What's Forming You, Really?

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When did I know I was a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan?

My father, John Smith, worked in the steel mill measuring and making the rings for sinks as a master welder. I saw him leaving for work around 6 am and returning around 3:30 pm or 4 pm depending on traffic. His way of relaxing was a six-pack of Schlitz beer, puffing a Salem cigarette, and watching a team that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1945 and hadn’t won a championship since 1908.

Yet my father watched them despite his heart being broken over and over again. Besides, if I thought about changing channels, I would not be here today. I liked living. Little did I know I was being formed into a Cubs fan for life. 

Our lives are being formed from the time we emerged into an ecosystem known as a family. In families, we learn what’s valued and despised. We are formed by cheering for certain teams and cursing the grounds of rivals. We cherish the moments of significant gatherings and shun others. Families form us in ways that either launch us well as citizens, or as selfish monsters who end up in reality shows.

We, as human beings, are formed by the people in closest proximity to us. Families are the most powerful social community you and I will ever experience in our lifetime. 

In the current religious landscape, many parts of the American church don’t look like they were formed by the father God. I don’t see the ethics of Jesus, the theology of the church, nor the common recognition of Jesus as the ultimate Lord and Savior.

I read a powerful essay by religion writer Peter Wehmer this week. He observed American Christians are ripping each other apart based on suspicions of cultural issues marinated in a political sauce of anger and outrage. In the Wehmer’s article, Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs mentioned formation was at the heart of it.

Jacobs said, “Culture catechizes…Culture teaches us what matters and what views we should take about what matters. Our current political culture has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing—television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and podcasts among them. People want to connect with their political tribes—the people who think are like them, the people they think are on their side—so they subject themselves to this catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour.” (The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart, Atlantic Magazine, October 24, 2021) 

Jacobs has pinpointed how American Christians decided what families would form them for worse than better. 

Therefore, the question of formation is the most important question you and I must grapple with in this current atmosphere. Does Fox News, MSNBC, talk radio, or the opinion voices that agree with you shape you more than being catechized by the words of Master Jesus who surpasses all others seeking supremacy in your life? Are you and I actually aware of what’s forming us, really? 

Let’s confess the social and political cultures have formed us more than the less sexy resources of the church. There’s only one way to break the cycle of bad formation, step back, step out, repent, and choose the kind of formation beyond social and political goals. Choose the formation of love. Why? No one has been converted to change by outrage, anger, conquer and divide, and meanness. Maybe the Lord is nudging you to choose the road less traveled in the present context of American Christianity. 

In Jonah Berger’ book on changing minds, he mentioned the story of Larry Trapp. Trapp noticed Michael and Julie Weisser had moved into his Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhood. Trapp harassed them for being Jewish at every turn. He made despicable phone calls to them with awful slurs. Trapp told the couple he was a card-carrying member of Ku Klux Khan and it was his mission to make them leave or possibly kill them. 

Instead of fighting fire with fire, the Weissers began researching Trapp’s life. They found out Trapp was a wheelchair-bound man confined to his apartment. They began to piece together why Trapp was angry and hateful. Julie Weisser, after reading the convicting and forming verses from Proverbs 6:12-15, approached her husband Michael with a request to visit Larry Trapp.

As a rabbi, how could Michael reject the request? Michael called Larry, but Larry hung up on him several times and cussed him out. Michael got through to Larry that he meant him no harm or revenge. Knowing Larry burned every bridge in Lincoln for help, Michael offered to pick up groceries for Larry since he had little food in the apartment. Michael showed up with the groceries and Larry began sobbing. Both Michael and Julie wrapped Larry in their arms and told him they would become his friends. After this encounter, Larry Trapp resigned from the Klan. The Weissers modeled formational love. (The Catalyst, p.51-59)   

The Weissers actually allowed the Word of God and their relationship with him to form them. Larry saw the Word of God in action through the Weissers. Again, what’s forming you? The late Christian theologian and philosopher Dallas Willard’s definition is worth reminding ourselves in the midst of deceptive and screaming formational platforms.

Willard said, “Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes the inner of being of Christ himself.” (Renovation of the Heart)

That’s our goal as people formed by Master Jesus.

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