Et overaskende comeback?

Jeff Fountain, tidligere leder for Ungdom i Oppdrag Europa, skriver denne uken følgende om det han kaller for “et overaskende comeback”:

 

Two swallows don’t make a summer, says a Dutch proverb. Yet two recent Dutch books do perhaps signal a significant climate change concerning Christianity in Europe.

One is written by the publisher of the successful spirituality magazine Happinez. As mentioned in an earlier weeklyword, Inez van Ooord argues in her book Rebible that ‘we have cuddled buddhas and trees for too long and that now it is time to rediscover our Christian roots’. For our true identity needs to be found in our roots, says van Oord. Which doesn’t mean returning to the stultifying legalism of yesterday’s church, she argues, but rather drawing fresh inspiration from the ancient wells of scripture.

That this new sound comes from a leading spokesperson for the New Age movement is surprising enough. But a second and more broad-ranging book published just this month comes from the pen of a former editor of a national left-wing newspaper who now believes Dutch society threw out the baby with the bathwater some four or five decades ago.

In her book Ongelofelijk (Unbelievable), Yvonne Zonderop describes her sense of liberation as a young woman after leaving the Catholic church in disgust, along with other members of her family – and her generation. During the sixties and seventies, faith disappeared behind the front door, she writes. Secular became the norm. Freedom, individualism and autonomy became the celebrated values.

Robbed

Yet, Zonderop now realises, this personal liberation has had great social consequences. Something important has been lost. Her generation has raised a whole new generation without Christian roots, which for centuries had nurtured and formed western culture and morality. A common foundation for society has been eroded. Who knows what the Exodus meant? she asks. Who can explain the biblical scenarios Rembrandt painted? And who realises that without Christianity we most probably would not have a democratic constitutional state?

After decades, Zonderop has come to see that her generation had robbed themselves of the cultural context in which they had grown up.  Yet now it is becoming obvious that the alternatives to religion for offering meaning and values are few and far between. Millions of Dutch people continue to waver between faith and unbelief. In politics, the Christian heritage keeps resurfacing, she observes, because it is the source of our culture, democracy and ethics.

She quotes a doctoral candidate from the University of Amsterdam who researched individualisation as the motto for Dutch education after World War Two. Observing that babyboomers valued individuality, he concluded: ‘but, woe to you if you did not wear jeans or did not criticise religion!’

Which recalls for Zonderop the comic scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which the Messiah figure tells his crowd of followers that they are all individualists, they are all different; to which the crowd responds by chanting in unison: ‘Yes, we’re all different!’ Then one lone voice pipes up: ‘I’m not.’

Pioneers

Zonderop now views the ideal of individual freedom as having held Dutch society in a strong grip, of which the collective departure from the church is just one example. But freedom has now become a devil’s dilemma: when you make a mistake, you’re on your own. Today’s youth, she argues, seek the support circle of friends to fall back on. Social capital is more important to them than individual freedom. Religion can become a source of meaning for them again.

The loss of togetherness is more broadly felt in society these days, writes Zonderop. People miss the social cohesion formerly offered by trade unions and churches. They miss the ‘vertical dimension’, where someone higher than you is looking after your welfare, whether that be a group leader or God.

The book’s subtitle, About the surprising comeback of religion, refers to the closing chapters which describe a number of new expressions of church in the Netherlands and particularly Amsterdam today. A wave of pioneers is appearing, both within and  outside the church, confirming rumours of the death of Christianity as having been greatly exaggerated.

Zonderop ends her book with a surprising citation from a Muslim German-Iranian art critic connecting the loss of the spiritual dimension with the rise of populism.

In his intriguing book, Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity, Navid Kermani observes: It is completely understandable that many Europeans are afraid for Islam and seek security in the familiar. If you no longer know your own culture, you can’t be open to other cultures. It is a great shortcoming if you don’t know what Pentecost is. German literature of the 19th century can’t be understood if you don’t see the Christian allusions. Many writers of that time were ministers sons. The while German literature and music are saturated with Biblical references.

If we don’t know that legacy, we don’t know ourselves. And then we become susceptible for racism, xenophobia and nationalism.

 

Du kan abonnoere på Jeff Fountains artikler ved å klikke på denne linken:

 

Far, forlat dem!

Jeff Fountain, leder for Schumann Center, og tidligere leder for Ungdom i Oppdrag Europa, skrev i dag en artikkel i lys av terrorangrepet i Brussel. Etter beste evne har jeg oversatt artikkelen til norsk. God lesning:

 

Domenico_Ghirlandaio_-_St_Jerome_in_his_study

St. Jerome (347 – 420). Bildet er hentet fra www.wikimedia.org

27. mars for tjue år siden ble syv munker kidnappet av islamistiske terrorister i klosteret sitt i Algerie. De ble holdt som gisler i to måneder, før terroristene 24. mai 1996 proklamerte at de hadde kuttet strupen av sine fanger.

For 1600 år siden formulerte kirkefader Jerome sin klagesang etter 20 år med daglig blodsutgytelser i det som vi i dag kaller Europa; grusomheter som gotere, hunere, vandaler og andre barbarer stod bak. «Hvor mange Gud, av dine tjenerinner og jomfruer – dydig og edle kvinner – har blitt ødelagt av disse udyrene! Biskoper har blitt fanget, prester og de i lavere rang er drept. Kirker har blitt revet ned, hester blir festet til altrene og relikvier fra martyrer er gravd opp. Sorg og frykt florerer. Død vises i utallige former og fasonger.»

I løpet av påskens første dager, florerte sorg og frykt på nok en gang i Europa, mens døden igjen viste seg i utallige former og fasonger i Brussels gater.

 

Testamentet

I den franske storfilmen Of Gods and Men fra 2010, fortelles historien om Fader Christian og hans munkebrødre og deres møte med akutte trusler fra terrorister i Algerie. Munkene fremstod ikke som modige helter, og følte seg som småfugler på en gren, sa Fader Christian til en av de lokale muslimske lederne, mens de fortsatt vurderte flukt. De lokale lederne, som ønsket sterkt at munkene skulle bli, responderte følgende: «Nei, vi er fuglene. Dere er grenene». Ved stemmegivning avgjorde munkene å forbli i klosteret.

I frykt for det verste, etterlot Christian seg et brev hos sin familie, som «kun skal åpnes i tilfelle min død». Der hadde han skrevet følgende:

«Hvis det en dag skal skje – og det kan være i dag – at jeg blir et offer for terrorismen som nå truer alle utlendinger som bor i Algerie, så ønsker jeg at mine venner, min kirke og min familie skal huske at livet mitt var gitt til Gud og dette landet. Jeg ber dere akseptere at Herren over alt liv, ikke er fremmed for denne brutale muligheten. Jeg ber om forbønn; for hvordan skal jeg bli funnet verdig til dette offeret? Jeg ber om å forståelse for at en slik død er like voldelig som de andre drapene som har funnet sted, også de som er glemt på grunn av likegyldighet eller anonymitet.

Mitt liv er ikke mer verd enn andres. Men heller ikke mindre verd. Uansett, det har ingen barnlig uskyld. Jeg har levd lenge nok til å vite at jeg og kjenner ondskapen som vinner frem i verden, også om den blindt skulle ramme meg. Jeg skulle ønske, når timen kommer, å få mulighet til å be Gud om nåde, både for meg selv og mine medmennesker, og samtidig evne av hjertet å tilgi de som vil slakte meg.

ofgodsandmen

Of Gods and Men er en prisbelønt fransk film fra 2010. Jeg så den for et par år siden. Den forteller historien om munkfellesskapet som ble ofre for islamistisk terror.

Det er viktig for meg å kunne uttrykke at jeg ikke ønsker meg en slik død. Uansett, jeg ønsker heller ikke at dette folket som jeg elsker ukritisk skal bli anklaget for min død. Det ville, kanskje, være for mye å bli anerkjent som martyr i møte med en algerier, uansett hvem han måtte være, særlig når han handler i henhold til det han mener er det sanne religion. Jeg kjenner godt den type Islam som islamistene forfekter. Det er for enkelt å kjøpe seg god samvittighet ved å hevde at dette bare er ekstremistiske fundamentalistiske ideologier. Husk at Algerie og Islam er noe annet; de har både kropp og sjel …

Jeg takker Gud for livet mitt, som er overgitt til både ham og mennesker, han som synes å ha ønsket det helt og fullt, både på grunn av og på tross av gleden. Også du, min venn i dette siste øyeblikk, hvem skulle ikke være ukjent med hva du har gjort. Jeg ønsker og at du skal få denne takken – og dette adieu – og anbefale deg fremfor Gud og hans ansikt, som jeg ser i ditt.

Og må vi en dag møtes – som «glade røvere» – i paradis, hvis Gud ønsker det, vår begges Far.

Amen.»

Våre forfedre

Når jeg reflekterer over St. Jeromes klagesang i lys av terrorangrepene i Brussel, lurer jeg på om han noen gang evnet å forestille seg at disse terroristene han nevner en dag skulle omfavne historien om Jesus og overgi seg selv til å bringe dette budskapet til jordens ender. Disse «morderne og voldtektsforbryterne» ble for mange av oss våre egne europeiske forfedre.

Tør vi tenke tanken og be slike bønner for disse som utførte terrorhandlingene i påsken? Kan vi skrive et slikt testament?

Påsken har nok en gang minnet oss om at evangeliet handler om døden og oppstandelsen; tilgivelse og forvandling.

Jeff Fountain

Fire av fem forlater kirken

Jeff Fountain fra New Zeeland ledet Ungdom i Europa frem til for et par år siden. Han er historiker av utdanning. Hver uke skriver han sitt Weekly Word. I kveld mottok jeg denne ukens ord, og tenkte å dele dette på bloggen min:

As my train rumbles through the snowy countryside of Moravia in the Czech Republic, my thoughts go back over a problem vexing youth leaders from across Europe this past weekend in Bratislava.
Research presented at the Pentecostal European Forum of Youth Ministries (PEFY) revealed that the youth ministeries represented were losing four out of every five young people to the church as they grew into adulthood. For some reason, youth were voting with their feet against church and/or Christianity.
I sat bolt upright in my seat. This was serious! The Pentecostal churches were supposed to be on the cutting edge of church growth around the world. Yet here in Europe something appeared to be missing in the credibility, relevance or reality of the faith in the eyes of the youth. Four out of every five!
If true for those churches, it was very likely true for other denominations too. We were not doing a good job, it seemed, in discipling youth, and enabling them to engage constructively and critically with today’s world.

Perceptions
From my own sons’ attempts to educate their father, I have understood that the world they have grown up in has been changing more rapidly than our ability as the church to contextualise.
Youth culture and social media have created a world even among church youth of strong ‘tribal’ loyalities to peers and a ‘now’ orientation coupled with bleak future prospects; liberal attitudes to sex and four-letter-words yet strong feelings on justice and environmental issues; but with almost no awareness of Christianity’s role in shaping western freedoms and values.
For them, the church often seems to be self-centred, living in its own bubble, unaware of real issues of daily life, concerned with the ‘spiritual‘ on Sunday but not with the ‘secular‘ Monday to Saturday.
We may want to object and defend the church with a dozen examples proving the opposite; but what counts is perceptions. Youth are preceiving something that drives them out the back door. Four out of every five!
Recently my eye caught the title of a book on sale at a US airport I was passing through: ‘UnChristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity’. The name of the Barna Group on the cover told me it would contain reliable research data, while the blurb told me that ‘young Americans share an impression of Christians that’s nothing short of …. unChristian’, or unChrist-like.
While Christians are supposed to represent Christ to the world, something obviously has gone terribly wrong. The frank honesty of youth reflected in the book’s title lay behind the figures presented in Bratislava. The problems seemed to be common on both sides of the Atlantic.
Christians, the book claimed, were seen by youth to be hypocritical, saying one thing but living something different. The church railed against some sins, especially of a sexual nature, but not others, such as pride, materialism, injustice and the abuse of the environment. As one young single mother was quoted, ‘that made it hard to care what they said’.

Compassion
Jonathan, aged 22, saw Christians enjoying ‘being in their own community. The more they seclude themselves, the less they can function in the real world. So many Christians are caught in the Christian “bubble”’. Christians were boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned and out of touch with reality, according to the youth researched.
Christians, they perceive, are anti-homosexual, showing contempt for gays and lesbians. And here we encounter a significant shift in how the young generation views homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle compared to their parents’ generation. Shouldn’t Christians show compassion and love to all people regardless of their lifestyle, they ask, without compromising biblical standards?
Ouch! This hurts. It disturbs the comfort of our safety zone. It may even force some of us to ask the question we thought we’d answered long ago: ‘How do I truly become Christian?’ And, ‘what does it mean to follow Christ and represent him in today’s culture?’
As my train brings me closer to my destination of Herrnhut across the border in Germany, I think of the movement of Moravian refugees nurtured there nearly 300 years ago. That in turn inspired other dynamic movements like the Methodists, who captured the imagination of a generation lost to the church with a fresh incarnation of the love, grace and compassion of Jesus.
May God do it again.

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