We’re living in angry times.
Wherever we go, whether church, school, city hall or Washington, D.C.; whatever we watch, whether cable television, Facebook or the local theater; and however we do things, whether by email or Twitter or telephone, in person or in a meeting – in it all, our culture is rife with conflict.
Politics is full of strife, antagonisms and vitriol. Everybody, it seems, is caught up with warding off yet another enemy.
And so, many of us are just keeping our heads down, hoping to get through another day, causing as little trouble as we can. Something has gone terribly wrong in our country, and we don’t know what to do about it.
Meanwhile, the church appears little different. Christians appear to be caught up in the same antagonism and disgust for one another that is evident elsewhere.
We ourselves have become known for our own enemy-making. We fight among ourselves on the various media while the world looks on.
What has happened? Christians have failed to be known by our love, and the question is “Why?”
How is it that Christians have failed at this most prescient moment to be a people of reconciliation and renewal in the face of all this tumult?
And how do we get out of the mess to become a reconciling presence in the world through Jesus Christ?
How can Christians respond in the face of this failure, to be the presence of God’s love, reconciliation and healing in a world torn by strife and ugly conflict?
And how can we keep our integrity and love for justice in the process?
Imagine the amazing witness we’d have at this present time if we were known by the way we reconcile with, love and restore one another. This book is born out of these questions.
It asks, “How can we be shaped by Christ into becoming these kinds of people? How can we become the reconciling presence of Christ in the world?”
I remember the summer of 1969, when as a young boy I saw the television pictures of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
His words – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – are now among the most recognized phrases ever spoken.
But just a few years later the Apollo 13 accident happened. Here we remember the words, paraphrased and made famous in the movie “Apollo 13” – “Houston, we have a problem.” – spoken by mission commander Jim Lovell after an explosion occurred on their ship.
With Armstrong, there was this incredible surge of optimism in North America; humanity, we thought, could accomplish just about anything we put our mind to. But with Apollo 13, there was a sense that something had gone terribly wrong.
Within a short time, the United States had journeyed from euphoria to tragedy and was facing the reality of how little control humanity has over the mysteries of space.
Today, the church finds itself in a similar place. We remember a time not too long ago (let’s call it the 1950s) when the established church occupied a powerful place in North America.
This was largely a white majority North America. Protestant Christians were confident in our message, our institutions and our authority in culture.
We were oblivious to any of the negative impacts our version of Christianity was having on minority cultures.
There was a sense of triumph in the air after World War II. For the “majority population” who lived in those times, Christians were part of a chosen people. We felt proud to be associated with the words, “The truth is marching on.”
But half a century later, “We have a problem.” Christians from the “majority” church are on the defensive in our culture. Our churches are divided over politics, nationalism, race and sexuality.
In many cases, Christians find ourselves resented or even rejected wholesale by our cultures.
Like a spacecraft trying to get back home, we are disoriented. But unlike Apollo 13, which had a sudden explosion accompanied by flashing warning lights, this problem has crept up on us slowly.
The warning lights have been so subtle that we’ve been able to ignore them, but not so any longer.
Supposedly, a frog sitting in water that is slowly warmed does not realize it is being cooked by the heat until it is too late, and then the frog dies. If you were simply to drop the same frog into hot water, it would jump out immediately.
The problems many Christians face today in North America have crept up on us so subtly that they are now the water we swim in and we cannot recognize it.
Many of us don’t even see the flashing warning lights because they have become the standard by which the norm is evaluated.
While the lights are going off, this creeping normalcy causes us to interpret these warnings as just another part of what it means to be a Christian today.
But deep down we know things are not as they are supposed to be. The anger, strife and hatred that keep erupting point to the problem.
And we need to name it so we can figure out how to respond. We need to look at the dashboard of this out-of-control spaceship and identify some of the lights that are flashing.
David E. Fitch (PhD, Northwestern University) is the B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary and the cofounder of Missio Alliance. He is the founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and is currently on the pastoral staff at Peace of Christ Church in Westmont, Illinois.