Friday, January 31, 2014

counter culture

Iona Abbey
This morning I taught a class on monasticism and we focused on the counter-cultural aspect of this particular expression of spirituality. It brought up some interesting questions: is being counter-cultural imperative if one is a follower of Jesus? How distinctive should a Christian lifestyle be? It is easy to identify certain religious sects by their dress, rituals, or closed communities, but exactly how important are these outward differentiations? I don't know that I have a definitive answer, but Jesus certainly indicated that those who follow him and embrace his teachings will exhibit certain distinctives. Here are a few that I found and none of them have anything to do with clothing, rituals, or separating oneself from society.

LOVE. This is not the same as our culture's call for tolerance. Love is more difficult than tolerance because Jesus asks us to do more than just let people do what they do. Jesus calls us to care deeply about their well-being and to lay down our lives for them. Love means that we do not objectify people or people groups. Love means that we don't make sweeping generalizations like "street people are irresponsible" or "Muslims are violent." Love means that we speak up when people are portrayed as objects of desire and that we treat every person with respect, no matter how different their views or lifestyle may be from ours. Love insists that we are willing to hug anyone, willing to share a meal with anyone, and willing to listen to anyone. We are to be known by our love. We, like Jesus, should be friends with sinners.

HEALING.  Wherever Jesus went, healing followed, and he expected the same of his disciples. Followers of Jesus bring healing. This means that we make situations better and not worse. This means that we do not pit people against each other but work towards reconciliation. This means that we do not utter words of judgment and destruction but speak words of life. This means that we bring hope instead of giving in to despair. This means that we always expect the kingdom of God to break in, intervene, and make us whole. This means that we never shut the door on redemption and forgiveness. This means that we offer healing prayers, kindness, and physical help to the sick and suffering. Healing may be instantaneous or a long process, but if we pattern our lives after Jesus, we should be seeing broken lives become whole.

COURAGE. People who encountered Peter and John after their infusion with the Holy Spirit noted three things: 1) they were simple, ordinary men, 2) they were courageous, and 3) they had been with Jesus. These three distinctives should mark any follower of Jesus. Do people remark that we are quite ordinary? Good. Do people note that we have courage which seems unexplainable given our present circumstances? Great! Do people observe that we remind them of Jesus? That's the best thing they can say!

NOT PROMOTING OURSELVES. Jesus did not draw attention to himself or seek fame. He went about working, healing, teaching, giving, praying, and offering people freedom and friendship. He did not come to kick-start a new movement, but to serve others, to seek out the wayward ones and offer them help, to show the ones without hope that God was not as far away as they thought. He was humble, meek, lowly, not a supermodel, not a movie star, and not a great marketer. He just did what his Father asked him to do.

AT REST. Jesus was never frenzied, not overextended, not trying to keep up with a hectic schedule, not tweeting about his latest exploits, not working hard to keep the masses engaged. In fact, he invited those who were weary and fatigued by life to come and find rest in him. He was not constantly overworked and overextended. He came as the Prince of Peace.

Let me be marked by the things that made Jesus so extraordinary in his time, so different, so attractive and controversial. Let me be counter-cultural in all the ways Jesus was.

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