TIME TO GROW UP
by Geoff Ryan, Captain –
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Connecting the Dots
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the Tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
“As we become more self-centered and more individualistic we enter into other cultures with greater difficulty.” (Paul Dekar)
A key difference between children and adults is an understanding of the law of “cause and effect.” While adults make decisions based upon their understanding of the consequences to an action, children have yet to learn this fundamental lesson in life.
Of course, it is true to say that there is no shortage of adults that have not yet learned this lesson. Some have the ability to think, yet seem incapable of acting. Others act without giving a thought to, well…thought! Then there are those who can think well enough and act with relative decisiveness, yet are never able to connect the two. It is these last people that remind me, in many senses of the church—specifically the evangelical church in the Western world, which seems to lack the ability to connect the dots.
It can be all too easy to throw darts at the church; to point out its failings and missteps, pillory it for shortcomings and blind spots and besetting sins. But that is not the point of this article. I was given the task to write on “thinking globally, acting locally.” Immediately my hackles of iconoclasm rose. I loathe clichés (though, like most people, am hypocritically guilty of employing them on a daily basis) and am deeply distrustful of conventional wisdom and “fads du jour.”
As I begin, my gut reaction to this subject is that the inability of the church to acknowledge the vital relationship between the “local scene” and its global backdrop is a classic example of the dots not being joined up. We are guilty, I fear, of a perennial parochialism and one day the western evangelical church will be called to account for this.
The church has always struggled to effectively co-join local action with global vision. Historically this disconnect appears to be a consequence of privatized and highly individualized faith practices. These grew from a reformational reaction against Catholic communalism and public religion. Over the centuries this increasing emphasis on our “personal relationship with Christ” has been responsible for an almost total eclipse of the doctrine of the church and concept of faith community within Evangelical Protestantism. Further, the seeds of a self-centered faith and a latent parochialism lie at the heart of such an extremity of reaction. This has all been burnished to a high and smooth sheen of virtual impermeability by the dominant culture of consumeristic materialism and narcissistic self-absorption that simply is—“The West.” The church usually shirks the exacting demands and high cost of being counter-culturally prophetic in order to become pale mirror-images of our cultural milieu and zeitgeist. I believe it is called “making the gospel relevant.” And therefore as the culture, so the church.
The resulting disconnect between thought and action has become a wide desert of a no-man’s land in which good intentions and the requisite acts of true faith wander off and become lost, dying of thirst and heat, leaving only the bleached bones of shirked duties, aborted benevolence and orphaned selflessness.
Over twenty years ago I took a stark advertisement out of a popular magazine. It has, at various times, hung on my bedroom wall and graced the back pages of my study Bible. It is an appeal by the UN concerning a famine that was taking place in the Sudan at the time. The caption reads: “Refugees fleeing Sudan can’t get lost. They follow the dead,” is imposed over a black and white photograph of the desert littered with dehydrated and skeletal corpses of famine victims. I have kept this rather macabre and depressing image in order to constantly remind me of what the world is really like for many—if not most—people; in order to not let me off the hook simply because I am a blessed and privileged child of plenty; and as a counterbalance to the incessant battering I understood I would receive daily forcing me to focus inward, constantly and only to my own well-being, to solely my own comfort of both body and soul. Although I would not have likely understood so at the time (let alone been able to deconstruct or articulate) I also kept it as a means of connecting thought and action, concept and consequence, faith and deeds.
I knew enough, even as a teenager, that the first victim to waste away and die in that “no man’s land” would be the imperative to look beyond the limited horizons of my local church and neighborhood and grasp that the world is a large and diverse place, a generally cursed place and that as a follower of the Saviour of the world who was sent by a God who so loved the world and that as a member of a movement whose Founder’s avowed aim was to somehow open his arms wide enough that they would encircle the whole world, I could not in good conscience seek absolution in Cain’s disclaimer that he was not his brother’s keeper. I was, in fact, and became so the minute I signed up to follow. This I understood in my bones.
And so we must connect the dots, to be true followers of the Messiah whose canon of instruction and example was primarily conveyed in oblique and puzzling parables and rather counter-cultural, iconoclastic acts. He challenges us to examine carefully and ponder deeply his life and stated mission (Luke 4:18, 19) and to connect the dots between belief and action, between relationship with God and relationships with our neighbors, between worship and service, between the hungry and the well-fed, the housed and the homeless, the imprisoned and the free, the alien and the friend, the poor and the rich, between faith and deeds, between what we say and what we do… between our neighborhood and the whole, huge world.
If we manage to make this connection; if we can grow up enough as people and as a people and can sufficiently mature out of ourselves…then we will understand that to think globally and act locally means things like the following:
The next time we see a starving child from sub-Saharan Africa on our TV, we think about the potential for change in the money we just spent on the Chinese take-out (now sitting half-eaten on the coffee table in front of us)…
…Connecting the dots with our stewardship.
We think twice before taking a holiday at a protected plastic tourist resort in a deeply troubled nation like Jamaica or Cuba, where unrest and poverty are hidden away from tourists’ eyes; coexisting yet separate worlds…
…Connecting the dots with our choices.
We understand that there are thousands of people who die daily in any number of incomprehensible religious-ethnic-nationalist conflicts and that the arms that kill them are manufactured and sold by governments that we elect and represent us….
…Connecting the dots with our vote and free speech.
We recognize that for every air-brushed nymphet that we secretly lust after on magazine covers, there are thousands of less famous, less charmed and less pretty girls from places like Albania, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia; kept chained as prisoners in darkened rooms and forced to have sex day and night, with dozens of men, in order to make other men rich….
…Connecting the dots by mastering our appetites and challenging stereotypes.
We choose to attend and serve in a church that is more concerned with incarnational identification with the poor and welcoming the alien, than being a “consumerist” church, affirming our lifestyle and not challenging our cotton-wool comfort zones.
…Connecting the dots through service.
Connecting the dots is all about maturing in our faith. When we do there is no limit to where thinking globally and acting locally could take us.
I think it is time….