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I just finished reading a very engaging book called “The Madness of Crowds” by Douglas Murray. It’s a very recent book, written about the rush in our culture to embrace certain ideas about sex, race, and gender. It’s especially interesting because Murray is an atheist who is bewildered by what he sees happening in the world. He is incredibly insightful about the worldview at work and the inconsistencies and destructive tendencies inherent to it. Of course, reading as a Christian, I want to say “there’s something deeper going on, and there’s a solution too!” But still, one of the page-turning non-fiction books I’ve read in a while.
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He writes about a story from a small town in Ohio in the early 20th century. One day, around noon, a man began running- nobody knew why. Soon, another man joined him, again for a reason unknown to others. And then yet another. Soon, within 10 minutes, the whole town was running, and the rumour began to spread throughout the stampeding crowd: the dam had broken. 2000 people fled the town that day in fear that the waters would overtake them. Later that day, they began returning and found that the dam had not, in fact, broken. But it was such a strange occurrence that even 20 years later, people would shut up like a clam if you mentioned “The Afternoon of the Great Run.”
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Murray uses that as an illustration of our current cultural moment, and that this dynamic is especially aided and spurred on by social media. He says, “the urge to find people who can be accused of ‘wrong-think’ works because it rewards the bully. The social media companies encourage it because it is part of their business model. But rarely if ever do the people in the stampede try to work out why they are running in the direction they are.”
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I think one of the things that is becoming clearer and clearer in our place and time is that to be a follower of Jesus means running in the opposite direction of the stampede. And that is decidedly not an easy thing. It’s not easy because it’s very intentional. Unlike the crowds, you do need to work out why you’re running in the direction you are. You’re not being carried along, you’re making a deliberate decision to go against the flow. And you risk the wrath of the stampede in the process. I’ve been mentioning this often at our outdoor services, where we’re working through 1 Peter. Peter calls his readers “exiles” and “foreigners” in this world. They don’t fit, they don’t live by the same values and priorities. For a long time in the Western world, many Christians didn’t experience that. But more and more, we are, and it is making passages like this one from Romans 12:2 that much more poignant: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
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Of course, just as important as running in the right direction is running the right way. We can run against the stampede by shoving, punching, and kicking anyone in our path. We can run with anger. Or we can run driven by love of God and love of others. I’m probably stretching the analogy past the breaking point here, but you get my picture, right?
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If you haven’t joined us, I’d encourage you to sign up for an outdoor service and spend some time with the apostle Peter, who speaks into this. The words spoken through him by the Holy Spirit in the first century have a lot of relevance to us today, especially as the world rushes headlong in directions that don’t lead home.