August 1, 2015 by Kyle
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
My assumption is that we are all about the work of redemption within the lives of individuals. but are less aware of the work to redeem a place. When I say, “we” I mean those who are committed to the gospel of Christ as the credible and transforming message from God, in human form, to humanity. The concept of ‘lostness’ can be a good vehicle to describe the places where believers need to be. All too often lostness is used to describe an unfamiliar place or more specifically a place that fits our stereotypical ideology of good and bad. Without reservation, poverty has a unique look and smell. It is that ‘look’ and ‘smell’ that many associate with lostness and not something intrinsic to all of humanity. The Apostle Paul argues in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one;” Matthew describes Jesus’s association with the lost as the masses who have no direction.
Cultural Christianity has a look and smell. It has become an almost invisible machine that produces the ideal for so many. It is powered by folks who’ve envisioned themselves as stewards of something passed down to them from a previous generation. They idolize what they received and have wrapped it in language like, “revival” and “getting back to basics” or “getting back to the way things used to be”. On the surface these do not and should not cause concern, but a deeper look should create caution. The past becomes a kind of eschatological hope–no new heavens and new earth here. Many fail to realize that culture is a construct and as such, it is pieced together and there is the possibility that ‘lostness’ could actually just be something different. A community with trash on the street and a few abandoned homes could be described as “lost” or emblematic of what we’ve come to understand to be “lostness”. Some groups go so far as to use a lostness meter to describe various neighborhoods. This is just cheesy and depersonalizes the mission that Christ has given us. I don’t doubt that a Section 8 living, single mother, smoking a Newport, hanging out on the stoop in the middle of the day with trash in front of her door is an apt illustration of lostness. I would add to the illustration of lostness by also pointing to the married, middle class household within suburbia who worships their lifestyle as an idol.
North American Cultural Christianity seems to exclusively view lostness as urban poverty including the dregs that follow poverty. The term ‘ghetto’ has come to describe not only a place, but also a culture. I tend to cringe when hearing people from privileged culture use terms like, ‘ghetto’. The term is loaded with judgments about culture. I wonder if it is used as a buffer between a ‘normal’ Western focused cultural experience and the exotic and terrifying cultural expression of the ‘other’. What is trivial to so many is reality for others. Let’s face it, poverty is easy to point out, but the sin within ideal communities is more difficult to point out because cultural Christianity has provided us with a skewed missional vision. There is a great deal of talk within mission circles about reaching ‘dark’ places. This kind of terminology conjures up the colonial problem–using terms like “unreached” is less problematic–especially within missiological circles where there ought to be a certain level of cultural intelligence.
So who reaches a community that is comfortable with itself? Who reaches the communities that are self reliant and accustomed to reaching out to others, but unaware of lostness within its own backyard? Many of these communities are filled with individuals that hold to a self-righteous mindset. Yes, there are churches there, but these churches have not reached outside of their local walls because they know everyone and may not see a need for communal change. There are tons of communities that collectively yawn when they hear of black men being profiled, abused and killed by law enforcement. “Why not submit to authority?” they ask. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is racist because ‘All Lives Matter’, right? Would these folks walk on the other side of the street like the Pharisee and Priest in Jesus’s story of the Samaritan in Luke . Some would even venture to say poverty is a self inflicted wound and social constructs play no part in the prevalence of poverty.
I could go on and on, but my point is that ‘lostness’ is not a location, but should describe the condition of a person or community trying to live outside of the redeeming work of Christ. ‘Lostness’ is prevalent on the floors of Wall Street where greed is good. Lostness pops up at a NASCAR event where some hold symbols of oppression in such high regard. You can find lostness in the frat house whose members find nothing wrong with painting their faces black to further stereotypical racist views all in the name of having fun. How about finding lostness within a police force that has a record of targeting African American residents. When we assume innocence because of a badge, we have missed the reality that sin is pervasive. Unrepentant and self centered social privilege is not a Christ like character trait.
In the same way that poverty has a smell likewise the condition called privilege carries a stench. It is not easily recognized because it is often times cloaked by the industry formed around it. Flags, bookstores, conferences, suits, skirts and mom, apple pie and American exceptionalism sort of blurs the lines of distinction for many. Lostness is a condition best described as a person or group losing their way. In other words they lack an inclination to God and by their lifestyle they show that they don’t know His voice. Listen to God’s conversation with Jonah regarding Ninevah, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Ninevah, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left–and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11)
Not only Ninevah but Sodom and Gomorrah, Athens and for many the city of Nazareth was a questionable place and therefore would have exemplified ‘lostness’. These cities either had education, political or economic status, but any Bible reader could establish that they were like Ninevah, ignorant of the light of the Creator. An oversimplified demographic analysis of a place would lead one to believe that guys hanging on a corner, the presence of pay day loan and pawn shops constitute lostness rather than representing systemic oppression. Maybe the guys are hanging on the corner because the recreation centers have all been closed because of city budget cuts and they simply have no where else to go. The presence of pay day loan stores may simply reflect the refusal of banks to exist within poorer communities that have been cut off from broader society long ago. Maybe its really City Hall or the corporate board rooms that are lost and needs to understand compassion and justice.