Monday, March 10, 2008

Relevance and The Way

I had an email conversation with my good friend (I'll call her Liz, she wants to be anonymous,) lately about relevance and the Christian faith. It started when I left a comment on her blog. I thought I’d post the major bits of our email interchange and then offer some thoughts.

MY ORIGINAL COMMENT: “I agree with you about what you said about people trying to be relevant. However, it is not the relevant people who are concerned with this, it is the irrelevant. The relevant Christians (I like to be called a Jesus Freak, no ambiguity there) are the ones who are already in the culture, doing like Jesus did and tearing away the foundation from within.

No, leave discussions of relevance to church boards and congregations struggling to gain members. We are individually as relevant as we need to be.”

LIZ: “so according to your comment, am I irrevelent b/c I write about being relevent???”

ME: You should not worry about being relevant, that's what I intended to communicate. But if you think about it, there is some reason why you write about being relevant. It is obviously some concern in your mind. And what is relevance anyway? Is it what people care about? Who is irrelevant to you and why? Do you feel irrelevant?

The point I was trying to make was essentially this. Ignore the mean kids and they will stop picking on you. Do not allow yourself to be defined by others, cultural relevance is irrelevant. It cannot be held onto indefinitely if you can really have it at all. Of course, Jesus was relevant to his time, however, he transcended that to shake the foundations of what religion really is. The only rule he played by was he Jewish law, but he made all the rules anyway. Be like Jesus.

If you are trying to be relevant, you are essentially seeking popularity and I thought, as adults, we should have given up on that sort of thing already. Be a force, be a movement, lead, the sheep will try to be relevant to you. Don't be a sheep (in the world-type way.)

If I haven't thoroughly confused you, I'll try again later.”

LIZ: “a little confused, but I think I get most of what you are trying to say. I don't think it's a "popularity" thing to want to be relevant. At least from the angle that I'm looking at it from. I don't think you can reach people by not being relevant. So, take Josh for instance, he as a youth pastor can be totally isolated from the world and be in a spiritual cocoon with great relationships with other believers, but if he wants to relate to the kids, he needs to understand the culture in which they live. I call that being relevant. Knowing the people that you want to reach, and showing them how to seek God from the way that they see him. I guess you can call this being shallow, knowing that Britney Spears is having a melt down is not worthy or good- but when that fact helps you relate to a girl that hasn't been involved before, it's worth it all. It's finding common ground with unbelievers, knowing what interests them, relating to them to have a relationship, then taking it from there to a deeper place.
People that are "irrelevant" to me... if I'd answer a question like that... which I normally wouldn't b/c it makes me look small and judgemental.... would be people who don't try to reach others outside of their Christian Bubble of church, community group ,etc. They surround themselves with amazing people- don't get me wrong- but how is that helping/changing the world? how is that furthering the great commission? I think we are essentially saying the same thing, we just use different words and they have different meanings to us.”

ME: Don't be confused, I totally understand what you are saying. The thing I didn't explore is exactly the thing that you did. To what are we being relevant?

I think it is the difference between being traditional and being progressive. Some churches are 100% tradition and absolutely no progress. These churches die as soon as enough of their members die. Some churches are 100% progress and absolutely no tradition. These churches will end up burning out or splitting mercilessly before long, they have no cement to hold things together. A "relevant" church will hold the doctrines and (some of the) traditions of Christianity but present them in a way that is fresh. The entire world works the same way. Sin has been around (just about) forever, but just like Salvation, it loses it's fervor after time and must be repackaged and re-marketed constantly. However, if it loses its essential message, if it becomes something different, it is no longer what it was and becomes irrelevant. So we agree on what "irrelevant" is.

But as you see with the example of all progress and no tradition, a drive to be relevant ends in disaster. It's the whole "in the world but not of the world" paradigm. We can dress, eat, listen to music, partake in social events, etc. like unbelievers, but the minute we become like unbelievers in the deeper sense, we are no longer relevant to them, we are them. So that's what I meant about the popularity thing. Relevance is essentially external. We'd like to be externally relevant, but if we allow the culture to get inside, we become the culture, then it's useless to try to outreach, because we have nothing to outreach with. We try to be understanding, but not partaking. The way to reach drug addicts is not to become addicted ourselves, see what I mean? But if we never touch or speak to an addict, then we can't reach them.

What do you think?”

LIZ: “hmmmm. I see what you are saying. It is a fine line- to be in the world, but not OF the world. I think its kind of a grey area- don't shout at me now!! but I think it's kind of grey! I think even reading the bible and praying every day won't give us 100% of "what would Jesus do?". Maybe for you it's easier to know, but a lot of times I don't. is it a sin to buy the $60 jeans instead of the bargain $15 ones? Not everything is clear. I also don't think wanting to fit in is a sin either, we all have a innate desire to be in a group- to be loved etc. I think wanting to be popular can be wrong too, but that too is a fine line, I guess when it becomes your primary goal, and not just that feeling we all have.... I used to be really black and white, but the older I get I see more grey. Things aren't always what they seem to be. But all of this is getting away from my point on being relevent. I think it's imperitative that we are. My parents are leading a small group for FBC with the kind of people I have a little trouble getting along with, but used to be like (that is: we never want kids and both of us are working full time to pay for our expensive house, cars, habits and vacations) and she is having trouble connecting to the wives. They have such the opposite goals in life that my mom has, and they are Christians. How should she relate? She wants to be relevant to them so she can connect to have a relationship. I've watched stupid TV with the girl I'm mentoring b/c she loves it... I don't tell her I hate it, but I'll point out stuff that isn't biblical, or try to tell her what the bible says on marriage...etc. So am I becoming like her so I have nothing to offer? Perhaps. I really hope not. I think your drug addicted case is pretty extreme and not relevant (ha ha ha!) to my case I was writing about in my blog. What do you think?? :)”

ME: “I too have become more of a grey person, not that I see things always as relative, but many things I choose not to take an opinion on.

So is it a sin to buy the $60 jeans instead of the $15 ones? Is it a sin to buy not the bargain ones but say maybe some higher quality $25 ones? Let's go deep and ask is it ok to buy an Escalade when a Corolla will do? Is it ok to buy a big expensive house when we don't need one? Is it ok to have that and then a large lake house and the Escalade as well? I ask because there are people in our church who do, and it is something that troubles me.

I guess here is where I'll have to disagree with you on relevance. I do not believe that it is imperative that we are relevant to the world's culture. I don't think we necessarily need to be, I think we need to be outreaching and outgoing. Outstretched hands cross all sorts of boundaries that clothes, music, cars, philosophies and TV don't. I'm not talking about fitting in here, but what is the reason that one must fit in? Fit in with what and how?”

LIZ: “…its not that I intensely disagree with anything you said, … I agree, its so much wiser just not to take a strong opinion on a lot of things. I actually like that we don't agree on this, I don' think you are wrong, I just don't agree with everything you say. Or... can I kind of agree, but agree with myself more????

I don't think its a sin to buy the $60 jeans when the cheaper will do. I don' think its wise, per se, but everyone has their weak point that CAN LEAD sin. I would totally get the $60 jeans IF they made me feel good. I know that sounds strange, but nice jeans can do that for you. Seriously. (this may be a guy/girl thing that will never be resolved)

Let me see if I can explain myself- I don't think explaining myself will cause you to suddenly agree with me, but this may better answer your questions at the end. I dont think one "must fit in", its a choice to do so. WHY you ask... well, I think it's the people in your life that you are trying to reach out to, some people have been so burnt by the church that if you reek of it they are turned off. I guess it's not my place to change a lot of that, but if I can show them it's my relationship with God and not the judging church, then I can reach them. I feel like I'm the only Jesus they see right now, (I don't mean that pridefully in ANY way) and its kind of sad b/c I'm not the best person at all for the job- but I'm the one there. I'm the one they are calling to hang out with, and if I turn things too often to spiritual things they are bored and turned off by me. I try to keep lines open by doing things they like with them, and then when they ask me, I can give them biblical advice, and tell them how God has worked in me... and is still working! I am trying to tell them they don't have to be perfect to receive love from God.”

ME: “Don't let me sound like I am judging you here because I am not. I think I need to explore the jeans a little bit more. I attempt to be a very efficient person, so when I purchase a pair of jeans, I weigh a few things. Firstly, are they the real thin kind that seem like they wouldn't last long? Are they comfortable? Are they socially acceptable? How much do they cost? (I accidentally bought a few pairs recently when I was thinking more about the money than comfort or looks and I hate all of them.) Of course because I'm a guy and not a girl, the "how does it make me feel" doesn't so much enter the equation, but that's ok.

But the reason why I ask the cost question is what bothers me. Now I may seem like the "on the cheap" kind of guy, but much more enters into it. I don't need to go into the whole economic analysis process for you, but you know that some things last longer than others, and they usually cost more too. I buy $8 per quart oil for our cars because it lasts 25000 miles and the engines run better for instance. But I've been wearing the same camouflage floppy hat for six years. Shop Toyota for cars, but Payless for shoes. Anyway, the thing that bugs me the most is I am wealthier than 97% or so of the rest of the world. I buy new clothes when others in the world kill stray pets for food. I heat the house to 68 when people shiver in the cold. I eat Sonic when others eat garbage. Now I know the people at South Church, given a change of attitude, some clothes and a haircut could be just fine, but three billion people live on less than $2 a day or something like that. And $20 billion would end world hunger.

So what's the answer to all this? I don't know, but it bothers me.”

LIZ: “aw, I don't feel judged. I'm just thinking more intraspectively.... (I hope I used that word correctly!)”

I don’t know what I was trying to communicate with putting this dialogue on here, but I guess the issues Liz and I talked about could be wondered about by other people. You, the reader, might be one of those people. Just know that other people think about things too. I had someone leave me a comment on this blog about how I made them uncomfortable. I say great. Jesus made everyone uncomfortable, even his twelve closest disciples. They only reason they didn’t leave him like the rest was because they knew he had the words of life, and nothing else in the world compared to that.

Be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable people make things happen in the world.



Josh Wilson said...

I would like to get in on this conversation during our 26 hour bus ride...

until then I will leave you with a little teaser...

Popularity is more about YOU and less about others.
Relevance is more about OTHERS and less about be continued

Anonymous said...

oooooo I'd like to be a fly on the wall for that discussion! "Liz"