Saturday, May 10, 2014

Locus Swarms and NextGEN

It’s easier to get along with people just like me. But the future won’t let that happen. And I’m pretty sure that’s part of God’s big plan.
   The happiest places on earth are filled with people who are very much like each other. Multiple international studies over the past ten years have demonstrated that, all things being equal (political and economic extremes avoided), most people are happiest when they are surrounded by others who share their same language, skin color, cultural references and overall world view. Per the United Nations World Happiness Report 2013, the happiest nations on earth are Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden. The USA is in upper 2/3rds of the 89 nations studied. Togo is the unhappiest place on earth. 
   Many things contribute to a global happiness (economics, food resourcing, education, political stability, ecological environment, etc.). Remarkably, homogeneity contributes significantly. 
   Humankind’s ultimate future is revealed in Revelation (7:9): “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…” 
   As Christians, as Free Methodists, we strive toward a world-view and culture in which Colossians 3 is not mere lip service. “Take off your old self with its practices, put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
   Still, it is difficult, and if human history tells us anything, perhaps impossible to allow the glue of culture, nationalism, tribalism (like-me-ism) to be dissolved…. Without the renewed nature which flows from grace received through faith…. Without continually coming to the cross to die to self, seeking to see and hear the “other” through the perceptive, forgiving and grace-filled perspective of our mutual Creator. 
   As Annual Conference 2014 approaches, we will address how to approach NextGEN – the next generation. Each generation has its distinct challenges, and passing on the faith from one generation to the next is always our great joy, though never an easy task. 
   I believe however, that cultural shifts in our American scene have the appearance of the locust swarm which the prophet Joel bemoaned. All seems destroyed. Crops, hope for the future, eroded in the face of a horde that seemed overnight to bring despair. 
   Joel writes (1:2-3) “Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers? Tell it to your children and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”
   Just a few of the locust-like cultural shifts that we are not well prepared to face… Slow-pace to Nano-pace. Small town to Urban. Homogeneous Communities to Divergent Mosaics. Industry to Service. Respect for Authority to Mistrust of Institutions. Logic and Word to Emotion and Image. Our Faith Tradition to My Spiritual Journey.
   It is disheartening to see a rapid depopulation of churches around the country. It is disorienting to experience multiple “truths” being “balanced” and navigating shifts in relationships between power structures, racial groups, gender issues and increasingly widening generation gaps.
   On the one hand, there are no easy answers to passing eternal truths from one generation to the next. On the other hand, since real truth is indeed eternal, God’s word and Spirit continue to move hearts even in the midst massive social and cultural upheaval.
   As we gather for AC2014, we have much work to accomplish. I pray that among the work to be done, we will also walk away with a better understanding of the NextGEN and healthy ways to “Tell it to your children and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”

   Many young leaders are emerging in our midst –full of the Spirit, grounded in the Word, alive with Christ’s truth. They are eager to build upon the ancient foundations new “temples” with different architecture suited for a more a diverse, digital, urban, complex world than their parents and grandparents inhabit. We are full of hope, not despair, full of confidence that the eternal Creator is still making all things new.

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