In his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of the complicated marriage of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his wife Fermina. Urbino is a passionless man, a medical scientist, devoted to order and progress, committed to the eradication of cholera. Before their marriage, Fermina was involved in an ardent affair with the fiery Florentino, who despite her decision to marry Urbino, declares his undying love for her and pledges to remain faithful to her no matter what. Fermina nonetheless commits herself to her marriage, growing old with Urbino, while Florintina remains a regular presence in their lives. Throughout the novel, Fermina is caught between the two men, one clinical and methodical, the other impassioned and promiscuous.
It’s becoming more common these days for people to talk about finding out what God is doing in your neighbourhood and joining God in that work. A few years ago, Alan Roxburgh wrote a book called Missional, which had the subtitle, Joining God in the neighbourhood. He said, “What is God up to in our neighbourhoods and communities? How do we join with what God is doing in these places? Church questions are a subset of these far more important questions.”
“There are forces and trends at work in our society that are killing local churches.” You’ve heard people say stuff like that before, right? You know what comes next too, don’t you? Usually, it’s condemnations of the insidious effects of secularization — or sexularization as one Christian commentator calls it — descriptions of hostility toward religion, and warnings about persecution, the limiting of religious freedoms, and fraying family values. Oh, and great angst about people using the greeting, “Happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But while some, albeit loud, voices are telling you to look over there, you might be missing some everyday cultural shifts occurring that are having a greater and unnoticed effect on the church. In fact, it is now becoming clear that these trends are killing the mission of the church far more effectively than the hot-button issues that get all the attention.
Here are five that come to mind:
In other countries they have wars… I’ve always thought of my country as not the place that has flood, famine, war – you know, all the apocalyptic stuff. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? I guess my overwhelming feeling is of loss. It’s grief. Australia is a precious and beautiful place. It smells and sounds and feels like no other place on God’s earth. And it has been scorched to the point of irreparable damage. It’s just simply devastating to contemplate the scale of this disaster, and the loss of human life, property, flora and fauna. The consequences of this event will be generational – at least. Who can put this into words? Those are the thoughts of Sydney Anglican rector Rev Dr Michael Jensen and despite feeling he can’t put it into words, I think he speaks for many Australians.
Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg might have just missed out on the Nobel Prize last month, but this week Time named her their Person of the Year for 2019, making her the youngest ever to receive that recognition since the magazine started it in 1927. The Swedish schoolgirl has become the face of a worldwide campaign for action on climate change since she staged a solo school strike outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Since then she has been tireless in her work to alert the world to the mounting risks from worsening heatwaves, floods, storms and rising sea levels.