Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Liquid Times

At the risk of sounding overly academic I’d like to invite you on a brief sociological journey.

In his book Liquid Times sociologist Zygmunt Bauman presents a very interesting picture of the age in which we live. He writes of the perilous place western civilization, indeed the whole world, finds itself in.
To summarize, Bauman points out that the “liquid” nature of society as we know it means several realities.

First, rapid change means we can’t keep up. Things morph so quickly that even well planned and well intentioned responses are outdated almost before they can be put into action.

Second, power is shifting away from local political spheres to broad globalization. We feel locally hopeless at the enormous global challenges (which is perhaps why we’re ready to elect anyone will promise us hope).

Third, this aforementioned power shift makes any sense of community sound “increasingly hollow.” That which holds us together is temporary and fleeting and we are withdrawn and estranged from those nearest to us.

Fourth, all of the above has caused us to live only for the now. We have forgotten our histories and the future. After all, anything we thought we knew feels useless given the current global challenges and rapid changes. The great new skill is being able to forget what you’ve learned.

Fifth, when it boils right down to it we are a society that has moved “the responsibility for resolving the quandaries (of this volatile age) onto the shoulders of individuals.” The individual has been saddled with the responsibility to solve problems that are beyond the capacity of politics, history, and community to solve. No wonder we are medicating ourselves to death!

Having effectively stated that what we have created is an outrageously individualized society midst a globalized and complex world, Bauman declares something paradoxically astonishing: “The future of democracy and freedom may be made secure on a planetary scale – or not at all.” What? Please pass the valium…on the rocks! In essence what this world-renowned scholar seems to be saying is that the only hope for a society with a case of hyper-micro-individualism is deliverance on the hyper-macro-scale! So, we only think about ourselves and yet are somehow to find a solution to our globalized dilemmas on a planetary level!? We’ll get right on that, right after our show is over and the beer has run out.

At first blush Bauman’s words seem startlingly impossible. And they are, until we begin to think theologically, until we think about God, his Word, and his salvation. Isn’t the essence of the mystery of the Gospel the wonder that the global solution has been revealed and this radical Good News Kingdom begins within the individual, who is then connected to a redeemed community who together reveal the wisdom of God as far out there as the heavenly realm (Eph.3:10)? Wow! God must read Bauman!

As those redeemed by grace through faith let us cling to the revealed hope that has somehow captured our very individual hearts. And, let it not stop there, let us be communions of hope, ambassadors of reconciliation, legions for peace in a world taught with a tension that cannot be resolved without Divine intervention

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Buck-licking good times

Recently my son and I saddled some bikes to explore the flora and fauna in another part of the country. To our great delight, we came upon a handful of grazing deer. Hardly bothered by our presence, this photogenic bunch, led by a relaxed buck who obviously has some thinking to do before hunting season, even allowed my son to snap some extreme close-ups. Then, astonishingly, the buck poked out his nose and licked my boy’s hand. Wonder. Smiles. Simple pleasures.

I far too often complicate and petrify life. I can even do this to faith. Let’s face it, the faith and wonder of a child is quickly lost as we grow. I hesitate calling such growth “maturing” because, really, the most mature ones I know have an infectious wonder of simple things. They seem to revel in buck-licking good times.

As the church these days seeks to respond to a world with the dry heaves, we can—even in our call for simplicity (a mesmerizing Mennonite pastime)—lose sight of simple pleasures. Instead of receiving life as a gift, and celebrating the joy of breath beneath the benevolent gaze of our creator and his lavish love in Christ for struggling sinners, we heap guilt trips on the faithful. I confess I can be found wanting here.

In our grand attempts to “save the world” we feverishly tie Pharisaical burdens on people that neither we, nor our ancestors, can carry. Many voices like mine, while hopefully saying some important things, are at risk of making faith a joyless, guilt-infused trip into some religious wasteland. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket and we’re happy to place blame. Unwittingly, grace, hope, joy and love begin playing second fiddle to our laments, complaints and new legalisms. Church is seen as a problem rather than the bride of God’s great delight.

Calm down, I still believe our following of Jesus should be marked by radical differences, but shouldn’t joy and enjoyment be part of a Christ-centred life too?

Think the Scriptures through with me. Nehemiah reminds the sorrowful Jews to stop their blubbering and celebrate because of the joy of the Lord (Nehemiah 8). Ecclesiastes calls us to enjoy simple things like food, drink, friendship, marriage and love. Even sex gets a wink of approval; ever tried to read Song of Songs without smirking?

And what about Jesus, who unashamedly hangs out at uncouth parties and employs things like treasures, lilies, fields and fluttering sparrows to reveal the heart of God. His first miracle was intended to keep a party going, not end it. His last miracle did not transform his slain body into some other-worldly, higher-plane, world-bashing avatar. No, the resurrected Lord seems at home on the beach grilling fish and enjoying redeeming friendship. The Lord’s Supper, which we take with great seriousness, is celebrated in simple things: bread, wine and company. Even Paul’s communion instruction to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 11), although steeped in strong corrective language, reveals an unwillingness to wait for each other and recognize the simple wonder of being saved by faith together.

So can we lighten up a little, please? Is it okay to smile and enjoy God’s good gifts? Can we have some more buck-licking good times? Or has life and faith as we know it become far too serious to make room for a Lord who lavishes and laughs?