Rethinking Relevance

August 7, 2011

Recently in the newspaper, in the comic section which I normally read immediately after reading the obituaries, was a strip "Lio," which I cut out and put in my Bible along with other cartoon strips I have deemed worthy of clipping. I pass them around at times in the classes I lead. People think me a little nutty for valuing such wisdom from Pogo, Peanuts, and Lio and Bizarro, but I have found that a cartoonist's poking at what we call real life sometimes exposes the deeper truth. Lio is walking down the street. Curled up on the sidewalk is a newspaper with a sign that says, "Help Me. I'm irrelevant." Lio walks on by and the strip ends. The relevance of the newspaper is lost ..... to Lio, and to an increasing number of people who find technological media other than newspapers quicker, more timely, more available and in many ways cheaper than the newspaper is. But relevance does not simply apply to being up to date or handy or even trendy. The essence of relevance is meaning and significance that a newspaper, or perhaps a church, has not only to the end user, but the world. I have spent a lot of the summer reflecting on the issue of relevance. What does the relevant church look like? Does it have the bells and whistles of media clips and sound tracks? Does it have slick graphics and catchy themes? Then I go to the self examination: Am I relevant anymore? Does my age put me out of the game? Where can what I am and what I do continue to have relevance for the Lord and for the world? (Do you suppose Abram and Sarai ever thought like this?) I am beginning to conclude that relevance has less to do with media and graphics and slick and catchy and shiny and young and new, and more to do with what meaning does my life and the life of this church that I love have for the world? How are we doing at offering a space for encounter with the Living God that meets the deepest longing of the human spirit and feeds the empty soul the Bread of Life. How are we feeding the hungry both spiritual food and supper? How am I yielding to the work God gives me on a daily basis to spread good news and offer the hope and encouragement people yearn for. Our daughter called from Rome today. She and her family have spent the past three weeks in Europe - in London, which she said was old as compared to the United States. Then Paris, which she said was even older. Now Rome  "just about as old as they come." (This is the PG translation of what she said.) She remarked that standing in the Forum and the Colliseum were like walking through history. I think the relevance of such place came home to her as she contextualized herself in the meaning of it all. We have forgotten who we are as children of a designing, ever-creating and ever-relevant God. We have lost our vision and failed to hold onto those things that last, those things the world is so in need of.... meaning, compassion, goodness, kindness. These are the true measure of relevance. The iPhone 4 I buy today will be supplanted by an iPhone 6 or 7 before the new is worn off. But love lasts. Love fits. Love is relevant as long as life exists. Let us strive, therefore, for the greater good and be about the way, the truth, and the life to which we are called in Christ. This is the place of lasting relevance and peace. Amen.  

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