Casey Anthony. Who is she? Why is her case important? Or, is her case important, or before that Anthony Weiner’s case, or before that some other politician or movie star, or both – why is anyone at all paying attention to this string of social pablam? And we Christians have our own diversions: “Good bye-Rob Bell”? “Eugene Peterson is the devil because he wrote the Message”. Are these conversations more important than our national fiscal crisis, or the torture of citizens in Syria by their own government, or the ongoing challenges of human trafficking in Asia, and right here in our own country? Are these stories more important than how I’m dealing with finding my calling, or how I’m dealing with my family challenges, or vocational challenges? And most significantly: Are these stories more important than my threefold calling to 1) live justly by advocating, paying attention to my lifestyle choices and affects they have, being the first to cross social dividing lines, 2) love mercy, by cultivating a heart that is quick to forgive and relentless in pursuing honest, open, and reconciling relationships, and 3) walk humbly with God, which means developing a real relationship of intimacy with God by making time for Bible reading, prayer, and receiving God’s revelation through creation, life circumstances and relationships. (I unpack all three of these much more in my new book)
I understand the value of cultural engagement, understand that we’re called “the light of the world” because we’re meant to shine into the messiness of it all, bringing beauty, hope, joy, generosity. This time, like any other time, is not a time for withdrawal. Still….
I’m increasingly concerned that we who follow Christ are wasting way too much time feasting on social and theological trivia. Like candy, our debates about the merits of “the church down the road”, or “Love Wins” or John Piper, or Casey Anthony Weiner might give us a rush but I’m the parent warning you: it’s rot your teeth, and then you won’t even be able to handle important food but will, like some early Christians, be stuck on milk forever. The author to the Hebrews reminds us that mature saints have had their senses trained to discern between good and evil. How do we train our senses?
1. By turning – and beholding
Maturity in my life and faith is ultimately bound up with maturity in my relationship with Christ. That relationship, like any relationship, requires two things:First, I need to see that I’m changed into a better person by spending time with Christ. I simply must develop habits that allow me to receive from God as God reveals Himself through His Word, through creation, through silence, and through real relationships. There are lots of reasons we struggle with this, but the main reason is that, like shiny bright lights to babies, other things call us away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”
Before I can behold, I need to turn away from everything else. Any relationship requires our offering of the gift of presence. For example, in marriage, I need to put the paper down, turn off the TV, or set aside whatever’s occupying me, before I can make eye contact. It’s the same with God; and this is where Facebook, and the social trivia bantered about on it becomes so insidious. Is it really more important to hear about national gossip than to meet with Christ? Is it really more important to debate the merits of Rob Bell’s new book than to pray? I didn’t think so. I’ve got to set some of this stuff aside if I’m going to behold.
2. By listening – and responding
As I develop habits of beholding (through coffee with God, or walking with God, or Verse of the Day as an e-mail, or whatever), God begins to speak to us. He reminds of relationships that need repairing. He invites us to confess our failures and move off the ground of shame and fear, onto the ground of boldness and confidence. He invites us to change our financial priorities, or our time use, or he speaks to us about vocational matters, or marriage, singleness, parenting matters. God, in other words, REVEALS! It’s not as clear on some days as others, but I promise you this: keep showing up, and God will bring guidance to your life.
The final piece of the puzzle is our response. We need to not just listen; we need to listen and take the next step – the step of obedience. Do you notice that this step, the last step, propels us into the culture – and once there, we’ll engage, imparting hope through acts of justice, hospitality, service, mercy. We’ll do it through art, through transformative marriages, through being vitally alive as single people, through our practice of law, or teaching, or cooking, or whatever it is that we do.
I’m not really against engaging the culture, as I hope you can see. It’s just that the cultural engagement umbrella has recently become shelter for a lot of things that aren’t that valuable. I’m pretty sure that pontificating about the fate of Rob Bell or Anthony Weiner or the church down the road isn’t a big piece of God’s pie. It might be sweet to talk about… but it’s not very good for you.
Why is social and evangelical trivia so engaging these days? How can we elevate the conversation?