Monday, February 14, 2005

Withdrawing From Society: Pushed Back Into Irrelevance

The following is an extended parable about Christians engaging a culture that does not want to be friendly.

When I was stationed in Germany I participated in an exercise in Geissen.

Munzenburg Castle

(By the way, this is a picture of that castle)

The base had seen better days back during the Cold War years. But across the valley were some picturesque castles. I decided I was going to jog to those castles when I was off shift, especially since I was on night shift. The first time I tried I did not even get close. The second time I tried I got further but still no cigar. Finally I bought a map. The roads run mostly up and down the valley and none went directly from where our barracks was to the castle. A buddy and I set out with map in hand and went our merry way. As we got to the village surrounding the castle, 10 miles later, we found the streets confusing. I mentioned something about it to my buddy. He said he thought it was in order to channel opponents down blind alleys and confuse their movements. After he said that I could see it. Channeling is a common technique used by armies when building fortifications, even today. By the way, this has nothing to do with Shirley McClain.

But it has every thing to do with confusing and guiding your opponent. Channeling is setting up obstacle or making use of naturally occurring obstacles to guide your opponent into being less effective. Sometimes it is merely degrading their capabilities, at other times it is guiding them away from our weaknesses, and still it may be guiding them into a trap. It is usually those who have setup fortifications that can make best use of this warfare technique. Those who are moving toward the enemy to engage them can only take advantage of this technique as obstacles occur naturally. Those who are establishing a fortification can not only take advantage of naturally occurring obstacles but can create new obstacles. Obstacles do not have to be ditches or walls, they can also be created by removing brush that an approaching enemy could hide behind. "Dead space" is an area that can not be seen by those weapons at the fortified area. Dead space can be used by an enemy to hide during the approach to the fortification. But dead space can be removed by clearing brush. In modern warfare, dead space can be over come by using indirect fire weapons like cannons or by placing mines there. In times past, indirect fire weapons like catapults could be used. Or the stinky flesh of a decaying animal could be placed in the dead space. This is an ancient form of biowarfare. In modern times a range card is made of an area to aid in the analysis of the battle space right in front of a fighting position.

Moving into the area of ideas, many of us want to engage our culture and not be at war with the culture. We want to be friendly and talk with the culture and transform the culture by letting them see love. However, the culture we seek to engage often does not want us to play by those rules. While we are approaching them, we come without weapons and without animosity. However, those who we would approach have set up fortifications, they have made use of every natural obstacle and created man-made obstacles. They not only have made obstacles, they refuse us any space to regroup, rest or approach them. There is no dead space. You may ask me how is this done outside the realm of analogy.

They create off-limits topics. For instance, the idea that we can not talk about religion in the work place. I have been a supervisor at times. I go out of my way to make sure that I do not make my subordinates uncomfortable regarding my faith. However, there are those who would make religion an out of boundaries topic. What I see is Christians resorting to code talk so that fellow Christians know they are one. They decline to allow others to know they are Christians unless they are insiders to faith. Of course we should not flaunt our faith in public but at the same time, we must not make it seem as though we are ashamed of the name of Christ.

There is a set of rules of privacy that are so extensive that any uncomfortable topic is not allowed. In human relationships, there is a natural occurring level of privacy, but privacy has also been re-enforced so that there is practically speaking no way to approach an individual with matters of faith. Privacy has been expanded beyond the basic practice of not entering the someone's home uninvited. Privacy now also includes a practice of don't even approach the home. Don't approach someone in a public setting. Don't approach someone when they have scheduled something else. Don't gather information on someone else. In a sense, privacy has expanded to an obstacle where we can not engage the culture. Privacy in its worst form is really isolation. Many people in our suburbs of America have positioned themselves to have maximum amount of privacy but have created a life of total isolation. Privacy in its best form is having time and room to find refreshment, contemplation, and time alone with God.

Another way American society has attempted to make Christians withdraw is to deride types of Christians which the Christian has a more difficult time relating to. For instance, getting youth to distance themselves from the stodgy Christianity of their elders and vice versa. Getting high church Christians who enjoy Mozart to think less of those hand-clapping Pentecostal, and vice versa. Getting those who love theological depth to distance themselves from those who love simplicity of the faith. The technique is quite successful at getting a person to focus on not being like the abhorrent subsection of our Christian culture and showing how we so-called good Christians are more like the mainstream culture.

While we do not want to have a war mentality when we engage the culture, the culture may have other ideas about how they want the church to behave. The culture may be more happy for us to bring signs of peace and friendship while they exploit our good graces. We should not return evil for evil but we must beware that our kindness may be used as a weapon against us if we are not wise. I am not suggesting that the church should become a fortress, rather good Christians of the past decades have withdrawn. We are now in various ways attempting to change how we deal with the culture, but we must be wise in how we go about it. While we are thinking of strategies to cross the gap that has developed between the church and our culture, our opponents are thinking of strategies of how they can keep us distanced from the culture. Remember they have been winning ground for years and do not want to give any of it back.

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