Formation

The Defiant Act of Prophetic “Foolishness” in Serious Times

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This week I took time with a baby bunny.
Not because my work is easy but because my work is hard.

There’s no doubt that these are serious times. We see acts of injustice, abuses of power, people living in darkness all around us—in our neighborhoods, country, and around the world. And we are called to care and respond—to work against injustice, to speak truth to power, to preach freedom to captives. It’s heart-breaking, back-breaking, never-ending work.

Defying The Darkness

I live and work among vigilant, hard-working people. We are engaged and responsive. And we’re exhausted and dejected. And in all that vigilance, this winter I saw a strange kind of defiance. Defiance in the form of “silliness.”

I live and work among vigilant, hard-working people. We are engaged and responsive. And we’re exhausted and dejected. And in all that vigilance, this winter I saw a strange kind of defiance. Defiance in the form of 'silliness.' Click To Tweet

I saw it on one of the darkest days when I asked a friend, Jacob, how he was. He’s a prophetic soul who feels deeply the brokenness and injustices of the world. So I was surprised, in the midst of what felt like a dark winter, that he looked up, with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I’m good. I’ve been planting flowers.” He went on to tell me how he was spending the winter tending tiny shoots in his basement. It wasn’t to avoid the pain of the world, but to step into other realities.

His story remained with me today as I set out on my morning walk. I had serious things to think and pray about. I wanted answers, resolution. But instead God provided a baby bunny, asleep in the grass. I saw its fuzzy form and smiled briefly before moving on. Then, remembering Jacob’s attention to tiny plants, I stopped and knelt. Edging up close, I watched its every breath, saw its heart beat, counted every whisker. In a world filled with war and poverty and hate, there are also baby bunnies. Both are just as true. What miracle allowed this tiny, fragile thing to be born? And what wondrous imagination dreamed of bunnies in the first place? And why? Just for the joy of it?

And so from my morning fog of news, emails, and anxiety, I was lifted—not only to rest, but to worship by kneeling beside a sleeping, baby bunny. This seemingly insignificant thing drew me into a seemingly silly act which sent me back to my work with a new heart.

Jesus Leads Us in Prophetic Playfulness

There’s no doubt that Jesus was responsive to the needs around him, loving the poor and speaking against powers.

And yet Jesus surprised his followers by sleeping in a storm. He surprised his followers by saying, “Look to birds, flowers, children.”

These aren’t foolish, throwaway acts. These are acts of prophetic defiance in the face of human power.

In a world of war, art has no purpose.
In a world of machines, small things have no value.
In a world of utility, beauty is a hindrance.
In a world of progress, rest is anathema.
In a world of seriousness, there is no time for “silliness.”

If it’s all up to us, we have no time for rest.
If it’s all up to us, we have no right to play.

People who have no help must spend all their days in important meetings.
People who are all alone must engage until they understand, must work until they fix.

But this is not who we are.

If we truly are part of all things being made new, shouldn’t we have time for beauty?
If there is truly a power at work beyond our own, shouldn’t we have time for rest?
If there is wisdom and peace beyond our understanding, why not play?

This is not the rest and play of the oblivious or unengaged, but the kind of rest and play that teaches us to set aside our desperate, misguided seriousness.

We dance to defy the lie that it’s all up to us.

And as we set aside our habit of carrying it all alone to watch the sunrise, we remember something.
As we stop our striving for a moment for a pillow fight with our kids, we are restored.
As we breathe and rest and create and rejoice, even in pain, something eternally serious takes place:

We are reminded who we are and what we believe.
We are reminded it’s not all up to us.
We are reminded we are called by a Spirit who works in and through us.
We are reminded that Spirit of justice is also the Lord of tiny seedlings.
We are reminded that even in serious times, He still tends to baby bunnies.
We are reminded that He still rejoices over his creation, broken though it may be.
We are reminded that our work grows not from desperation but from hope.

We are restored for the work yet to be done and given new perspective to do it with courage and joy.

On a year when Easter falls on April Fools’ Day, we’re reminded that there are forces at work which the world finds foolish.

On a year when Easter falls on April Fools' Day, we need God's reminder that there are forces at work which the world finds foolish. Click To Tweet

Thomas Merton, thinker and activist, has a serious challenge for us at this moment:

The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

These words of Merton’s are bearing fruit in my life, daring me to imagine how we might share our hope that God is making all things new.

In this spirit and in response to God’s leading, I’m planning an “All Things New Fest!” See here for what’s coming to life and how you can imagine along with me.

And as summer approaches, Jacob’s tiny shoots will become a garden in his community, to proclaim the serious power of “foolish” things.

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22 responses to “The Caffeine Free Diet Coke: A Metaphor for Evangelicalism in our Day?

  1. David –
    I have been waiting for some Zizek to show up in your writing. You may have already done so, but this use of his Coke illustration is spot on – in my opinion. In fact, reading your reflections is anything but a caffeine free diet Coke – this is "it."

    Yes, the above paragraph may be a bit over the top, but your piece is a great tease for the new book. I look forward to getting a copy.

  2. good comparison… CF Diet Coke – empty product, but looks and tastes good. Sounds like a lot of "self centered" churches we have attended…feels good but no action. Reminds me of an old metaphor – our pews are filled with the "frozen chosen".

  3. Dave,I love it.
    I know of many Church-goers who say their "beliefs" are the core beliefs you listed, but
    these beliefs are in the extra category of "my religion" rather than life-shaping belief. The culture shapes their life-shaping beliefs. For example, when a divorced mother who buys her son swim-suit calendars finds out her son is committing fornication, she exclaims, "I thought I raised him better, with strong beliefs". Although she is an avid church member, and recites the beleifs by memorization they have no life-forming reality. On top of that, she's surprised to see the absence of life-formation even though
    they have not shaped her life in the past. In some ways I understand the responsibility of the individual and acknowledge that this person may be in rebellion with the church. Yet, having been a member with her, I know for a fact that the practices of this congregation has helped her strengthen this type of "belief" system.

  4. […] Books , Brokenhearted Theology , Ramblings Leave a Comment David Fitch has a great post today throwing out some ideas that he is working on for an upcoming book, using ideas from […]

  5. Makes me remember the time when I was reviewing the Fragile Absolute with Jimmy Cooper for one of Steve Long's seminars. We brought a case of caffeine-free diet coke for the rest of class to enjoy while we gave our presentation. I'm pretty sure we got an A.

  6. Hmmm… There are some not so subtle distinctions. Coke was never, I repeat NEVER, required or needed for a full life. The analogy between Coke and Salvation (or evangelism), powerful as it is, breaks down from the get go (at least for me) because we need Salvation, but we do not need Coke, so living without Coke, or an ersatz Coke (like Diet Caffeine Free Coke) is no loss and life can continue fine (but not without something like water – which is required for life).

    However, living without Salvation is real loss of a real need, more like a loss of water, and a full life is impossible in it's absence.

    I fear the analogy and comparison between evangelism and Coke risks cheapening the Gospel message to unnecessary, as Coke is actually not needed for full life. For some reason I think of Bonhoeffer's cheap grace, and the evangelistic effort that cheap grace inspires as another way to describe current evangelistic efforts (Joel Osteens – 'God wants you to be rich' comes to mind).

    So rather than

    DietCoke => Evengelism

    CheapGrace inspires EmptyEvangelism

    Whaddya think?

  7. David,
    I am very much looking forward to the book, and I think your thoughts here are both correct and a needed corrective for the American church. Most of all, I agree with your assessment that what began as well-intentioned (and probably malleable) doctrines have become hardened dogma that distract from the mission. We have ended up clinging tightly to an empty backpack we think is full of "orthodoxy"… Thanks for thinking and pushing more of us to think…

    Kevin

  8. Though I would’ve loved it much more if you added a relevant video or at least pictures to back up the explanation, I still thought that your write-up quite helpful. It’s usually hard to make a complicated matter seem very easy. I enjoy your weblog and will sign up to your feed so I will not miss anything. Fantastic content

  9. […] David Fitch offers an intriguing analysis of Evangelicalism, and in particular its Western Expressions. Tipping his hand at his forthcoming book, David really gives readers something to chew on. I have been waiting on Fitch to go all Zizek in his analysis of the church ever since he told me he had been working through Zizek and Baidou a couple of years ago. His new book will be worth the read. Put it on your watch list. Pre-order it if possible. You won’t be disappointed. Bookmark It Hide Sites Tags: David Fitch, Evangelicalism. Slavo Zizek, Metapor, Philosophy « Previous Post […]

  10. I like your metaphor, but if I understand you correctly it serves primarily as a critique of practices becoming severed from context, and while charitable, I think it might not end up addressing larger problems. It runs the risk of asserting that US evangelicalism sold out, so "let's get back to basics, our core beliefs," but I am not so sure that Coke was ever good for us in the first place. (nor exactly how Zizek uses it).
    At the end of your post you talk about things driving evangelicalism other than Christ centered, shared life, and this seems spot-on but a different critique: the problem is not that Coke became diet, but that we are drinking softdrinks instead of milk.

    Have I read correctly? Just thinking outloud. Good stuff, thank you.

  11. […] at “Reclaiming the Mission” has written a very thought provoking article called “The Caffeine Free Diet Coke: A Metaphor for Evangelicalism in our Day?” Borrowing a metaphor that author Slavoj Zizek used to describe capitalism, Fitch asks us to […]

  12. Hi, Found this site by accident looking for something about diet coke, but I found the post interesting nonetheless. I do believe that you and Zizek are missing a critical piece of the Diet Coke analogy. You are not considering the motivation of the people that are drinking it. You suggest that it has no value because it does not have nutritional value, and are quick to assume that it no longer "tastes good". Why then, do you think people drink it? Although I am not an evangelist, I believe answering that question will translate to your analogy, and give you insight into how/why other folks participate in their faith.

  13. […] Fitch raised an awareness [which may need an alarm] of an Evangelical ideology bound to empty signifiers. One exposes an empty core when the actions consistent with the claimed ideology face the […]

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