// uh-oh.

asleepA number of my friends have finished their final exams in the past few days, and it’s always interesting watching the way in which people choose to react to this event. Broadly speaking, they tend to fall into one of two camps: those who want to get wasted, and those who want to sleep for a long, long time. Both are ways of blocking out the stress of what has gone before, and it’s understandable: few things i’ve experienced this far have been as traumatic as the finals period.

The morning after, people generally wake up and resolve to do all the things that they’ve not been able to do over the past months; eat decent food, go to the cinema, drink, sleep, play Xbox, whatever. I was the same, and it’s not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with any of these things – they’re blessings from God, and we’re fortunate to have the space to enjoy them. It’s telling, though, that our response frequently involves a retreat into comfort and luxuriance. I’ve currently had nothing to do for the past two and a half weeks, and so have built up a cosy culture of luxury that cushions me fairly well, all in the awareness that I apparently ‘need it’; given that I’m going out into the ‘real world’ soon, I will never get such a sustained period of rest ever again.

The problem with that culture of luxury is that it is profoundly, profoundly unsatisfying. There’s a reason why so many people feel directionless, even depressed, post-finals; in the tough times we end up idealising comfort, stability, luxury, and then when they eventually come, we end up feeling disconnected. We argue that selfishness, self-indulgence, will make us happy, and when we get it it’s awkward to admit that it just isn’t that much fun…

This is the great lie of a culture that argues that the individual is king. Isolation doesn’t eventually hold up. It’s lonely. It’s unsatisfying. It’s purposeless.

It’s not, in short, the way we were created to be.

There’s a reason why the Bible keeps bringing us back to the command to ‘remember’ – among many, many others, too long and too nuanced to detail here, see Deuteronomy 10-12, Isaiah 58, Micah 3-7, Habbakuk 2; see Paul’s teaching on ‘Macedonian Grace’ in 2 Corinthians 8, James’s letter, especially chapter 2; not to mention basically everything that Jesus does. This God is a God of remembrance. There’s a reason, too, why He keeps referring to Himself in the Old Testament as “the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob”; because these stories mean something, tell us something about God’s character, and it is important that God’s character is remembered again and again. There’s a reason why we are told to remember the widow, the orphan, the fatherless.

It’s because it is so easy to forget them entirely, to live in a culture of disconnection where we accept that bad things happen elsewhere and that’s sad, but we have to get on with surviving our own lives, which are hard enough as it is. As a Western church we have so many issues – with self-image, with lack of faith, with infighting and cliques, with whatever you or your church struggle with – and the reason, on some level, at least, is that we forgot. We decided that discipleship, maintenance, those were the important things, and that we needed to be ‘complete’ before we could go. We looked inwards, and not outwards…

We did just what we were told not to do, and the terrifying thing is, I’m about to do it now. Last night our student body handed out £5 notes, asking us to double that money in giving to one of two organisations, Tearfund or Heifer International. This is the morning after, and I’m in a Caffe Nero, having spent £6.50 on a new pad of paper, journal and ink cartridges and £2.10 on a cup of coffee. This isn’t the first time, either. I guarantee that I have spent over £20 on coffee alone in the past two weeks.

I have two £5 notes that were given to me, free of charge, sitting in the back of my Bible, and I’m already starting to forget the poor. It’s that easy.

Do you ever wonder why we feel so inadequate, so frightened, so selfish? Do you ever hide your bank balance when you go to a cashpoint as you don’t like to see how much you spent in the last week? Do you carry your ipod around with you everywhere you go as a way of blocking out the world around (even if you do that by playing worship music)?

I do.

And I think I know why, too. It’s because things are not right, and we – I – am scared of looking at it too closely, as that demands big questions, about this world and my place in it. I didn’t hear birds sing in three months. How’s that for disconnection?

I don’t say any of these things lightly, as they’re not easy things to say. I don’t have any real answers, either. Maybe that’s where we have to start dreaming. Try starting reading books of investigative journalism, even if they’re flawed, and start engaging. If you’ve not read them yet, read Naomi Klein’s No Logo and The Shock Doctrine. Read books like Wikinomics or Affluenza alongside your bible. Read blogs. Visit demotix, and make it a regular website on your list. Sign up to the 24-7 prayer twitter feed, blog, or youtube updates. Get informed, and then act. Pray, and then go.

Pray for wisdom as to where to act, where your God-given passions are, what screams to you as being wrong or unjust, and then pursue that. Pray for your friends; that they too will get passionate, and if they’re not Christians, pray for God to speak to them through this, that they will see the desperate need for God’s power to change things and come to know Him through that. Pray for enlightened eyes, anything, anything that stops us from being disconnected.

Give, sacrificially, of your time, of your money, of your prayer, of your conversation, until it costs. Some of our reasons for not talking about this are that ‘we just need to get through the day’. That’s fair. We can’t talk about this non-stop, no matter what you may think, and we shouldn’t be, either. But we need to be talking more, thinking more, dreaming more. We need God to transform us, and now’s as good a time as any to ask.

This shouldn’t be a faith that’s standing still. Yes, we were saved by grace alone, and it is on that fact that we are grounded, but we explain the need for transformation in our social interactions, our priorities, our sexual ethics, our morality, both out of the need to be examples to others and as a part of becoming more like God. The time is going to come when we’re going to need to be transformed in this area, too. We need to be.

Rob Bell’s flawed (but nonetheless excellent) book Jesus Wants to Save Christians, which also addresses this issue, ends with the conclusion that “this isn’t just about trying to save the world. It’s about saving ourselves. From the kingdom of comfort. From the priority of preservation. From the empire of indifference. From an exile of irrelevance.” On this, he’s right. And I don’t have many answers to any of this, but I do know this, and it scares me – something has to change.

I can’t go on like this, and neither can Christianity. It shouldn’t, and it mustn’t.

Pray with me. Now. Breathe, stop, turn away from the monitor, and pray.

I don’t know what you’ll say – that’s between you and God – but it could go something like this:

Lord God, praise You that You are good; that justice is in Your very nature; that it is only because of You that I am sitting here today at all.
Open my eyes; where I am blind, teach me to see; where I have followed along with the culture, give me wisdom to know how to act.
Equip me to speak, to act, and to pray. Shape me into Your image; teach me to carry Your message and Your love into this world.
This is hard, and I cannot do it alone. Show me what you have called me to. Give me the courage to go.
For the glory of Your name, now and forever.

And I don’t know where next. I don’t. I’m paralysed by a sense of the magnitude of the problem, and my own inadequacy. But I do know that something has to change, and this is as good a time as any to start.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked,” is how the gospel of Luke puts it.

That’s us.

So what are we going to do?

    • worshipmusicshouldsoundlikethis
    • June 13th, 2009

    i’ll post some more resources – links, podcasts, videos – here at some point soon. i’m busy collating this stuff, but i need your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas. what do you think?

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