Christine Frost never set out to attract the attention of the entire world. The 77 year old nun had no interest in that kind of platform, she was just serving the LORD by serving the poor.
For the past forty years she had worked to get poor, disenfranchised people into better housing, she and her abbey devoted themselves to serving people in what we call “the projects.” For four decades she had served these people no matter what faith they had or didn’t.
And so when she Christine Frost saw the black flag of ISIS flying over the entry of the apartments she’d spent the better part of her life serving she did what was only natural. She took that flag down.
The flag had already been flying for two weeks, and when journalists approached to take pictures they were threatened with bodily harm, people had complained to local authorities, who were trying to figure out what to do. And that’s when Christine Frost, the nun, known for her ability to organize bingo nights and speak on behalf of the marginalized, stepped up.
This plucky senior saint just walked up to the building with a step-ladder and took the flag down.
At first, no one in the British press knew what to make of this act of bravery. Some assumed it was a Christian vs. Islam thing, but it wasn’t, it was woman who had been faithfully serving her community in the name of Jesus for decades and she had no idea that what she was doing would be so very cool, she just knew it was right.
Getting Hugged by Strangers
I spent this past Saturday night hanging out with Kent and Amber Brantly for a fundraising event. I had the privilege of getting to interview Kent about his experience with serving West Africa and having Ebola. They were really incredible, humble people who have given Jesus a good name. But the one thing I wasn’t expecting is how many people wanted to hug them.
We ate dinner at the Macaroni Grill before hand and total strangers just came up and hugged him and walked away without saying a word.
Amber told my wife, “This has been happening a lot lately.”
Think about that, these aren’t people who are asking for selfies or autographs, they aren’t wanting to get anything, they are just wanting to say thank you.
If you know Kent, you know that the best word to describe him isn’t cool, he’s not edgy or image-conscious, he’s the furthest thing from a hipster. He’s not cool, he’s more than that, He’s trying to be faithful.
And this brings me to the problem with the American Christian’s preoccupation with being cool. Cool is built on rebellion, and it’s easier to sell rebellion than holding on to some kind of tradition. I like the way Paul Grant puts it in his book, “Blessed are the Uncool”
Was Jesus really a rebel? Yes, but Jesus didn’t rage against some abstract machine; he called people to an old way, the way revealed in the prophets. . . . Jesus rocked the boat, and defied the status quo, modeling courageous resistance of the prevailing winds. But in our contemporary culture, rebellion is considered a good in its own right—and a thrilling one at that. We’re out to transgress. But we don’t really have any agenda beyond rebellion itself.
It’s so tempting for Churches to fall into the trap of pursuing cool, we use words like relevant or cultural engagement, we want to show the world that we “get it” and that we don’t believe in dragons or elves, but when we pursue this, it quickly becomes where we spend our best energies and resources.
David Wells makes this point well in his book “The Courage to Be Protestant”
“the miscalculation here is enormous…The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God. And the further irony is that the younger generations [are not impressed, they] often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.
Instead of battling to be relevant and cool, churches should be doing is engaging their communities and cultures by trying to be the most faithful version of themselves for God and for the world.
Our chief goal isn’t to be relevant, it is to be the people of God.
Who is the Church For?
A couple of years ago I read the great book by Andy Stanley “Deep and Wide” where he asked the insightful question, “Is the Church for members or non-members?” He’s asking the question because of the tendency that churches have to bend toward being internally focused, and Stanley very convincingly makes the point that the church exists for the people who don’t belong to her.
So I went to Jeff Childers, a member at Highland and a good friend, and I asked him that question “Who is the church for?” And in one sentence Jeff exposed a huge gap in my faith and view of Church.
He just said, “Short answer is the Church is for God.”
Immediately, I was like “Oh yeah, that’s the right answer.”
I realized that this was the missing piece in my theology, I still believe that the Church is the only institution in the world that exists for the people who don’t belong to her, but not first, She first exists for God.
Do you realize the great pleasure it gives God when we forgive people who are difficult to forgive? Do you realize when we reconcile racially/economically/politically we give God great joy because we are acting like His Son? We don’t’ do it because it’s popular, we do it because it’s who God is.
I don’t know of another reason that would cause someone to serve Ebola victims at the expense of their own health, or could cause an elderly nun to take down a flag at the cost of her own safety.
Sometimes the faithfulness of the Church catches the world’s attention and people are reminded that it is good news that Christians follow Jesus. And that may put an elderly nun on the front page of the Guardian, or it may get strangers coming up and giving you hugs at a Macaroni Grill.
But that’s not why we do it, the Church exists for the world, but not first, she first exists for God.