Friday, June 05, 2009

A time to blow your top

Capulin Volcano is, quite literally, a freak of nature. Its scrubby bump rises high and imposing above the treeless and sparsely populated grasslands that sprawl across the northeast corner of New Mexico.

The drive to the top of this U.S. national monument is hair-raising. The view is spectacular. You catch sight of Texas and the panhandle of Oklahoma to the east, the expanse of New Mexico to the south, the snow-capped Rockies to the west, and Colorado to the north.

My family hiked the path that circles the top of this lava mountain and my sons and I then descended into its centre. The ancient crater is littered with large boulders—petrified, silent witnesses of an epic cataclysm. The massive hole looks like a monstrous megaphone. In fact, from within the pit our voices, even at a whisper, were heard by the rest of the family far above at the volcano’s lip. And it struck me: the church is like Capulin Volcano.

I am convinced the world longs to hear what the church says, although the message we bear is often not welcome. Peace at all costs cannot be an option for a people who live a God-defined citizenship. If the church is to be volcanic and truly change the landscape, then what we have to say won’t always be appreciated.

South African missiologist David Bosch reminds us that “the church—if it is faithful to its being—will . . . always be controversial, a ‘sign that will be spoken against’ ” (Luke 2:34). The existence of a creator; the gospel call to repentance; the uniqueness of Jesus among all historical persons; the call to justice, righteousness and holiness; the call from idolatry and self; the call to live the new creation; and the reality of judgment on evil—these are what we have heard and must, as Jesus reminded his disciples, be ready to shout from the rooftops. The church is truly an odd bump from the world’s perspective and sometimes they want to hear what we say simply to mock us.

On the other hand, I believe that, given the chaos of the day, the world is straining to hear what Christians are saying about the times in which we live. People are searching for hope and stability in an age of upheaval. It is even assumed, sometimes more clearly by those who do not see themselves as followers of Jesus, that Christians will not simply speak what is popular or politically correct, but will contend and fight for a vision of the world diametrically opposed to that which we’re stuck with at the moment.

Have we muted ourselves? Have we forgotten that the church—the peculiar people defined by God’s word made flesh—is disturbingly volcanic? Have we forgotten that our presence, because of the Holy Spirit’s power at work in and through us, will alter the landscapes we touch?

For generations, Christians in the Mennonite tradition have been the “quiet in the land.” There is historical and some biblical warrant for such a strong, silent life, but this type of witness must be held in creative tension with the need to speak clearly of the hope we profess: to speak biblically, prophetically, counter-culturally, evangelistically and courageously, for there are many longing to hear what we’ve been whispering among ourselves.