Monday, April 14, 2008

The new energy crisis

Slightly northwest of my home near thawing Lake Huron stands a mammoth windmill. This attempt at the greening of our energy needs was raised skyward a couple years ago, but has yet to work. It just sits there, towering over cattle that seem as baffled by this overgrown propeller Popsicle as the rest of us.

This recent move to harness the wind seems like the “Wal-Marting” of the old mom and pop windmills that occupied a space on many farms for generations. The problem with this particular megaton man-toy is that, apparently, no one thought through how it might connect to the grid. So there it stands, monumental and motionless, a reminder that we’re still trying to figure things out.

There are parallel realities facing this new energy crisis and the forms of church life we know. Our fast-moving, power-sucking culture is being forced to figure out new ways and forms. This is good, but it will take time. Furthermore, there appears to be a rediscovery of what the ancients already knew—hence, windmills.

In our churches an equally profound and confounding shift is taking place. Much church life these days seems disappointing, frustrating and tired. A few generations ago we, in the words of the late British prime minister Winston Churchill, shaped our buildings and then they shaped us. Many of the forms we have relied on for passing on the faith are burning us out, sucking us dry, and lack signs of life transformation. One generation can’t figure out why no one will step up and another can’t understand why anyone would want to. Much of what we’re doing is proving unsustainable for a new world where the church is increasingly on the margins. The church has its own energy crisis.

Allow me to propose a blueprint for moving forward:
• First, we must rediscover the gospel and the Holy Spirit. Jesus and his good news do not change. He, his cross, his kingdom and the breath of the Spirit are our true energy. We are not going to program or politically manoeuvre our way out of this. We need a miracle!
• Second, we must resist the temptation to over-reliance on what we know. No forms will ever adequately contain the power of God. In fact, they might hinder it once we entrench them and become blind to the fact that they’re no longer hooked to the grid.
• Third, at the heart of every form (program, gathering, household and life) must be disciple-making. If we aren’t making disciples, we’re not being disciples. Many of our forms keep us busy but really don’t form radically obedient disciples of Jesus who have picked up their crosses to follow him and usher in the kingdom wherever they go.
• Fourth, we must learn from ancients and currents. Most of what we’re frustrated with has been found wanting previously and renewal has always come from those able to harness the wind for a new day. We can gain courage and creativity by looking back and by being students of current fresh movements of the Spirit, which are often found where we’re not looking.
• Fifth, we must remember that God’s focus is people. Our forms should serve people, people shouldn’t serve forms. God loves people and uses forms; we must be wary of loving forms and using people.
• Sixth, we must return to our knees. It is pathetic how much of what we do is done with nothing more than token prayer. Having erected our forms with our hands, we rarely call on God to stretch out his. No wonder we have an energy crisis.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

When the Mighty Fall

Baron Black of Crossharbour has downsized his living arrangements from mansion to prison cell. Conrad Black, newspaper mogul, king of the hobnob, British citizen – who voluntarily revoked his Canadian citizenship in protest because then Prime Minister Jean Chretien would not bless his call to peerage in the British House of Lords – is now bringing the Ritz to an American penitentiary for fraud. He is a man of varied international abode.

In Canada Black’s little visit to the big house makes front page headlines in the very national rag he founded. Even more fun, Conrad has become a smug, stuffy, and rich punching bag for columnists and comedians alike. Smug is brought low and we’re all gleefully amused by his Icarus-like fall from the heights.

From Lord Black and Enron to Martha Stewart and Brittany Spears this culture that worships Mammon boisterously celebrates the removal of any ahead of us at the altar. Of course, each of these vilified corporate/celebrity monsters broke the law or, in Spears case, abundantly show that make-up hides more than first imagined and sexy clothes don’t reveal nearly enough. These are troubled souls who seem convinced they are above the law and abuse wealth while schmoozing with people like them, who probably don’t really like them at all. Meanwhile, the rest of us feast on check-out aisle paparazzi and sensationalism, gorging our morbid curiosities and need for a distraction from our own inconsistencies and wishful thinking. Black’s fall makes us feel less concerned with our own shortcomings.

I have no desire to defend what the Baron of Crossharbour has done; far from it. He is the glossy poster-boy of wealth, power, injustice and selfishness run amuck. Yet, at the same time I find myself mourning for Conrad and his ilk wondering, what is a true Christ-centered response to these modern day Zacchaeuses and Rich Young Rulers?

Jesus’ interaction with professional level criminals like Zacchaeus was strikingly straight-forward and redemptive. He never ignored his misguided idolatry nor the need for abundance to be generously and justly shared, but at the same time he didn’t protest outside his doors. Instead he entered them. He walked into relationship, supping in Zaccheaus’ lap of luxury for the sake of redemption. In the case of the Rich Young Ruler he looked with compassion, even pity, on humanity crippled by a lie and curse.

So, as our culture – and even some in the Church – enjoy watching the mighty fall, I am wondering how my response can be more redemptive, grace-filled, and compassionate without abandoning the prophetic call to new life and new living in and because of Christ. How, pray tell, will evil become righteous without a willingness of those graciously redeemed to see rich and poor, oppressed and oppressor, prince and pauper through the eyes of Jesus who compassionately and prophetically related to the one and championed the unfathomable need of the other. Both, it seems from the life of the Son of God, deserved to be loved and freed in opposite directions – directions that converged in his abundance and his poverty.