Warming a Seat, or Using Your Feet?

Having lived most of my life in the Bible Belt cities of Dallas, Tulsa and Colorado Springs, I have observed how the American church is growing – getting butts in seats, as it were. If statistics are to be believed, this in itself could be a good thing.

Now on the East Coast, word has it that church was less of a social institution. Surprise! I arrive here and observe the church is also growing in many areas of Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states. Probably a great thing… but do peoples’ lives look different? Or does our 21st century culture not allow for a God-centered life?

Hot on the heels of these questions comes Hillsong United, a group of young believers from Australia who have consistently given bold new songs to the global church. Now they up the ante by filming their two-year world tour and kicking off the movie with this verse:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” – Amos 5:21 (The Message)

Clearly we were in for something radical with this I-Heart Revolution film. Seven observations about this remarkable movie:

  1. Our culture is fundamentally in conflict with a biblical perspective. We have trained ourselves to look past need – I know I’m guilty, passing by DC panhandlers everyday. Since six companies control 90% of popular media, we are programmed to accept things like consumerism. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, realizing the problem and removing my own importance is step one.
  2. The conflict plays out uniquely in the world of “worship rock stars.” This film digs into the disconnect of staging stadium-size worship events in regions of abject poverty: band members often alternated nights of sleeping in slums and lounging in posh hotels. They desire to make a difference, yet they confess, “We’re not just sleeping through the fires raging in our world, we’re fanning the flames.”
  3. For inspiration and understanding, look to the past. I-Heart Revolution features a half-dozen segments that briefly recount stories of young revolutionaries throughout the world: South Africans who ended apartheid, William Wilberforce in England, the Little Rock Nine, etc. The entire film is book-ended by audio clips of Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation Speech. In history we see that living God’s call may mean you’re a rich man (like Wilberforce) or a missionary to Hong Kong: sacrificing all for Jesus never looks the same.
  4. Martin Smith plays the Paul McCartney of modern worship quite well. As a lifelong fan of delirious?, it heartens me to see Hillsong United give the band props as forerunners of this movement. From a studio backdrop Martin serves up bits of inspiration throughout, along with delirious? music cues used at key points (i.e. “Kingdom of Comfort” plays during a segment on how modern Christianity is missing the point.) 
  5. Indifference and injustice are real problems. They tell of visiting Rio de Janeiro and spending time among destitute families. You see children at age 4 who are carefree, loving life as kids do. But by age 9, their faces are reduced to a cold stare after years of impossible living conditions. Leaving blankets and sweets with these people is nothing if we ignore the bullet holes in the nursery.
  6. It’s a danger to think this is all about charity. I appreciated this plumb-line in the film, as some of I Heart‘s 20 Causes veer close to a hand-out agenda (which studies show can actually be destructive). Absolutely, every human should have access to food, water and shelter — that doesn’t mean we want a massive world-government program instituted to bureaucratically provide said needs. To hear a UNICEF rep say flatly that the church plays an important role is a beautiful thing. Now we have to step up.
  7. The agenda is love. You cannot talk about love, you have to show love. Just Walk Across the Room is the title of a popular evangelism book, also a point from the film about how to start simply. Seek God, then do something.

Your thoughts on all this?

P.S. So I looked at the post just below this one (with a Wish List link, no less) and I thought, “Yep, the film was a good message for me.” I was tempted to edit that post, but the dissonance itself says something I suppose.

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One response to “Warming a Seat, or Using Your Feet?

  1. This film was a real eye-opener for me as well. What stood out the most for me was the realization that we see life through our limited perspectives. We’re so consumed by our own goals and interests that we fail to see the big picture. When we step back and look at what’s going on around us, we see a world deprived of love. But through Christ, we can make a difference.

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