Longing for a movement of God?



New York Times Magazine, 5.20.18, Final Words, Beverly Gage, Cause and Effect, 9-11


Our is a time filled up with a longing for change – justice, reconciliation and the redemption of our lives as citizens of an order that is unravelling. We have witnessed an expanding assortment of movements pressing for these transformations. Social media announces and shouts out the dawning of movements that will make the difference. And yet, most of us, most of the time, know they won’t even while we wish they would. The Yale historian, Beverly Gage, address this issue in her article, Cause and Effect by raising the question of how we might know when the real thing has arrived? Given all the ways the adjective movement is placed I front of countless proposals coming from leaders within the Euro-tribal churches it’s a great question to pose.


The call to make a movement expresses the hope that people would come together in a collective effort to change a culture; its lifestyle, habits, attitudes and values. There is no shortage of these calls to movements within the Euro-tribal churches. The list is long but mentioning a few makes the point: a Jesus movement, a church-planting movement, a new discipleship movement, a holiness movement, an ABC or EFG or XYZ (fill in the blanks from your social networks) movement. Across the broader culture there are movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Idle No More, and so on. It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about the Occupy Movement with its protests in Zuccotti Park that spread around the world. This is not an observation about the moral value of these movements but rather the observation that after all the rallies and posts in the Twitter sphere they seem to fade away (even when they have Hollywood’s backing) in the rapid cycles of social media that homogenize everything of importance into obsolescence. No matter how well formed the requisite outrage or promotional skills in social media – movements come and go about as fast as a child’s interest in a particular toy. The outrage and the concomitant demands of the latest movement might affect the moral sensibilities of a group for a moment producing experiences of solidarity, collective authenticity and identity but doesn’t seem to translate into the change in habits, practices, attitudes and values that are at the heart of any movement across a culture that is capable of sustaining itself.


But the hunger for movement remains despite the dashed hopes. Despite all the ways leaders keep trying to promise change there remains this deep-down hope among Euro-tribal Christians. What’s getting in the way? There are some obvious answers that address the surface issues but miss the deeper reasons. One can point to social media and the faith that a sufficient number of FB posts, blogs or creative Tweets will get my movement going and the kingdom nearer. Then, there’s still the conviction that new techniques will bring about a movement (go to any airport books store to see the endless list of books making the promise that you, too, can be a star innovator of big change). There is still the stubborn notion that there’s a leader who can make a movement happen, a pied piper, a great orator and picture painter who rallies the people with great emotion. Too often, the desire for a movement is formulated in the gathering of elites (none of us see ourselves in these terms) who may well have their finger on the longings of their people but seem to have little capacity to grasp that movements must come from among a people they are not produced for them by elites who invariably shape a movement from within their own language worlds and, therefore, after the initial outbursts of enthusiasm find themselves at the front of a dwindling parade.


What sustains a movement after everyone’s gone home, the news cycle has moved on and the tweets have found a new cause celeb? One of the more substantive responses to this question was given quite some time ago in a little book written by Eugene Peterson, …. He is pointing in a different direction than those presented above. A movement finds sustenance for the long journey of culture change when it forms people in particular practices of everyday life in all the ordinariness of people’s lives. Would that the Euro-tribal churches, in all their anxieties amidst the unravelling, discern another Benedict. Would that our leaders might become the inhabitors and shapers of such habits and practices among their people. All else is window dressing.