Skip to comments.Ordinary: The New Radical?
Posted on 09/04/2013 1:03:43 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Ultimate. Extreme. Emergent. Alternative. Next. Impactful. On The Edge. Beyond. Awesome. Legendary. Innovative. Breakthrough.
Everything has to have an exclamation point to catch our attention these days. For many of us, the worst word in our vocabulary is ordinary. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary? Who wants to be an ordinary person in an ordinary town, a member of an ordinary church with ordinary friends and callings?
Our life has to count. We have to leave our mark, a legacy, make a difference. And this has to be something that we can manage, measure, and maintain. We have to live up to our own Facebook profile.
Yet there seems to be a restlessness with restlessness. It seems that a lot of us are becoming less eager to jump on bandwagons or trail-blaze totally new paths to greatness.
Truth be told, it is actually easier to dream big, pull up roots, and become anonymousto start overwith a new set of upwardly mobile peers. And then to do it all over again, somewhere else, reinventing ourselves whenever we want a fresh start and a new set of supporting actors in our life movie. There is nothing wrong with moving to the city or pursuing adrenaline-racing callings. But the hype creeps into every area of our life. Its making us tired, depressed, and mean.
Given the dominance of The Next Big Thing in our society, it is not at all surprising that the Christian sub-culture is passionate about superlatives. Many Christians were raised in an environment of managed expectations with measurable results. Like other aspects of life, growth in Christ as individuals and as churches could be programmed with predictable outcomes. Many Christians express astonishment when a fellow believer is content with an ordinary Christian life, with an ordinary church, among ordinary Christians, where God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace.
Everydayness Is My Problem
The writer Rod Dreher observed, Everydayness is my problem. Its easy to think about what you would do in wartime, or if a hurricane blows through, or if you spent a month in Paris, or if your guy wins the election, or if you won the lottery or bought that thing you really wanted. Its a lot more difficult to figure out how youre going to get through today without despair. I know just how he feels, and Im guessing you do too. Facing each day with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around us is much more difficult than chasing dreams.
In Christian circles, successive waves of extraordinariness have whipped us up into a frenzy, only to leave us exhausted or disillusioned. Sometimes its a new program for personal growth. For others, its a new form of worship. According to others, radical discipleship means more social interest in transforming the wider world. For still others, it has meant a longing for revival and awakening to stir us from our apparent slumbers.
For all of its vitality, evangelicalism is a movement, not a church. In many ways it has not only been influenced by but has helped to shape this aspect of the modern American personality. Institutions kill the entrepreneurial spirit, evangelicalism says, You have to break out of the ordinary and follow the Spirit into new frontiers. How much of this actually comes from Scripture and how much of it is simply part of our cultural conditioning? As Mark Galli, executive editor at Christianity Today, puts it, The strength of the evangelical movement is its activism; the weakness of the evangelical movement is its activism.
My target isnt activism itself, but the marginalization of the ordinary as the richest site of both Gods activity and ours. Our problem isnt that we are too active. Rather, it is that we have been prone to successive sprints instead of the long-distance run. Theres nothing wrong with energy. The danger is that were burning out ourselvesand each otheron restless anxieties and unrealistic expectations. Its an impatience with the familiar, sometimes slow, and mostly imperceptible aspects of life.
Think of the things that matter most to us. They arent movements; they are institutions. They require us to submit to a community, to be tied down in ways that clip our restless wings. Yet in the process, the discipline brings wisdom and delight.
Take marriage, for example. Is there a plan or program that allows you to expect and to measure progress? How do you measure a relationship? My wife and I often have different takes on how things are going. We may be able to rejoice in the way the Lord has bonded us together since our first year, but how exactly do you measure it from week to week? And as you look back, what counted most: the extraordinary weekend retreat or the ordinary moments filled with seemingly insignificant decisions, conversations, and touches? You have distinct memories (if not photos) of the former, but probably not of the latter. The richest things in life are made up of more than Kodak moments.
Is it any different with raising children? When it comes to the time we spend with them, the mantra among many upwardly mobile parents (especially dads) is Quality Time. But is that true? What happens in those seemingly mundane moments that are unplanned, unscheduled, and unplugged? Nearly everything! Lifetime nicknames are invented; identities and relationships are formed. On the drive home from church, your child asks a question about the sermon that puts one more piece of the puzzle into place for an enduring faith. The trip to Disney World may be memorable, but it cant compensate for just being there in ordinary ways through ordinary moments.
Big expectations are placed on Christians. Some fly coach; others find their way to first class. There are the ordinary believers who are content to come to church regularly, participate in fellowship and hospitality, and support the ministry financially. Then there are the truly Spirit-filled, victorious, soul-winning or society-transforming warriors who take it to the next level.
Of course, were not new at this. There were plenty of schemes for spiritual ladder-climbing in the medieval church. Many Protestants created their own version of lower and higher, ordinary and extraordinary. You could still be a member of the official church in town, but if youve experienced the new birth youll join the nucleus of the true church that meets in small groups. It isnt the ordinary ministry of the churchits public and corporate hearing of the Word, baptism, the Supper, and the prayers, but the extraordinary after-hours programs that sift the wheat from the chaff.
Then revivalism came along. It led to an even sharper division between the ordinary Christian life in ordinary churches and families and the summons to individuals to break away from the herd and join the extraordinary move of the Spirit.
I recall the anxiety over not having a great testimony. Every time we went around in a circle to recount our before and after pictures of conversion, I was tempted to embellish a little. I couldnt even remember the date of my conversion! I was raised in a Christian home and church. I couldnt recall a time when I didnt trust in Christ and sense his gracious hand in my life.
If you think of initial conversion as a measurable and datable big bang, it stands to reason that, when that gets old, youll keep looking for the next crisis experience. You may be saved, but are you Spirit-filled? The ordinary growth of a believer from baptism to burial was considered at best secondary. At worst, it was a churchianity that stood in the way of a genuine personal relationship with Jesus. The revival was planned, staged, and executed with predictable outcomes. The climactic moment at summer camp was more exciting and measurable on a spiritual Richter scale than the gradual growth in Christ through faithful family members, friends, and elders. You may have been baptized and looked after by Christs under-shepherds in the church, joining gradually in the songs of Zion as you matured, and learning to join the church in its prayers and, eventually, at the Lords Table. You may have heard and prayed the Scriptures with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture through a catechism. Yet none of this really counts. What really matters is the extraordinary spiritual event.
In American church life, weve gone through successive waves of the Next Big Thing. There were giant crusades in stadiums and campus crusades. There was the Jesus Movement that just happened to coincide with the 70s youth revolution. For every cultural upheaval in society, there was a Christian knock-off.
In recent decades, the Emergent Movement captured the attention of the hipster generation, at least for a while. It was supposed to be a radical rebooting: The Next Christians, A New Kind of Christian, and all. Already, though, it seems to have spent its fuel.
Adapting to the cultureand especially to the profile of each generationhas been a remarkable strength of evangelicalism. Yet growing up into Christ as members of his body, across all generations and locales, is being undermined by frenetic activity. Patient dedication to the ordinary and often tedious disciplines of corporate and family worship, teaching, prayer, modeling, and mentoring are often eroded by successive waves of enthusiasm.
Even Calvinism seems to have gotten back its groove. According to TIME, the New Calvinism is one of the top ten trends changing the world today. Collin Hansens descriptionand title of a book explaining the phenomenonsays it pretty well: Young, Restless, and Reformed. While its exciting to see many younger folks digging into the doctrines of grace, the restless part works against the Reformed bit. Like all movements, the New Calvinists often display a greater interest in making it up as they go rather than wrestling with the actual confessions, concerns, and convictions of churches that have forged their consensus through a long conversation. There is more to being Reformed than five points.
In many ways, its more fun to be part of movements than churches. We can express our own individuality, pick our favorite leaders, and be swept off our feet at conferences. We can be anonymous. Although encouraged by like-minded believers, we are not bound up with them so that we should feel compelled to bear their burdens or suffer their rebukes. Yet this movement-mentality keeps us restless and makes ordinary life in and submission to an actual church seem intolerably confining.
Its precisely because we need to look outside of ourselvesup to God in faith and out to our neighbors in lovethat its important to talk about the ways were stepping over Gods activity in ordinary and everyday ways. Im not trying to throw a wrench in the conversations about various ways of being radical, but to add a few cautions and caveats that I wouldnt have been prone to think about, much less write about, in younger years.
Just think of all of the pastors, elders, and deacons whose service is as unheralded as it vital to sustainable discipleship; to all of the spouses and parents who cherish ordinary moments to love and be loved; and to all of those believers who consider their ordinary vocations in the world as part of Gods normal way of loving and serving neighbors right under their nose each day.
And who knows? Maybe if we discover the opportunities of the ordinary, a fondness for the familiar, and marvel again at the mundane, we will be radical after all.
 Rod Dreher, Everydayness, Nov. 14, 2012 at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/everydayness-wallace-stevens/, accessed 7/24/2013.
 Collin Hansen, Young, Restless and Reformed: A Journalists Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).
....In American church life, weve gone through successive waves of the Next Big Thing. There were giant crusades in stadiums and campus crusades. There was the Jesus Movement that just happened to coincide with the 70s youth revolution. For every cultural upheaval in society, there was a Christian knock-off. In recent decades, the Emergent Movement captured the attention of the hipster generation, at least for a while. It was supposed to be a radical rebooting: The Next Christians, A New Kind of Christian, and all. Already, though, it seems to have spent its fuel....
....Even Calvinism seems to have gotten back its groove. According to TIME, the New Calvinism is one of the top ten trends changing the world today. Collin Hansens descriptionand title of a book explaining the phenomenonsays it pretty well: Young, Restless, and Reformed. While its exciting to see many younger folks digging into the doctrines of grace, the restless part works against the Reformed bit. Like all movements, the New Calvinists often display a greater interest in making it up as they go rather than wrestling with the actual confessions, concerns, and convictions of churches that have forged their consensus through a long conversation. There is more to being Reformed than five points.
Michael Horton / White Horse Inn Ping
All good Protestants go to Heaven.
I was “Born again” on January 1st 2000.
I began attending an evangelical bible church that soon became a mega-Church.
I quickly discovered that my duty as a Christian was to spread the word. Since I was not a social person, I found this very difficult. Joining one small group after another, I found myself listening to group members and leaders as they professed their knowledge and righteousness. Kind of like a “one upsmanship” while never addressing the purpose of the group. Most of the groups members seem to have something to prove.
I needed more.
I owned my faith and while collecting insight from others is great, I found that discovering that insight for yourself has substantially more value. When someone replies to a question with “Because the Bible says so” I feel the need to run away. I don’t find them to be very thoughtful and certainly not someone that I will learn anything from.
I suppose it is a question of truth.
Can you ever be “told” what is true ?
I am still on my journey and try to impart what I have learned along the way.
Sadly, more and more people don’t listen. They wait to speak.
And the beauty of Gods creation sinks beneath their wisdom, like a stone.
Just listened to that episode on the way home. Very good stuff.
That is an excellent testimony that mirrors my own.
I would just say that people don’t listen because they don’t want to listen. It isn’t a fault in the delivery, the style, the accent, or whether one has bad breath. The Holy Spirit must move the heart. We just cast seeds.
All God requires of us is that we be faithful to His calling.
I get very frustrated and loose sight of the seeds along the way.
I suppose I think that other people actually care or are even capable of processing information that may conflict with their worldview.
I once asked a good friend or semi-co-worker, a smart guy, “If it where discovered, scientifically, beyond all doubt, all over the news, that the Earth was no more than 10,000 years old”, “Would it change your worldview ?”
His reply was “No”.
He is and was very liberal and anti-religious, and he was considered by many of his peers to be a really intelligent person.
I have found that truth has become so relative that individuals will hold onto and refuse to entertain new facts if it conflicts with what they have been conditioned to believe.
My ex-Girlfriend again, very liberal and anti-religion, made a random comment that “More Blacks died in the Vietnam war than whites”. I said that that was completely false without knowing the actual numbers and challenged her to prove it. She said “Everybody knows this” and we proceeded on our dueling internet connections to verify our positions.
When we both produced real numbers, virtually the same numbers from reliable sources that confirmed my position, her response was rage, an all out attack on me personally.
I can only call this “cognitive dissonance”.
I even explained cognitive dissonance to her at a later date, and you would think that someone like her that was so wrapped in relativism would consider this phenomenon.
There is a mental block that keeps so many people from the truth.
I have come to recognize this and think that the only way to get them to think for themselves is eat away at the edges. Sow the seeds, I suppose.
I am very lucky to have a very smart daughter, and a few years ago(she was 19) I asked her “what does it take to change a persons worldview?” She replied without hesitation “Crisis”.
In the big picture I can see how our government is systematically removing any potential crisis from peoples lives, and as a result, they place their faith Government over the individual and their own God given abilities.
I still work at the edges, and I think music may hold the key to reaching people.
All good Protestants go to Heaven.
I believe that too. Of course they go to Heaven. They just have to wait at The Gate a little longer than Catholics.
I'm sure you know that St. Peter is partial to Catholics, right? Plus, it takes longer to process Protestants. I'm sure you know why. [Hint: more venial sins].
There is one truth out there and it is for us to explore. Today's thought is there are many truths and many paths. People just don't want to hear it. Like the citizens of Sodom or the crowds of Athens, they will rush to stop the truth from being spoken. I'm just out of sync with the world.
Some well meaning Christians look at this and try to explain it as worldviews. That people have been conditioned and influenced by the world around them and we need to challenge their worldview. I don't want to sound pessimistic but I look at it as a darkening of the mind by the hand of God. And I believe it's to bring about that crisis that your daughter so wisely identified. Whether judgment day is fast approaching is difficult to say. But if there was ever a time that the true end was fast approaching, in looking throughout history, it is now.
Ecc 12:12-13 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
I have had an amazing journey.
Confronted by secular skeptics as I have tried to communicate what I knew, I was forced to do some homework.
It seems to be my nature to never be in a position to not know something. I can’t help myself.
As I distilled the arguments I realized that there are only a few fundamental aspects that are the foundation of ones belief.
I explored other religions, I read the Quran, I dove into Buddhism and while I found some value in Judaism, it has an exclusivity that left me empty. I did the science and the math of Darwinism. The debates are nearly identical to those between liberals and conservatives. Sad.
To be honest, I am left with only two possibilities.
Life on Earth is a function of what we know in genesis and or we where seeded by Aliens. The math for aliens is extraordinary to say the least. Evolution is mathematically impossible.
I know these things to be true.
The physics of Buddhism has some appeal as you consider what is possible.
The undeniable fact of the resurrection of Christ narrows ones choices.
I can’t quote the bible to anyone.
Maybe I am a reluctant Christian. I found Christ from a personal crisis and I have rediscovered the truth through the process of elimination.
When I open my eyes it is all I can do to keep from falling to my knees.