I have a confession to make. I think the word ‘relevance’ is overused and over-valued. My opinion of the word, the way it is understood by our culture anyway, is that it is a low bar to set as a standard to aspire to. I think ‘relevance’ is a moving target that changes almost daily, based on trends and moods and politics and whatever might be considered ‘cool’ in the moment. To be honest, I haven’t been looking forward to writing about our core value of ‘relevance’ this month. That is, until I started to look at this word through a ‘Jesus lens’.
The above video from our ethics center on ‘relevance’ helped me to do that. What exactly was relevant to Jesus? Trends? Power? Politics? Fashion?
Jesus found coming alongside and befriending the poor to be relevant. As the video says, He would go into places where no one else would go. He would touch people that no one else would touch. He didn’t care about what was ‘cool’ in his day. He didn’t care about what the culture around Him viewed as ‘relevant’. Jesus redefined what relevance actually meant.
Jesus turned everything upside down.
His idea of cool was socially uncool.
His understanding of relevance was culturally irrelevant.
So much so that it got Him killed.
If Jesus’ definition of relevance is what we, The Salvation Army, are about, I’m in. And I think we are on the right track. William and Catherine Booth, our founders, definitely understood relevance in the way Jesus did. They weren’t worried about trends and fads; they were worried about people. They were concerned for those who were poor, mistreated by their employers, trafficked, addicted, in jail, excluded, refugees, foreigners, hungry, naked, sick, homeless, abused and untouchable.
Today, 150 years after the Booth’s began this vital wok, we at our shelters are still being relevant. What we are doing is culturally uncool (we’ve got complaint letters from our neighbours to prove it). Our work is culturally irrelevant. It sure isn’t being talked about as an election issue again this year. Most people simply don’t care enough to make these issues a top priority.
But we do. That’s what makes us relevant, at least the way Jesus defines it. And that’s good enough for me.
Let’s keep striving to be the ‘Jesus kind of relevant’ as we continue to be ‘The Hand of God in the Heart of the City’.
Dion Oxford, Director of Mission Integration
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty
thy glory in my valley.