Thursday, 30 January 2014

Unexpected threats

On the 1st May 1991 I started following Jesus. I was 20 and I had been brought up an atheist. Up to that point I lived for myself essentially. But at the moment I humbled myself before Jesus and asked him to forgive me and lead me, everything changed. That moment was the game changer to end all game changers. Huge things happened. Over-night I stopped swearing, and no longer needed all the crutches I was using up to that point like alcohol.

As time ticks by, and you grow as a Christian you begin to appreciate a whole host of other things that have happened. As we follow Christ, other things that ruled our lives are deposed. One I’ve come to appreciate more and more is the idol of consumerism. Now an idol is a false god, something that takes the place of God in our life, that you bow down to, consciously or unconsciously. Consumerism is a massive driving force of western culture and its power is growing around the world.

One of my children was doing some homework recently on the food chain and at the top was humans who consumed what other animals/plants produced. It’s a good summary of us as a race. We consumer what others produce. And in the last 3 years with the proliferation of smart phones and screens everywhere (cafes, pubs, doctors surgeries, hospitals, tube stations, corner shops etc) that bombard our brains with subtle messages that in effect say: “You need me, can’t survive without me, must have me”. Of course I understand in our complex urbanised society there is a relationship with consumerism we can’t do without, but we don’t have to worship at its altar.

High Halter and Matt Smay in their brilliant book, The Tangible Kingdom, explain that consumerism is a major barrier to the church moving out of a strong relationship with God into mission. I can see that in the church in the west today it is  powerful force that infiltrates the best churches too. Recently Carl Beech from Christian Vision for Men was recounting a conversation with a Christian leader in Cambodia who said the greatest threat to the Cambodian church at present was consumerism, and that if it wasn't reversed it would destroy them in a generation. Wow.
You hear phrases like “I want better/deeper teaching, I don’t like the worship, there’s not enough X, it’s not meeting my needs” instead of “how do I best follow Jesus and become like him or how can I serve?”

So why’s it a problem? Consumerism puts “me” at the centre, and asks “what’s in it for me, what do I get?” whereas Christianity puts Christ at the centre, and after that comes everybody else, and then finally comes “me”. There can only be 1 person on the throne of someone’s life, and that should be Jesus, but if consumerism is there, Jesus and his values of giving up our lives for others get knocked down a few places.  

I don’t have all the answers, and i include myself in the challenge, but I know a problem when I see one. Some of the greatest challenges to us we are often blind to, because they are ingrained in our culture. Sociologists call it cultural blindness. Shall we help each other overcome the challenge of consumerism in the church? Or would you rather shop elsewhere? (joke! haha) 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sky's the Limit!

Happy New Year to the Blogosphere

One of my Christmas presents was a cycling book: Inside Team Sky by David Walsh. Some things have struck me that I'd like to share. But first maybe some background on the book for the poor people who don't much about the world of professional cycling.

Most will probably know that the American rider Lance Armstrong who won the Tour de France 7 times, was stripped of the titles because he was finally found to have used performance enhancing drugs. Team Sky is a very new British cycling team with a zero tolerance for doping, but because they are backed by a massive sponsor have the best equipment, and have produced champions in the last 2 years after only been together for 4 years, rumors spread and animosity grew. Team Sky's boss Sir Dave Brailsford was at his wits end as to how to prove to everyone they were clean. So he invited the Times journalist
David Walsh - Sunday Times Journalist
David Walsh to come and spend a year with team with absolutely free access to everything and anyone at any time he wanted. Walsh was the fist journalist to suggest Armstrong was doping (and Armstrong sued him and the Sunday Times for what he wrote - who's laughing now?).

It was a fascinating read as the skeptical journalist tries everywhere to find evidence of drugs. His final conclusion is that Team Sky is clean. Hurray. One very poignant part of the book was describing in the Tour de France when Britain's Chris Froome was leading the tour and climbing on those narrow mountain roads, and many in the crowds were shouting abuse and accusations at Sky and Froome.
The journalist reflected how bizarre it was when the crowd were ignoring another rider, Alberto Contador, who had just come back into the race after a 2 year suspension for drugs! They left him alone, but persecuted the clean team Sky. Walsh described this as the Barrabus factor: a crowd wanting to punish the innocent and exonerate the guilty. Not willing to believe the winner got there by sheer good training and good science.

I really felt for Sir Dave Brailsford - what else can he do?
Froome battling up Mont Ventoux amidst the crowds
It's a lesson in prejudice and gossip and the behavior of crowds. He did the right thing in inviting the most skeptical journalist to see how they lived. There are so many parallels: inviting atheists to come and see how live our lives, to see our authenticity, to see how our faith works; to forget what people think of us and only value what God thinks of us; to remember that you can never please the crowds, but focus on the people around you, and do the things you were sent to do, and everything else will take care of itself or its not worth the energy. People will have prejudices (within and without the church), but if we do what we are supposed to do (seek the kingdom), with honesty openness and integrity, God will take care of the rest (isn't that what Matt 6:33 means?).

Sir Dave Brailsford answering a barage of accusations
One more lesson: I really admire Sir Dave Brailsford and his leadership of Team Sky and British Cycling too. He's made mistakes for sure. At the end of the book, Walsh describes Team Sky's approach to failure: embrace it and learn from it; use it to become better next year. Now that is what we in the west need in our churches: courage to try new things in the knowledge that we'll fail along the way, but that's part of the journey of discovering the best way to do things and to getting better at what we do. Let's not be afraid of failure, for such fear kills off any innovative, adventurous and faith-filled spirit, and the Church of the west needs those things in bucket loads if it is to halt the decline its in the middle of.