One of my favorite books to re-read during the Season of Advent is Walter Wangerin’s, Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom. I heard Walter preach at the first National Pastor’s Convention and was completely enthralled at the manner in which he communicated the gospel in story. His book was on one of the speaker’s book tables and I grabbed it up. You should do the same!
I have found a new book to re-read each year during the Season of Advent. Scot McKnight’s new book, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. In an earlier post I noted the opportunity to receive a copy and host a forum. I plan to do a series review December 1st (Friday). We held our forum last evening and determined to extend our discussion over a series of Wednesdays in December. This will be part of our celebration of Advent.
Growing up in a fundamentalist, dispensationalist church context, I regularly heard we were living in the Laodecian Age of the Church. Attempts to describe the "lukewarm" nature of the church were generally intended to compel people to "get fired up" about the Lord. Everyone bemoaned the apparent apathy sweeping the church in American and Europe. Regular stories of once packed churches in England found a place in pulpits warning of things to come on this side of the pond. Certainly there is a great deal of indifference among people today, notably among those carrying church membership and their "asbestos" get out of Hell free card they plan on showing at the "pearly gates."
McKnight stirred me to thinking about another condition among the "churched" and "de-churched." (This is my connection not his, though I think he would make it nonetheless). Could it be our chief issue in the church and maybe even without is ambivalence rather than apathy? Much has been made of the angst created when the progress for which we hoped disappeared faster than the new Nintendo wii or the new Sony Playstation on "Black Friday." Many suspected the progress made in all areas where man exercised his unbridled reason would create a new day for all people everywhere. Three years into the war in Iraq, the war on Terror, the 25th year in our war on AIDS/HIV and who knows how long we have battled cancer (and we have not included other issues like the potential "Bird Flu" pandemic, raging genocide in at least the Sudan, forced prositution and abortion) and still we meet our limitations. Who thought it would be like this in the year 2006? OK, sure there are the skeptics and cynics, but many really believed we would be further along in our "progress."
Ambivalence is much like the attraction and rejection found with the flipping of a magnet. Sometimes the poles attract and other times they repel. We are not sure what to do when we encounter a thing or a person who does both and maybe even at the same time. McKnight describes the ambivalence expressed by Mary and Jesus’ family. They well could have found Jesus both inviting and alarming. He did not fit their picture. He did not fit anyone’s picture. So, there were times where he was embraced and other times he was shunned. Can we not say this is the case today?
Things are not supposed to …. You fill in the rest of the sentence. "Do what he says," barks Mary. They came to get Jesus because they thought him "mad." He is equally embraced and repelled. I really think this is more of what we find in our churches today. What is odd is just when Jesus is embraced and when he is shunned. Bad things happen and we want to embrace Jesus. Good things abound and we shun Jesus. This is certainly an over-simplification. I know well those times when crises come so intense the bad things make us angry at the One "who knows all about our sorrows."
The tension created by the apparent ambivalence expressed by many who claim to follow Christ should be the seedbed for increased wrestling through to discovery, the "a-ha" moment. Yet, we are not allowed to hold much in tension because the voices of certainty cajole us for our timidness and humility. So we suffer in silent ambivalence with no one to discuss these things that both attract and repel. No one with whom we may travel and discover just how did you overcome/work through the period of anxiety. Until that is, we see Mary as McKnight portrays her. He may well not have intended these thoughts, but they are sure the ones flooding this pastor’s mind.
Maybe we need to start a recovery group, Ambivalents Anonymous." We could stand in a safe place and admit to the consternation felt when that which we thought was real was not. We could find help to embrace what is really real.
Go get the book! Come back and let’s interact on this one … soon.