Phelps vs Shark
I’m quite sure it’s a Discovery Channel conspiracy to keep all the Scotts out of the water. When we are at the beach, it’s always Shark Week on Discovery. Doesn’t matter when we head south, Discovery Channel programs their villainous show in lock step with my study break.
This year, Michael Phelps raced a Great White to kick off Shark Week. You need to know that several of my children had bought hook, line, and a very large sinker into the hype of “ocean supremacy.” I couldn’t not convince my kids they were in for a whopper of a fish story let down.
To make things a tad bit worse, my kids watched the minute by minute countdown for Phelps vs Shark. When I say “watched the countdown,” I mean all heads were down and entranced with their phones. They were straining for more online and social media hype before the ridiculous shark race began. What was going on with these gullible guppies I helped birth?
What’s going on with people and culture all around us? Writers are scrambling to define the crazy we see and the angst we feel. As the Psalmist pondered his unique culture, these querying words were penned: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1)
In his new book, “Strange Days,” contemporary historian and culture lifeguard, Mark Sayers, surveys the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was, for many, the end of a sordid history of chaos, power, rules, wars, and a complete lack of freedom. Add globalization and the technological prowess of the internet to infuse and connect life—and you’ve got utopia. All sorts of borders and boundaries are being breached for the good of mankind. Self-help books and political campaigns shouting, “Yes we can,” have become all the rage. But the nations still rage. There are emerging chinks in this new armor of individual freedom. “Expect utopia, and dystopia is jarring,” remarks Sayers.
And so retreat has begun. Escape to non-places like cell phones, flat screen TVs, online shopping, and perhaps unreal events like Phelps vs Shark become safe, non-places from a raging world. But our non-places are ineffective at keeping the rage of the nations and the storms of sin on the outside. Non-places simply beam the struggles directly into our brains via earbuds and six inch screens.
For the first time, TV binge watching is a thing. What a mind-numbing idea. And why do people binge watch? It’s a non-place of safety, freedom, individualism, and escape. But does it really work to find solace or a place of lasting freedom? Does it keep the raging nations at bay, or is this part of our plotting in vain? In our achievement society and non-place pursuits, many dream an unlimited life is possible. The gap between reality and expectations, however, is deafening.
But the church is real. We are the physical body of Christ, and we feast at His real table. We offer tangible relationships and a greater hope to engage and fight our broken world. We get to embody the teachings of Jesus. We, the church, can imitate His love in real time. We can invite others to the real table of Jesus. Face-to-face, toe-to-toe, real-life life is the stuff of heaven and the stuff of earth the church can offer. It’s embracing a “livedness” writes Sayers. It’s living out the dynamics of critical events as we engage and live and incarnate the Gospel. And don’t you think our desperate and anxious world need something tangible beyond their non-places?
Have you noticed how even our bank tellers have become faceless and unknown with the advent of online banking? Online banking is a safe non-place of security, but it’s void of the vital relationships that give life.
The Church can give life. The Gospel is life to share. We can lift up our heads from our cell phones, brave the murky waters leading to shifting sandbars, seize critical events, and LIVE real Gospel surrendered lives.
It’s more than informing with sermons. It’s forming people with opportunities of love and hope.
It’s, as Rah suggests in “The New Evangelicalism,” developing a celebration theology and a theology of suffering to contextualize the Gospel to ALL people… nations, tribes, languages and races. Jesus does this so well throughout the Gospels. Philippians 2:5-10 points to Jesus’ celebration theology incarnating to embrace a theology of suffering. The impact is stunning, and the church is challenged to do the same.
Lesslie Newbigin (A Season Of Words) writes, “All the statistical evidence goes to show that those within our secularized societies who are being drawn out of unbelief to faith in Christ say they were drawn through the friendship of a local congregation.”
Yes, the nations seem to be raging. People are plotting in vain with non-places. But this should be the Church’s finest hour.
(author’s note: reading from Matthew 26-Mark 11; “The Next Evangelical” by Soong-Chan Rah; “Strange Days” by Mark Sayers)