individualization coupled with consumeristic immediate gratification where the filling of calendars have become our trophies pushes us far from the call of Jesus to sacrificially give ourselves, together with others, to demonstrating real compassion toward those who suffer, those who cannot speak for themselves and those in need. If we only rely on our own sense of good, we will fall short. However, if we allow our perspective to be shaped by God’s Grand Narrative then we will be swept into an eternal adventure that will provide endless stories to share.
Jesus once said that, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) He never promised easy. He never promised temporal success. But as we depend on Him for our example and empowerment, we can learn the essence of humble, resolute, perseverance despite resistance, evil or failure. In this, Macy and Johnstone would agree, for they also recognize the benefits of failure in the adventurous journey of The Great Turning:
“Rather than seeing frustration and failure as evidence that we’re pursuing a hopeless cause, we can reframe them as natural, even necessary, features in the journey of social change. Why might failure and frustration be necessary parts of the journey? Because if we stick only with what we know how to do, what we’re comfortable with and confident about, we limit ourselves to the old, familiar ways rather than developing new capacities.”(p.188)
Perhaps for us, as followers of Jesus, instead of being defeated by our inability to fit God’s Grand Narrative into our weekly schedule; or wondering why our religious experience seems unappealing. Perhaps, instead, we should learn to ask some new questions, including: “What are we willing to give up?” Perhaps it is then that we will begin to recognize and appreciate the many ways in which the Redemption Story is already being written around us. Perhaps it is then that we will no longer be bored with the church but become enthusiastic, compassionate extensions as part of the body of Christ. Perhaps instead of waiting around for someone else to do something, we will eagerly anticipate joining what God is already doing around us. Perhaps we will no longer be consumed by our own dreams, but find God’s desire for all peoples of all nations to be so captivating that we begin experiencing His Grand Narrative. Perhaps then we will willingly share those stories and realize that so many others are waiting to join us.
- What changes would you have to make to step into God’s Grand Narrative?