Paying Attention to the Outrageous

Hitler_w_youngmenSomebody did it again.  They compared one of our political leaders to Hitler.  It really doesn’t matter who did it because this is becoming a regular tactic for the extremists.  The frustrating thing is they get what they want — publicity.

The media pounce on their pronouncements as though the words they uttered were the first like them.  Bloggers and political sites pick up the refrain — “How dare they invoke the name of Hitler!” The outrage is palpable, and then the next day it starts all over again.

Frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of pop media personalities cheapening the tragedy of the Holocaust with their self-serving tirades.  If this is what passes for discourse and dialogue in America, we are at a new low.

But I also tell myself we must be on the cusp of change because so many are so afraid right now.  In times of turbulent change, the dividers voices are often the loudest.  It was that way during the Civil Rights struggle, it was that way during the Viet Nam war protests, and it’s that way again.

But I also know that the nascent signs of change in churches are encouraging.   Multi-ethnic congregations are blossoming, and new expressions of church are springing up in unlikely places.  Multi-culturalism is becoming almost as popular a topic among church conference planners as multi-site strategies.  More and more congregations are moving out into their communities, connecting with new groups of people who are helped, and who in turn change the helpers. Just as some courageous churches led the way in seeking justice for African-Americans, and later in seeking peace, these churches are the bellwether for change in our society.

That’s what we should be paying attention to — this new consciousness that I have not seen before in so many churches.  A consciousness of need, but of more than need.  An awareness of our responsibility as followers of Jesus to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  Next week I’m speaking to Duke Divinity School students about rural church ministry.  I’m going to talk about this new thing I see happening because it is unprecedented.

Examples emerge in unlikely places.  A church heals its community by planting a community garden in the wake of a local murder.  Another church reaches out to bikers and blue collar workers, not just for worship, but to help create jobs for them.  Churches feed people now in towns where before that need went unmet.  Kids are given school supplies, and encouraged to come after school for tutoring to an urban church that provides a safe haven until their working-class parents get home.

Change must be on the way because the voices of fear are growing louder and more shrill each day.  That’s the reason I pay attention to the outrageous statements of those publicity seekers.  I pay attention because I believe their outrageous statements carry with them a harbinger of hope, an indicator of impending change.   Let’s hope so, and let’s find a place to bring about that change.

2 thoughts on “Paying Attention to the Outrageous”

  1. Great article. I was drawn to it just by your reference to Hitler. I was thinking of your comments on the changing consciousness in the church and its changing relationship to the community we are a part of.

    For many of us rural pastors we are seeing a upswing in ministry needs that exist in our small towns. In the past it seemed that people were looked after just because they were a part of and were known in the community. Things have changed over the past few years and we find ourselves involved in ways were would of never of thought of in years past.

    Much of the reason I believe is the mobile nature of our people, the inability of traditional helping agencies to deal with the overwhelming crush of people, the unwillingness for many organizations and individuals to dig deeply into issues and devote the time and resources to finding a cure instead of just treating the symptoms.

    The church that I am a part of along with other churches in our community provided a lunch for high school kids, provided backpacks of weekend food for teens that are homeless, provided an after school drop in center and mentors for kids, provided food, medical care, childcare and housekeeping for a single pregnant mom with three little kids living in a motel, assisted the local food bank with expanding their facilities and started a fund at the local transitional housing facility to help people with temporary housing needs and that was just today and what I know about.

    I find individuals and churches are seeing more and more of these needs and the accelerated pace of change that is happening in our small rural communities.

    My prayer is that we hear these voices calling for help and in the name of Christ we respond.

    God Bless

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