I’ve been loving the Disney series The Mandalorian. It chronicles a people-group after their planet and people had been decimated by the Empire (Star Wars). Within the remnant of this people-group there is a small subset who are marked by a stubborn commitment to the self-discipline and commitment of the ancient Mandalorian life. Their mantra is, ‘this is the way’. It is a simple phrase which represents an ancient creed and which captures an entire approach to life and meaning.
This is the way.
For me, it’s hard to watch this TV series without reflecting upon my own experience of Christian community and our own commitment to ‘the way’.
What is ‘the way’ of Jesus?
We live in a swiftly changing Australian culture. Justine Toh from the Centre of Public Christianity describes us as a ‘culture of contempt’ in which the secular mainstream considers Christianity as ‘the oppressor’. Andy Crouch notes that for many non-Christians, “The church is a zombie institution. Institutions that have not faced the truth about their own failure. And because of their access to privilege they continue to exist, crowding out institutions that might create true shalom. Zombie institutions are dedicated first and only to their own preservation not to anyone’s flourishing.” Regardless what terms may be used, the consensus is clear: Christendom is over. Some liken our post-Christendom status to the Biblical concept of exiles, others to that of migrants. The Christian voice is no longer mainstream. The institution of the church is no longer universally trusted. Our legislators, who once sought the Bible as a guiding text, now legislate in direct opposition to it. Whilst this has, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the health of our broader society, it can be difficult as Christian leaders to adapt and minister into this new reality.
From observation there are two broad stances we can take as we engage with our ever-changing nation.
1. The way of fear
2. The way of humble confidence
The way of fear is deeply troubled by what we could lose in this new climate. As such, it feels threatened by the advance of secularism and builds walls to protect itself. It is yet to fully let go of its ‘respected voice’ and is saddened by the new reality that no one listens to or does what it recommends. Miroslav Volf notes that “fear for oneself and one’s identity creates hardness. The difference that joins itself with hardness always presents the other with a choice: either submit or be rejected; either ‘become like me’ or ‘get away from me’.” In a ministry context this can result in an ‘us versus them’ mentality in which we fight to maintain Christian structures in a secular culture. No doubt this is done in part out of a love for our city, but there is also an undercurrent of fear in our language and methods. Perhaps we fear losing the comfort of being the dominant voice?
The way marked by humble confidence is not afraid of ‘losing ground’, for its confidence springs from a belief that through Christ it has already won. It feels no threat from secularism, for it considers God’s Kingdom to be bigger than any passing ideology. As a result, it moves outside the safety of its ‘walls’ to see where God is at work. This stance is marked by humility because it holds tightly to the grace of God that rescued it – based on no merit of its own. This stance is marked by confidence, because it trusts that the inheritance secured by Christ cannot be taken away. The way of humble confidence expects to be misunderstood and misrepresented. It understands that it may need to yield cultural control to the secularist agenda. However, it is at peace, knowing that God’s Kingdom continues to move forward through the ordinary means of the local church and the often clumsy witness of Jesus’ disciples. It truly believes that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
As Chaplains we seek to embody the way of humble confidence. We may be the only people our students know who model lives that rest in the grace of God and have the confidence of an eternal inheritance. As such we don’t need to ‘win’ in our interactions with students. Instead, our energy goes towards generosity, humility and hope. All in the name of Jesus and the new life he gives.
This is the way.