How does the world around you influence how you think? What motivates and inspires you? Why you do what you do? Recently, I read a book called Disruptive Witness. It showed me some surprising stuff about our society and how deeply we’re affected by it.
The first section talks about our current situation, which is what I’ll talk about here. A few of the main points really rocked me, because they are so true yet so subtle! I also love that the author, Alan Noble, explains it all without a condemning tone. It’s an honest assessment of where we’re at. So, here are a few points in a (hopefully) organized list!
1. We’re obsessed with image. Although we may not realize it, our main focus is on finding, crafting, and displaying our personal image. It’s present in every aspect of life: we experience our jobs, leisure activities, relationships, and even small things like food choices through a lens of “what does this say about who I am?” Noble had a great example of taking a hike alone while thinking about what a hipster you are. We may project any number of personas on ourselves subconsciously.
I’ve definitely seen this in myself. There’s a persona that goes like this: a girl who drinks coffee, reads her Bible, wears flannels, styles her hair in a half-bun, and attends a church with loud music. A ‘cool Christian.’ I can barely sit at a coffee shop and blog without thinking about it! (That’s. . . literally what I’m doing as I write this.) I’m sure you can think of a few personas you fit into as well. Our value of image is deeply ingrained.
2. We have a lifestyle of distraction. We’re bombarded with countless messages every day, and we know it. Ads, social media posts, conversations, and the news pull us in many directions. In the time it takes to scroll Instagram, we’re told to eat more spinach, help refugees, buy a new toothbrush, check out our friend's new shoes, fight climate change, and support the building of a wall all at once! These causes butt heads with each other, demanding our immediate attention and allegiance.
“A superficial but constant engagement with media invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. . . causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 26)
Since we can adopt views so quickly, they often remain surface-level in the back of our minds while we neither take action or understand them fully. This leads to cognitive dissonance, which I have experienced for sure. My brain has felt exhausted from the bombardment of so many causes and images, and the contradictions, questions, proposed actions, and insecurities they bring. The pace is stifling.
When taken together, the combination of these two points brings a shocking conclusion . . .
3. Christianity is seen as just another consumer choice. Essentially this puts faith on the level of ‘fun facts about me:’ on the same level as favorite restaurants, athletes, and vacation spots. It’s a trivial preference. Jesus is seen as a hobby or just another thing to pin onto our identities. Sadly, this makes the gospel feel far less weighty and easier to dismiss.
“The gospel appears thin, superficial, and inconsequential—just another image vying for our time.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 29)
It breaks my heart. Some people call themselves Christians but don’t take it seriously, while other people see faith as just another preference and dismiss the whole thing altogether. We struggle to portray the true depth and importance of our faith and may even accidentally trivialize it by our actions and words.
Here is one more barrier to consider:
The modernity of life makes it hard to sense God. In the past, the consensus was that God existed. People attributed a lot in life to his power and his creation. However, the advancement of science and the ease of modern life has made that far harder to see.
“We struggle to recognize beauty in the natural world because it has been so thoroughly conquered, and wonder is squashed through scientific language and nature-channel explainers. We are masters of our health, our safety, our morality, our time, and our success. Living in this society, it’s hard to sense the transcendent.” (Disruptive Witness, p. 57)
The problem is that the more advanced and automated life becomes, the less we see of life’s magic and wonder. That’s why the moments in which we remember them are beautiful. It’s why fairytales and books like Narnia are so crucial. It’s why we adore a child’s innocent amazement at the world around her. And it’s why a mountain range or the power of the ocean pulls on us in such deep places! But within the confines of our normal lives, wonder is often squashed.
Altogether, these facts of our current situation may seem hopeless. How can we live real, unaffected lives for Christ in this climate?
The second section of Disruptive Witness is all about that! Noble explains how to effectively witness in this climate and gives practical tips about how to break down barriers and show Jesus as who he is. I really enjoyed the read, and highly recommend it! (And if you purchase the book through the link on this page, I will receive a portion of the profit. Isn’t that neat and professional-sounding?!)
Whether you grab a copy of the book or not, I hope these points have helped you understand our culture. I know it’s made me realize shocking things about how I think and has shaped my understanding of witnessing, which is a great place to start!
My favorite coffee shop has a chalkboard with weekly questions for the public to respond to. This week’s question was “what gives you hope?” The scrawled answers ranged from coffee to politicians to Jesus.
Are we hopeful?
Of course, I got the warm-fuzzies when I saw that other people share my hope in Christ, but it got me thinking. Really, when the world feels cold and evil, do we feel hopeful? What about the life-pain of our friends and families? Or the selfish and sinful nature we constantly find in ourselves? What about heart-wrenching news headlines we couldn’t have even dreamed up?
I read Habakkuk recently, which is an itty-bitty prophecy book tucked into the Old Testament. In it I found truths that apply to this dilemma. I recommend you read it or even skim it, because it’s beautiful, honest, and has helped me understand God more.
Even when evil seems unfettered, God has a plan of justice. I may think he’s disregarding the world’s hurt. I may think his ways are unfair. Sometimes I even think I’d run the world differently than he does. . . But I can take heart in knowing that his very character is faithfulness and justice.
The two sides of God
All evil will be punished in the end, because the Lord cannot dwell with it. The promise of him storming the earth in all his glory and might is awful. His wrath is something I could not bear, not in the slightest. How grateful and humble I am that my evil has been cast upon Jesus on the cross, instead of coming back on my own head! God’s justice is a certain, terrifying reality.
And yet, somehow, this is the same God who I pray to, meet with daily, and who knows all about me and loves me tenderly. I’m still trying to reconcile and understand these two sides to God: how he can be such a sacrificing and affectionate Father, but at the same time a wrathful and tremendous avenger.
Why it makes sense
It comes down to evil and righteousness. God hates evil: impartially, always. And if Jesus hasn’t taken it upon himself and paid the One sacrifice or it, it’s still there and unpaid for. God cannot and will not tolerate it. That’s why Jesus’ sacrifice was so necessary and so powerful! It re-routes God’s wrath and hatred away from us, makes us spotless, and welcomes us gladly into his presence. This is the difference between God’s love and judgment.
So, even while the world is broken, we have hope. The Bible often shows the Lord coming to rescue his child and bring shame and destruction to the wicked one. When I finished reading Habakkuk, I was filled with such a humility and thankfulness. I am a sinner: deserving all of God’s wrath. But Jesus has brought me into safety, righteousness, and joy. And there is a promised end to the pain and senseless evil we see in this world! We can have constant assurance and hope in our Lord. We are fully known, completely loved, and given hope.
Who am I that the highest King would welcome me?
One morning, I was in a funk. I was tired, and I had a busy day coming up. On top of those everyday complaints, a snowstorm had blown another few inches of snow into my town, and I was not feelin it anymore. While I ate breakfast and got dressed, I brooded on all the things I had to do and how un-excited I was. By the time I sat down with my Bible, I felt pretty indifferent to whatever the day had in store.
I happened to have a little study about gratitude from a Cru retreat I had recently gone to. The bulk of it simply gave prompts to inspire you to give thanks for different categories of things. And so, I started. Sitting with my disgruntled-ness about the world and the snow and my sleepy eyes, I cracked open my journal to give thanks.
The prompts surprised me. It didn’t result in your run-of-the-mill list. There were three prompts for the area of faith: salvation, sanctification, and glorification. I wrote down specific things I love about my faith story. Then, there was a prompt for each of the five senses. It inspired me to write about my favorite little things in life. The last prompt was my favorite, though. It had me write detailed things I appreciate about the people I love.
After half an hour of soaking up all the good things in life and thanking God for them, I felt way more peaceful and prepared to look for the good in the day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, that’s great. You did gratitude and it worked. How cute.”
And I get it. When I’m in a bad mood or bad situation and I’m told to count my blessings, it’s irritating. Gratitude can feel like a band-aid prescribed to cover up all your worries. I'd rather either 1) figure out what to do to fix the situation or 2) just stew in my bad mood.
But giving thanks does something unexpected: it draws you out of yourself. When you take a wide-angled look at your life and all the good in it past and present, it’s hard to feel entitled to complaining. And on top of that, we don’t have to feel vaguely grateful to the ‘universe,’ but we get to pray to our Creator and thank him specifically for every good thing!
One cautionary, though. Even in gratitude, we can feel a bit proud. “Look at all the good stuff God’s given me!” We can start to feel that we deserve the good life we have. I got a little giddy just looking over my long list. Let’s humbly remember that even our breath is an unearned gift! This is the whole point of gratitude: to realize that God has been good to us in ways we don’t deserve. He blesses us out of his love, but his love isn’t any smaller for someone with less money, friends, or education.
More than a list
In the end, giving thanks is about so much more than scribbling down a list and feeling better. For gratitude to really shape our thinking and our lives, we have to re-program our brains. We strive to go from complaints and worries to awe and joy at the smallest things.
Gratitude should transform our prayers, too. Instead of running to God with a list of requests, we can take a few minutes to just sit in his presence, admire him, and thank him. For years now, I’ve started my morning prayer with “Dear God, thank you for this day.” Even when it feels repetitive, it does remind me that the day is a gift. It reminds me to be humble. Prayer is the first step to any kind of transformation!
So, all that to say, giving thanks is powerful. Even if you feel like it’s a cliché or you’d rather not take the pause it requires, I recommend it in any and every situation. Let’s recognize the graces the Lord has given us!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
I’ve been dating Brian long-distance for more than 2 ½ years. Before college, I lived in South Dakota and he lived in Illinois. Now, I live in Minnesota and he lives in Arizona. (Read the story of how we met here). It has been quite the journey and has taught me a lot about him and life. Because he’s moving to my city this May, we get to close the distance soon! It’s actually crazy to think about.
So, as that day approaches, I wanted to reflect on everything that’s happened so far. There are many faces and aspects to long-distance dating, so here are a few: the good, bad, and ugly.
The bad & ugly:
So, there you have it! There are so many highs and lows in a long-distance relationship. If you know someone who’s doing long-distance, show them some love. But if you think it’s impossible, it really isn’t. There are many good things about this season, and it's become a huge part of my story!
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!