Thursday, 18 April 2013

On Salt and Light and being 'Sorted'

I spent this morning getting ready for Sunday in YWBC, when we’ll be carrying on our series on the Sermon on the Mount with a reflection on Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus’ famous words on the role of the church, to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world.’

As I’ve mulled over the passage, a question has occurred to me which we might want to think of ahead of Sunday: is be better to be deliberately different to others, or does being salt and light mean we model a lifestyle which is a redeemed and more attractive version of what everyone else is doing?

My reason for posing this question arises from time checking out the website of Sorted, which makes the claim to be ‘The UK’s Only Christian Magazine for Men.’

At this point, it’s probably only right to declare my prejudices ahead of browsing the site. I’ve had one or two bad experiences of men’s Christian gatherings. I realise they’re very helpful to some chaps, but my abiding memory of Mandate in Belfast several years ago was a lecture from a retired US Army General who didn’t actually tell us all to ‘man up’ even if that was the gist of his message. Think of Robert de Niro from Meet the Parents in a pulpit and you’ll get a picture of what I’m talking about. I’ve decided I like a mixture of testosterone and oestrogen in church, I’m not ‘wild at heart’ and I’ve never been able to share the angst of those who feel the church is somehow overly-feminised.  

Perhaps because of that, I came to Sorted in particular need of convincing. But I didn’t expect to be so taken aback by the way in which it’s so obviously in thrall to our culture’s idea of what it means to be successful and a proper man. Can someone explain to me the redemptive nature of articles like ‘the ultimate guide to cool winter coats’ or a review of the latest smartphones?

The underlying message is clear – to be a credible witness means we need the latest gadgets, clothing, and a body that we wouldn’t be ashamed of at the gym? But in the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t Jesus go on to say that it’s ‘the Gentiles who strive for all these things,’ before calling us to ‘strive first for the Kingdom of God’? How can we ever redeem shallow notions of what it means to be successful or masculine, if we’re so obsessed with our need to somehow prove ourselves as being capable of reaching those standards ourselves?

This isn’t call for all of us to live like Amish communities, trading in our cars for horses and carriages. But there are serious grounds for concern here. Five years on from a financial meltdown of global proportions, having chased the idols of credit and conspicuous consumption, lots of people in our country face the prospect of struggling on, either unemployed, underemployed or overworked. When so many are asking big questions about the sustainability of our current economic mode, are we really being salt and light if our message is simply that you too can have Jesus, an iPhone and a great six pack?

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