Last week, I attended Catalyst for the first time with my friend Jeremy. I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the edgy website I thought for sure it would be a large gathering of 20 and 30 something christian hipsters. They were certainly there in force. However, there were just as many younger and older people. People that don’t fit the mold of hipster christian. People from far off countries, black, white, asian, latino, etc. In short, a beautiful mosaic of God’s people that can’t be fit in to any one mold other than christian.
I have spent all of my life, except the last four years, apart from God. I am still shedding years of preconceptions, negative thinking, and cynicism. Spending 27 years in the world and its system builds quite a bit of negativity in you. I started the conference on thursday morning at 7AM with some free coffee from Project7. (Thanks!) There was a DJ spinning, hammocks set up, examples of emergency shelter from Samaratin’s Purse, and a whole lot of people eager to enter the arena. The Catalyst interns, Tripp and Tyler, were sporting fresh bowl cuts. Together with Ken Coleman and Carlos Whitaker they were trying to keep the crowd engaged and entertained while we waited for the doors to open. What I chose to see at first was a ridiculous display with sponsors doing contests to hawk their products and books, and what I thought was nothing different from the world.
However, what I began to see were people being who they are. Being christian is more than keeping a rigid set of rules, acting and dressing a certain way, and talking a certain way, listening to certain types of music, etc. We all come from culture; that culture is imprinted on us and we express ourselves through it. Wonderfully different yet united in the common cause of the glory of God. I started to see what was really there; people on fire for God. An uncontainable joy and expectation of good things to come as we waited in the cool morning to enter the arena and be inspired. There were silly contests for entertainment and fun that made me laugh and cringe for the people who entered them. And out of the contests an unexpected display of love. A man proposed to his girlfriend on stage and completely surprised her. (She said YES!) The conference had not yet begun and I was already shedding baggage and seeing people as people. Not as categories and colors and cultures, but as image bearers of God.
Now, I hear you. You’re thinking I’ve got quite a few hangups and am quite strange. Yes. The difference is before I came to know Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t have thought any of it was odd. Now, God is allowing me to see things more as He sees, though not completely. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 says “11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The conference was inspiring. A shift is occurring in my thinking. Not reactionary to the immediate stimulus of great conversation, but deep in my heart as one who has had his eyes opened more.
There is more pain, more sadness, terror, fear, and heartache in the world than I have fully considered. Sure, I’ve seen the news. I know there is war. I know people are starving. I also really haven’t done much about it. I haven’t been obedient to God and put my hand out to help them. Christine Caine said at the conference, “Compassion is not compassion until you cross the street.” Until I do something with the knowledge of all this pain in the world, I am not being compassionate at all. I’m actually being quite heartless in not helping. Guilt is not my motivator however, God is my motivator. There are tons of practical ways to help the poor of the world. Many organizations support local communities like Samaratin’s Purse, World Vision, and Compassion (where my wife and I sponsor three children). You can partner with Charity Water and help people get something we all take for granted; clean water. There are orphans, widows, and slaves who cry out for help. We can help them. We can partner with organizations to offer them the assistance out of the pain they are in.
And then, we have the answer to their pain. we have the answer to their struggle. It’s simple. It’s the gospel.