Although there is not much in general these days that one can say about the church, perhaps the clearest sign we have of change is the ever-widening gap between what I will dub the still too common, “Sunday morning church-building crowd” and all the new faith movements including, for example, Emergents, Neo-monastics, Evangelicals 4 Justice, NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies) and Jesus Radicals,* (with homage to this faith lineage including organizations like, Evangelicals for Social Action, Sojourners, Mennonite Central Committee, etc.). What most of the Sunday morning crowd doesn’t get that other faith expressions are seeking to learn about, is authenticity. Part and partial of knowing the authentic Jesus is having a primary concern for the poor and marginalized.
God’s concern for the poor and marginalized is central to the success of creating new communities of shalom and shalom is how God desires us all to live. Jesus’ teachings, life, death and resurrection were all about living in and living out shalom community of creation (kingdom). There is no authentic community of Christian faith where shalom is not intentional. There can be no shalom where justice for the poor and marginalized is ignored. Those who are following Jesus therefore, must be directly involved with justice for the poor and marginalized. If not, they are following someone or something else, less authentic than Jesus and far less than God’s shalom intentions for the world.
Unfortunately, I did not attend Woodstock, although I wanted to be there. I was however, part of the Woodstock Generation and I remember the feelings associated with the event and my generation. It was more than a concert and some radical speakers. It was an awakening to the injustices surrounding us, and a call to a more authentic life and world. I can still sense the angst and rage over the war in Vietnam; I remember the hope we all had of a better day, even daring to hope for a world at peace where no one is hungry or marginalized; I recall the general feeling that everything could in our lifetimes, become and do what is “right.” In those days, we were seeking shalom, although we didn’t know it. Shalom for us then was described, in the words of Billy Preston, ”that’s the way God planned it, that’s the way God wants it to be.” Those feelings were real and obvious, and able to be felt by everyone. The feelings evoked during the “Woodstock Generation” and the urgency to act on those feelings has never left me because at its core, it is what is real and what is right, God’s shalom intentions for God’s world.
When I spoke at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina this past June I was surprised by observing the number of people my age and even older. There were lots of younger people present too, but for some reason I was particularly struck by how many older folks came out for this event. After some initial teasing, (something about bran and that I hadn’t felt so young since the last Bruce Cockburn concert I attended), I asked a serious question. “How many of you people around my age still want to change the world?” Every hand went up, some with big smiles, some with serious intent and even a few with tears in their eyes. My take-away from that mental picture is that Jesus was there, and he is up to something special…Maybe it is not too late to change the world.
In this cynical, snarky world we live in we are getting pretty good at diagnosing the problems, sometimes even to the point of paralysis. What is needed now is direct action chipping away at the systems and structures of oppression. The Jesus community must be actively present wherever oppression, marginalization and exploitation of the disenfranchised exist! The American and Euro-western church has spent the past 500 years creating and fostering a dualistic and abstract theology that was followed by a wake of injustice, violence, oppresssion and individualism. I believe that church and that theology is dying. Hopefully one day soon, the oppressive, violent, dualistic, individualistic church, (that I contributed to) will be only a confession on our lips that we use to check ourselves from becoming arrogant. So what is being birthed now?
From where I sit it appears to be a messy, blundering, almost leaderless, bunch of communities who want to focus on the real, authentic Jesus: The Jesus who was born in a stable in the midst of mouse poop and camel spit; The Jesus who grew up in the poor hillbilly region of Galilee; The Jesus who hung out with prostitutes, Gentiles, beggars and other disenfranchised people; The Jesus who radically spoke out against the oppression of both the Roman occupied government and his own nationalistic and religious contexts; The Jesus who died with criminals and loves everyone just the same, even the ones who oppress and kill the voice of authenticity. This sounds just like the kind of communities for which God has been waiting to arise. And it appears that there are two generations alive right now who want the same things.
If you want to get a sense of what this kind of stirring around the authentic Jesus looks like, you should attend one of the emerging festivals and get a mental snap shot for yourself. Like me, I think you will find “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Since I am most familiar with Wild Goose I’ll highlight the upcoming Wild Goose West Coast, Aug.31st -Sept 2nd near Corvallis, OR.
We are a community creating a festival at the intersection of justice, spirituality and art. The first festival took place in June 2011; the next one is August 31-September 2. We take inspiration from many places, such as Greenbelt, Burning Man, the Iona Community, SXSW, and others. The festival is open to everyone; we don’t censor what can be said; we invite respectful – but fearless – conversation and action for the common good.
I also recently discovered another festival with similar themes called Creative World Festival to be held Aug. 10-12 in Mission, British Columbia. http://www.creativeworldfestival.org/
Perhaps you know of other similar festivals or movements who are on the journey to discovering, or recovering, Jesus in his authenticity. If so, please list them below so they can be a resource for us all.
In the end, we all know a simple festival is not going to change the world, but celebrating the changes being made with other communities on this journey, and encouraging tangible, intervening justice for the poor and marginalized will make a change in us and perhaps in our communities. I know this much. Jesus is up to something in our world, he’s trying to change it…Jesus is asking who is with him on the journey, and through smiles and tears, I’m raising my hand!
*I recognize there is overlap both ways between the organized church and emerging movements, but the generalization still generally applies. The “Sunday morning church building crowd” is waning fast and the defection includes the de-churched (dropouts for many reasons), and the miserably churched (those who are still sporadically attending, but are frustrated). I meet them increasingly more, everyday.
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