Inadequate Agents of Change
"I'll keep the mohawk until we stop killing people abroad." (musician Eddie Vedder, quoted about his hair in the April 11, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone)
I'll wait while you read that first line again. I have time. Now get a picture in your head: a woman, graying, tired, standing with a sign on the Washington Monument Mall. Her sign declares "Protesting for Nuclear Disarmament since 1981." And she has been. Every day.
I'm tempted to ask her how it is going... but that would be cruel. While I often think cruel thoughts my inbuilt braking system (tuned regularly by Bible study and accountability groups) usually traps them before them become actions or words. I have learned that when I am faced with something that makes me want to leap into spasms of ridicule I should wait a moment and then ask "What can I learn from this?"
I know that wearing a mohawk will not stop killing abroad, or even locally. It might increase giggling, but it won't stop violent men from exercising their violent thoughts. Holding up a sign, even for twenty four years, will not cause nations to disarm. So far, so good, but now we need to go to Louisiana.
I just spent three days in southwest Louisiana with a tiny church in a small town. The nearest (tiny) mall is 55 miles away. Each of the members has a story and you wouldn't trade your life with a single one of them. Most came from a far right church across town: one that reveled in disfellowship and refused to take back those who repented. The refugees do not hate the church of Christ; they still feel a part of it. They weren't disfellowshipped but their friends or people they had studied with were. Others weren't welcome at that other church because of the color of their skin or their marital or pharmacological history. Now they gather, twenty or thirty at a time, including kids, and want to worship the Lord. They have the building -- rented, but nice enough -- a selection of praise CD's (acapella!) to serve as song starters, and some of the most sincere hearts and true spirits I have run across in some time. The good news: they know that having a building, worshipping right, and owning a communion set is not enough to take their town and a nearby Army base for Christ. They want to break into the hearts of the poor and downcast, the white and black, the locals and transient military types -- everybody. After some time doing church in their building they know they need to do something else.
Great! Way too many of us think that if we do what we do and the world doesn't come, the world must not be ready to hear the truth. Rubbish. The world is craving the truth like never before. People are so very hungry for Christ but they do not expect to find Him in the buildings they pass on their way to work. I told the little group that if they wanted to be the church in their community they were going to have to escape their building. Paths were worn in the grass to the side of their hall, worn by the comings and goings of people from the poorer, government housing units to the Family Dollar store or maybe to waitress at Ryan's. I told them to get out by that path and talk to those who walk by. Sing and pray by the path. Offer anyone who comes by not only your hand by also your heart and your time. Take them to work, give them something to drink, offer to babysit their children, open up your wallets and share what is inside so that they can buy some food or clothes, bring them into your home and make sure they know they can drop by anytime. Release your hold on the things of this world, beginning with the building, and live and give as if Jesus were coming back tomorrow.
When tracts or filmstrips don't work, it isn't because people don't like truth. It is because tracts and filmstrips aren't the best way to communicate the gospel anymore (and I will not disparage the great good they have done in many communities over the years). It used to be that we could argue someone into the baptistry and have a good chance of keeping them, but not anymore. Now you have to show them Jesus, in their homes, in their neighborhoods, before they are interested in visiting our buildings and seeing us worship Him. Today, more people are won by our characters than by our arguments, or our programs, or our worship styles. Emphasizing the things that aren't working is like.... well... wearing a mohawk until the killing stops.