By Bill Mefford
I remember a professor named Bob Lyon I had in seminary who challenged me and so many other students at Asbury to look more closely at the Jesus in the Scriptures and his mission to live among the poor, loving the people and doing justice with and for them. Bob pointed beyond the culturally-created Jesus who has been deconstructed to be our buddy; a therapist more than a Savior whose mission is our individual social and psychological betterment. This is the Jesus for the North American church who is worshipped weekly and for whom an entire Christian music and book industry has evolved around. This is US idolatry.
Bob also rejected the titles of nobility that so many people strive after and insisted that people just call him Bob. Bob was a radical. Long before there was even minimal acceptance of LGBTQ people in any part of the church Bob taught that all people were created in the image of God, no matter their sexual orientation. For that alone Bob was marginalized by the rest of the seminary in many respects. In the 1970s Bob helped start the music festival Ichthus in Wilmore, Kentucky so that young people could hear gospel music contextualized in music that they could respond to. Then, when the festival became a reflection of the Christian music business itself – more business than Christian – he left it altogether.
Yeah, you could say I got along with Bob fairly well.
Perhaps the one thing I remember Bob for more than anything else was his admonition to students to form “pockets of agitation.” I remember this came after we had spent several weeks reading Scripture, specifically those hundreds of passages and stories regarding the poor. Imagine a student who has spent their life in church devoid of any teaching on issues involving the poor and the commands to do justice and then being enmeshed in those passages for several weeks in a row all day (this was a January course so we were in class all day). By the second week most Asbury students in his class were shell-shocked and wondering why the hell their Bible-believing churches and Christian colleges had left so much of the Bible out of their sermons, Bible studies, and discipleship curriculum. I was more disillusioned with the North American church after I spent several weeks reading Scripture than I was at any time in my life. The inconsistency between what we read in Scripture and what we are discipled to practice is breathtakingly enormous.
When we asked Bob what we should do, he kind of smiled (loving not only our question, but the desperate hunger for authentic Christianity that it grew out of), and he said, “become a pocket of agitation.”
I spent a considerable amount of time thinking and talking with folks about what this meant (and I still do!), but I also intuitively knew it when I heard it for the first time. A pocket of agitation is a small group of people who share a passion and vision for change and who are working strategically together to see that change become real.
I saw it firsthand when a small group of us at the seminary worked to at long last get the seminary to hire African American professors in the mid-90s. I saw it when a relatively small group of United Methodists were horrified that a general board of the church invested in stock in private prison corporations and they got the church to completely divest inside of five months. I saw it when a small group of faith leaders flipped Senator Grassley’s views on sentencing reform.
I have seen it happen so often; small groups of people with shared passion and shared vision. Yet, we so readily dispense with this and instead wait for people with big, shiny titles or established platforms or famous names to take the leadership and try to create change. Little do we realize that those shiny titles and big platforms and famous names are often the people who share absolutely no commitment to the change you and I know needs to happen because they got their shiny titles, big platforms, and famous names from the status quo remaining exactly as it is!
And this, to a great extent, is why Fig Tree Revolution exists. Here is what it says up top on our website:
We are progressive thinkers, dreamers, innovators, organizers, and leaders, sometimes well received and sometimes apostate, who all share a passion for honesty, inclusion, and justice inside and outside the Church. We dream of a world filled with peace, economic equality, and freedom from the yoke of oppression for ALL people. And when we say ALL we mean ALL. More than anything, we dream of a world filled with love.
As we see institutional churches falter, we believe it is time for new dreams, new connections, and new leaders. Fig Tree Revolution exists to connect leaders in local churches and communities who have innovative dreams to prophetically speak to injustice in all of society and to mobilize local churches and communities to work together to achieve concrete change alongside those directly impacted by injustice. Wanna change the world? Then join us!
We are a pocket of agitation and we connect with other pockets of agitation around the world, working for change, dreaming of a different world and different church, encouraging one another, and making that change happen.
I hope you have joined with us. We want to agitate with you, alongside you, encouraging you, hearing from you, until every one of us, no matter how poor or marginalized or oppressed they are, will be able to sit under their own fig tree. Let the revolution come.