Friday, September 28, 2012

From the inside, out.

     There has been a "strange nexus in the Force" this week, as many things I've been reading, and hearing, have pointed in (primarily) the same direction. The first was aninterview with two leaders among, what are called, the "New Evangelicals". One was Jim Daly, the new president of Focus on the Family; the other was Gabe Lyons a younger man who is the founder of a sort of TED-like group called "Q: Ideas for the Common Good". Daly was picked to follow upon Focus's founder, James Dobson. Lyons was brought up in Lynchburg, VA, the home of Jerry Falwell's church and college (Liberty University) -- and he was a product of all that Lynchburg offered.
      In the interview, both men realized that the presentation of Christianity that they had inherited was increasingly viewed with suspicion (especially among the younger generation), and was not necessarily what THEY understood the Christian message truly to be about. Daly pointed out that his organization had been "gentle to those inside" and "harsh to those outside" the faith-boundaries. And, he observed, Jesus' behavior was exactly the opposite: calling to task the "religious" folks, and welcoming those from without the fold. He suggested that members of religious traditions (in his, case, certainly, Christians) should spend more time calling their own to faithfulness instead of lambasting the culture for not living up to the standards the faithful themselves couldn't achieve.
      I have also been reading the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles. This is a story of the early expansion of the Christian movement in the first few decades after the death of Jesus. In a couple of places, the apostle Paul (and his message) comes into contact with significant centers of Greco-Roman culture: Athens and Ephesus. Athens, of course, was a center of learning and philosophy; Ephesus a great trade center, as well as cultic center for the goddess Artemis. In Athens, Paul observes (with some disappointment) how many "idols" dotted the city (Acts 17.22-32). Yet, in his speech to the citizens, he doesn't criticize the Athenians, but rather starts with their propensity to religiosity. That approach generates some dialogue. In Ephesus, the story was a bit different (Acts 19.23-41). After spending several years there, the early Christian community had been successful enough that, for some reason, some of the business folks felt threatened enough to stir up a mob. There is no indication in Acts that the Christians were being critical of the Artemis cult; they were apparently just keeping to themselves, but living a lifestyle that, itself, was perceived as a threat, perhaps because it was more attractive than the civic religion.
        The third part of the nexus is simply all the political advertising to which we've been subjected these last few weeks (and which will only intensify over the next few). Both sides are spending vast amounts of money criticizing the other. Significantly fewer ads trumpet successes. The theory seems to be "Create fear of the other! And then we'll have a large group of fearful people who will vote the same way, although they may agree on little else!"
       What are our own (individual and collective) strengths and weaknesses? Maybe focusing there might be a good idea. Who knows, if our own house were more attractive, we might get more visitors? Or, put another way, perhaps if we tend to our inner workings, we may get to the point where we can fly? 

Chaplain Gary

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