It has been a while since I posted here. Been a little crazy with the pandemic and trying to know how to serve in the midst of chaos. I was looking through old files today and found this blog I had written some time ago. However, it still rings true with me and who I am, so I trust that God will enable this to help you move forward in your leadership and discipleship.
First a little self disclosure. I am really a closet Hippie! I grew up a bit too late to hang out on Haight Ashbury neighborhood, although in full disclosure I have driven past it. I also have to say, I have been to Berkley, (although I was in High School, and it was a marching band competition). Despite all that my “Hippie” credentials include growing my hair longer than allowed by the school dress code (major infraction in 1971.) But most impressive, I spent time with the original Hippies who started the Church in the Park to which our current Christian music scene owes some allegiance. So I am not a real hippie, as someone put it if you remember the 60s you were either too young or too old. I was too young. However, because I am a native Californian, and there is something in the atmosphere that tends to generate some unusual ideas, this concept of sanctified subversion strikes me. The goal of the Hippie generation was to drop out, not to change the world directly, but indirectly, hence they were subversive in ways that the mainline culture didn’t know, or really appreciate, and the current set of Christian musicians came from this “subversive” stock.
What do I mean by that term “subversive”? We all know what subversives are, but we picture people in remote places with computer terminals trying to hack into our computer and steal our banking information. No one really imagined it might be those were the kids hanging out on the street corners, driving psychedelic Volkswagen Vans. No one really cared for the ones who had love beads and roach clips around their necks, and many of the older generation would tell them to go out and get a job, because there was something unsettling about a person who did not follow the traditional system of the day. But, this attitude, this behavior has subtly changed the world we know today in ways that we may not even know. However, subversion is really not an attribute we generally associate with Christianity, but maybe we need to think about that again.
For you see this is not the 1950s anymore. The culture does not revolve around the schedule of Sunday morning and Wednesday night. When was the last time the schools let students go early from school to attend a religious activity sponsored by a church? (Before you think I am throwing schools under the bus, not this guy, they at least respect a Wednesday night, Sunday mornings religious effort) But with the increase separation of church and state, no release time religious activities, like I did as a child in the 60s even in secular California. No the times they have changed, and so the church of Jesus Christ, if it is to survive, must change as well, and this is where my call to sanctified subversion comes from.
Let me put a definition in place: “Thus it is misleading and finally counterproductive for us to fixate on the dramatic act, the quick fix, the heroic stand. Church as a way of life is incremental obedience, passion subdued but sustained over years. It is discipleship for the long haul over a road that is inevitably bumpy and includes detours, switchbacks and delays… Church is a way of life lived not with the expectation that Christians can through managerial arts or sudden heroism, make the world right. It is instead a way of life lived in the confidence that God has, in the kingdom of Christ, begun to set the world right, and that someday Christ will bring his kingdom to fulfillment … Accordingly, worship and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and Bible study are ways we gracefully fail to absorb the distorted ethic of the world system…” What we can hope to do, most often and over the long haul, is survive it and subvert it to its own good. What we are about might then be called sanctified subversion.” Now that comment comes from a book published in the 1990s. If that statement about no quick fix was appropriate then, how much more now! You see I have stated for years that the Church cannot win the day with the right Supreme Court Candidates, or by electing the right person to the White House. We will never promote the cause of Christ via political action. You see Jesus did not send his disciples out to run for Emperor of the Roman Empire, not even to candidate to become part of the Senate. He said go into all the world and make disciples! He sent them out to subvert the common order of life. He sent men and women out to make a difference, by being different.
What does this look like? First of all church is a way of life. So ask yourself, if you identify with someone who is a member of a local church, what is there that sets my life apart from the rest of the world. Now I am not suggesting that this means a distinctive dress code, or some prescribed lifestyle. But what is there in your life that sets you apart? Or is there something that sets my life apart from those who are outside of the church? I believe that if we are part of the body of Christ, a self identified member of the Church that there will be times when we cannot do what others are doing. There are going to be times when we cannot afford to pay what others pay for things. Why? Because of our commitment first to Jesus Christ. Again that doesn’t mean you have to wear specific clothing or subscribe to a particular doctrine. But ask yourself, what is there that sets my life apart?
Second where do you place your confidence? What are you confident about? I read a book a while back or should I admit I read parts of it, it has a rather long title: The True and Only Heaven, Progress and Its Critics. It is an interesting book as the author critiques the idea that the world is getting progressively better and better. That the more educated we become, the more we learn, the better the world gets is a simplified version of what he is challenging. However, remember Dr. Martin Luther King? Toward the end of his life, he made a shift in his thinking: “Near the end of his life, King told his old Montgomery congregation that that he was no longer an optimist, although he still had hope… He had seen too much suffering to embrace the dogma of progress, even though he was always careful to explain that he objected only to theories of ‘automatic’ or ‘inevitable’ progress and to ‘false’, superficial optimism”. I have pondered that comment for some time since I first read it. He was no longer optimistic, but he had hope. He was not optimistic that he could/would end racism in his time, not have we done much better. But he had hope that the God he served, would set things right. Where is your confidence? If your confidence in the idea that if you do the right things, say the right words, or attend the right events that life will be alright? Or do you live each day in the hope that the God who called you is faithful and he is working out his plan in your life and in the world around you? Maybe your hope is that if you do the right things, say the right things and believe the right way, life will be easy, and God will bless you? Maybe, but is that optimism or hope? Maybe God isn’t really all that interested in his people being happy and content? Maybe when we get happy and content we get lazy? Could it be that God is most interested in our depending on him? Could it be that God is most excited when we have nothing left but hope in Him? What would happen to our culture if we as the body of Christ actually lived that way?
The final part of this subversive plan is how do you nurture your spiritual life through worship and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and Bible study? Before you think I am going to put you on a guilt trip and want to know if you are in worship on a given weekend, think again. You see I am subversive, and if you went down that road, maybe you need to listen to that prompt, but know it is not from me. But what you are doing? You see in congregation I served there was a recognition of an increasingly mobile congregation and difficulty in doing regular Christian education. Did we give up? No, we have adopted some more mobile approaches to teaching. Some people would criticize that because we are not engaging in “Christian Education” as we didn’t have a Sunday School program. Let me ask you this when did discipleship become education? When did the learning and modeling Christ like behaviors and attitudes become acquainted with knowing and repeating some set of doctrine to a group of leaders in a church? If you want subversive, ask yourself is my church life, is my dedication to prayer, worship, fasting and Bible Study leading me to become a wholly devoted follower of Jesus Christ or not? Maybe as you read that, you start to realize that you have not been faithful in worship of any sort, be it an organized church or a small group/home church worship environment. You might begin to consider that it has been a long time since I opened that Bible I have in my house to ask what God might have to say to me today. You see this is not some mysterious book that holds hidden secrets. God somehow has decided to use this record of his interaction with his people to speak to people like you and I thousands of years after they were first recorded. Now, do I need to go into fasting and prayer?
You see if we want to change the world, if we want to follow the direction of the Rend Collective song and change the atmosphere of the world, it will not be done by lobbying congress, or the South Dakota legislature. However, if we are willing to be a bit subversive, and follow the way the church has changed the world in days gone by, then maybe, just maybe we can make a difference. If we do that, it won’t matter if we ever visit Haight Ashbury or not, I can tell you I have been there and it is really not that great. However, I am confident that if the Church would go back to its strengths of worship, prayer, study and fasting that some great things could take place. But I am not a bit optimistic that this will happen, but I have hope, and that hope is in God and Him alone. Because of that I remain forever a subversive! It is my prayer that I will remain a sanctified subversive.