As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Q Conference came to DC earlier this month. Q is a space "where church and cultural leaders can learn, dialogue, innovate and collaborate around the important topics shaping the church’s future role in culture...We are driven by the belief that inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to work towards creating a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention. Q is a place leaders can explore what that might look like and how God’s kingdom is showing up in the lives of their peers as they restore through the cultural goods they create and lead."
Yes, Q was as awesome as it sounds! It was an amazing experience, full of challenging talks and inspiring ideas. I will be processing it all for awhile, but a couple things in particular really stuck out to me:
One of them was David Brooks' talk on Humility. If you weren't able to attend Q, I highly reccommend you listen to his talk (which will be available on the Q website on May 31st). It was funny, brilliant - and a painfully accurate description of the self-centerdness and pride that defines our culture today.
"Humility is not low self esteem. Humility is low self-preoccupation." -David Brooks
It is with this definition that Mr Brooks showed us how much our culture today is severely lacking in humility. We as a generation are entirely self-preoccupied. We are consumed with ourselves, with our opinions, with our lives. Our national debt is so high because we consume more than any generation previous to us, with little thought to those coming after us - because we think we deserve it. Whatever is best for us is what goes. There is no moral standard today - in fact, according to research, there is a serious moral emergency: when asked, people literally cannot describe a situation with a moral dilemma, because there are no defined limits of right and wrong. Whatever the individual thinks is right, is right. Each person defines their own morality. This is a true moral dilemma. Our culture today tells us it is all about us - that our purpose in life is to find ourselves. But as Mr Brooks pointed out, our purpose in Christ is actually the opposite - it is to lose ourselves.
We as the Church need to show our generation this truth - that true fulfillment is found in losing ourselves, in thinking less of ourselves. But are we even promoting this truth well within the Church, or do we reflect our larger culture more than we realize? How much do we each think about my personal faith, my future, my job, my possessions, my comfort, my sexual satisfaction, my emotional needs, how am I making a difference in the world (I personally struggle with focusing too much on this last one). We are so caught up in ourselves, in our needs and desires, that we often forget God's two greatest commandments: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37)
Yes, we are important. God says to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we are to love and take care of ourselves. God desires us to know Him and spend eternity with Him, so our lives and our personal salvation are important. But because we are sinful, selfish, prideful human beings, it is easy to focus too much on this. He has created us and blessed us in order that we may love Him and love others - that is what is best for us because that is what he has created us to do. And as we've clearly seen from the world around us, the more we focus on ourselves, the more miserable we each seem to become and the more broken our society as a whole becomes:
A couple of the other most moving, poignant talks at Q for me were on racism and our criminal justice system (which will, again, be available here on May 31st!) The brokenness that exists within our justice system, and how it so unjustly affects young African-American men especially, blows my mind. How does such injustice exist in our country today without more Christians speaking out about it? How are there not more voices raised demanding reformation? How are more believers not involving themselves in the lives of youth to break the cycle and bring redemption to lives written off by so many?
I believe the answer directly connects to Mr Brooks' main point: selfishness. The Church today is too similar to the culture around us. It is easy to not care about that which does not affect us directly. We are focused more on ourselves than on loving God and loving others. The Church needs to lead the way in shifting our perspective outside of ourselves, or else I truly believe our societal problems will only get worse. As my pastor reminds us often, every powerful social movement in our country's history has started with the Church. It is the Church that must lead the way in stopping the inward focus of individuals in our culture. God meant for His Church to live differently than the culture around us, to further His redemption in the world and exemplify His sacrificial, sefless love to the world so that Christ would be seen. I believe that means we as the Church must be aware of this disease of selfishness infecting us, must pray and discuss this more, and must take active steps towards focusing outward, towards taking all that God has given us and using it to better love Him and others. We must do this, because I really believe it is only the Church that will be able to help bring about this shift in our larger culture as well, and help bring the full life that God desires to all people - those who are in physical need as well as spiritual.
And I think praying about and taking action on the injustices surrounding our criminal justice system is a great place to start. What if the Church in each city came together and unified around the issues that cause these injustices? That would be a powerful movement, a powerful voice, that our larger culture couldn't ignore. If every member of every church in DC committed to becoming a mentor for one vulnerable, at-risk youth in our city - either one headed down that path or one who has just come out of incarceration - I believe the rates of incarceration among African-American males would drop dramatically. I believe this would bring attention to the problems surrounding our justice system, as well as the very real solutions that could be brought about. And all this by the churches in our city unifying around a committment to disciple and mentor - something we can all do, and something for which I believe Christ commands we make time.
Through my church I am looking into what programs already exists and what ways we as the Church can invest in the lives of vulnerable youth. This month we at The District Church have committed to praying specifically for foster kids and other vulnerable youth, and about the ways God is calling us to bring Christ's redemption into their lives. Please join us in praying and in seeking God's will for how He wants the Church in DC to be His hands and feet in this area!April is actually Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this coming Sunday, April 29th, is Blue Sunday - a national day of awareness for child abuse and neglect that many churches across the country are observing. As you'll see from looking at the website, Blue Sunday is a great example of a way the Church is already taking action to invest in the lives of vulnerable children, helping to break cycles of neglect, abuse, and fatherlessness that feed the cycles of high incarceration rates, joblessness, and racism. Many in the Church are already taking action to think outside of themselves. So please help bring this converation into your church, or continue it if it's already going on! And please let me know if you'd like to join our church in the initiative we are praying about, or let me know what your community is already doing - I know there are already many churches working to bring God's redemption into this area, and I would love to hear what's already happening and see this become a widespread, unified movement among the Church in DC!
As I pray for this initiative and the injustices that exist in our city, I continue to think about Mr. Brooks' observations and advice. I pray that the Church would grow in the true humility that he talked about, that we might lead the way in redeeming our culture from the grip of selfishness and pride that leads to so much personal and societal injustice. I pray we would look to Christ and be filled with hope by the reality that in the end His selfless love will win out against all pride and greed and the evil it brings. But I also pray that we would rely on the power of His love in us and follow His example of sacrificial love in our everyday lives - thinking less of ourselves - so that we may help His Kingdom come just a little more in our world now.
Leadership Resident and Outreach Director, The District Church