People are hungry–is the church feeding them?

NOTE:  I’m going to be blogging over at Patheos, at least for a few months.  If you’re a Patheos regular, welcome to my blog, I’m a pastor, teacher, author, writing about how Christ changes everything.

“Today’s generation are demonstrably less content, and consequently less optimistic, than those that went before. They work longer hours, with less security, and less chance of leaving behind the social background into which they were born. They fear crime, social breakdown, overdevelopment, environmental collapse. They do not believe that the future will be better than the past. Individually, they are less constrained by class and convention than their parents or grandparents, but more constrained by law, surveillance, state proscription and personal debt. Their physical health is better, their mental health more fragile. Nobody knows what is coming. Nobody wants to look.”

This quote isn’t from a Christian apocalyptic web site; it’s from something called the Dark Mountain manifesto, which is a “Global movement of writers, artists, craftspeople and workers with practical skills who have stopped believing in the stories our civilization tells itself…” The very name is enough to assure you that this is not a Christian movement.  But, like the idols on the hillside of Athens, we would do well to take a look, because the reality is that the longings people have are important.

There’s truth here. We are living in an age where the systems we’ve long trusted in are, at the very least, being shaken to their core.  We’re learning that bubbles don’t expand forever, that credit needs to be repaid, and that bankers aren’t inherently less fallen than government workers.  Some people are even beginning to question the holy grail of economics by asking whether endless growth, endless shopping, the endless creation of new products, is good or if, in fact, it might be a main source of our troubles.

The Dark Mountain people are asking these questions.  The questions make people uncomfortable because most of us reading a blog like this one prosper from the systems that are in place.  We have abundance, clean water, fancy phones, the chance to golf and ski, the possibility of going to a doctor when we’re sick.  In short, we’re at the top of the pile.  As a result, most of the political conversations transpiring have to do with how we keep revive the existing machines of our economy.  Then, along come the wacky Dark Mountain people – and if I stop for two seconds and listen, I realize that though there’s much with which I disagree, there are some good longings in the midst of their rants.  For they believe:

1. Our consumerist world has lots of oppressive structures inherent in it. Whether it’s the way my phone is manufactured, or the way industrial agriculture is squeezing out small farmers, or the way human trafficking remains common, or the tragic rape and famine crisis unfolding in Somalia; all of it means that there are oceans of suffering in our world, and not all of it is the result of natural disasters.

2. We’re made for peace, and relationships, and justice. Go ahead and mock them if you like, but the Dark Mountaineers are articulating longings that point exactly towards the reign of Christ, for Jesus is called the prince of peace.  He’s the one whose reign will put an end to war.  We’re made for relationships.  He’s the one who will throw a giant party at the end of time, with the best food and wine.  We’re made for justice because when Christ reigns, we’re told, the days of one person planting and another eating will be gone forever.  People will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors, rather than having an overlord enjoy the fruits while they work for subsitance wages, or less.

So, don’t be too hard them. I think they realize that the industrialized machine that western civilization has become is both unjust and unsustainable.  You can argue with their conclusions, but not, at the very least, with their longings.  I fear that some of us who follow Christ have killed our longings for peace, relationships, a clean healthy environment, and justice.  Violence?  Collateral damage?  The deaths of children?  Waterboarding?  “That’s just the way it is in a world of terrorism,” we tell ourselves.   And so it goes – we buy and sell, and watch Glee, or the World Series – and think that as a long as we’re in Bible study we’re following Jesus.  I’m glad a few people are standing up and saying:  “The World is Broken…”

There’s Deception there.… My heart breaks when people have the right longings, and are asking the right questions, but are strident in their conviction that Jesus is NOT the answer.  This, I believe, will be the great deception marking the end of history.  A leader, or leaders, will come along who will tap into the nearly universal longings we have for peace, safety, space in our lives for relationships, and ‘enough’ for food, shelter, clothes.  This leader will cast the vision, open the door, and invite people in, and it will all sound o so convincing and, if the times are desperate enough, be o so appealing. But without Christ? Hopeless.  Like Satan, the promise of life, will eventuate in the fruit of death.  There can be no beautiful Kingdom of God, without the beautiful King – Jesus himself.

But here’s the biggest tragedy of all.  Many of these people who are asking the right questions want nothing to do with Jesus because they’ve seen him misrepresented by His followers. Crusades? Slavery? Anti-Semitism?  Why should they sign on to life with Christ?

Because of this dark history, it’s vital that we claim to follow Christ take seriously both his vision for a beautiful kingdom our calling to make his reign visible here and now. This will affect our buying and selling, our vocation and vacation, our practices of hospitality and solitude.  May we sink deep into the ethics of Jesus so that we can display justice, mercy, joy, simplicity, and care for the blessed earth that is our home during these amazing days.  If we do, maybe some dark mountain types will come to see that Jesus, rather than deep-ecology, is the great hope.

I welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • GM

    Richard –

    Reading this, I feel like I’m at shore of the Jordan with a bunch of other folks from the city and environs, listenting to this camel-clad, locust-eating truth teller whose words pierce to the division of joint and marrow. Thanks for this clarion call.

    From Luke 3 (NASB, thanks to http://www.biblegateway.com for its key word search capability!) … “8 Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say [c]to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” 11 And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” 12 And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”

    What shall WE do, here at the banks of our waters?

    • Richard Dahlstrom

      I think it starts with having the courage to ask these hard questions, and my fear is that too many are afraid to ask. Having said that, I also believe that, as in the days of Elijah, there are many, unseen to the naked eye, who’ve not bowed to the idols and are asking these questions. My prayer and hope is that God will show us to each other so that we can cross the Jordan together.

  • Megan

    Beautiful. You’ve eloquently expressed many of the questions I’ve been asking for decades. And those outwardly representing Christianity (politicians, talk-show hosts, certain famous pastors, etc.) do lead many to reject Jesus. Can’t blame them. If all I knew about Jesus came from certain Republicans past and present I’d be an atheist.
    But most of those I know who ask really good questions and are turned off by Christians do love Jesus. They just believe that the Church and church members misrepresent Jesus. They balk at the economic and racial segregation in churches (try dressing like a poor person and walk into a wealthy church or visa versa). They balk at the hypocracy (especially things like “pro-lifers” who advocate for the death penalty and environmental destruction that is incredibly anti-life). Modern churches often resemble farisees and saducees more than Jesus.


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