Recently I was travelling through the US and visiting friends who are seeking the expression of hope, justice, and beauty in their neighbourhoods as they follow Jesus together. As I travelled through the most powerful Western nation on earth I was reading of how the world is becoming both more modern and less Western. The innovations and inventions, the discoveries, institutions, and technologies that made the West a force of empire and the world’s dominant civilisation over the last 200 years are being adopted more and more by more and more societies on earth for the use of their own cultures, countries, and civilisations. We are sensing this shift in the West as the majority of us are still decadently enjoying our ‘success’.
In this seed of decadence and dominance is the decline of the West. Increasingly we are realising that there are gaps, flaws, and deficits in the culture and civilisation we have built to get us where we are now. We become ‘postmodern’ questioning absolute statements, controlling institutions, systematic monolithic ways of believing and organising our existence. In this mix we let go of our religions, our ‘faith system’ that has marked Western civilisation. We see its flaws and the way in which it has been used to justify exploitation, discrimination, greed and militarisation and at times has been complicit in the homogenisation of thought that allows political and economic powers to control and direct our civilisation. These negative outcomes include the exploitation, oppression and abuse of indigenous people groups, the destruction of the environment that sustains life, the discrimination and suppression of difference, and the marginalisation of the weak and powerless in the pursuit of wealth and status.
And so we cut ourselves adrift, running from the crumbled shell of this building of religion that has been bombed out by the identification of its flaws and failings. But as we drift, as we run through this no mans land, we long for a new home and we realise we still as people need, and indeed long for the sacred, the eternal, the divine, the encounter with the holy, the something that transcends all civilisations, all cultures, all time and space. We long for this to be something that doesn’t just shape and direct our systems of thought (and make us successful and dominant) but to be something that really helps us to be fully human - to enjoy the most basic, most nourishing, most beautiful moments of life. Beauty, community, nature, food, music, contemplating, family, seasons, creating, praying and remembering.
Hence, as we hunger again for something of belief and faith in our Western civilisation, it will not be the systematic theology, the correct and defined systems of belief, the highly structured, organised, and resourced institutional expressions of Christianity that the majority are drawn to. For this for them is a return to the time when we used these to promote, validate, and organise our dominance while living the lifestyle of empire.
Instead more of us will be drawn to something that reaches further back, something of the person, the message, and the way of Jesus. We will be drawn to a message and a practise of life that connects and moves us once again to the simple and the sacred, to actions and postures not just thoughts and words. A growing number want a faith that doesn’t just teach us to be citizens and consumers in a dominant civilisation, but that teaches us and empowers us to live lives that are truly good and whole. And isn’t this the ‘way’ that Jesus spoke of, lived, and called the first disciples to follow and pass on?
So let us follow this way of life, let us seek to have Jesus at the centre, not as a system of belief, but as a personal Lord and Saviour. Let us live into the sacred, the whole, the eternal message of the kingdom of God. And let us neighbourhood by neighbourhood, place by place find ways to practise community, creativity, worship, prayer, peacemaking, restorative justice and hospitality – that we may truly shine not the light of Western civilisation, but the light of God.
That is what we are called to and what we hunger for!
(It would be overly harsh to damn all aspects and achievements of Western civilisation and religion’s influence on it. In multiple instances its values have motivated people to seek to be compassionate, just, and free and seek, to greater or lesser extents, the good of others. However even at its best this has been in reality a pale shadow of what we are called to seek in the kingdom of God as followers of Jesus).