Noah, World Vision, and Stories by the Fire
It’s been a busy week for Christians in the blog-world. Facebook has continued its function as the modern agora as thoughts fly back and forth about a couple of “major” topics of the week.
First of all, Darren Aronofsky, the director of The Black Swan and The Wrestler, has released his movie Noah. As usually happens, Christians are taking a stand–debating whether to even attend the movie or not. Some say no. Because it drifts away from the biblical text, they state, it “threatens” the Word of God and should be avoided. Still others say that it is a tool, a way of creating spiritual dialogue with people who have little concept of the Bible. In the positive camp, Noah is an opportunity for conversation, and that is never a bad thing.
The second piece of buzz this week was the decision made (and then un-made) by World Vision to hire openly homosexual employees. Apparently, the company’s board and their president, Richard Stearns, voted to change their hiring procedure to allow the hiring of legal same-sex married individuals to be hired. Just a couple days later, most likely as a result of the Evangelical petitioning and the withdrawing of great amounts of financial support from those who sponsor children monthly, the decision was reversed. Again, both sides of this debate continue with those who support World Vision’s initial decision and those who rejected it (and then reinstated support at the reversal).
I’ve watched from a quiet distance. Resisted comments and stayed out of it. In many ways, I think doing so gave me the ability to feel more superior to those engaging in the conversation–usually honestly and with their struggles. For me, it’s easier to stay silent and engage my own cynical thoughts. Thoughts like this:
Seriously, we’re going to get all up in arms about the release of a movie?
Oh no, here we go again with the homosexuality thing.
Why is it so necessary to keep getting caught in these culture wars.
You know, that Noah movie really looks pretty good…
But, with all my silent self-inflated ego, it turns out that I couldn’t quit thinking about all these things. In fact, I found myself thinking more and more about a proper response, whether there is a proper response, and why we as Christians are so fascinated with all these types of things that push the culture hot buttons.
The thing is, it doesn’t take much for our Evangelical tribe (which I still support and believe in) to grow loaded with ammunition. From Disney protests, to petitions against major organizations, to the latest decision by World Vision or another controversial movie, I think there is something about issues that give us an opportunity to act.
We love having a cause. If you don’t believe me, watch the next televised political rally. Watch the faces of those fervently projecting their intensity for the candidate of choice. We are wired, hard-wired, with a dormant passion that often comes out in moments of controversy.
In the debates of this week, I have appreciated the desire of all sides to authentically communicate their own beliefs. Those who supported World Vision’s decision had a deep desire to connect and engage the (often alienated) homosexual community. Those who did not sought to guard moral integrity and yet wrestled with what it would mean to remove financial support from foreign communities helping children in need. Those wrestling against Noah and its release want to stay faithful to God’s Word and those excited to see Noah want their friends to engage in spiritual conversations.
There is no doubt that our fervor in these debates comes from a place of genuine seeking of faithfulness (in most cases).
And yet, I think there is more to this. I’m going to stay silent (for the sake of my superiority complex) on where I fall in these debates and simply offer this thought… What if we were as fervent for God’s story as we are for our cause?
In the Middle Eastern communities, for centuries, the story of God’s work among them was passed down through master storytellers. With no television, iPod, mass media, or other entertainment outlets, the fireside storytelling was the daily ritual of the village’s communal entertainment life together. According to Kenneth E. Bailey, a scholar who lived in the Middle East for over thirty years, the work of these stories around the fire happened in “informal and controlled” ways. Stories were told informally–anyone could share at any time. But they were controlled–the master storytellers and the village’s communal knowledge of the Truth of the story would quickly rise to the front if the story veered from the accuracy of history. Bailey recounted the story a villager why one elderly man never shared stories around the fire. He was quickly told, “Oh he’s too new here. He’s only lived here for 30 years.”
The tragedy of the Evangelical debates today is that we are debating from places where we do not know the Story of God well enough to accurately engage, critique, or counter the things taking place such as the release of Noah or a decision by World Vision. All week, I have seen statements thrown out saying things like, “All Christians should avoid a movie that twists the Bible,” or “the disciples and Paul never would have allowed this,” when in reality Paul was a master of walking into cultural settings unlike his own Jewish (and law-based) context and engaging the culture in a way that retold the Story of God to the world he found himself in. Acts 17 is a perfect example. If we struggle with the movie Noah, surely Paul should never have looked at the Athenian temples and used them as a way to share the truth of Christ with those who worshipped “an unknown god.” But he did, because he himself was a master storyteller.
I wonder what would happen if God’s Story and we as storytellers could replace our cause.
I remember reading months ago a statement by a pastor who said he refused to take a “stance” on the issue of homosexuality, because issues eliminated the need for relationships; and according to him, relationships are where true transformation takes place. I like that.
Let me say this, the story I want to tell is the story of a God who pursues all broken people in all broken places. In our world, there is perhaps no greater brokenness today than the sin and brokenness of sexuality. Across the board, we see people struggling under the weight of fractured sexual identities–loneliness and false fulfillment in multiple situations. We as a church are very clear to say that we don’t believe God’s plan of relationships gives room to homosexuality as an option–but I refuse also to say that homosexuality is any more broken than the unmarried couple cohabitating I see every Sunday in my church or the faithful husband and wife who are wrestling through their own pride and communication issues. All of these things come about in stories that are unfulfilled by the God story.
To simply read a story of World Vision’s decision, quickly puff up as the Christian community, and begin removing financial support should not come easy. Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen–maybe it should–but it should not come easy. The weight of realizing a relationship with a child in need may be affected beyond finances must be considered. My wife and I have supported several children for many years and the connection we feel has little to do with the monthly withdrawal from our bank account and more to do with the letters and pictures we send and receive. The weight of what this speaks to those in the homosexual community longing to engage the Evangelical world must also be considered. I have friends who worship with us who are openly gay. I love them deeply as much as I love anyone in our congregation, and I have to tell you that many times I see them taking steps closer to Jesus than others whose sexuality is not out in the open. I don’t believe homosexuality is okayed by Scripture, but I want to invite these brothers and sisters to the Story of transformation that we all, as sinners, need.
Having a cause is too easy. It keeps ugliness and deformity at a distance. It places us in the crowd at a political rally simply endorsing or rejecting an issue rather than incarnating the Gospel in places where messiness might bump up against us. And that’s where Jesus actually lived life. I think he lived by the fire, with a bunch of villagers who had lots of issues and misunderstandings and doubts and struggles and bumps and bruises. I think he lived by the fire and listened to their stories, and then told his own–the Greatest Story–in a captivating way (perhaps greater than any Hollywood special effects) that invited them to the stage to play a part.