By Gary D. Myers
Editor’s note: All the King Cake is gone and Geaux Therefore is back from the Mardi Gras break. This post on context was published in the early days of the Geaux Therefore blog. In those days, virtual no one was reading the blog, so I thought it might be time to take a second look at “where, when and why.” It isn’t a straight repeat, rather a second, updated look at context. I hope you enjoy.
Where, when and why. These are three of the most important concepts for the missional adventurer. Knowing, mastering and wrestling with each of these concepts is a life-long process.
Know where you are
By nature a photograph captures only a portion of the real scene. The photograph is stingy with space – capturing things as they really are within certain parameters. At times, the deepest communication in a photograph comes not from what is included, but from that which is missing. The photograph has captured truth – at least the portion visible in the viewfinder at a specific moment in time.
A painter has much more control over a scene. He or she can add or subtract things as necessary to offer a truer picture of reality. Sometimes a painter captures more truth by rejecting the frame-by-frame realism of the camera. Still in the confines of the canvas even the most talented artist captures only part of the scene – some emotion, some struggle, some essence is missed. The artist has the opportunity to capture truth in some degree, but the painting is colored by the artist’s biases.
People often settle for snapshots or biased portraits instead of full-orbed understanding. It is easier to settle for the stark blacks and whites and neglect the various shades of grey.
New Orleans often finds itself tagged with thoughtless caricatures and clichés. People come to the city for a convention and go away with the perception that all of New Orleans is like the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. Other common caricatures focus on the crime or drunkenness or even voodoo.
Seek the truth for yourself. Don’t settle for snapshots taken by other people or pictures painted by artists with an agenda. Get to know your city. Get to know the people who live here. Knowing where you are takes time and effort, but it is essential for effective ministry.
Know when you are
“When am I?” It was a great line uttered by John Locke, in ABC’s hit show “Lost.” In the show, an airliner carrying Locke and a group of travelers crashed on a mysterious, mystical island. Several seasons into the story, Locke and the other survivors began involuntarily traveling through time every few hours. First they time travel to the 1950s, forward again to present day, then back in time to the 1970s. Confused by all the leaps forward and backward in time, Locke utters that ridiculous and wonderful line, “When am I?”
Oddly enough I think this is a question every missional Christian must ask … and keep asking over and over again.
You have to know your times. You have to know what is happening in your city. Read the newspaper. Watch the local news. Listen to talk radio. Keep track of local politics. This goes hand and hand with knowing where you are. And it is every bit as important.
However, I would caution against hyper-localism. The missional Christian should also keep track of world news and the political workings of other nations. Knowing when you are is an essential part of Great Commission living. After all, Christians were called to be globally minded (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) long before technology shrunk our world and brought global politics and economics into our homes on a daily basis.
Know why you are
Many people know where they are and when they are, but fail to act on what they know to make an eternal difference. They may do good things to make New Orleans, and the world, a better place, but they don’t color their actions with the purpose and passion of the Great Commission.
Knowing why you are is two-fold – general and specific.
If you are a Christ follower, you were made to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments – the “Go Therefore.” That is the general answer to “why” and includes the taking of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The specific deals with why you are here (wherever that is). In my case, it is the “Geaux Therefore.”
Hurricane Katrina helped me to focus on the where and when, and it forced me to take a fresh look at why I am and why I am here in New Orleans. As I continue to embrace New Orleans as home, these concepts push me outside my comfort zone and bring new opportunities to share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. When I put my when, where and why together, it leads me to how God would have me take action in my specific context.
One more word of caution: Knowing the where, when and why can help you gain opportunities to share the gospel. Some look at the where, when and why – the context – and are tempted to add to, take away from or water down the gospel. That’s not the gospel. You must share the unchanging gospel. Without that, knowing the where, when and why of context is empty and meaningless.