Lionsgate is a global content leader whose feature films, television programming and digital content touch people all around the world. Their film division releases about 40 feature films a year, grossing more than seven billion dollars at the global box office over the past four years. The Hunger Games series is one of their most recent successes. They’ve earned 90 Academy Award nominations and 20 Oscar wins in their history. Their television group has earned 186 Emmy nominations and 29 Emmy wins for shows like Mad Men and Orange is the New Black. Presently, they are acquiring “Starz”, another company you may have heard of for the bargain price of 4.4 billion dollars. Why not?
A producer for their film division invited Gabe Lyons, author of the book “The Next Christians” which is influencing this sermon series1, to come out to Los Angeles. A non-Christian herself, this producer named Haley, was assigned to accurately define who Christians were to her marketing team. Why was this important? A few years earlier, Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ2 had rewritten the formula for marketing films to Christians and the thought was that the faith community was now the crowned jewel of moviegoers. Gibson’s film got zero backing from Hollywood studios. He said, “This is a film about something that nobody wants to touch, shot in two dead languages. In Los Angeles they think I am insane, and maybe I am.” Gibson spent about 45 million dollars on production and marketing of this film that roughly depicted the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus – not without some controversy of course. From a marketing perspective, however, film makers couldn’t ignore the $612 million grossed at the theaters. It remains the highest grossing religious film and the highest grossing non-English-language film of all time. Whoever got to this audience next would be writing their ticket for the next decade.
Gabe Lyons agreed to describe to her team what he knew about Christians but had little idea at the onset about how difficult the task would be. How would you describe Christians to a non-Christian who was looking for a demographic description of the conglomerate that is Christianity in America? Lyons first thought was that American Christians come in all shapes and sizes. “From the do-gooders and casually spiritual to the Bible-thumpers and culture warriors, they cover every spectrum of the rainbow.” To be as clear as possible, Lyons decided to avoid the official terms delineating denominations or affiliation, knowing that would only further confuse the conversation. So he stuck with the basics: “What do they emphasize? How do they interact with the world? and Where did this mentality come from?” On a white board, he wrote the broad heading: “Christian Interaction with Current Culture.” He broke that down into two categories: Separatists and Culturalists. He broke those two categories down into five sub-groups for which I’ll give you the cliff notes so you have a sense of his categories and perhaps see a bit of your own faith journey in one or more of these categories.
First the three sub-groups under the title, SEPARATIST.
· Insiders. Insiders live in a Christian subculture and because of the ways they shield themselves from anything not considered acceptable on the inside, they come across as judgmental. Instead of a “Facebook” screen print logo on their t-shirt, theirs says, “Faith-book: what’s your status?” They long for purity, integrity, and holiness in life and likely do not know anyone outside of their inside circle. Their logic is that the world is predominantly evil and therefore the wise choice is to remove themselves from it. Insiders.
· Culture Warriors. Culture Warriors are determined to fight against those who threaten America’s Christian heritage. Rush Limbaugh may be considered a Culture Warrior. They make passionate pleas about moral decline. One culture warrior yelled at the top of his lungs when the ten commandment rock was being pushed out of the Alabama Courthouse – “Take your hands off my God.” Their feisty and if you disagree with their cultural posture, you might be labeled unpatriotic or ungodly. Beloved extended members of my wife’s family were once known to suit up the kids with signs and hang out in front of the adult only stores. Their signs read, “Jesus loves you but not sins.” Culture Warriors.
· Evangelizers. Evangelizers are focused solely on ‘winning souls to Christ’ at all costs. Recruiting others to the faith is the only legitimate Christian activity in the world to an evangelizer. They give out tracts on Halloween and might crash a secular party and if given the mic, ask if you know where you’ll spend eternity if you die tonight. Evangelizers.
Those are the Separatist Christians. Next, we have the two subgroups falling under the title, CULTURALIST.
· Blenders. Blenders maintain a faith that is mostly personal and private while demonstrating actions and lifestyles that are, for all practical purposes, no different than non-Christians. Barna’s research of young Christians and those outside the Christian faith states that of the 84% of those surveyed who knew a Christian personally, only 15% though their lifestyles were any different. A Blender mentality is one that wants to be seen as normal to all people and not radicalized in some way. Most blenders have assumed the faith heritage of their families and probably attend worship on a somewhat regular basis especially if the church has brand name coffee, Disney-like children’s programming and covers Mumford and Coldplay tunes. Blenders.
· Philanthropists. Philanthropists Christians are those who focus solely on doing good works to the exclusion of a more holistic faith expression. Lots of service here. They serve in soup kitchens, clean garbage off the side of the highway and help lead Boy Scout troops. They have a great desire to make the world a better place. The tendency is that these activities tend to replace, rather than enhance, a deeper connection with Jesus. It’s the mantra of serving because it is the right thing to do regardless of its connection to Jesus at all.
So there are the five sub-groups of Christians as defined by Gabe Lyons. Did you hear yourself in the mix there at all? It’s not exhaustive necessarily and certainly each one a bit of a caricature of itself. I will admit to phases in my life where, in some measure, I had some connection to all of them. If not myself, there are people I dearly love who would fit into these categories. So the point is not to say, “Be this kind of Christian or that kind,” but rather to acknowledge, these are the categories that outsiders and a new generation of Christians see and wonder if there’s something more.
This moment in time is unlike any other in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. There is a whole movement of Christians – evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and others – wanting to be a force for restoration in a broken world even as we proclaim the Christian Gospel. They want the label Christian to mean something good, intelligent, authentic, true, and beautiful. Can we be a part of the restoration, allowing the light of Christ to shine through our imperfections to reveal a movement of wholeness in a fragmented world?
If Paul were writing to the Christian church in America, he might refer to his notes he sent to the church in Corinth a couple thousand years ago. The Corinth church gave Paul more trouble than all of the other churches under his charge combined. But faltering in hard times wasn’t the option. Right at the beginning of the fourth chapter in our text for today, Paul has something to say about himself. He says, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into some hard times.” This is the “Don’t lose heart!” cry. We’re tempted in times like ours. I’ll admit to some heavy weeks where I couldn’t do much more than shake my head. My spirit was heavy and I knew I was going to have to hold hurting people again all with different pains and opinions on what is truly painful. But deep in the gut, you’ve got to find that little Paul that cries, “Don’t lose heart!” Two things keep Paul going. First, he is aware of a great task. A person who is aware of a great task can do amazing things. It’s like VBS mode. The task is great. The chaos is full. But by golly these kids need to know God loves them and there’s a purpose for their life so we’ll make a couple hundred yogurt parfaits with peach rings that look like a life-preserver on the sea. A great task brings a focus and strength along with it. The second thing that keeps Paul going? There is the memory of mercy received. Paul was going to spend all of his life seeking to do something for the love which had redeemed him. Over time, life had broken Paul down… confused his beliefs… transformed his understanding (he would say, “Renewed his mind.”) and God then made him stronger and more beautiful in those very broken places.
There is an art form in Japan called kintsukuroi (keen-tsoo-koo-roy)3. Golden repair. It’s an art form that not only repairs shattered pottery, but enhances and illuminates the cracks with a lacquer laced with gold. Japanese artists often do this when a precious piece of pottery has been broken. After mixing lacquer resin with powdered gold, they use the resin to put the broken pieces together. What they end up with is a pot with cracks in it, but the cracks are filled with gold. Such restoration creates a gorgeous piece of art and makes a philosophical statement as well. Kintsukuroi asserts that breakage and repair is part of the unique history of an object, rather than something to deny or disguise. We need more golden repair in our lives and in our nation today. Paul talks about caring this treasure of life in jars of clay – it’s fragile and susceptible to breaking. A friend hurts us deeply. The job disappears. A spouse is abusive. We have a drinking problem but are too proud to say so. Our marriage is flat lining. Our nation is fighting. The pot shatters and we think the only option is to discard it. But maybe our pots, our lives, our Christian witness, just needs some kintsukuroi.
That’s where The Next Christians enter the scene. Christians Gabe Lyons calls Restorers. They have a combination of the mentality, humility, and commitment to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. Telling others about Jesus is important but conversion isn’t their primary motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and hope. They envision the world as it’s meant to be and work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. Our denominations mission line of “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” may be connecting here. Until the fullness of Christ is complete, the world will never be fully healed that process begins now as we partner with God. We sow seeds of restoration in the name of Christ and the walls begin to fade. There isn’t a judgmental list required for others to participate – restorers fully engage all kinds of people and value the image of God found in them. There’s not a shame, however, of claiming Jesus as the reason for our own call to restore. Restorers are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather they thoughtfully engage. For so long, many Christians have focused on only part of the story, namely the fall in sin and the redemption of the cross. Important components to the narrative but the idea of “Go tell others how to escape from Planet Earth” doesn’t feel like a compelling mission to Restorers. Restorers don’t want to leave the faith at the cross as a proverbial ticket to a good postmortem destination. Their question: “Did Jesus die only so we could get out of this place and go somewhere else?” Restorers want to live in the whole story of Christ – reclaiming God’s goodness throughout creation and the ending – the restoration of all things which calls for our participation in moving toward life as it ought to be. Restorers recognize that Christ’s redemptive work is not the end or even the goal of our stories; redemption is the beginning of our participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and in the world. They see themselves on a mission, partnering with God to breathe justice and mercy and peace and compassion and generosity into the world. Restoration is God’s trademark and restorers are saying, “This is to be a central theme of the Christian faith again.” It’s not a, ‘throw out the pot’, replace it with a new one, or try to fix it so it seems as good as new – it’s a kintsukuroi faith, where the cracks illuminate the Christ within us or as Paul puts it, “so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”
Ambassador Max Kampelman was a conscientious objector during World War II but faithfully fulfilled his draft obligation by participating in the legendary Minnesota Starvation Experiment. For an excruciating eleven months, he subjected himself to the physical rigor of controlled starvation all to help war-torn Europe learn how to restore health to those suffering from extreme starvation under the brutal force of the Gestapo. After becoming an ambassador later in the Reagan administration, he continued to speak out into his nineties about the atrocities of war – his poise even with a five foot eight, wiry thin frame. Upon hearing his address a few years ago, Gabe Lyons said, “In eight minutes, Max persuaded the assembly that they had only one option: to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.” Most in the room felt it was impossible. But Max saw the world differently. He said, “We must recognize the power of the ‘ought.’ It’s the power to change the world.” What Max didn’t realize was that in just five words – “how things ought to be” – he had sung the next Christian’s anthem. They have purposed to loosen the strings of brokenness and set free God’s intention – living the ‘ought.’
Honoring the five fallen Dallas officers killed last week, President George W. Bush said, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions. And it is not merely a matter of tolerance, but of learning from the struggles and stories of our fellow citizens, and finding our better selves in the process. At our best we honor the image of God we see in one another. We recognize that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the same brief moment on earth, and owing each other the loyalty of our shared humanity.”4
In the wake of such ongoing tragedy, this week has held images of strangers embracing, citizens taking food to local police departments in gratitude for their service, Tulsa Public Schools partnering with the city to UniteTTown, building a safer and stronger community. Then this image:. Officer Zedek said, “This bright young man approached me at QT and asked me my thoughts on the recent shootings. We spoke for a while and he shared with me that he wants to make a difference by holding events and inviting police to interact with people from his community. I told him to count me in. I gave him my contact and we snapped this picture. His life matters to me. My life matters to him. We’re one people. Let’s make real change happen.” This is golden repair. This is kintsukuroi faith. This is restoration thinking.
1The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith. Gabe Lyons. Doubleday. New York. 2010. This book inspired this six-week series and its influence is strong here. When Lyons is mentioned, those samplings tend to come from this book.
3 You can read about this art form in numerous places. Here is one link: http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/2013/12/why-word-kintsukuroi-means-so-much-to.html
4 Both this quote and that of Officer Zedek in the following paragraph were pulled from FaceBook posts shared by friends.