Friday, November 02, 2012

The God of the Mundane

Matthew B. Redmond: The God of the Mundane

A Pork-Butcher's Shop Seen from a Window, Van Gogh
Note from CM: Today, I’d like you to meet another new friend. Please welcome Matthew B. Redmond, who blogs at Echoes and Stars. Matt has been a pastor and now works in banking in Birmingham, AL. He has a book coming out later this year, published by Kalos Press, called The God of the Mundane. During our recent discussions here about “radical” Christianity, I found out about his writing and knew I had to share it with you.
The good news is that Matt is a devoted baseball fan. The bad news is that he roots for the St. Louis Cardinals. This means on this blog we now have writers rooting for the Reds, the Cards, and the Cubs. I guess this is fast becoming the NL Central blog, and of course, that’s me (CM) clinging to Jesus’ words about the last being first.
The following post combines two pieces Matt sent me: “A Sermon I Wish I’d Preached,” and the original “God of the Mundane” post from his blog.
* * *
Almost a year ago I announced my resignation from the ministry. A day later I was working at a bank and since then I have not taught or preached. I do not regret that decision in the least. But regret for the way I way ministered to those in my care has washed over me in devastating waves. There are so many words I wish I had never said, so many lessons I would love to unteach.
And there are a number of sermons I wish I had preached instead.
Of course all the best sermons are forged in the fires of preparation and then beaten into us on the anvil of experience. I could not have preached these sermons then because I had not yet learned what I know now. I had not yet seen nor heard…
So now all the sermons I wish I could have preached roll around in my skull. And sometimes they get written down, like this one I could not let go. For over two years this message has careened against my memories and exploded into a thousand conversations shattering a lot of conventional wisdom, shrapnel everywhere.
There is a God of the mundane.
We live in a culture that celebrates the extraordinary, especially extraordinary people. Athletes, rock stars, actors, actresses, and even those who are famous for being famous have our barely divided attention. We single out the best in just about everything and then they become the benchmark for significance and meaning.
And Christians are not immune. The church has its own celebrities and we have been pointing to them time out of mind because of the extraordinary things they have done in the cause of Christ.
The church is awash in the belief that the extraordinary acts of faith – missions, vocational ministry, street evangelism – are our marks of meaning and significance.
“Do something radical. Or crazy. Whatever you do, don’t be ordinary. Because, obviously, you cannot live a mundane life unto God.”
I wish I had looked in the eyes of homemakers and electricians, accountants and actuaries, farmers and physical therapists and told them differently.
I wish with all my heart I had.
A Pair of Leather Clogs, Van Gogh
I wish I had asked them to read through Paul and Peter and the letters of John and see the stark reverse of extraordinary. The only thing that looks extraordinary in the recipients of these letters is that they believe at all. For the whole world is against them.
I wish I had told them that the most extraordinary thing they can do is be content with an ordinary life.
I wish I had told them to kick pop culture in the teeth and be a nobody.
I wish I had told them to trust the God who created them and then saved them. I wish I had told them the first vocation was gardener not pastor. I wish I had told them all work – even the most boring work you can imagine – can be kingdom work.
I wish I had told them that if you are trying to live a radical life, you will never be radical enough. And how would you know if you were?
I wish I had told them there is a God of the mundane.
* * *
Perhaps I am missing something. It is possible.
It appears that the current evangelical climate is one in which faithfulness and spirituality are measured by the eventful and the big — the bombastic. If the waves are not huge and the shifts are not seismic then we assume a kind of carnality. We have redefined radical to the point where the only radical people in the church are those who have sold everything and gone…well, anywhere. I love those people. And that is radical. But for everyone who does not sell everything, you know, those who shop at Target, go to the beach for vacation and grab some sushi (or Cracker Barrel) weekly — is there a spirituality for them that can be called “radical?”
Am I alone in worrying there is no God for the mundane? You know for those who, in the name of Jesus, are simply faithful spouses, honest in business, love their children well and enjoy the world they live in while waiting for the next — is there a God for them?
I think we have gone awry somewhere along the way. It is no longer not enough for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, he must now agonize over whether to sell everything to go overseas as a missionary. And you need to know, I am guilty of making people feel guilty about this. I have actually said, “It should be hard to stay where you are.” Someone should have asked me, “Chapter and verse please?” But lets face it, this sounds really good and spiritual. In fact, in many ways it is really hard to stay. It is hard because no one celebrates the day-in and day-out faithfulness that goes unseen by the wider world. It is hard because life is not easy anywhere, there is no idyllic paradise in America where sin is not pervasive and the the devil is not crouching outside of custom-made doors. And it is probably hard for a few because of the guilt heaped up on them who stay and are made to think they are carnal/unfaithful for doing so.
Canal with Women Washing, Van Gogh
Right now, someone is questioning whether I care about missions at all. You see, that is the problem. I do care about the spread of the gospel. But we have elevated what is seen and what is radical to the point where all other activity (or seeming lack of activity) leads people to think one may not care. That may be damnable. We must assume there are untold numbers of men and women spreading the gospel of grace quietly throughout their community and making it possible financially for others to go without making a big deal about it and telling everyone on facebook they are doing it.
Part of the problem may be we have made Paul our only hero and not the nameless recipients of his letters. Who would want to be like one of the unknowns when you can be like Paul? What pastor would want to be simply one of Timothy’s appointed elders, never known and never mentioned? What man would want to be simply a day-laborer, who has believed the gospel and against the trends of the day treats his wife and children with dignity and affection, dealing honestly with his neighbors? What woman would want to be a nameless mother who at the risk of ridicule and inconvenience, huddles with other brothers and sisters in The Way and listens to a nameless teacher about Jesus? It is all so mundane.
It is almost like a new legalism is emerging. “Quit your job. Do something crazy. Pick up and move. If you do not then you are suspiciously lacking in the necessary requirements of what we deem ‘spiritual.’
The rock-star preacher thing isn’t helping either. Life seems so mundane after watching them, reading about them and then listening to them. Changing diapers and paying bills on time and being generous and holding the hand of your spouse and caring about your aging parents and having deep friendships and being committed to the church and crying with those who hurt — well, its just not radical enough. So absolutely mundane. And I fear that for most “ordinary Christians”, they do not worship a God who can be glorified in the mundane.

No comments: