Monday, December 17, 2007

Pretty irrelevant...

"...the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

Henri Nouwen (With thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society)

We hear so much from some areas of the church these days about cultural relevance, staying current, getting with the vibe on the street, Gen-X postmodern ministry paradigms, and so forth, that we sometimes forget how profoundly counter-cultural it is to follow Christ. It was counter-cultural in first-century Palestine, 2nd century Rome, 12th century Assisi, 19th century London and 20th century Texas. It is still profoundly counter-cultural. It is not, and never has been, coterminous with Christendom.

In the years following Constantine I's Edict of Milan, which was probably the beginning of Christianity as an establishment religion, the hermits who had fled to the desert during the persecutions of the previous century were joined by first hundreds, then thousands, of men and women seeking to follow our Lord more closely than they felt was possible in the newly established "Christian society" in which they found themselves. These were the Desert Fathers and Mothers, as deeply counter-cultural as anyone you're likely to meet.

Nouwen's statement is a deep challenge to all of us, wherever we live, to look again at what love means in the context of John 13.34 and Matthew 22.37-39. That kind of vulnerability will always be irrelevant to a society that sees the world in terms of "efficiency savings, productivity and league tables."

Where is your desert now? Where is mine? I don't have answers as such, but I know that the question will not leave me alone...