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The Current American Tension and 4 Opportunities for the Church

You don’t need to be anything more than a casual observer of American (and Western) culture to know that something significant is happening.

Charlottesville, Ferguson, Baltimore and a host of other cities that have seen events which symbolize the problems this generation is struggling with will, sadly, likely give way to a list of more cities and events yet to come. Terror attacks in North America and a host of global cities seem to happen weekly. In addition, the current political division is as bad as it’s been in a long time.

The violence, destruction, and tension have become so normal that we no longer even post the “Pray For [Insert City Here]” graphics that used to earnestly spring up on social media whenever a new crisis emerged. There are just too many, and we’ve become too numb.

Add some unbelievable political tension into the mix, and most of us don’t know how to respond. Even as someone who lives north of the US border, has a great affection for the US and has many friends in America, we all feel the tension to one extent or another and are living through it.

No church in Canada or anywhere in the West can pretend we’re not living in an age of heightened tension.

So how do we respond to the situation we’re in? While some in our culture believe the church is part of the problem, I believe it’s key to the solution.

Jesus is the love we keep missing as human beings. He is who we all really long for, and in Christ, we find our unity.

So how does the church better function as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem?

Here are four ways Christians and the church can bring hope to the increasingly fragile culture around us.

1. Be A Confessor in a Culture of Blame

It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else. This is true in human relationships (think about your marriage), but it’s also true culturally.

So when any kind of tension arises, ask yourself what you own before asking anyone else what they own.

Violence begins in our hearts before it ever hits the street. A nation and the world become divided because our hearts are divided.

Too often Christians focus on what we can’t change and ignore what we can.

All of this is what confession is designed to root out.

Imagine what would happen if Christians owned the racism, sexism and other isms that live in our hearts. Imagine what might happen if we confessed that we have not adequately loved people who are different than us.

Maybe true prayers of confession are rare in church  (they are usually either rote or non-existent) because they’re rare in leaders.

It’s so easy to believe you’re right and everyone else is wrong. There’s a sense in which that’s normal. I hope you believe you’re right about what matters most, otherwise, why do you hold your conviction?

But… you are not always right. And you don’t hold a monopoly on truth. Your perspective and mine are flawed. None of us loves perfectly or deeply enough.

When you confess that you’re part of the problem, the solution becomes clearer. You will never address the wrong you don’t confess.

2. Foster Conversation in a Culture That Shouts

Thanks to social media, everybody has a platform. A ridiculous amount of people use theirs to shout rather than to listen.

Just check your feed at any given moment, and it’s likely crammed with everything from people WHO SPEAK IN ALL CAPS to links denouncing the other side (whoever that other side is) to proclaiming how they’ve figured out what all the dumb people haven’t.

This translates into real life too. Conversations seem to be devolving into an exchange of monologues between two people who don’t seem terribly interested in each other.

People appear to be talking at each other as much as they’re talking with each other. I’ll share my opinions and then you can share your opinions. That’s not conversation.

You know what’s missing in the current culture?

Well, a bunch of things.

Listening

Thoughtfulness

Humility

Kindness

Openness

Genuine, authentic conversation features all of those elements and more.

When was the last time you had a genuine conversation with someone who doesn’t share your values? By that, I mean an exchange where you listened as much as you spoke? Tried to understand more than you tried to be understood? Cared about them as much as you ever cared about your point of view?

That’s what conversation is. And conversation an endangered species in our current culture.

Love listens. So should Christians.

3. Broker Meaning in the Age of Information

Information used to be rare.

Remember when you couldn’t just google an answer to any question? You had to ask. Find an expert. Pull an encyclopedia off the shelf.

The last decade has fundamentally changed that in two ways:

1. You can find almost any information or content you want for free. When was the last time you googled something you couldn’t find an answer to without paying? Exactly.

2. Everbody’s a publisher. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram and other platforms have turned anyone and everyone into content producers, and self-publishing has turned every half-serious writer into an author.

As a result, the crisis in our culture no longer centers on access to information. We have more information than we know how to process.

You’ve felt this every time you’ve scrolled through your social media or news feed and thought “there is nothing of value here at all.”

In fact, on some days, the constant rants, drivel, trivial observations, bragging, hatred, ranting, self-promotion and complaining has made you think about giving up social media altogether.

Consequently, we have a new crisis. The current crisis in our culture isn’t a crisis of information, it’s a crisis of meaning. We have a million springs of endless information and we have no idea what it all means.

The challenge for church leaders moving forward is not just to produce more content. The challenge is to provide meaning. 

I believe the future belongs to leaders who broker meaning in the sea of endless content

It follows, then, that the key to providing meaning isn’t more, it’s better. More content will simply get lost the constant chatter.

More without meaning will make you less relevant. You become yet another unhelpful voice.

Better is not nearly as easy as more. Better requires thought, reflection, digestion and ultimately resonance (it’s resonance that tells you your content is connecting).

This provides a huge opportunity for church leaders. Who better to provide meaning than the leaders called to share timeless truth in an era starved for meaning?

There’s a generation of people looking for love in a world of hate. Looking for truth in an age of relativity. Looking for something to cling to when everything else seems to be falling apart.

Leaders who read widely, pray, digest, think, and above all produce content that actually helps people find meaning will become leaders in their field.

4. Be the Counter-culture

If there was ever a time for the countercultural message of Christianity to offer a real alternative, this is it.

When the church simply reflects the social or moral values of an increasingly post-Christian culture, we echo the current emptiness; we don’t echo God.

This is where the message of authentic Christianity and the church have so much to offer. In an age that says “My belief demands your life,” authentic Christianity says “My belief surrenders mine.”

In an age that says “Hate your enemy,” Christ says “Love him.”

Christianity is a fusion of grace and truth because Jesus is the embodiment of grace of truth. The challenge, of course, is that most of us instinctively lean toward either grace or truth. It seems easier, but it’s incomplete and wrong.

Grace without truth produces a spineless sentiment that helps no one.

Truth without grace is cruel, a twisted imitation of what love actually looks like.

Neither reflects the heart of God.

Christ is truth and grace majestically woven together. He is love that moves you out of sin. He is truth that simultaneously makes you realize how horrible it really is, and how loved you really are.

Fusing grace and truth is an exceptionally difficult venture and is usually only successful when you spend significant amounts of time on your knees and when the source of your attempt is actually Christ himself. I am rarely good at it, flipping from one side to the other too quickly.

But when you see grace and truth fused, it takes your breath away.

The more we reflect the fusion of grace and truth, the greater the alternative we offer people. Without Christ, people either get cheap grace or fake truth.

In Christ, people experience the fusion of grace and truth every heart most deeply longs for.

What Are You Doing to Diffuse the Tension?

Your most significant contribution to diffusing the tension will not be in what you think (although it begins there). It will be in what you do.

A few things to think about before you go. I promise you, these are as challenging for me as they might be for you:

How diverse is your dinner table? Do you only ever have people over to your house who look like you, make the same amount of money (or more) than you do, share the same values as you? Or are you engaging people who are different than you? This is about race but also goes far beyond race to the myriad of other barriers we erect in our lives.

When was the last time you listened as much as you spoke?

When was the last time you confessed your sin to God rather than trotting out someone else’s asking God to change them?

How long has it been since you served someone who is different than you…helped them tangibly?

What are you doing to diffuse the tension you feel that’s helped? I’d love to know.

Scroll down and leave a comment.

13 Comments

  1. Sid Marks on September 12, 2017 at 1:23 am

    “What are you doing to diffuse the tension you feel that’s helped?” I’m an old white guy. Each week I open a gym for basketball & we take a couple of minutes to share Jesus. A racially diverse group shows up. Twice in the last few yrs I’ve been called racist. While it would be an easy argument to defend myself, arguing accelerates tension. In both cases I talked them into letting me buy lunch & take that opportunity to speak their mind. When people see that we value them more than our own ego, tensions dissolve. When they see that we value them, above their perception of us, their perceptions change

  2. Richard Rabe on August 27, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you Carey. In a time of trouble we often forget to turn to the truth but as you point out, if we do, that simple motion can affect the world profoundly.

  3. Char Seawell on August 26, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    I attend a church with a wide variety of political beliefs and a wide scale of beliefs about our culture, minorities, etc. that are the polar opposite of mine. My desire has been to allow love to exist in the tension of our differing beliefs in the cultural context for the unity of Christ. I have learned to simply state, “Well, I don’t feel/think the same way,” but breathe deeply, listen and share in a gentle way. Some of these folks are very argumentative and confrontational in their personalities, but I try to remind myself that I am the thorn in someone else’s side which helps me move forward and not avoid, but rather engage in a gentle way…and, of course, nothing beats a hug and a kind word.
    This is another great article that I will pass on to my pastors…all of whom manage that truth/grace balance so well.

  4. Mike Schultz on August 26, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you! It provided encouragement to continue seeking balance together as a church!

  5. Anne Boyd on August 26, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you for sending me your posts! Today, as a Clinical Social Worker, I had a God blessed therapy session with a client in which we discussed/ worked on grace and truth in relationships. This gracious, to the point, article is to be required reading and discussion…and put into practice by my clients. So helpful! We are the Light of the World, hands and feet of Jesus…let’s do it!

  6. Stuart Luce on August 26, 2017 at 6:29 am

    Thanks Carey for another helpful post! I’ve been feeling led to respond, but didn’t know how. Your post gave me many excellent ideas!! God bless!

  7. Bev Sesink on August 24, 2017 at 9:38 am

    I have a friend who decided to step out of the box and serve in his local community a faith group not his own. He offered to do whatever they needed and now he has become a trusted friend to a number of people. It all began when he took serious Jesus’ command to “love you neighbor as yourself.”

    BTW he was inspired by the book, “Muslims, Christians, and Jesus” by Carl Medearis. He was shocked how much Christians and Muslims have in common through Jesus even though we have differences too.

    He was also shocked by how warm the author’s relationships were with this group of people only to find out years later the same thing has happened to him as he has done to others what he would have wanted done to him.

  8. Hugh on August 23, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Yes I think the church was not effective enough . I have discussed this with predominantly white Christians about the church repenting of its racism and never got much of a response . I have even been told that racism does not exist anymore . Hmm. Talking about burying ones head in the sand .
    Anyways I’d like to see Lesa said and more done . I think we speak loudest with what we do .

  9. Kathy Nelson on August 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Wow! So good and right on point. Thank you for the encouragement and challenge.

  10. Greg Walker on August 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Good stuff, as usual, Carey. IN addition to confessing to God, I think it’s sometimes helpful to tell our story to others. I’ve been posting a series on my blog about my journey, with the hope of helping others who thought like me to see a new and better way.

    Genuine listening, particularly to those unlike me, is difficult. It’s an unnatural behavior that I have to PRACTICE. But it’s powerful even in practice, and over time it can have tremendous positive effects in me, and in the world I interact with.

    Keep leading!

  11. Mike Bryan on August 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Good words Carey. And very timely because I have recently been put onto the work of Christian Schwarz on grace and truth as being aspects of God’s love. But he also includes justice, and talks about light and dark. I think that starting with the effort to balance grace and truth in my own talk and action might be good.

  12. Cathy Jensen on August 23, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    WOW! You have taken the words right out of my mouth. Over the last month, I have pondered and meditated on not just having grace for those around me but I have also been trying to share the truth with grace. I have found that the first time, my remarks were a bit ungraceful. The Lord quickly showed me my error through the words of others who do not agree with me. I know that truth, even with the grace thrown in, will offend but I have found that there are those who disagree with God’s truth but listened anyways. I am praying that I will listen first with compassion and empathy, ask if I can share what I believe tempered with God’s grace and above all, keep it all in love for others.

  13. Doug Dunbar on August 23, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you for this. Preparing to preach on Matthew 7:12 this Sunday (been going through the Sermon on the Mount the past four months), and this is helpful in looking at how to live out the “Golden Rule” in our current situation.

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