Kristof at Church

When I saw the video that Nicholas Kristof posted on Facebook yesterday I was shocked that the link carried me to a set housing Kristof and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels on Willow Creek's main stage. (bizarre that I highlighted their 'sanctuary' in just my last post.)

It also comes on the cusp of this article, an anthropologist arguing that if liberal politicians would simply tweak some of their language they would in little time with minimal effort win over a large chunk of evangelical voters. My husband, brother, and I have been in an e-conversation about whether or not one can differentiate fundamentalists from evangelicals in this context. However, I bring it up to say that the Kristof video is a fascinating experiment in liberals and conservatives mixing company, and doing so well.

I see Nicholas Kristof as a modern day prophet. His work, in the company of his wife Sheryl WuDunn, on gendercide, sex trafficking, and female empowerment in the developing world inspires even the most cynical. He speaks for the marginalized by sharing the story of the individual with the masses to effectuate a response among the privileged, and he does so by derailing the (ab)use(s) of poverty porn; he upholds the struggling women and girls with dignity and awe... And a difference he makes.

Bill Hybels sits beside him in the video clip with a beautiful tan that I assume he picked up while sailing on his yacht. Despite my ambivalence about megachurch efforts to seek social justice causes (who knew that some of them are trying to now), Hybels warrants more respect from me than any other evangelical pastor because he makes so much effort to grow alongside his congregation. He does not claim a monopoly on (conservative) theology; he does not participate in trendy/swanky/hipster-y culture topics that circulate regularly in evangelical subculture (consider Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, and that dork in TX who are all obsessed with sex these days). I see Hybels as more concerned with following God and winning lost souls to Christ in ways that are relevant and transformative for suburban chicago-ites. He's less concerned with being cool. He tries really hard to be a good, authentic evangelical. It just so happens that it has also made him a lot of money, and pretty cool in his circles, in the meantime.

Hybels reads Half the Sky, and it's clear by the time he gets to the second question in this video interview with Kristof that his world is turned upside-down. Hybels cannot finish articulating many of his initial questions. (I've never heard Hybels say, "uh..." when public speaking.) He doesn't know where to go with all the dramatic facts about gendercide and prostitution and plights of women in a global context. The viewer sees him repositioning his body several times during the interview as if to speak on behalf of the thousands of followers in the congregation, "we are all uncomfortable with this. We don't talk about things like this in here. This isn't the individualized, hyper-pious, feel-good mantra we are used too...but keep talking, because we need to know and respond to this. Educate us, Kristof." And in his generous, unassuming, incredibly kind way, Kristof fields the questions, engages the congregation, and puts Bill at ease. I find it astounding and worth emulating. Not that I wanted Kirstof to bury Hybels or Willow Creek for just now waking up to these "liberal" issues, we just don't ever see these groups in dialogue because it is so uncomfortable. I was nervous at several points in the interview, and Kristof kept putting me at ease too with his graciousness and authenticity. Neither leader was trying to be someone other than who they were, and it worked.

Hybels' honesty, Kristof's generosity and intellect, tempered by a setting that is willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of their gospel is moving. The first time I watched the video I was annoyed with Hybel's naiveté. (Because I already have this all figured out, right?) The second time I was overcome with emotion at his earnestness to grapple with such realities. Issues that even many liberals cannot acknowledge. The third time I watched it I cried with Hybels at the end when he asked Kristof why he does this work and  Kristof responded about the Polish nun in Congo.

It starts small for Kristof. It's the grain of yeast and the mustard seed. It's telling the story of one woman in one country. It's reaching out to one church in one suburb. It's writing one op-ed for the Times in an effort to conjure up a response. And it's all so damn honest and humble. Kristof speaks, and writes for that matter, with no pretense. I want to be best friends with him and his family. I want to drink wine with them at the dinner table during transformative conversations that run late in the night. I want to travel to Cambodia with them. I want to learn from them and work with them. I want to know the women that he knows. And since I must do so indirectly through his work and vicariously through other higher profile people (like Bill Hybels even), I'll take what I can get. I can't believe I'm saying this, "Thanks Willow."

I won't even get in to how Kristof is a contemporary, married, privileged, educated, white, male redeeming so much for me by way of each category I just plugged him in to. So thank you, Kristof, for living from your heart and sharing it in ways that minister with peace.

Disclaimer: as tech savvy as mega-churches are, it's unfortunate that I cannot embed the video. I am not sure how long it will be accessible on Willow's website. And no, I did not watch the other videos in their current series on Hope. --Don't want to ruin a good thing, know what I'm sayin'?

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

Hi Lauren,
Somehow I stumbled on your blog today! I was looking up information on Nicholas Kristoff, as I saw him speak at Willow and I have read his book "Half the Sky".
By reading his book, my life was forever changed. I think about the information he provided and challenges he sets forth in his book everyday. My daily decisions, perspectives, and thoughts are changed. I feel so much gratitude to him and to Sheryl for the work they do.
I am a regular Willow Creek attender. Don't worry, I am not going to evangelize here!
I think that is a common misconception about Willow Creek - that only crazy, zealots and evangelists go there! Now, I won't say there aren't any - I think where ever you go, in any kind of group really, there will be those who are a little overboard.
My husband and I moved to the Chicago area about 6 years ago - it was so very difficult to move away from friends and family. It is still hard! Also in the last 6 years my Dad died suddenly from cancer and my mother died from complications with diabetes. They were only in their 60's. Now I am not telling you this to be all "poor me" (and I know millions of people have to deal with much, much worse in their lives), but because I just wanted you to know that from my perspective, Willow Creek church was a life saver.
Their Grief support group was so helpful and led me to close friends who I still see often - at that time I still had not made any good friends in Chicago. It led me to see that God still comforts and still brings peace, even in the midst of such loss and grief. By changing my perspective on so many things, I realized that yes, I had lost, but I had so many other amazing blessings - my husband and my children. I had a home, a job, a car, food, safety, love - things so many, many, many people do not have.
On the recommendation of some people we knew, we tried it out when we first moved to the Chicago area. We kept going at first because the kids' program is so fun for the kids, but I soon discovered that Willow Creek is not your stereotypical "mega-church". Every week, the sermon or the speaker teaches me something or changes my perspective in some way that stays with me, whether it be huge issues like racial reconciliation or the injustices facing women or day to day issues like how my words effect others, my perspective is changed, and I find that to be such gift. Bill Hybels is one of the most humble, honest, and giving pastors I have ever heard of. I can say with 100% certainty, he is not in this for fame, money, or success, but because he believes in God and in salvation, and in living as Jesus lived - to help the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten, and the lonely.
I share his beliefs. I am in no way an evangelist, but I do believe in living out my beliefs - serving God by serving and giving to others. I know I don't do everything I can or should, but I try to do my best and to pass this on to my children, as well.
I know this won't change your view of mega-churches, and I absolutely agree with you that there are some out there that go way overboard and totally miss the mark.
I mainly wanted to respond to your blog - I enjoyed reading it. I just wanted you to know that I am so grateful for a church like Willow Creek that would bring in Nicholas Kristof and focus on issues that change perspectives and change lives.
I wish you all the best!