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Christian Living Good News

The Proximity Gospel

One place the Good News needs to prevail is helping to reshape our neighborhoods. 

We, as a culture, obey the rule of affinity in our lives. Who we gather with, who we have as friends, where we go to worship… our entire place in this world is governed by affinity.

We do stuff we like. We are friends with people we like. And we worship with people we like. We eat what we like, we wear what we like, we shop where we like, it never ends.

We’ve liked the life out of ourselves.

Doing stuff we don’t like. Well, that’s yucky.

Affinity’s Impact on the Church

Do you remember that kid in your neighborhood who would get ticked off because things weren’t going his way? He’d get all huffy, take his ball, and go home. Every kid in the neighborhood hated that guy. He was a brat. But we were friends with him because he had a nice basketball.

That’s pretty much the story of the protestant faith. Affinity– gathering by what we like– is the weakness of our religious DNA. Taking our ball and going elsewhere has been a tradition since the Reformation. How many protestant denominations were started because of disagreements going back to… “Well, we want to baptize people this way and you don’t, so we’re going to start another church across the street.” Pretty much all of them.

Don’t you hate church history? It reveals so much truth!

The result of this DNA weakness is what we see now. People go to the church that they go to because they like it. They’ll drive 45 minutes to go somewhere they like…. passing dozens of perfectly good churches along the way. Consequently, churches who have something for everyone to like tend to grow.

And this has been the unspoken narrative of church people for a long, long time. We go to a church ultimately because we like something about it. We like the kids program or the music or the pastor or what they do in the community or because we grew up in that faith tradition and it feels comfortable or because of an affinity-based conviction.

I’m not trying to cheapen these things. I am 100% guilty as charged. All I’m trying to do is raise awareness of this inborn propensity we have to gather by affinity.

Here’s where it plays out…

This morning a friend posted on his Facebook wall something like, “I’m tired of my pastor friends getting hurt because families leave. Why can’t they just work out their differences and stay?” The answer is affinity. For generations we, collectively as protestant church leaders, have told (in acts and/or deeds) people that they ought to gather together and worship based on shared affinities. (Again, not cheapening values/traditions/theological differences.)

The Problem with Building Church Around Affinity

The problem is affinity is cheap. Affinity is fickle. By telling people they should worship with people they like in spaces they like and attend churches that meet their needs is that that stuff all changes all the time. We live in a society that changes fast. And our churches pride themselves on moving slowly. So you are always caught in a cycle of being 5-10 years behind what culture wants! (This is something I call depreciating returns. It’s not 1-2 things that have killed the mojo in a church, it’s lots of things which have resulted in a gradual slow down.)

So, while it hurts we can’t be frustrated when people go to what they want because that’s what we’ve taught them… “Worship Jesus how it works best for you and your family.So they do. That makes church consumeristic. That makes it transient. That makes it, in some ways, cheap.

It’s Romans 7 lived out in church leadership. We do the thing that hurts the most and we don’t know why but we keep right on doing it. And as a result, Satan gets a stronger and stronger foothold in our society.

Proximity is the Long-Term Answer

The Good News of Jesus isn’t an affinity thing, it’s a proximity thing. Christian people from the same community, empowered by the Holy Spirit can overcome the rule of affinity. (We can/should/must look to our Catholic brethren. The parish model is a beautiful thing!)

People of all walks of life really can and should worship together. They should recognize and celebrate differences of opinion, they should love that the church reflects their neighborhood, they should see power in willfully worshipping with people with different needs, people whom they might not be comfortable with. If you watched the vice-presidential debate you heard Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, two faithful Catholic men, express two wildly different viewpoints on their Catholic faith. Their differences were not a weakness at all, it was a demonstration of the strength of the Gospel! Two people who truly see things from different vantage points can and willfully do share one communion cup. That’s the Gospel lived out in proximity in full denial of the rule of affinity! 

Proximity is how you bring Good News to the Neighborhood. Proximity is how you build lifelong, grace-filled, messy, overcoming relationships.

But to get away from affinity and towards proximity, we all need to repent of our personal preference sin. And confession and repentance, well… we don’t like that.

Categories
Christian Living The Proximity Gospel

The Rule of Affinity

Two men had robbed a bank a few miles away and while being chased by the police made a wrong turn into our neighborhood. Full of canyons and dead ends the robbers got lost, ditched their car, shot at a cop, and ran into backyards a few hundred yards from our house. Soon a police helicopter hovered over our block.

After a little while the sound was aggravating– infuriating even. It shook our house and rattled our nerves. While the police told us to stay inside and away from their barricades everyone was drawn out of their house by the thunderous claps of the helicopters blades.

It stayed like this for 5 hours.

That’s what it took for neighbors to talk. A police barricade. Locked down on a Saturday afternoon and each of us couldn’t stand being in our houses. With no way to escape… we were forced to talk. Names were shared, hands were shaken, houses were pointed to, stories were told, and we all got to know one another a little bit.

The Rule of Affinity is so powerful in our culture that this is what it takes to meet the people who live within 300 yards of my bedroom. Power outages, blizzards, bad storms, earthquakes, and other moments that force us awake from our Affinity stupor reminding us that there are actual people behind those front doors and mailboxes.

The Rule of Affinity is all-powerful. I don’t mean that it’s an axiom or a rule of thumb, I mean that it rules our lives like a king rules his people.

  • Where you work is defined by affinity.
  • Where you worship is defined by affinity.
  • Who you are friends with is defined by affinity.
  • What you do with your free time is defined by affinity.
  • What you eat? Affinity.
  • What you wear? Affinity.

This list never ends because affinity rules our lives. Our affluence affords us choices. And our choices drive us to seek deeper and deeper levels of affinity. We do what we do because we like it and avoid what we don’t like.

Think about it like this: Whenever you have a choice, the Rule of Affinity drives your choice to gather not by proximity but by affinity. 

The internet, especially social media, amplifies this effect. Because you can find community with people just like you online you don’t need proximity. Affinity allows you to consider your best friends to be people you’ve never met face-to-face. You know 500 things about a stranger but nothing about a neighbor. That’s the power of the Rule of Affinity over your life.

And yet, the Rule of Affinity is actually killing your soul. You feel like you’ve found community with people just like you but what you’ve really found is communal loneliness and further isolation.

Affinity is shallow. It’s weak. It’s junk food. It lacks the full flavor and nutritional value of Proximity.  Intellectually, affinity is small. It’s easy. It’s drinking a Coke and calling it a fine vintage. It’s foregoing literature for a grocery aisle romance novel. One result is that we live in a society of psychiatric drugs. We medicate the pain caused by the Rule of Affinity’s malnutrition. Filled with false community and Affinity’s lies about our place in the world we lean on drugs to seek a normal we know nothing of. As we drive toward further and further affinity we gain more and more isolation, our soul starving our soul further, eventually leaving us a rotten core of our true selves.

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, challenges us to reject the Rule of Affinity for the realities of Proximity. In the Garden, Satan tempted Eve with affinity… “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) While Adam and Eve had perfect Proximity to God, Satan tempted them with the Rule of Affinity where they could gather with God on their terms.

The Gospel overcomes the Rule of Affinity and re-introduces the Garden’s Proximity into our lives. Jesus’ re-introduction of Proximity looks at the bank robbers face and says, “There’s a better way. You seek something temporary and I offer something permanent and beautiful.

Jesus gutted the Rule of Affinity with His invitation to new way of living,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-39

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Christian Living

Do I have a vision problem?

visionless: it is my claim that this is the most attractive but most insidious yeast undermining religious communities. Vision has a devious way of focusing our attention outside of ourselves to some lofty external goal, rather than keeping ourselves committed to love and service in the community, then as a result beyond the immediate community by the outpouring of the overflow. Jesus’ vision, if it could be said he had any vision at all, was to die… to hand himself over to the authorities, etc. Any other vision than the vision to be willing to die is one that decides who can play and who cannot for the longevity of the vision and it’s crafters. It defines the shape and nature of the community and the people within it, often with violence against the natural goodness and innate spirituality of its people. It is vision that eventually and inevitably changes an institution into stone.

source

Lately, I’ve been chewing on David Hayward’s work on becoming visionless. (His book on the subject)

In so many ways this concept deeply resonates with my experience. And in so many ways it deeply offends my experience.

On the one hand, my own words would argue that if you don’t have a clearly defined vision for yourself you’ll be paralyzed by your inability to say no to good/bad things that come your way. Vision permits lazer-like focus.

On the other hand, I’m haunted by the reality that often times I’m saying no to things that are close to me, forsaking the organic opportunity for one cultivated in alignment with my vision.

In my mind vision allows me to filter. That’s why David’s words are annoying me so much. Who am I to try to put a filter on what God puts right before me? Who am I to forsake the organic for the cultivated? 

Question: What would your life look like if you were to reorientate yourself around Hayward’s words above. (Put aside your ability to disagree with him, just imagine what your life would be like if this were true and it became a guide. How would yourlife change?)