Keep on the Sunny Side: A New Thing

Every year the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity hosts a Film Festival in the illustrious and enchanting mountains of Banff, Canada. Following the festival, the many beautiful and artistic films begin their annual and renowned World Tour. For years, I have attended their viewing, either in Charlotte, Boone, or Brevard, NC; for years, I have salivated at the unbelievable talent of the filmmakers, their producers, and those whose enthusiasm for the outdoors they attempt to capture in a short film. Every year’s viewing ignites my passion for outdoor imagination, regardless of its topic: a salmon’s epic journey through tributaries of the Alaskan terrain, a few dreamers who set out to backpack through Patagonia with kayaks strapped to their backs, or a North Carolinian record-breaking rock climber.

This year, my best-good-friend, Rev. Carrilea Potter Hall, nabbed us tickets to the sold-out show in Charlotte. I was in awe of the young talent of teen rock- climbing enthusiasts, Ashima Shiraishi and Kai Lightner. These kids are shattering professional records left and right! The youngest in their sport, they are challenging the pros, overcoming the status quo, and reaching new heights—literally. In the rock-climbing world, they are doing what others have called impossible. Their talent has captured the climbing world’s attention, despite their young age.

Kai Lightner, who claims Fayetteville, NC, was a joy to watch on the wall at the 2017 Film Festival. And as a pastor viewing the films, my heart couldn’t help but make an analogy to the future of the Church.

For those committed to a local church, it’s not news that most Protestant denominational congregations are on a steep decline. The culture of Christianity is changing, and church attendance is no longer indicative of the hearts of a community. The sacred Sunday Morning, once reserved exclusively for worship, is now perhaps the only free time a family may have all week! Our lives are so packed with work, school, and family responsibilities, Sunday Morning is for many families, quite simply, time to take a deep breath!

Even for deeply committed Christians, Sunday Mornings may occasionally be filled with family hikes, bike rides, 18 holes of golf, a family visit, or perhaps my favorite Sunday Morning indulgence: sleeping in! Later generations have expressed that they just don’t want to join an institution, much less the institutional church they have inherited from their parents. Yet, there is something stirring with this youngest generation: Kingdom Living! And it’s awesome!

Those, both a part of, and apart from, mainline denominations, are making astounding leaps and bounds in a Spirit-filled movement outside any institution or institutional church. My heart, too, leaps with joy knowing God is doing a new thing with a new generation of faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Worship attendance may be down, but social media is packed with efforts of justice, kindness, peace and equality. Even if it doesn’t happen in the church as we know and understand it, even if pews and parking lots of church buildings are not full on Sunday, there is a movement for justice and holiness. Our young contemporaries are vocalizing the concerns of the least, last and lost in society who have been silenced—and they are not doing it by sitting still on Sunday.

As a vocational minister, it is a bittersweet reality to be challenged by a new generation of Christians. I’m digging this cultural shift for social obligation, but I will admit, my pride is hurt when numbers are down. Yet, this unconventional and unpredicted progress of amateurs in the rock-climbing world conveys the hope familiar to Christians: the last becomes first; the loser wins; the Crucified is King and Lord of All.

As we move through the season of Easter and celebrate this crazy Christian claim of Resurrected life—may you all keep on the Sunny Side of Life and know the fullness of Joy in Christ Jesus who is doing a new thing!