Why does it feel like "NO"vember?
Is it me or have the darker nights brought a darker mood? November's not even half way through and it feels like the moaning has been incessant. Perhaps it was teed up by the "No to Halloween" lobby.
Many Christians are saying No! to Starbucks and their apparent war on Christmas because of their understated plain red cups. Never mind that they offer a Christmas blend or that Costa have gone seasonal with Reindeer, Snowmen and Father Christmas (which doesn't seem a lot more Christian it must be said).
Others are saying No! to Mulberry whose advert recreates a classic nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph and Shepherds but replaces the infant Jesus with a £750 handbag. Never mind that that this advert may ironically offer a critique of the consumerism of Christmas and that they are just being a little more explicit about commandeering Christmas for a boost in sales than others are willing to be.
Others are saying No! to Jeremy Corbyn and his inadequate bowing, and his unenthusiastic singing of the national anthem on Remembrance Day. Never mind that he hung around with the veterans instead of whizzing off to the party with the other politicians.
Some are saying No! to Instagram selfie queen Essena O'Neill. First she boosts her click rate by staged and photoshopped images of her looking glamorous or gorgeous, then she boosts her reputation further by deleting her account. Never mind that she is speaking out about the dangers of social media when it comes to body image.
Some are saying No! to Facebook, claiming we will be happier without it, as human interaction is reduced to a bit of scrolling and clicking at the end of the day. Never mind that social media is a form of human interaction and can be used as a means of mass action to respond to human tragedy. My little charity Home for Good saw 10,300 people respond to the needs of vulnerable child refugees through a single facebook post.
I want to say No! to No! and start saying Yes! But what is there out there we can say yes to? Maybe a new video by Rob Bell may just help us with this U-turn. Bell's latest little video sees him using his amazing communication skills in a very discreet way. It is stripped down with no pyrotechnics, instead Bell keeps things simple with a single shot showing the clean lines of his office space. There's even an elegant Banksy picture behind him.
Bell is tired of the fact that people have hijacked the word 'evangelical'. It's interesting as that is precisely the charge that conservative evangelicals levelled at Bell's book Love Wins in which he painted a caricature picture of evangelicals who hold to a view of final judgment and the existence of hell. I have my problems with Love Wins but I do want to say "Yes! Amen!" to the central message of this new video. Bell is right that the word Evangelical is all about good news. He is right that Jesus' life and message were incredibly inclusive: Jesus said Yes! to Samaritans, Yes! to sinners, Yes! to tax Collectors, women, outsiders, those with disabilities, those who had faced nothing but No's from society. I am completely with Bell on this point. His words connect with the Barna group's analysis in 2006 which showed that the term evangelical Christian had a predominantly negative connotation with 16-29 year olds. It meant "Anti-homosexual, Judgmental and Hypocritical" to so many young adults. For many of us identifying ourselves as evangelical Christians brings toxic associations with certain US political factions rather than connecting with the radical hospitality of Jesus.
I do have one little caveat, perhaps it's the NOvember speaking. But I have a niggle in the back of my mind. We must always be aware of redesigning Jesus to suit our needs. Jesus is not a Pro Guns, Republican Homophobe but neither is he a Hipster, Latte Sipping, moral relativist. The gospel is good news to those who are fully aware of their sin but bad news for those who are confident of their own righteousness. Many people walked away from Jesus' high-cost-discipleship. When Jesus called a rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor the man walked away from Christ because he understood that to say Yes to Jesus was to say No to ways of living that God disapproved of. When the Rich Young Ruler turned away Jesus didn't chase him down the street and say "Never mind about your addiction to wealth, don't worry about your idolatrous love of money, I accept you anyway." Christ let him walk as he understood the cost of discipleship.
But with my caveat aside, well done Rob Bell. I found your video a helpful challenge to say "yes" to the marginalized and the excluded with the love of Christ.