Joyful Engagement

The following is audio and text from the teaching given by Leah on November 22, 2015.  Feel free to listen online, download, or read.  This teaching is the fifth and final in our fall series, "Sailing the Blue Ocean."

So Facebook is an interesting place.  It started as a way for college co-eds to hook up, but everyone knows it’s gone way beyond that at this point.  It’s become a marketplace for ideas and relational connection; perhaps our version of the town square.  Personally, for all of my adult life I’ve lived in other cities from the rest of my family, and so I’ve most often used Facebook to keep family, like Mike and Mandy, appraised of my life and the lives of my kids, and to keep up with them, as well.  But Facebook and Twitter have grown beyond friends sharing photos to places where social conversations happen.  And some of these conversations are really important.  They end up becoming the place we find out about the events of the world.  We’re exposed to new perspectives.  We’re drawn potentially into activism. Black Lives Matter is a much needed social media phenomenon.  Many of us likely found out about Paris from social media.  The conversation happening around Syria right now are super-important.  But the world of social media also is the place where THIS (Starbucks cup) becomes a thing.

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 So in case you went to another planet for a few weeks or maybe you just don’t tune into media that much, let me briefly explain how this is a thing, and not just a cup.  On November 1st, the event that is an annual moment in the lives of lots of coffee drinkers took place.  Starbucks transitioned to their Holiday cup design.  Now, as a former Starbucks barista, I remember well this being a moment.  It was a moment for us Baristas, sometime in October when the red cups arrived in the store.  We’d all look with anticipation for the day we could put them out, knowing that though it was a little thing, having stacks of color around us instead of just white signaled the start of a new season.  It brought a bit of joy and fun to our monotony.  It was like noticing the first leaves turning color or the first snowfall, if you live in some place where snow actually falls.  Festive time was definitively coming when the red cups appeared.

And every year there’s a design  - is it going to be snowflakes around the cup or little twinkle lights or Santa and reindeer or elves in the white ornamentation?  And then this year, Starbucks had the audacity to introduce this.

By November 4th, a group of American Christians had begun to cry foul on social media.  This is an act of war.  Starbucks is waging war on Christmas.  Never mind that their holiday cup colors are still red and green, still classically CHRISTMAS colors, nor that the items that were removed were themselves never religious in nature, but somehow by removing reindeer and snowflakes  from the cup and opting for a more minimalist and potentially inclusive holiday cup, Starbucks has made clear that they are against Jesus.  

And so the thing that becomes a response to the thing is the social media cry to tell your Starbucks barista, oh, you offended Christian, when the barista ask for your name to write it on the cup, tell them that your name is “Merry Christmas”.  Then they’ll have to put Merry Christmas on the cup!  Snap. Gotcha Starbucks.  Counter attack!  Totally worth the five dollars I just gave you for my peppermint mocha. And another barista rolls her eyes and smiles at the jerk in front of her, wondering how many more of these she has to endure before her shift is over.

So honestly, I have a lot more I could say about this, but I’m not really bringing it up to provide my own commentary, and I don’t honestly want to dignify it with more air time than it deserves.  But I bring this story up because it perfectly demonstrates a challenge that the church has had for multiple millennia on the relationship the church has with culture.  Now I would say this is true of other religions as well, that all faiths have wrestling on this front.  But today we’re focusing mainly on the Christian church’s response, because the question of how we as Jesus followers ought to relate to culture is at the heart of our sixth and final Blue Ocean distinctive.

Now we've been doing a series on the distinctives behind Blue Ocean, this little movement of churches we’re a part of.  And if you’ve been listening to any of the rest of this series, it should come as no surprise that Blue Ocean’s response to culture will likely not encourage you to boycott coffee chains, at least not because of the design of their corporate cups.  But before we get to today’s distinctive, let’s review the five we’ve talked about thus far.

    1    Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS (or Jesus Alone as opposed to somehow like sola scriptura, scripture alone).
    2    Our primary metaphor is CENTERED-SET. (We talked about bounded-set groupings, are closed, static groups based on shared characteristics, where as centered-set groups, have no static boundaries, it’s all about connection and relationship to a common center.)
    3    Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH. (We approach God with wonder and childlike dependence.)
    4    Our approach to controversial issues is THIRD WAY. (We agree to disagree when in good faith we come to different conclusions)
    5    Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL. (We value the gifts that all churches and traditions bring to the table)

Thus far, most of our distinctives have been fairly inwardly focused - how we as a Blue Ocean church approach are understanding of connecting with God, how we think about the journeys we’re taking toward Jesus, how we deal with one another when we disagree, how we relate to other churches.  But today, our final distinctive turns the attention of a solus Jesus kind of faith to the broader world around us and asks, how do we approach the greater world?  It’s the same question that our brothers and sisters apparently named “Merry Christmas” are wrestling with, but with perhaps a different answer.

Now the relationship between faith and culture has long had a complicated history.  In some ways, the practice of faith has long been one of the main shapers of culture, as well as it should be.  Faith for many brings meaning to their lives, it can order the chaos of their existential realities, it can ground one’s identity. And what is culture?  My friend Charles Park says it beautifully when he defines culture this way, “Culture is the collective expression of our deepest longings and values as a nation.”  Or I’d say as a community, maybe.  “Culture determines what people aspire to, long for in their hearts, what they truly value.”  So the two can be connected, but they are not exclusively connected.  Because religion is not the only informer of culture.  Art, music, literature, all expressions of creativity, philosophy, shared history and experience, politics, tradition, language - all of these are important forces in informing a group’s deepest longings and values.  Religion is not the only player in the conversation.

As we talk about culture, I think inevitably it feels relevant to connect with the concepts from our second distinctive, talking about bounded and centered sets.  Because essentially cultures are bounded sets.  Thus it shouldn’t be a surprise that historical trends on approaches to culture tend look like bounded set responses.

As we’ve talked about before, in the fourth century, the emperor of the Roman empire claimed conversion to Christianity, and Christianity went from being a persecuted minority belief system of primarily the poor and folks on the margins, to the state-established system of religious belief.  It’s hard to wrap our minds around what a large paradigm shift that would have been.  The church went from having little influence on the broader culture to being given a place of immensely privileged influence.  One of the trends of this marriage between the state and the church over time became syncretism, or assimilation of multiple cultures.  So you might illustrate this with a bounded set that absorbs a number of other bounded sets within it. (Image.)  

With Constantine’s conversion, a new culture of “Christendom” was established - a marriage of the church and state.  And numerous local cultures and their cultural practices were absorbed and assimilated into the now privileged dominant culture.  This happens with a lot of state-established religions, and Christianity was no differnt.  Our contemporary Christmas is in many ways a result of syncretism. Honestly, I think there’s plenty to critique about syncretism and cultural assimilation, we don’t have time to get into that today, but I do want to acknowledge that unfortunately, that’s been a historic trend on how the church has interacted with culture in the past.

Well, today we live in a post-Christendom era.  The church no longer holds it’s privileges place of dominance.  As church and state have separated and religious pluralism, as well as the growth of those who practice no particular religion has increased int he West, influence of any particular religion has diminished over the larger culture; particularly in predominantly secular liberal urban areas like Berkeley.  Our culture is less defined by the values of a particular faith and are more informed by other factors - art, music, literature, media, politics, philosophy, and so on.

Now some in the church have found this process of the loss of cultural privilege to be extremely threatening.  Their experience of having Christianity be a dominant cultural force was reassuring; it felt good to have so much social capital.  And as this place of prominence diminishes, many of the threatened respond in dramatic ways.

Total withdrawal is one way to go.  Some folks want to take themselves out of the corrupt culture around them altogether; to build and maintain a purified culture that’s shaped by their religious understanding.  So they create a bounded set that’s located as far as possible from the broader bounded set.  The most extreme examples of this are groups like the Amish, but it doesn’t always have to look so extreme.  It takes a lot to live and really thrive in isolation.

The more popular version of this I think is the development of particular subcultures that exist within the broader culture and allow one to experience a similar lifestyle to the broader culture, with content that they find more in agreement with their own values.  So some Christians make a life in this narrow Christian sub-culture; they buy Christian books, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian movies and television, shop at Christian owned stores or restaurants.  Now this, in and of itself can be pretty benign.  If people would rather not watch certain movies, why should they have to?   I think what becomes challenging is when, perhaps because they’re not totally removed from the broader culture, these folks feel like they have to work hard to define to everyone how they’re different from the broader secular culture.  It’s as if it’s important to them that everyone knows that there’s a clear line between their expression of culture and those outside of their group.  They have to defend the boundaries of their bounded set.  And this becomes the fuel for culture wars.  The broader culture is viewed with suspicion, and it needs to be decried, otherwise corrupting influences might creep in and tarnish the purified culture the boundary makers have worked so hard to create.

No doubt the Christians who engage culture in this combative way believe that their approach is the one that Scripture would support.  And indeed, there is a Biblical theological tradition that one could say seems to support their stance.  It’s rooted in the Old Testament, in the period of the narrative that’s particularly featured in the book of Judges.  In Judges, the Hebrew people have been delivered from slavery, they’ve wandered in the desert and have been given a new identity by God, and they’ve come and claimed their promised land.  But now a key facet of their living prosperously and in obedience to God is their capacity to resist the outside influences of the surrounding cultures.  Purity of their newly established bounded set is understood to be an important part of faithfulness to God.  So when they keep their kids from marrying Canaanites, and they keep the Canaanite worship out, they do well.  When those forces come in, things go badly.     

So those who believe this is how they are meant to engage culture have a Biblical precedent.  The thing is, the picture of how God’s people relates to its neighbors in Judges is not the only picture in the Bible.  The greater story the bible tells has development, and one of the big pieces that develops is how the people that God is interacting with come to understand their own connection to and interaction with the broader world.

Even by the end of the Old Testament era, things are starting to look different.  What’s left of God’s people, the kingdom of Juday, is taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and they’re forced to leave their capital city, Jerusalem, the center of their faith and move to Babylon.  If there’s ever a time to protect their culture fiercely, one would think that now would be the time.  But when that happened, this is what God was speaking to Judah, according to Jeremiah:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” - Jeremiah 29:5-7

That’s a pretty different approach than what we saw in Judges, right?  Don’t decry your neighbors, bless them.  Don’t run from them, put down roots amongst them.    

And then there is the story of Jesus himself.  In Jesus, God is born into a human culture.  Yahweh, the Great I Am, transcendent above and beyond human culture choses to enter into it.  He chooses to inhabit a particular culture in a real way.  And he uses the cultural markers, the language of the culture he inhabits to communicate truth about divine, transcendent reality.  He comes describing a kingdom like no other kingdom, using their cultural vision of national governance.  And as he tries to communicate what this new kind of kingdom, this new kind of culture is like, he draws on the stuff of the culture he inhabits to make the case.  So he lives in an agrarian society, and many of his examples use agrarian metaphors.  The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It’s like a sower sowing seed.  It’s like a master who finds weeds sown among his crops.  Jesus is using the norms of this particularly culture to describe universal truths.  And he is compelling.

And what Jesus does throughout his life translating into the practical and real for first century Palestine-dwelling Jews is blown wide open six weeks after his death and resurrection.  Which brings us to our main passage for today, from Acts 2.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

So this is a familiar story for many of us.  Let’s remember the backdrop: Jesus has died, and then three days later, he appears again, and he spends some time making the rounds, showing himself to his closest followers, and then he ascends to heaven and says “I’ll be back.”  But right before he goes, he says, “Wait!  I’m sending you the Holy Spirit and it’s gonna give you power to share this message, the message I came with for you.  Power to demonstrate the realty of this new kind of kingdom, new kind of culture, new way of being, and you will be empowered to share it with the whole world.  But you gotta wait for this Holy Spirit thing.”  So they wait.  And they wait.  And they pray.  And nothing happens.

And then 50 days after Passover, 50 days after these major events, is a big festival that the Jews celebrate every year called Pentecost. It’s a festival of the harvest.  And Jews from throughout the known world come to Jerusalem.  They make the pilgrimage for this festival.  The Jews in this time don’t just live in Palestine.  A lot of them do, but they have also dispersed by now and at Pentecost, lots of the dispersed come back.  And this is the event at which God decides to announce the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So how is this story about God sending the Holy Spirit to a group of about 100 Jewish Jesus-followers in first century Palestine relevant to our questions about culture? Here’s how.  Once Jesus had come back, he could have given them the Holy Spirit at any point.  He didn’t.  He made them wait for a time of great multicultural diversity.  He waited for a gathering where there would be people from as many cultures as possible.  And how did he come?  What miraculous sign did he choose to announce his coming?  He could have done anything, right?  He’s God.  Earthquake.  Big Booming voice from heaven. Aramaic words written across the sky.  No.  He chooses this really weird event - the gift of tongues - to announce his coming.  Why?

I believe God sends his Holy Spirit with the gift of tongues because he knows how important culture is.  I believe he sends the gift of tongues because he values a diverse plurality of cultures.  Language is one of our most powerful and innate cultural expressions.  It is the very tool through which our culture is expressed.  Our songs, our poems, our prayers, our deepest connected emoting happens within our native language, the language we learned as children.  The gift of tongues was not about communication.  It was not about the dissemination of information.  Common languages were a necessary common reality during the 1st century Roman empire.  If these Jews wanted to tell people about Jesus in a language everyone would understand, they had at least three options, as all gathered there would likely have spoken Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.  But when God shows up in the room, those aren’t the languages that come.  The Holy Spirit comes and Jesus’ followers begin declaring the wonders of God in all of these other ethnic languages.  The languages of all of the diverse groups there.  And here is why it matters that the author of Acts includes the extensive list.  When you read it, it can be easy to be like, “come on I get the point, Parthians, Medes, Elemites…that’s enough already.”  But there’s a reason for the long exhaustive list.  

The gift of tongues is a gift not ultimately about communication.  It’s a gift about cultural relevence.  What Jesus is empowering his followers to do on the day of Pentecost is the same thing he has done.  God enters into a particular culture, to each particular culture.  He speaks their language.  He affirms and inhabits their culture.  He translates transcendent, universal truth into language that resonates, not just in people’s minds, but in their bones.  He speaks his transcendent truth with the words of a people’s deepest longings.  The language of their childhood.  The language of their dreams. And with that cultural language God speaks his new kind of kingdom, new kind of culture message of love, of self-giving, of acceptance, of grace.  And that message, the good news of God’s coming near is true in every way not just for those Jews in Jerusalem, but for Parthians, for Medes and Elamites; for residents of Mesopotamia, for Judea and Cappadocia, for Pontus and Asia, for Phrygia and Pamphylia, for Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; for visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); for Cretans and Arabs, and that’s just getting started.  A few chapters later, God sends Peter to a Gentile named Cornelius, with a clear message, “Do not call anything impure that I have made clean,” And the next thing you know, the Holy Spirit is falling on uncircumcised gentiles, the people the Jews were supposed to keep at arm’s length.  But Jesus’ good news is meant to be truly good news for all people but it must be spoken with cultural relevance.

Now I want to be clear, because I think when I talk about cultural relevance it could sound like I’m talking about a tactic, a strategy.  Maybe this is just God’s little Trojan Horse, he uses cultural relevence, he uses your language to get in the door of your little bounded set, and then surprise, all of a sudden you’re being expected to assimilate into this new bounded set. Your distinct culture is left behind.  What if that’s what God is ding here?  And while I understand this response, perhaps rooted in cynicism and fear, I think it misses at it’s core a true understanding of who God is and what his heart is for humanity.

I have three kids and I love each of them with an overwhelming, indescribable love, and it is my life’s work as a parent to communicate my unconditional love and support for my kids, even as I help them grow, and prepare them for life on their own.  Even as I discipline them, even as I make them clean their rooms, even as I ask them to eat veggies they don’t want to eat, I am also working to communicate to my kids that no matter what, they are beloved.  They are beautiful people.  They have dignity and worth in their humanity.  But increasingly, as my children age, I’m also learning how love is received differently by my different kids.  Junia and Gwen want to cuddle.  They experience love and comfort in my arms.  For Elliott right now, love is shown through playing Nerf guns, or legos, or watching him play basketball; listening to the things he cares about and is thinking are funny.  And as a parent, I want to connect with them through my children’s native languages, through the way they experience connection, not because I am trying to manipulate them but because I love them.  Because I care about them.  And I know that the different ways they’re wired speak to the beauty and uniqueness of who each of them has been made to be.

In the same way, I believe God cares about culture not because he is using culture to manipulate people into some master plan.  God cares about culture because God cares about people.  It goes back to Genesis 1 - humans are made in the image of a loving God, male and female God created them. Human beings have a unique identity as image bearers of God that is inherent in every human life and by extension, in every human culture.

The picture that Acts 2 shows is a group of people who hear the wonders of God within their cultural language and something is released, there is a power that is experienced.  These folks, they’re already in some way sold on Yahweh, right?  They’ve made the pilgrimage from Greece, from Mesopotamia, from way out there in Rome to be here in Jerusalem, but they’re here as members of minority cultures.  They know their Jewish faith is a largely Jerusalem-centric faith.  They’ve taken on the burden of the cross-cultural work, they’ve left behind much of their home culture to be here, to play in this bounded set, because for whatever reason they care about this God.  But today, Pentecost, today is the day that God shows each of them how much He cares about them exactly as they truly are.  God wants each of them to hear his heart in their native tongue.  He is the parent wanting the child to know they are loved as that unique child must hear it.  He is the parent who says all of your uniqueness matters.  I don’t want to fight your culture.  I don’t want to swallow up your culture.  I want to be with you in your culture.  No wonder the people are amazed.  And yes, some of them wonder if this is just booze, but most of the then listen to Peter as he tells them about this new vision of community that Jesus brought.  And it makes sense to them.  They want to be a part of this new kind of kingdom.  They begin to follow Jesus.  

At Pentecost, these folks from around the known world hear God’s invitation: “I want to create a new kind of community, not a bounded set, but a centered set kind of community where all of my kids from all of these cultures can preserve their unique cultural languages, can preserve cultural distinction, and share mutual understanding.” Acts 2 points in the direction of the end of the story that’s shown in Revelation; a picture of the end of this age, when members of every tongue, and every tribe, every culture and sub culture unite in worship of Jesus.  Jesus wants to be the center point of that new multicultural community.  A community where we speak different languages, we come from different cultures, but we’re united by something powerful, and with the presence of God’s spirit we can respect and understand one another in ways that our natural capacities never could have imagined.

Our world today is just as in need of this kind of community as it ever has been.  We need a way of being together that doesn’t approach the other with suspicion, with fear, with hatred.  We need a way of being together that doesn’t minimize our differences or try to assimilate us into a flavorless monoculture. And this is the hope of Jesus’ good news.  This is the hope we hold onto for the church.  That we could be that kind of alternative culture; that new kind of kingdom that God has been in the process of growing like a mustard seed since Jesus walked the earth.  And this hope compels our Blue Ocean approach to culture, which is why Blue Ocean’s sixth distinctive is this: Our approach to culture is joyful engagement.  Not fear.  Not suspicion.  Not judgement.  Joyful engagement.

So I’ve spent most of this talk on why I think an alternative approach  to culture is needed from the church, and why I think there’s a biblical case for it.  I want to end then with a few thoughts on how we joyfully engage; what that looks like in practical terms.

First, I think it means we joyfully participate in culture. We don’t run from culture.  We don’t withdraw into little bounded sets of isolation or cranky cultural critique.  We enjoy the beauty of the culture we find ourselves in.  For all of us who live here, we get to revel in the fact that as Bay Area dwellers, we live in one of the most culturally interesting places I think on the planet.  We take it in and we step into it - the art, the music, the theatre, the technology, the food, the farmer’s markets, the protests, the university lectures, the sports teams - there’s an unlimited amount of opportunity to engage in culture here.  To follow our own interests.  No one can do it all, so explore, and find the places you are stirred as you engage.  

 Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir ( oigc.org )

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir (oigc.org)

Look for places to not only consume the culture but to participate in meaningful ways.  One of the greatest joys of my life since moving here has come from joining the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.  At times it’s been a stretching experience for me.  While I’ve had some experience singing gospel, it’s always been, honestly, in predominantly white churches.  I didn’t grow up in the black gospel church.  I’ve also never sung gospel in an interfaith community - that’s a new experience.  But I have learned so much about worship, I’ve learned so much about black gospel culture, I’ve learned so much about unity in the midst of diversity, and I’ve learned so much about the power of spiritual, connected, beautiful music to move all kinds of people because of my involvement in this choir.  This holiday season I’ve been giving the immense honor, especially as a newcomer, of performing a significant solo with the choir, and as I do, I will be bringing a sense of wonder and honor to be able to lend my voice to the mission of this group.  I’m proud to stand alongside my new brothers and sisters and bring what I have to contribute to the table.

Some might wonder, does participating in culture mean we’re gonna value everything the same way that our culture at large values it?  And the answer, is of course, no.  No, there are places for healthy critique of every culture, because there is grace and beauty and wonder and there is also greed and injustice and sin at root in every human culture.  Because there are beautiful, broken, messy humans in every human culture.  And those same people are made in the image of God.  Some things just might not be helpful.  As the apostle Paul said, “everything is permitted, but not everything is beneficial” so maybe watching a super violent movie is not gonna help us grow in keeping our own violent tendencies in check.  So don’t watch the movie.  But others might be able to watch it and not be affected; good for them.

I do believe we are called to be ambassadors of justice.  We are called to stand for the vulnerable, to give voice to the voiceless, to call out injustice and harm on behalf of those who are disempowered to do it.  And so when we see injustice and exploitation at work in our culture, we may sense a need to speak out against it.  But we have to remember that you can’t speak meaningfully into something you are not a part of.  Jesus could rail against the money changers in the temple, he could call out the religious leaders of his day, because he was part of their world.  You need to earn the right to speak, and earning that comes from listening well, from showing up, from contributing in meaningful ways, and from acknowledging our own challenges and weaknesses.    

The second way I think we can joyfully engage in culture is this: We create wherever we can.  We create wherever we can.  We are made in the image of a creative God.  We have been given a capacity to create, each of us, and when we do, we participate in the work of New Creation, the work Jesus is doing to bring healing and redemption to our entire world.  So we create wherever we can create.  We create in our jobs - the work Jason is doing as an engineer is creative work.  The work Liz is doing investing in and training at risk youth is a creative work.  You don’t have to be a professional graphic designer like Don to be a creator.  We create in our homes, Cooking dinner, what we do every week is an act of creativity.  Serving a delicious, filling meal to the men at the shelter like we did last night, this is an act of creation.  Gardening, bringing new life from the soil, that is an act of creativity.  Create wherever you can not only to pay your bills, but because it’s what you were made to do.  Create for the love of it, for the joy of it.

And my third encouragement to us in this vein is this: make art, not propaganda. Make art, not propaganda.  There is a tendency by some in the Christian world to feel like they need to make films that communicate a clear evangelistic message, or write songs that will convince people to follow Jesus.  How often do you think this actually works?  Not only do I think it’s ineffective, but I think it cheapens the creative endeavor.  I short circuits the process of creation.  Art is about creative expression, it is a way of giving voice to internal stirrings, it is a way of bringing new perspectives into being.  But if the communication of one central message is the central motivation for an act of creativity, I think it has stopped being art and it has become propaganda.

God doesn’t need us to do his messaging for him.  At Pentecost, he was empowering people to say the words that others would find compelling.  They couldn’t have manufactured them.  We don’t know exactly what those speaking in tongues said.  All the text tells us is that those gathered there that day heard the wonders of God described  in their native tongues.  We are all here as people who have been in some way affected by this Jesus.  Whether we wanted it or not, we have been caught up in his story, and our lives in some way have been transformed.  And so, yes, if we create from a truly honest place, the wonders of God that are embedded in each of our stories will shine through our creative acts, but not because we are carefully crafting a particular message.  We need to create for the sake of creating and let our art reflect the complexity that is in each of us - the faith mixed with doubt, the confidence mixed with questions, the beauty mixed with pain, the joy mixed with sorrow, the hope mixed with longing.  May we believe that if God desires to speak to others through our creative work, through out art, he will do so in the midst of the complexity of life, just as he has journeyed with each of us through the complexity of life.

So, friends, let’s joyfully participate in culture.  Let’s create wherever we can create.  Let’s make art, not propaganda.  And let us live and pray and move forward as a community with the longing and the hope that Haven will be a space where friends from our culture can hear God’s approval and acceptance just as they are.  Where we can maintain cultural diversity and yet have shared understanding.  Where can all press toward a common center. Where God is found in the midst of our diverse unity. Amen.