Friday, May 21, 2010

Faithful Presence - Eleanor Shepherd

Recently I read an interview in Christianity Today with James Davison Hunter. His thesis is that both the Christian right and the Christian left politically are trying to transform culture by means of political and social power. He concludes that when we adopt strategies like “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” or “changing the world,” we sound like we are committed to a Kingdom of aggression that will rule by conquest and domination. Culture will only change when those who make it up change and that never happens quickly.

Hunter believes that culture can change not through legislation or even public pressure but rather through the presence of God penetrating every aspect of the social sphere in which we live through faithful presence. He points out that this is not new, as it is faithful presence that has always been operative our culture, in the creation of hospitals, in the flourishing of the arts, in excellence in scholarship, in attempts to provide social care for those most desperate, in responding to the social needs of all.

During the interview, Hunter identifies four aspects of the social power of Jesus. It is this social power that make possible faithful presence. Jesus power was derivative. It came from the intimate relationship that He enjoyed with His Heavenly Father. It was fruit of His conscious and chosen submission to the will of His Father.

The social power of Jesus was humble. He chose to reject all of the rights and privileges that belonged to Him, not holding on to His status or worrying about His reputation and even being willing to accept indignities with calm and confidence, rather than resignation.

According to Hunter, the social power of Jesus was compassionate, and that compassion was not limited to the confines of His narrow circle but rather embraced everyone. His desire was the good of all, not just His followers, or the Jewish nation, or people who accepted Him, but all people.

Finally, the social power of Jesus was non-coercive. He chose to bless rather than to curse. Not only did He preach this, He practiced it in His encounters with what His people saw as the opposition, people like the Samaritan or the Romans.

The social power of Jesus is the basis for faithful presence. In my book More Questions than Answers, I present the type of evangelism that I believe is appropriate for using our social power in faithful presence. It means choosing to walk with others and listen to their heart cries, their fears, their doubts, and their joys and meeting these in the way that Jesus does.

Our social power for this faithful presence is found in our own intimate relationship with God our Heavenly Father, made possible by Christ. As, in His presence, we examine our own fears our reactions and doubts, we can open ourselves to His love that overcomes fears, forgives our wrong choices and actions and assures us of His presence in the way that we need to know it.

As we then bring to Him our concerns for others, our inability to provide them all the answers they need, He assures us that His Spirit is able to do what we cannot do. He intimately knows the heart of each person and as we present their needs to Him, He will respond in the way that is best for them. For us, intercession becomes an act of submission. The assurance that comes with that submission gives us the social power to approach others with an open, accepting spirit rather than anxiously trying to impose our solution for what we perceive to be their problems.

A current McDonalds commercial shows a boy in a car seat talking with his Dad on the way to McDonalds. The child says to his Dad, “Are we going to help the kids before or after we eat” Then they pull into the parking lot, and we see the Dad pushing his son in his wheelchair into the restaurant, where they will be donating to the cause to help other kids.

The social power of humility is not a denial of what is noble and good in us, or the accolades that we have accumulated, with a false modesty. Rather it is the recognition that these do not define us. We are part of a community and we value the contribution of everyone to that human community. On the days, we experience that kind of humility, we take the time and effort to discover what is good and noble in others whether they have received recognition for it or not. We focus on what they have, the spark of the divine within them, rather than what they do not yet have.

In faithful presence, compassion is the music that fills the silences. It is what kindles hope when there is no reason for hope. Hell is the place where there is absolutely no compassion. Compassion is that divine spark within that we see erupt in times of global disaster like tsunamis and earthquakes. Compassion overcomes defenses and melts hard hearts. Compassion sees a better world, where sorrow, pain and grief no longer have a place. Compassion keeps opening the door and inviting all to enter and find their place. Compassion is the fruit of the Spirit within us, overflowing and lifting up those around us. This is its social power.

Evangelism through faithful witness is non-coercive and that might be one of our greatest challenges. We know the way. We want others to know what we know, but we must patiently wait until they come to know their own need of Christ. We want to thrust Him at them. When we do, they are unable to see Him as He is. We must allow them to come to the place where they discover nothing else is ever going to fill their God-shaped vacuum. Then they will be ready to meet Him. He will have been there all along, hovering over them in love, sending us, along with others, to walk alongside them and be authentic about our own lives and our need of Him. It is all of grace and that we find in a never ending supply in the faithful presence of Jesus.


Dolores Ayotte said...


You make so many pertinent points in your article that it's impossible for me to go over them all.

What struck me the most are your comments about Jesus' love for all, not just his followers, about the need for compassion in this world, and last but not least, about accepting others where they are in their faith journey.

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp is that Jesus loves saint and sinner alike.

The best way to get people to know Christ is to live the faith.

Setting an example for others to emulate is what it is all about rather than trying to get others to think our way.

Good stuff Eleanor! :)

Peter Black said...

Thank you for this insightful article. I fully agree with Dolores' reflections.
There are so many choice, succinct turns of phrase that beg further thought. The recurring term, "faithful presence," and your concluding phrase,"faithful presence of Jesus," open up an interesting and potentially very helpful approach in living life as a Christ-follower who is concerned about other people's need of Him.

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