Posted on June 23, 2016
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Liam Byrnes
Posted on June 23, 2016
Last week I wrote about how we are caught between the tension of equipping people to step out of poverty but not wanting to agree with the values of an economy that strips culture and language from people for the purpose of economic gain.
This is potentially where our life as the Church can come in, to at least be the type of place where we can exist in tension together. The Church, as has been popularly troped many times before, is to be in the world (so not to simply dis-engage) but not of the world (so not to assume the values and ‘goods’) of the culture.
The Church is meant to have it’s own narration of ‘the good life’ and is meant to equip the lives of disciples to be marked by that. So, the Church is supposed to be the place where resident aliens are reminded to live for home. We are meant to be a prophetic witness to a surrounding community that there are deeper things in life than economic prosperity, pragmatism and things that are commonly defined as successful. At the same time we are to equip the saints to live this prophetic witness while operating as participants in the surrounding society.
Because our life together is the very witness through which the surrounding culture can see a living alternative, we need to be reflecting on the assumptions, shape and honour that exist within our life together as the Church;
In capitalist economies, the economy excludes or resents the existence of those who do not contribute to the economy. How are those who are unemployed treated amongst you? Are they tolerated as needy in the ways they are in society? How about those who may never contribute to the economy such as the disabled, mentally ill, ex-offender and elderly? Are they ushered to the edges of what is happening in your community life? Why is that? Often we have not taken on and represented the vision of the kingdom that the beatitudes offers us.
Those who the surrounding society see as weak often reflect to us our own insecurities and fears about powerlessness and so we’d frankly just prefer not to have to be reminded of this part of the human condition. Why are we so afraid of these people who image a humanity we would prefer not to be? I don’t think it can simply be that we are afraid of the pain they experience. It could also be that our identities are formed more by what our surrounding societies say about success than God’s pinnacle of desire for humans; to know Him and enjoy Him forever.
Do the predominant demographics that hold the positions of power in your society also hold the positions of leadership and influence in your faith community? Could it be that the most qualified and spiritually mature people in your community are all male and white? I doubt it. Suffering and marginalisation teaches people a great deal about the Spiritual life and the kingdom that is both here and not yet.
Leadership appointment is not as considered and honestly reflected upon as you would think. I have been so aware that in the few moments when I have had the opportunity to appoint a leader or work with someone I have wanted to make the decision at a gut level. This is commonly known as ‘confirmation bias’; the idea that we want ourselves reflected back to us. People who are the same as us reflect to us our own sense of assuredness about how the world really is, and that makes the world a more confortable, safe and reassuring place.
Difference is inherently painful, but although diverse leadership teams experience more conflict, they also end up healthier than homogenous teams. I am not proposing an affirmative action policy or an empty tokenism, but instead a reflecting on bias’ that exist in our guts more than our heads and making hard but right decisions. We all want to work with people we enjoy, but sometimes we have to make decisions to work with people whose emphasis on certain values might be different than you, but they will fulfill your very present weaknesses.
I once heard someone say, “What you celebrate, is what you multiply’ – this must be why insecure leaders create environments where only people like them can flourish. We have to learn to celebrate the ‘other’. As I mentioned in my previous blog post on culture, we often read our own bias’ for values into bias’ that simply aren’t in scripture. Westerners will be infuriated by non-westerners seeming lack of value for plain-spokenness (particularly around the issue of time), and non-westerner will be infuriated for westerner’s consistent disregard for the people and relationships in the midst of a task.
There is no biblical basis for one of these values trumping the other, but each side often insists their culture is the one that should be honoured in a given circumstance. As ever, Jesus leads the way for us as he counts his equality with God as something to be set aside in humility for the sake of the other (Phil 2:7).
The role of reversing the tide of our culture’s assumptions of what is good, useful and worthy is not an easy vocation. But the Church and the vision of God’s coming kingdom are the only places with the resources to provide true living alternatives to the injustices of our culture and economies.
For us to embody a living alternative to the surrounding culture our churches are going to have to take a difficult look at themselves. We are going to have to discern whether our assumptions, our shape and what we speak honour for enable us to look more like God’s diverse bride pictured in revelation or simply our own reflections looking down a dark well of sameness.
What do you see as the greatest barriers for us to become this image bearing community? Can you suggest some practical ways we could enact a new prophetic witness?
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