The Gypsy Camp: My Response to “Surfing Secularism”

I’ve been asked by several people now to share my thoughts on the article “Surfing Secularism: Why Fighting the Rest of the World is a Losing Strategy for Churches“. If you haven’t read the article yet, please do so. Most of this post will be in response.

First of all, this would not be an article I would read on my own. In fact, though I’d seen it on my news feed for awhile, I was content to bypass it altogether. That is, until you started emailing me about it – which I LOVE by the way! Please keep them coming.

The reason I wouldn’t normally read this is because these types of article/arguments just don’t interest me. Not at all. Christians debating back and forth of who is right, who is wrong and what the best methodology is makes me want to blow chunks. I’ll just go about my business without any of that, thank you very much.

I think the best way I can respond to this article is to share an encounter I had with God recently.

Disclaimer: This post is going to be longer than usual. Also, I am going to mention a “gypsy camp” in probably very stereotypical ways. I do not intend any offense to the Roma people. Really quite the opposite. The Roma (gypsies) in my imagination symbolize passion, living life to the full and joy.

Here is the encounter as I remember it:

I saw a huge and imposing Medieval castle. It looked weighty and awesome. I thought, ‘I need to check this out.’ So I walked through the front gates and started looking around. I saw many men and women dressed in fine clothes – they looked rich, important and majestic – they looked like kings and queens. Apparently they were too important to talk to me, because they saw me, looked away and moved on. I kept searching the castle. I got to the interior courtyard – it felt like this was the place the castle was built to defend. Planted in the middle of the courtyard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As I watched, the people came to eat of the fruit. As soon as they had taken a bite, they started arguing with one another – debating what was right and what was wrong, who was included in the Kingdom and who wasn’t. Their speech was full of rules, judgement and condemnation. I was really confused. I became aware of the Lord’s Presence by me and I asked Him to explain.

He said to me – ‘This is the Jaded Palace and it is a symbol of what the church in the West has become.’ I was appalled. These men and women had erected walls of cynicism and judgement because they thought following Christ was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I was immediately taken out of the castle and brought to the other side of the territory. There I saw a sprawling gypsy camp. Wagons and tents of various colors were clustered together with no rhyme or reason. I saw lots of campfires outside the tents and wagons. As I entered the camp, I was aware of being loved and welcome. I heard music (good gypsy/greek dancing music) and saw tons of children laughing, playing and running around. I eventually made my way to the center of the camp only to find the Tree of Life there. I saw men and women, much dirtier and more worn than those in the Palace, gathering fruit and cooking it in pots. I saw women carrying food to the elderly, sick and the lame. I saw children gathering fruit and taking it to those with injuries. The children squeezed the fruit and the juice fell on the wounds, healing them. I don’t remember The Lord saying anything in particular, but my soul felt at peace and free in this place.

I remember standing in the middle of the camp, by the tree of Life and looking out over the camp. In the distance, a long way away I saw other tents and wagons. I instinctively knew that these people considered themselves part of the camp and the people within the camp didn’t argue the point. If those outside said they were in, then they would be treated as such and welcome to eat, dance and sing.

That is the end of this particular encounter.

In my opinion, “courageously confronting the culture” too easily translates into “being a dick for Christ”. I realize that is stronger language than I typically use on this blog, but I stand by it. “Courageously confronting the culture” is just Christianese for being angry, obnoxious, belligerent, belittling and arrogant. The confrontation happens over all the wrong issues and in all the wrong ways.

Exactly where in the Gospels do we see Jesus courageously confronting the culture? When He is dealing with the religious people! The people who considered themselves set apart, holy, doctrinally pure – those were the people Jesus went out of His way to insult, rebuke and beat with whips. I share His feelings sometimes.

And the sinners we are supposed to be “courageously confronting”? I’m pretty sure Jesus would eat and drink and dance with them. I’m pretty sure Jesus would talk to them about a passionate Bridegroom God who wants to bring them to a wedding feast as His Bride. And He would sozo them – heal them, save them, deliver them – bring health, wellbeing and the Kingdom of God to bear on every aspect of their lives. He’d let them know that they were loved.

Following Jesus is about eating from the Tree of Life, not the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Law) only brings death – it does NOT make us more like God. Eating from the Tree of Life, embracing life giving activities and relationships and ways of being – having life to the full – that is what Jesus came to offer us.

Do realize Jesus came to offer us Life? Life to the full? Life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness and self-control? Life full of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Life that leaves us with unblemished consciences, free from any spot or wrinkle?

Those are the things I wish we were saying to our culture, not “confronting” them with religious dogmas and checklists. Anyhow, enough of that, onto the author’s article, “Surfing Secularism”.

I’ll admit, I hate the title. The title implies that the culture is the one calling the shots, establishing the culture, and the Church just has to ride it out.

But Jesus calls us the ekklesia the common Greek word used in His time to describe the group of people who exercised governmental authority for the well being of their city. It Jesus who has received all power and authority, not the world.

I feel like now is a good time to mention Eugene Peterson’s words from The Contemplative Pastor. In this excellent work, Peterson says that pastors (as representatives of the Church at large) should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. The last two words Peterson uses are especially helpful in our dealings with the world.

Subversive Rather than riding the waves of secularism, catering to the whims of popular culture, I like Jesus’s image of yeast infiltrating dough until the whole batch is elevated to a new level and becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

Apocalyptic We must understand our time in history. We shouldn’t chastise the darkness being dark – that is what it is, that is the only thing it can do. We should be more concerned with wether or not the Light is shining in the Church. Are we doing the things Jesus gave us to do without question and without compromise? If not, then let’s first remove our plank before we help our brothers with their speck. I find it helpful to remember that Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth. Jesus models the Way we present the Truth.

As for the author’s three points: 1) “It’s not about them. It’s about us.” 2) “It’s not about the trappings, it’s about the offer.” and 3) “Our culture doesn’t equal God’s culture.” I agree, though I would say things differently than he does. Based on my beliefs and the encounter mentioned above, I would say 1) it’s about belonging before believing; 2) it’s about substance rather than show, and 3) American church culture isn’t even close to being like the Kingdom. If we could find a way to take Jesus at His word and do the things He did, live transformed lives full of Grace and offer the world an encounter with the Lover of their souls I think the world would take us seriously once again, but right now we aren’t even part of the discussion. Religious church culture has been marginalized and deemed irrelevant to modern life. We have yet to prove them wrong.

All in all, this was a decent article, but not something I get really excited about. I think the author articulates things the younger generations (Millennials and iGen) already intuitively know, it is only making a splash among the Boomers.

So, there are my thoughts, but I wonder about yours. What do you think – that is what I want to know. What do you think about the article and what do you think about the things I’ve mentioned here? If you are a blogger and have written a response, would you post it in the comments? I’d love to read your thoughts.

Other than that, please keep those emails coming. πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading friends.


6 thoughts on “The Gypsy Camp: My Response to “Surfing Secularism””

  1. Well said, bro. I like your reference back to Peterson’s trio of adjectives. UNBUSY. APOCALYPTIC. SUBVERSIVE. These words go a long way in describing the way we should go about navigating the culture in which we live. KEEP WRITING.

    1. Thanks Marty. It is pretty amazing how Peterson’s work really helps to navigate issues like relevancy, church growth, pastoral occupation and so on. I really appreciate you and Dave Jacobs turning me onto him so early in my career.

  2. I will begin with a quote from our blog author– “If we could find a way to take Jesus at His word and do the things He did, live transformed lives full of Grace and offer the world an encounter with the Lover of their souls I think the world would take us seriously once again, but right now we aren’t even part of the discussion. ” Isn’t this the challenge — “IF we could find a way.” As I think about the surfing metaphor (and I am not saying I fully know what that means) it seems to me the image is one of trying to ride the waves of the culture without swimming (or drowning) in the culture. It seems to me that what the author of the article is trying to is figure out is how does one “relate” in a culturally relevant way while trying to introduce people to the Gospel? The title references “not fighting.” It seems this is too what the conservative/evangelical wing of the church has done too much of and what this article asserting the church needs to avoid. So, how did Jesus hang out at those parties, share the good news and not “drown” in the culture. Perhaps he knew how to “surf” before those boys in California. I agree that we don’t find Jesus calling us to confront the culture and neither do the Apostles (and I don’t think the Early Church Father’s called for that either); It seems Paul spent most of energy dealing with “bad culture” that existed in the church rather than worry about the “bad culture” around him.
    So, “happy pastor” why did this article make you seem the “unhappy pastor.” I am nor sure “boomer” are the last generation to struggle with this issue; I would assert the so-called “emergent church” movement seeking to “surf” the culture also, and I would suggest so it will be for each succeeding generation of those who want to live in the light of the gospel. — “a dick that is hopefully for Christ.”

    1. Bill, thanks for sharing your thoughts. πŸ™‚

      I think you’re right, the author is trying to articulate how to relate to our culture and introduce the Gospel without fighting, swimming to drowning in it. I still don’t love the metaphor, but I have a lot more appreciation for it after your comments.

      I also agree that the conservative evangelical stream of the church has traditionally been the one to “fight” the culture. The way that “fight” has been approached – with arrogance, belligerence and hypocritical religion, is what I was reacting so strongly against. I would offer up the book “Unchristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons as my defense to that prior claim. Their research shows that the culture’s understanding of conservative evangelical Christianity is “hypocritical, judgmental, too political, sheltered/out of touch and (hatefully) anti-homosexual.” So when I think of the phrase “courageously confronting the culture” that is what I understand it to mean. The author of the article obviously disagrees with that approach which is wonderful.

      Thirdly, I agree that we find Jesus, Paul and the Early Church primarily working against the bad culture in the Church. Sometimes I think that if we could just get the Church saved then the world wouldn’t be a problem.

      And lastly, I was in a foul mood writing this post because I realized how few worthwhile answers the Church has for the world today. We spend so much time bickering over methodology that I fear we have become, as Paul says, a people “with a form of godliness, but denying its power.” I’m mad because I don’t have any practical answers, which basically means I am contributing to the problem. If surfing works, I’ll surf, but I’d much rather calm the sea and walk on the water. I don’t want to be cool, hip or trendy – I want to confront people with the Kingdom of God.

  3. Your post is absolutely refreshing, happypastor!

    I read the Surfing article and found it to be a little depressing…in that it seems like such a shallow take re: the role of the Holy Spirit empowering us to live and walk out a seemingly foolish dependence on our Daddy.

    As a GenX’er I remember being so enamored with the emerging church and discussions that were flippin mind-bending and poetic. WHAT IF… the church could connect with the greater network of humanity around us by talking about things like…”intestinal health/flora-as-metaphor-for-spiritual interconnectedness”? Then I found myself leading a young adult meeting in a coffeehouse where the discussion had been handed over to a 20something visitor who really felt that Hinduism and the Gospel (as we were describing it) were absolutely identical at their very core; it’s really just all about attaining oneness; love. Who could refute that? (we weren’t really equipped at the time)

    Fast forward ten years and I’m immersed in the contemporary academic world…and as an artist I am fully ‘subversive and apocalyptic’ with respect to our larger cultural values. I am frustrated (and, too often seduced) by the culture of entertainment and hedonism in our nation, but even more frustrated by the resistance of the larger Church to simply obey the first commandment as if God were real. (sorry to say the last part that way…but it seems in much of the church that it is up for debate)

    But I’ve realized that what is important in my current stage of life is simply to live transparently in front of my friends, coworkers, students. I think they are confused and sometimes attracted to my sense of hope and faith amidst really difficult situations. (sometimes financial, sometimes marital, you name it) It seems the trials that happen in my life – and my response to them – are absolutely essential to render a clear picture of dependence. Sometimes this makes me angry; that I can’t just “glow with love” when times are good…why does it take desperate circumstances to demonstrate His Presence in me?

    A few brazen students on campus may scribble “god is dead” on the sidewalk while the philosophy professors give a sly wink…but in the end the people I interact with pay attention when they see a display of ridiculous hope in the face of really crappy circumstances.

    Note: I am terribly hypocritical in writing all of this…much of my life is kept silent and out of view of my peers, really! I’m a closet worshiper, and this is an aspect that I commit to change…

    My theory on relating to culture: (I sorta hate to admit having one) People are attracted to and maybe even convinced by our lives…and, later, by our words…when we are squeezed by difficulties and what is released is faith, hope, love rather than fear, bitterness, or sarcasm.

    The greatest church-building strategy ever designed was the martyrdom of saints. I am not asking for the Lord to bring this sort of pressure upon us or our nation…but really, I don’t think we can talk about relating to culture unless we are willing to die.

    I grew up windsurfing rather than surfing…in windsurfing the force of the wind moves you – regardless of current, waves, etc.

    shaka, out

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