Here is a close-up photo of a recent birthday party celebration at our house for five children (and me). Since it’s not possible for us to attend everyone’s actual birthday, we took this opportunity this July 1st weekend when a couple of families were with us to celebrate a bunch of birthdays spanning the months of March to August. The experience of being together for a short time celebrating like this represents a microcosm of one important part of our lives.
After everyone had gone, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the larger picture of what life, in general — and mine in particular — is all about. So often we’re taken up with the details of life, as reflected in this picture, without much thought about life otherwise. But such detail isn’t meaningful unless it is understood in larger context of our lives. We tend to easily miss the beauty of the great forest by merely being focused on its individual trees. On the other hand, the importance of small details in our lives might also be eclipsed by too much concentration on the larger picture. We need both.
But it seems to me, that in recent times, our tendency as a general society (and the church) has been to miss the wonder of the minutia of our daily lives because we don’t really see the larger context. We are like kids playing in a huge cornfield not realizing we are losing our way because we don’t know the location of the surrounding roads.
I think we live in such a time. It seems to me, that in our rush to enjoy the moment and make the most of our daily lives, we are growing increasingly frustrated with so many aspects of life simply because we don’t really see the big picture. It is characteristic of these postmodern times that we tend to abandon questions of origin and destiny for the sake of existential experience. What I mean is that the pursuit of the immediate has increasingly begun to eclipse the rationale for life itself. This is partially due to the fact that modern technology enables us to experience almost anything we want in an instant. But it’s also due to the fact that we tend to be too easily satisfied with experiences of the moment, not realizing that such pursuits will remain superficial unless they are ultimately tied to the larger questions about life.
It is for this reason that I am increasingly dedicated to doing whatever I can to help people see their lives in the context of the big picture. I sense this is God’s calling to me in these days. I want to help people see life, and their lives, from the 30,000 ft. level. In that sense, I am a geographer. Maybe it’s the reason I have always enjoyed maps — seeing where I am in relation to the whole. It’s what I love about traveling — exploring various details of a place or community in the context of its geographical location. And I don’t think I’m alone in that interest. Though some of us are naturally more “directionally challenged” than others, I think all of us ultimately like to know where we are in relation to that which is familiar.
I realize there are many people who are content simply being occupied with the here-and-now. In fact, it is often the case that they don’t want anyone to disturb their preoccupations with those larger questions of relevance. For it means that they might have to change or give up some of those temporary interests. After all, not too many kids like to be told that it’s bedtime and that they have to get a good night’s sleep in order to enjoy the next day. So I won’t be surprised if there’s some push-back on my suggestion to be well-informed about the big picture.
So, how do I intend to draw people’s attention to the big picture in these times? Well, for one thing, through writing in various contexts. I want to communicate in a way that causes people to re-examine what they’re doing in the light of those larger questions. That is what I have already tried to do through my book, Thoughtful Adaptations to Change: Authentic Christian Faith in Postmodern Times (Amazon, Friesen Press), In my Blogs and Newspaper writings, I want to get people to think about the incongruencies of our culture’s common interests in relation to larger questions. For example, I think people would be interested in knowing about a more biblical theological perspective when it comes to such things as climate change, human sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and the environment. I think there is a great need for pastors and Christian leaders, out of their biblical and theological knowledge, to sensitively but courageously speak out about these things. It’s a means by which people can come to appreciate and ultimately embrace the Gospel.
In my work with churches and Christian ministries, I think it is important for Christian people to have a strong rational foundation for their faith. Since it appears that so much of faith is emotionally-driven in these times, it seems to me there is a greater need than ever to show the relevance of the Christian faith to the practical affairs of our daily lives. In preaching and teaching, I think it is supremely important to help people understand, not only the content of Scripture, but how it demonstrates the very nature of the Gospel and the doctrines of the faith that flow from it. I believe people are longing to know how the Bible is able to effectively speak to the issues of our times and the questions that people have about their daily lives.
In other words, if we’re going to enjoy playing in the cornfield, we have to know its boundaries because without that knowledge our sense of play will quickly turn to an overwhelming sense of fear and dread (not to mention very real loss).