Tuesday, January 04, 2005
INTERVIEW: JOHN FISCHER
SUBVERSIVE: INTERVIEW- JOHN FISCHER
BY KEITH GILES
For more years than I can remember, John Fischer has been saying what no one else had the vision, or the guts, to say out loud, or in print. He has always been able to discern the difference between what needs to be said and what has already been said too many times before.
As a prolific writer of songs, articles and a sought-after public speaker, Fischer has used his gifts to communicate the truth in love, especially when it comes to matters of Faith. Speaking to me over the telephone, Fischer doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. “Faith is necessary for a more dangerous life,” he said. Although he admits we’ve managed to immerse ourselves in a Christian subculture that seems intent only upon spreading the safety net. “That’s been a huge theme for me for a number of years as I’ve watched the Christian sub-culture grow up around me,” said Fischer, who inadvertently helped to create this very same sub-culture as a popular songwriter during the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the ’60s. “That’s why I’ve watched it so carefully,” he said. “And we’ve moved into areas now that we would have never thought of, and never intended to go, thirty years ago.”
As Fischer has watched the Christian subculture collapse in upon itself, he’s concluded that there’s one main thing that keeps it from being effective. “It finally dawned on me that the message of ‘Safety’ was really bugging me. It almost starts to appear that the bulk of the Christian sub-culture, all these Christian products in the Christian world, however it got started, it appears to exist today out of a fear of the world and a desire to be safe within a subculture where we can still enjoy all those worldly things, but they have been made safe for us and for our consumption. Like a Good Christian Seal of Approval,” he said.
“That has had some terrible ramifications,” said Fischer. “I think primarily it’s kept us out of having any kind of real impact on the culture at large. But, I think in terms of individual faith it has also affected us. Faith itself has to come in the midst of some kind of tension, pressure, fear, whatever. If everything is fine and we’re comfortable and we’re only around people of faith, in an environment of faith, then who needs faith?”
Pointing to a passage in the book of John, chapter 17, Fischer illustrated his observation with a prayer by Jesus on our behalf. “One of the most poignant expressions of this is Christ’s prayer where he says, ‘Father I ask not that you remove them from the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.’ We don’t stop to think a little more deeply about that and realize that Jesus is praying for us to be protected. If so, what does that assume about our situation? It assumes a dangerous situation. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus is not intending to put us in a safe place. He would much rather we be in a dangerous place, but He’s praying for us and looking for that opportunity to have our faith grow by being challenged in such a way.”
The irony is that, sometimes it’s our own misguided brand of evangelism that prevents any true evangelism from taking place. “We have had evangelism preached at us so much that we feel like we are wasting our time if we are in the presence of a non-Christian and we’re not telling them about Jesus. What that is saying is that we’ve made evangelism more important than Love,” said Fischer. “We sometimes mix the Great Commission with The Great Commandment and that is to ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus even said that if you do this, you will fulfill all the Law. I think we can assume that the ‘Go and make disciples’ at the end of Matthew was not presuming upon that earlier statement. In other words, He still said that (if) you love your God and love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll be fulfilling everything else.”
Fischer conveys a sense of exasperation as he considers the effects this has had on our culture. He argues that evangelism isn’t just about conveying information, it’s about having a life that really is different. “I think that’s where our life comes in, and the importance of our relationships, and being vulnerable and loving people follows. Then when we do get around to telling people about Jesus it’s because they want to hear about it. They’ve asked us about Him. It’s not that we’re interrupting their lives and saying, ‘Here, you need this piece of information’.”
Fischer’s ministry has been to talk about the practical nature of faith and how God meets us on a moment-by-moment basis, about how faith meets real life. “That’s always been the thing that I’ve wanted to talk about. I think we have such a tendency to miss the wholeness of what life is meant to be, and what faith is meant to be,” he said. “We keep it in a ‘faith compartment’ and it only works on Sunday’s and when we’re doing something obviously ‘Christian’. For sometime I’ve talked about this modern Gnosticism that we experience in the Western World. We keep our religion separate from our life. Once those two come together, that’s actually where the joy and excitement comes because suddenly there’s meaning to life. I get to find God in the midst of this stuff and now it’s not insignificant anymore. The most mundane part of my life has meaning. That’s a big thing for people to discover and I think we often miss it and yet it’s so simple.”
Delving deeper into the scriptures, Fischer has found himself at a surprising loss for words when he realizes how far we’ve strayed from the original wisdom of Jesus. “I’ve just been doing a study recently on the Sermon On The Mount and it’s just unbelievable how far from that we are. We are so far. We aren’t even at step one,” said Fischer. “What Jesus is talking about in this passage runs right in the face of everything that you see in the Christian subculture. The success mode, the worship of personalities and money and all that. Jesus is talking about a whole different reality there. We even have Christians who are out there talking about our political rights and religious rights to be this or to be that. Jesus message was all about giving up your rights, if anything. I just don’t get it. How can this even bear the name of Jesus?”
Looking at the words of Jesus, it is sometimes difficult for Fischer to understand why we’ve allowed the culture to ravage our Lord’s message of servanthood and compassion for others. “I think it’s largely because we have made so many alliances with our culture and the economic nature of our culture and our affluence and the whole 4.2 billion dollar ‘Christian Industry’ providing Christian goods and services to people,” Fischer said. “Where does that even fit in the picture of what Jesus was talking about? All we’re doing is we’re continuing to keep people focused on being consumers, we’re just providing Christian stuff to consume and taking their money for that.”
While Fischer is quick to admit that there’s nothing inherently wrong with capitalism or making a living, the truth he wants us to get is that capitalism doesn’t have the answers we all need. In America especially, the line between what it means to be a good Christian and what it means to be a good American are so blurred for us, we don’t even know the difference anymore. To us it’s become the same thing. “The point is that if we were Christians in a capitalistic system, we could deal with this, we could work it out. I think we could still be neighbors and work in our workplaces and do what Jesus said to do. But, instead what we’ve tried to create is a Christian Capitalism,” Fischer said.
“I’ll leave you with the best quote of all,” he said. “A guy posted this at my website the other day. He said, ‘I started to build a Christian coffeehouse until I realized that the world already had one and maybe I should just go there.’ Isn’t that great? Where was this guy twenty-five years ago when we tried to make a Christian version of everything? Yeah, the world already had that so just go there. It’s very simple actually.”
You can visit John Fischer at http://www.fischtank.com His new book, Love Him In The Morning is based on his enduring song of the same name. Fischer’s book takes little time to digest, but a lot longer to chew on, urging the reader to turn the pages slowly and consider the thoughts within them more seriously.
[Keith Giles only wishes he were half as cool as John Fischer and when he grows up (whenever that might be) he hopes to write just like him. Until that day, you’re welcome to visit http://www.parabolicjournal.com and waste a few hours.]