Jesus People…Practice Embracing Others

I’m taking some time today at a local book store/coffee shop to try and do some writing…and some of that may find its way on to the blog. Lots of stuff kicking around in my head, and we’ll see what makes it out in to cyberspace.

Last Sunday, we continued our series on being Jesus people by focusing on God’s call to embrace those who truly are “other”, who truly are different from us. God’s infinite creativity has resulted in people who are extremely diverse. Part of how we have marred the world is to make our differences points of great division, and it is one of the primary global struggles in this century. Here’s what I shared.

Once upon a time I said I was going to start the habit of asking y’all for your input before I shared on Sundays. Sigh. Well, I’d like to get back on the wagon and ask for help for Nov. 12, a week from this coming Sunday.

A core belief among Friends is that God is involved and active in the life of every person on the planet. God’s Spirit does not only impact the lives of those who follow Jesus, but is speaking and wooing and impacting everyone, even those antagonistic to Jesus. Quakers have called it “the light within” or “the seed” or “that of God in each person,” and it means that we don’t assume that God is absent until we come along to tell people about God; rather, when we build relationships with others, we start from a much more positive framework. We trust and believe God is at work, and part of our responsibility is to name the Spirit’s activity in others’ lives. We simply join what God is already doing rather than rush in and change lives with our eloquence.

My past experiences and observations in Evangelical churches have demonstrated that many have a different framework. The divide between “Christian stuff” and “the World” is sometimes much more strongly stressed. In particular, there is an animosity toward “the media” and “godless Hollywood”, an absolute certainty that nothing good can be occurring in culture. God has forsaken it, and we must forsake it as well.

Over the last several years, others have helped me pay attention to the amazing ways that God’s Spirit is crying out through the arts and media in our culture. This offers hope in many ways; hope that God is not silent, hope that God is at work raising questions and longings through culture, hope that movies and music and novels and plays and all kinds of things can be avenues for really fruitful discussions about our own experiences with Jesus Christ.

So on the 12th, I’ll ask us to look at Acts 8 and Acts 17. In Acts 8, Philip uses an opportunity with someone of a different religion to affirm that God is speaking to this person, and to share what he has experienced in Jesus. In Acts 17, Paul carefully observes Athenian culture and religion to find a way to name how a longing they have already expressed has been met in his life by Jesus. I want to challenge us to follow Paul’s and Philip’s example to name God’s activity in our culture, rather than be afraid of it…to find creative and authentic ways to share what we’ve experienced with God by connecting it to how God is already at work in others’ lives and in culture. I’d like to use some examples of songs, videos, movie clips, novels, whatever; examples from pop culture which show God’s voice speaking and calling out through the questions and experiences of others.

I invite and welcome your thoughts and/or suggestions for clips or songs to use in the comments…

4 thoughts on “Jesus People…Practice Embracing Others

  1. i like the direction, obviously. I’m trying to think of a third passage from scripture. I like that Acts 8 shows engagement with someone from another culture in a way that is not demeaning to them, but shows mutuality. I like that Acts 17 shows using another’s culture as a starting point or reference point. I’d love to see you add a third where it is the other culture that speaks truth to a Jew in the OT or to a christian in the New. Maybe pharoah to Abram? Melchizadek? Balaam’s ass (plus there you get the added benefit of saying ass in church)? To me this third point is a big one. Not just don’t hate other cultures or even ‘you can appropriate other cultures’ but God can speak to you out of pop culture. I think of writers like Faulkner or movies old and new, ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘Crash’ ‘American Beauty’ or ‘Whale Rider’. Or music like Eminem, Cash’s ‘Hurt’ , Coldplay, Evenescence.

    I have a story about Evenescence. We were at one of the YL camps and a group of intensely Goth kids from CO came one week. The first 24 hours we were really struggling to try to find a way to connect to them. Our music folks asked there leaders if there was any music they liked that we could use. They said, ‘there’s this song by Evenescence that they’re really into.’ This song went on to be hugely popular in a pop sense, but at this point it was more obscure. It’s lyrics included:

    Wake me up inside
    I can’t wake up
    Heal this broken life
    Save me from this dark thing I’ve become…

    I’ve been living a lie, there’s nothing inside.

    We decided to try singing it with the whole group, assuming no one would know it and it would be too dark. We sing some pop music every night and kids sing pretty enthusiastically. As we started this song, it was utterly unnverving. EVERY kid in the room knew the song and sang it with an intensity that was frightening. NOT the way they sang ‘Brown Eyed Girl’!

    It felt like in as clear a way as I’ve ever experienced that the Holy Spirit spoke through secular culture. We, almost accidentally said, “Hey does this song speak for you?” and kids answered back, “YES!!!!” in a way that they had no other words to articulate. I never tell this story without crying and I’m crying typing it.

    Anyone who says God does not move IN popular culture is wrong.


  2. The first thing that came to mind was the song by Joan Osborne, What If God Was One of Us?. It was a hit on the radio at one point. A few years later, I was driving home from a doctor’s appointment and I heard it on the local classic rock station. Six hours later, it was still running through my head as I labored to deliver my second son. I think of it as our theme song.

    There is also the TV show Joan of Arcadia. I only saw it once, but several people I know liked it very much. The wikpedia entry says that the theme song was What If God Was One of Us by Joan Osborne. Small world.

    The band Sixpence None the Richer also had some commercial success.

    It may seem obvious to you, but I never, honestly, thought of U2 as a Christian band until I read something to that effect on Aj’s blog. I knew they were Irish and political, but I didn’t pay enough attention and I wasn’t looking for the religious images in their lyrics. I see it clearly enough now, but it was a bit of a shock.

    I’d also point out that many, if not most, country and bluegrass albums include at least one religious tune. One of my favorites is Iris DeMent and her song, Let The Mystery Be.

    Something I read a long time ago was Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

    More recently, I was in a mainstream grocery store and I happened to look at the half price book table, and found a book for $4 by John Ortberg called God is Closer Than You Think. By itself, this was for me an example of God speaking to me in Albertsons. But on page 38 he quotes a character from The Prince of Tides (a book and a movie!) as saying

    “I would like to have walked his world, thanking God for oysters and porpoises, praising God for birdsong and sheet lightning, seeing God reflected in pools of creekwater and the eyes of stray cats. I would like to have talked to yard dogs as if they were my friends and fellow travelers along the sun-tortured highways intoxicated with the love of God. … I would like to have seen the whole world with eyes incapable of anything but wonder, and with a tongue fluent only in praise.

    Chris has written about his relationship to the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar

    He also mentioned the movie Wings of Desire by Werner Herzog from the late 1980’s

    There are also, of course, various references in the oeuvre of Monty Python. But that’s probably not what you’re looking for.


  3. God crying out through the media and culture — yes, yes, yes!

    But not just in the “nice” songs and shows. It’s also in the worst songs and shows, in the anger and despair and woundedness that stress, poverty, materialism, social breakdown, and militarism have created.

    We need to hear the Light in them as well.


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