I have five children. The oldest wants to be a coach. His brother wants to be a Pixar director and story artist. My third son wants to be a theatrical designer–scenery, lighting, costumes–something backstage. My oldest daughter is heading to Africa someday–maybe as an animal rescue worker–the specifics are still to be determined which is okay at 16. My youngest daughter is five and right now getting better at the monkey bars is a perfect goal. I do not know for certain but my sense is such focused, goal oriented, future planning teens and twenties is unusual. Most of their friends do not seem to know what they want their future to look like. In fact, most of the college students I rubbed elbows with this last year and most of the high school students I taught before that seemed quite lost and uncertain.
Why? Is our corporate future so dim, so hopeless, that individual dreams do not have enough oxygen to breath? Have our present realities so overwhelmed and burdened the masses that only the wealthy plan to have a future? Has the post-modern bashing of absolutes delivered such a fatal blow that vision has died as well?
Revolution (change) works if it is not simply rebellion from perceived oppression but rather an embracing of a better way. For several months before the last presidential election the American youth seemed on fire, ready to move and on the verge of change, big change. But, Obama’s ship hit a calm shortly after the election. Now the sails hang limp and its passengers are back in front of their television sets, bored, depressed, and unmotivated. While the Obama campaign aptly grabbed hold of the discontented rumbling among the masses his presidency has fallen short of a sustained vision. In other words, as a nation we still do not have a clue where we want to go.
Again why? What happened to the vision? The voice of hope? The promised change? I believe we have lost faith in our leaders, maybe even in the concept of leadership. When leaders and leadership are suspect progress flounders.
The principle of revolution without a vision holds true within the Church as well. As long as the only thing we do is escape the oppression of our former fellowships we are still bound to them. When all we do is continue to look back, blame, and waste energy on what was we remain in its control. Rebellion in order to escape oppression is temporary. Once we “feel” free or safe we quit moving. Revolution, on the other hand, is not simply getting rid of the old. Revolution replaces the old with something new. Some of Christ’s followers were zealots. They wanted to over throw Rome. But, they had little more to offer than violent anger toward Rome. Jesus spent little time pointing His finger at the religious or political oppressors of his day. His focus was on a better way–over throw the system by refusing to participate in its control. Turn the other cheek. Sell all your possessions. Do not worry about tomorrow. His ministry both spoke of that way and walked it out.
The Way has had some unlikely torch bearers. Some, if we include people like Gandhi, may not have fully understood for whom they carried the torch. Yet their lives bear witness to their knowing the Way. Like Jesus, Gandhi ignored his oppressors and boldly refused to participate in their oppression. His actions exposed their wickedness for what it was. Yet, even after India was free from British rule, and this is key, the Way continued to blaze a trail. The Way continued even after Peter and Paul and John died. The Way showed up in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Way can be seen in the life of Mother Theresa. When Bob Dylan sang “Blowin’ in the Wind”, the Beatles pleaded, “Give Peace a Chance” or Sting expressed his heart with, “I hope the Russians love their children too” they gave voice to a message from the Way.
Today the message still finds expression and pockets of doers-not-just-hearers-of-the-word continue to pop up all over the place. Those of us emerging from corrupted versions of what was once considered “the way” are reluctant to pledge allegiance to a “new” thing even if it looks like, smells like, and walks like the Way. Others do not yet know (or have rejected the name for) the Image they bear. Time may or may not change that reality. For now that is unimportant.
My children have vision, hope for their future and the future of their world. The fact that they need to feed their vision without the help of mentors and guides; voices of unified encouragement; political, educational, social, and religious systems of organized support and leadership angers me. I grieve over the pain and loneliness that accompanies their journey. Yet, the darkness has not extinguished their flames.
Gandhi started his walk to the sea to make salt alone. He protested being asked to move out of the first class seat he purchased and was thrown off the train. But, he kept walking. The emergent Church may attract headlines every now and then, a-la Rob Bell, but it is more than a campaign slogan, a fund-raising machine, another denomination, or a headline. The Church emerging is a revolution, a sometimes not so quiet walking out of a better way.
So to those who seek the better Way let us walk and keep walking. Others will eventually walk along side.