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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Proper Use of Campfires

Throughout history, there has been no more iconic human experience than that of singing and telling stories around a campfire. Since pre-historic times, the campfire has drawn us together in the darkness. The campfire was the basis of the tribe. As humanity spread out and our population grew, the fires got bigger, but they were still there.  We looked into the fire and found a common impulse, a shared dream if you will and we passed along the dreams of our fathers and mothers, our own dreams and the dreams of our children. For most of us who gathered round the fires, it was a dream of peace.

Not so for those who gathered outside in the darkness.

The campfire is a wonderful metaphor for the way that God works in us to change us. The fire is the center of the circle, within our very hearts. It warms us and binds us to itself and to one another. If we join our neighbors, friends and loved ones around that fire, we are inevitably changed by it. It draws from us depths of love, kindness, empathy and comradery we may not even have suspected were there in the first place. Worship as an act of faith in God works the same way. It is no accident that the imagery for the Holy Spirit of God is often depicted as a fire.

There are those who reject the fire. Their goal is to draw us away from the fire and to themselves. They delight in making themselves the center of gatherings. What they lack, however, is the power of God, symbolized by the fire - the power to warm those gathered about them.  They attempt to change those they seek to lead by external means - by force, threats or by enacting LAW and penalties for disobedience.

Changing man from without, by force of the will of another, is always doomed to failure. A movie filmed by German director, Leni Riefenstahl, documented the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It is called, appropriately enough, "The Triumph of the Will".  The film was honest about how the German nation was expected to be changed - externally, by the power of the will of the Nazi leaders. Ironically, within a dozen years, Riefenstahl could have just as well done a sequel to her first movie and called it "The Defeat of the Will".  Forcible change from the outside inward never works.

Man can only be changed from the inside out by the submission of the will to God. It is the transformative power of a relationship with Him and spending time around the fire of His grace with others that works the change. Over time, mankind has been changed by this principle despite a long and bitter ongoing war against the lust for power and the exercise of the human will to dominate and coerce.  

Our time at the campfire must be inclusive if it is to be effective. We must draw people to into the circle, not push them away. There is no place for hard words, name-calling, strong-arm tactics or bullying in our prayer and worship circles. We are told not to even call another person a fool, lest we endanger our own souls in the process. We are told that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there amongst us. It is not accidental that Jesus, Himself, performed his first miracle at a celebratory gathering. Throughout His ministry, He was criticized for hanging out with sinners, tax collectors and harlots.  His own circle of followers were a mixed political bag to say the very least.

And finally Christ was murdered by those who believed there were people in their communities who were not good enough to join their circle; who resented Christ's invitation to all and sundry kinds of sinners to "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." 

Some of my conservative colleagues ridicule the idea of sitting around the campfire, holding hands and singing "Kum-ba-Yah" as a way to change the world.  They forget that Kum-ba-yah is a Christian song that invites the lost, the sad, the lonely and alone to join our sacred circle. Perhaps if we all spent a little more time around the campfire; if perhaps we spent more time including our neighbors instead of pushing them away; perhaps, then, we could get past our differences and find that common faith that could bind us all together in peace.  

We surely aren't going to get there by passing dueling House Bills.

I'm just saying,

© 2013 by Tom King

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