I'm reading the second in McLarens trilogy called 'The story we find ourselves in'. No matter what you may think about his worldview or theology, this book has a great premise—looking at the history of the universe as a whole, a story that we are a part of, and how the various parts interact with each other. He makes some observations about the Old Testament that really resonate with something I have blogged about before—the diversity of our callings and gifts within God's Kingdom. (Here, and here, and here.) As I mentioned before, I have often reflected on how we as humans have different strengths and direction to our lives, but this is all part of what God wants His kingdom to look like. We aren't all the same, we don't all see things in the same way, and that is a good thing. McLaren outlines 4 different roles in the characters of the Old Testament. He doesn't go into depth, but it is easy to see these groupings of purpose and ability. Priests: particularly called to serve God as intermediaries between God and man. They offered the sacrifices, they risked their lives by entering the presence of God, their lives were expended in worship of the Holy. Their direction was focused heavenward. Prophets: They also were intermediaries between God and man, but in the opposite direction. They passed along the message from the heart of God to His people. Often this was a hard word. “Repent, turn from your sinful ways, stop the injustice.” By nature of their calling, they were black and white, good and evil, do this, don't do that. Poets: They creatively put the thoughts and emotions of man into words. The Psalms are filled with the cries of the people—agony, joy, anger, worship, angst, peace. Often these were songs including music, dance, and other forms of creative expression. Philosophers: They were the thinkers, theologians, contemplatives. In many ways they took the words of God, and the thoughts of man, and tried to make sense of it all. Nuggets of wisdom, finite expressions of the infinite God, asking questions trying to find answers.
We are probably familiar with the various examples of purpose and calling expressed in the New Testament, but this is the first time I ever thought about a similar kind of understanding from the OT. It only serves to strengthen my perception of the diversity we all have. For me, it is a fresh way of seeing similar expressions of Paul's lists of gifts, but in the different setting of the OT. Perhaps even deeper, it again helps me see how one person can have a different way of seeing things, and yet be on the same page as me. It gives me added reason to appreciate the person whose expression of their relationship with God comes out in intense prayer, another's is seen in a call for justice or repentance, and yet another's is expressed in music, art, or thought-provoking words. I think I am OK with where I might belong, but not necessarily up against someone who is 'other gifted'. It really is easy to try to persuade (strongly, at times) others to see things my way, to want them to see life through the lens of my revelation. Or, equally difficult, to know how to respond to the call to see things as someone else does. I expect this is a common situation. And we fight to be heard, to bring others to our side, to shape the world according to how we see it. In this fight it is so easy to undercut someone else, to poke holes in their theology, to denigrate what they (legitimately) consider of utmost importance. (As an aside, look at some synonyms for this negative concept of putting down: bad mouth, besmirch, blacken, decry, defame, disparage, knock, revile, roast, run down, scandalize, slander, or tear down. Sounds way too much like what sometimes passes for Christianity.) So, my dear friends, although I may not share your God-given priority for a certain activity, I dare not say it is inappropriate or wrong. At the same time, I need not feel guilty for not being as devoted to it as you are. As Paul said, we do not all have the same gifts, and the eye can't say to the hand “I can do just fine without you.” I guess the point is—we don't all have to see things the same way. Yes, there is a place for the prophet to call the whole church to account. There is a place for the philosopher to help all of us regain a more accurate understanding of God's word to us. There is a place for the priest to lead all into the presence of the Almighty. But there is also a time to run off on a tangent without immediately being jerked back into the straight jacket of “We've always done it this way”, or “But this is what the Bible means when it says...” If we don't allow room for exploration, we don't allow room for God to bring us on to where He wants us to be. (It's so easy to think that we have it all figured out, no correction or better understanding needed.) As a couple final thoughts from McLaren's “priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers”--I can see where I can fit in as a poet and philosopher, and don't necessarily need to fit in as a priest or prophet. Also, I kind of like the term 'philosopher'. For me, it somehow implies that the whole process of thinking is indeed a process, not necessarily a completed task. What I think I think today, may not be how I will be thinking tomorrow. And I am OK with that.
To both of my loyal fans (at least I hope I have at least a couple), I hope you survived without any grand Christmas wisdom from me. I have been too busy enjoying life to write about it--eating turkey, building the traditional Christmas jigsaw puzzle, and otherwise just hanging out with family. I've been working on something that I will likely post soon, but it probably needs a bit more contemplation. By the way, I'd really like to encourage you to comment (when I actually write stuff). Besides letting me know that I have an adoring public (both of you), it also might help to either encourage me in my warped and twisted view of things, or else help straighten me out. Either of which could be infinitely valuable, at least to me. Also, thanks to the technology of blogdom, you can become a 'follower'. Sort of like disciple, but then again, not even close. So, a belated Merry and an early Happy. I hope this has been a good Christmas, and that your New Year is better than you expect.
I am a product of the conservative evangelical 'chunk' of the church. I'm not saying that is good or bad, only as a foundation for what is to follow. When I was growing up, liturgy was a bad word. For some reason, it seemed to signify a lack of life, power, or relevance. Somehow, the fact that people from all kinds of wonderful experience and understanding wrote (and write) these meditations and prayers seemed to pass by unnoticed. Another aspect of growing up CE was that we didn't particularly follow the church calendar. Oh yes, we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but not in the pronounced way that other churches do. When December rolled around, all of a sudden it was full-on Christmas. Get ready for the Sunday School Christmas pageant. Sing the carols. Read the Christmas story. Full tilt. head-on, do it or die. None of the slow, contemplative buildup. No gently taking a step, stopping to ponder, and then slowly taking another step. For me, Advent was just another word for Christmas. Now that I think about it, I never even had one of those Advent Calendars that gave you a little chocolate every day for the 24 days of December leading up to the 'big day'. (I don't think the lack of an Advent Calendar can in any way be linked to my being CE, but...?) Then I started singing in our local community choir. None of the churches were big enough to float anything of any size, but together we could belt out some of the seasonal favorites. For several years, at both Easter and Christmas, we would learn several songs, and then go to each of the churches (a wonderful spectrum of Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, United, and Pentecostal). And I was exposed to liturgy. Potent, thoughtful, non-spontaneous liturgy. It moved me. Coming from my wonderful charismatic background, it was hard to not shout "Hallelujah" some times, but the effort to keep my joy confined only made it more powerful. Now here we are in 2008. Advent is upon us. A couple weeks ago I attended an Advent service of carols and lessons. To say it was powerful would be an understatement. The church was dark, except for enough light to find a seat. The songs and readings started with some of the more somber prayers for deliverance. Then, lesson by lesson, candles were lit, lights were illuminated, and the darkness gave way to light. It took an hour, an hour of recognizing that hope might spring eternal, but doesn't necessarily mean that the answer comes in an instant. Advent. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Come and bring Your light. Come and bring Your kingdom.
Today, Advent isn't just remembering how Israel waited for hundreds of years for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled. It's not just reliving the joy that Christ's coming brought a couple millennia ago. No, it is still a cry for Christ to come. To come into our world. To come into my world. To come into me. Today.
This video is an excellent way to spend the next 3 minutes and 16 seconds.
I love the things you find while catching up with your favorite blogs. I found the following from the Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA.
It's a CD recorded by the church, which can be downloaded for free. That in itself makes it quite noteworthy, but I completely fell in love with their description of who they are: "We are Church of the Beloved, called out of our isolation and into community, fumbling into God's grace, daring to listen deeply to the Spirit and each other, and freed by Christ to work, rest, dream, and play in God's kingdom, mysteriously engaging with the Trinity in healing the world."
Advent is agitating. Is it not? Advent seems harmless enough - just waiting for Christmas to come, like it comes every year… not much hope needed there. If Advent is about remembering the baby in the manger… that’s not going to cause a lot of agitation (unless nostalgia agitates you). But if Advent is about hope, then! Then that is a powder keg of agitation.
Because hope is hard work, it’s entirely different than a wish, and it’s entirely different than positive thinking and optimism. ___________
But, hope, real hope, stays at the bedside of the sick and waits till health appears. Real hope sweats blood in the garden while best friends fall asleep. Real hope says, “God, everything looks as if you have completely abandoned me… but I will place my future in your hands.” __________
I don’t know if our churches know how to feast well, or how to throw a real party… And I don’t know if our churches know how to fast well, or how to really dirge… and it’s because we don’t know how to hope. So instead we live in the middle, the riskless and numb to the desire, middle. __________
With hope we become vulnerable to both mourning and celebration. If we hoped, we would sorrow more. If we hoped, we would party more, because real parties follow fulfilled promises and long-at-last reunions, and call for good food, good drink, good songs, and good dance.
mystery noun 1. something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained. I've been doing some reading and thinking about postmodernism lately. It's been an interest for awhile, but I think I am finally getting a better understanding. I guess 'mystery' was a good word to describe the whole idea of the shift in worldview from modern to postmodern, until now. Now it's only confusing!
One of the things I am learning is that the modern mindset permeated all of western thought so completely and for so many years (several centuries) that we can't separate it from the object being considered. In many ways, it has been the cultural lens through which we see everything—but don't realize that the lens affects everything we are looking at. You get used to the sunglasses you have on, and don't notice how they are coloring every object within your view.
Such is the case within the church as much as in science, anthropology or whatever you care to analyze. As people 'of the Book', we see scripture through our modern mindset, and consider our understanding to be exactly what God had in mind when the Book was written centuries ago. But it wasn't written by modern people, or intended to be understood from a modern perspective. (Not that moderns aren't supposed to read it, or understand it, or follow it, but that it needs to be understood as the people it was written for understood it.)
I'm not really trying to be heretical here, just laying a bit of foundation.
So, back to the concept of 'mystery'. There are lots of mysteries in the bible. The King James Bible uses the word 22 times (all in the New Testament). I expect in Bible times there were lots of things that could not be explained. And they recognized that, and accepted that. Some of these mysteries would have involved their understanding of God's ways and character, His plans for the future, His plans for individuals.
And then comes the Age of Enlightenment, times of technological advancement, science and experimentation. In other words, the modern mindset. Now people begin to expect experts to find new things, to explain old mysteries, to solve the problems around them. Cures for diseases, harnessing electrical power, inventing a plethora of gadgets. And answering all the questions stirred up in scripture. --what will happen in the future? --what moves God to perform supernatural wonders? --how can we tap into His power? --how can I live a perfect life? And so many more.
If science can find a cure for smallpox, or invent a gadget that can think for me, or send some equipment to another planet, surely there has to be a way to understand God more fully. So, we now have shelves and shelves of books that endeavor to answer all kinds of spiritual questions. Because we (as moderns) think we need and deserve to have answers for every question. We aren't satisfied with life like the ancients lived it—knowing there were mysteries, and being totally satisfied with that knowledge. Not worried that they didn't exactly know what would happen after death. Happy to know that God had it all under control.
Then there is us. Never satisfied. Always having to know. And being told 500 different answers because we still, really don't know. I think end-time prophecy is a great example. Every author has the definitive answer—that doesn't agree with the next one. Every book has a timeline—that differs from the next one. Obviously, we don't have all of the answers, and pretending that your answer is better than everyone else's is rather arrogant and presumptuous, I believe.
Back again to the concept of mystery. I think we would do better to accept the mysteries of God as just that. Mysteries. Unknown. Probably unknowable. To be accepted by faith. There may well be reasons to believe that the end of the world will happen soon, and in a certain way. After all, there are lots of prophecies in the Bible. But they are still mysterious. Not exactly laid out in black and white. BECAUSE GOD INTENDED IT THAT WAY! Perhaps we are doing God a very big dis-service by trying to open boxes He has closed. By laying out the steps to something He didn't clarify for us. By answering questions He intentionally didn't answer.
More people have been turned away from faith by our wrangling and arrogance than have been brought to faith by it. Now that modernism is giving way to postmodernism, perhaps we will soon be willing to admit that there are still mysteries in the universe. And go back to just trusting God to do things His way, in His time, without necessarily telling us in advance. Or explaining Himself. Less wrangling and nitpicking over differences of opinion on questionable points of view. Less arrogance about my point of view. Less people turned off by what they see as the Christian faith. More people interested in joining us on the journey.
I'm glad I was born when I was. It's not like I had any choice, (kind of like predestination?!) but I can sure see the benefits. If I was even just another decade older, I would probably be struggling to understand: --computers, internet, blogging, bank machines, and all kinds of other technology --'Kids these days.' I know all non-kids will always make that comment, but I dare say I have a bit more understanding than if I was even more ancient than I am. --Environmentalism. People older than me either tend to recycle automatically because they learned the value of it by growing up during harder times, or not caring too much at all. --postmodernism, and all of the attendant spiritual, practical, mental, philosophical etc. ramifications. Including the basic tenet that things are changing (have already changed a lot) and trying to go back to the 'good old days' isn't really possible—even if it was a good idea.
If I was a decade or two younger, I wouldn't have had: --the opportunity to grow up during a time of relative world peace, where I didn't have to worry about the state of the world. --the relatively peaceful home life that I and most of my peers had. Not much family breakdown happening, most kids lived with both parents and had less to need therapy for. --the opportunity to do many things manually. Not as many machines to do it for you. More opportunity to get your hands dirty working. --the chance to better understand modernism, since that was the prevailing mindset. Now that things are adjusting, I at least have experience in where we are coming from.
Now if only there was a market for people with my very valuable and unique skill set.
One of the blogs I follow (jesusmanifesto) has a great post about Thanksgiving (since today is that illustrious holiday in the US). In the interest of stirring up something, and because we as Canadians haven't been much different, I want to repeat some of it here. Feel free to read it in its entirety here.
Thanksgiving Day conjures up a happy myth about pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down and sharing a roast turkey and a veritable cornucopia of tasty treats. It is a story of survival. The starving Europeans settled in an inhospitable land, and, on the brink of starvation, found hospitality from locals. Through honest work and tenacity, the colonists survived and were able to build a great nation, occupying this great Free Land that is a beacon of light to a dark world.
It is a day where we honor our founding principles of sharing, kinship, and hard work. It is a day when we give thanks for our blessings. The blessings granted to us by our benevolent God who has decided to lay upon our strong backs the mantle of abundance and affluence. These things, we all know, must not be taken lightly. We must receive them with gratitude. And, in times like these we must express our gratitude by sharing with those less fortunate. After all, we are beacons of light.
Or, stripped of all of the propaganda and hypocrisy, we can tell the story this way:
Pilgrims came to this nation looking for a place filled with opportunities. Some came for religious freedom. Some came to start over. But all came with the hopes of prosperity. Upon arriving, the pilgrims found an abandoned village which soon became their own settlement. It was hard work building a new life. Their Protestant work ethic wasn’t enough to carry them through. Thankfully, they made friends with a local who already spoke English (Squanto) because he had learned the language while serving as a slave to colonists elsewhere. Squanto helped these pilgrims survive.
As time passed, the settlers formed an uneasy peace with the Wampanoag nearby. . At that time, the Wampanoag numbered at least 12,000–and were probably even more numerous in earlier days. But in the years that followed, they were almost wiped out. They, like many other peoples, suffered the genocide of white Christians who longed to fulfill their Manifest Destiny. As their numbers increased, the Native population decreased. Our “blessings” came at great price for those who previously occupied these lands.
In the words of the American folk classic:
This land is your land, this land is my land From California to the New York Island From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters This land was made for you and me.
I’m not sure that everyone in the USA can sing these words with joy in their hearts. It isn’t just leftist rhetoric to say that our abundant blessings have grown up from stolen lands that were harvested, in large part, by stolen labor."
Yes, I guess it's us vs. them. In this case, it's about 'us' (people of the Christian faith) and 'them' (people not of the Christian faith). I have heard stories. Horror stories, some of them. Stories about kids and young adults who grew up in 'Christian homes'. You may wonder why I put that phrase in quotes. I suppose it's because I question how true to Christ those homes were, given the results. Oh, I know we aren't perfect--not even me! But if our actions, attitudes and responses drive our kids 180 degrees away from God, I think something is fishy. The Biblical concept of 'training up a child' can work either way. It can reinforce faith. Or it can so totally mangle it that the person runs away kicking and screaming abominable curses at God, family, church, and anything else that was supposed to be a good influence.
I've had someone tell me that if he had known I was a Christian before he got to know me, he wouldn't have gotten to know me. But I established a friendship based on friendship (what a concept!), not based on being preachy. Even now, I seldom even give him much advice, unless I think he might be open to it. Let alone tell him to repent. Another guy told me I wasn't like most other Christians he had met. In the context of the rest of the conversation, I took that as a supreme compliment. I actually listened to him. I heard his views. Even his negative ones about Christianity. I tended to agree with lots of them. I am becoming a believer in what Jim (of 'Jim & Casper go to church') calls defending the space. Allowing people the room to think, to discuss, to be heard. In this era we are privileged to live in, that is more important than defending the faith.
And just a few minutes ago I ran into this paragraph in a local blog:
"Before I go any further I must be responsible to you. I should make a full disclosure of my own bias: I am pro-Christian. It is a noble creed, both as the root of Western Culture and as a route into spiritual self-development and community power. I even admire certain facets of Church life. I believe that if we strip away the liars, dogmatists, masochists, red-neck authoritarians, shameless theologians, and political opportunists, that the remaining half-a-dozen Christians will definitely be among the most sublime and vital human beings to have ever lived. So I am definitely biased in favor of a deeply organic & aesthetically profound Christianity."
So that is what some people think of us. Some of them want to stone us. Or ignore us. But some want to be our friends (if we can truly be a friend). Some would love to talk to us (if we shut up enough to listen). Some actually want to help us clean up our act (get rid of the lies, dogmatism, masochism, red-neckism, etc.) and let the character of Christ be visible.
You might say you don't care what people think about you. That you aren't here to please people, put to please God. Well, that sounds good, but in reality it usually becomes an excuse to be an (expletive deleted for those with sensitive eyes). I figure we owe it to our neighbor to be neighborly. It's what Christ would do. Look back at the things people seem to be willing to do with us, if we aren't being total jerks--be a friend, talk with us, help us become like Christ (sublime and vital). Sounds like a good plan.
I have this friend named Sophie. Well, more like acquaintance growing into friend. You know how relationships take time to grow. When I first met her, she tended to be kind of nervous around me. You could tell that she wanted to connect, but there are some things in her past that make it hard for her to trust people. I don't know the whole story, but my guess is she has suffered some abuse, and she seems to struggle with trusting men. But she wants to. She doesn't want to stay in that inner prison of fear. Food and unconditional love seem to be what is overcoming the barriers. If I am giving away some kind of snack, she makes sure she isn't left out. Often I wish it wasn't taking so long to grow this friendship. Sometimes I almost feel like giving up, that it isn't going to happen. But I persevere. Trying not to expect too much, and then happy when it looks like things are improving. Little by little, I can tell that she trusts me now. I am beginning to see signs that she isn't so nervous around me. Now she comes close, laying her wet furry nose on my knee, enjoying being tickled behind her ears. You see, Sophie is a dog. A real nice dog, but it has taken a couple years to get to this stage in our friendship. She doesn't bark at me nearly as much as she used to. I'm sure you see the point I am making. Sophie isn't that different from many of the people I meet on the street. Some pain in their past. Nervous about trusting again. But still wanting to be loved. Food and unconditional love go a long way with people, just like they do with dogs.
I got to thinking about something after reading something about the Religious right in the US. (Also quoted in Peter J. Walker's blog emergingchristian.) Here's the setup: Everything we do has some kind of reason for doing it. It can be an end it itself, or a means to a different end. I can read a book because I enjoy reading, or as part of my research for a specific project. I can eat an orange because I like oranges, or because I need the vitamin C. I can have a conversation with you because I like people, or because I want to turn the conversation into an opportunity to persuade you about something. It is this third example that segues into my conundrum. As a Christian, why do I do good things for other people? Do I have ulterior motives? Assuming I do (we all do, more often than not, I think), are these motives legitimate? Do I carry on a conversation with someone for the sheer pleasure of the interaction, or am I only looking for a way to turn that conversation into a chance to preach at them? Do I give someone a cup of cold water because they are thirsty, or so they will have to listen to my sermon? Do I toss a loonie at a panhandler because I care, or because it gives me an 'in' to find out if I should lecture them on the evils of whatever terrible habit I discover they are guilty of?
Is grace an end in itself, or just a means to ultimately be ungracious?
I think Cal Thomas raises a very important point, but I don't think his conclusion is necessarily Christ-like. Here is what he says on the subject:
"If results are what conservative Evangelicals want, they already have a model. It is contained in the life and commands of Jesus of Nazareth. Suppose millions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in an old and proven type of radical behavior. Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans," not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God's love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?"
If I understand him correctly, he is saying: 1. Conservative Evangelicals don't follow Christ's admonition to love your enemies, etc. (I'm afraid that is way too true, but this isn't the time to discuss it!) 2. 'Liberals' do often follow that admonition, but only as an end in itself. In other words, doing kind, loving, forgiving things because it is the right thing to do. (I assume that he thinks that is just not a good enough reason.) 3. Because it could be good for the bottom line (number of people in church, people added to the kingdom) CE's should start following Jesus' example. As a means to an end, it would be a good time to start being nice to your enemies.
As I type those words, I feel a real inner pain. Mostly because I see that it is true. I come from a CE history. Feeding the hungry, loving ones enemies and all of the rest of that statement was considered the (gasp!) 'social gospel', usually spoken with an underlying kind of disdain--at least that's how I perceived it. And now, as I talk with people terribly wounded by Christians at some point in their past (either in a specific encounter, or the general CE response to some aspect of their lifestyle), I see that the stereotypical CE isn't living up to the example and admonition of Christ. Either as an end, or a means to an end. I suppose that is why Thomas is encouraging at least some movement forward in this regard.
But is that the point? And I see that that question is a big one. For me, let alone anyone else. Is my sole purpose as a Christian to bring others into relationship with God? Of course that is good and worthwhile. Of course it is a goal. But is just being loving for the sake of being loving not appropriate? If I don't see any hope of 'results', does that allow me to revert to being a jerk? If my only purpose is to 'convert', my attitude will be different, my style will be different, and I will end up with my own trail of people totally turned off of God because of me. I don't think that is what God has in mind. I think being loving and compassionate may well draw someone closer to the One who really loves them But it may not. They may never respond. But I still can and should and must have compassion.
So, I believe in diversity (see last 2 posts). I believe God designed diversity. So, what's the problem?! Well, for me I guess it is this. 1. I recognize how I perceive my personality, giftings, and bent. 2. I know other people are wired differently (hence, diversity) 3. I see that other people need to be affirmed in their unique take on life. 4. I want to be affirmed in my unique take on life. 5. But I still sometimes wish I was like other people. Some other people, at least. You know, normal people. People like I was brought up to be (no need to go into any specifics, the point is we all have a past, and that past is probably morphing into our present). In, other words, sometimes I wish I wasn't different. I'd fit in better, go with the flow, just coast along. 6. Sometimes I wish other people were more like me. That they would see things my way, be focused on similar things to me. In other words, that they weren't so diverse from me. Then I would have people who would share my priorities. We would find the same things to be important, and also share the same list of things that aren't so important.
But that isn't diversity. That isn't giving God the opportunity to emphasize different things for different people. For one person to be the quintessential fire-and-brimstone, turn-or-burn evangelist. For another person to be the Mother Teresa, going to the poorest of the poor.
For one someone to put their energy into study and learning, and then creatively, methodically pass that information along to others. For another someone to spontaneously turn a conversation into an opportunity to impart grace into a searching heart.
So, I need to give in to God. To accept His choices and design for me. To move forward in my own journey, marching to the beat of a different drummer. To let the charismatic be the charismatic. To let the 'liberal' be the liberal. To let the 'conservative' be the conservative.
Not to try to change them. Not to let them try to change me.
To be a thumb when it seems everyone else is an eye.
Methinks there is need for a lot of grace. But truly, I am grateful for the way God made me, and the opportunities to live out my unique place in the world.
In light of my previous post on diversity, I want to pass along some insight from john Ortberg's “God is closer than you think”. It spoke to me of the value of our rich variety of church traditions and styles, and some of the holes in how we try to provide opportunities for people to encounter God in our traditional church settings. Ortberg's book seeks to encourage us that God can be found in many places that we don't expect. One chapter that really speaks to diversity and learning to celebrate it is 'Spiritual Pathways'. He shares 7 different styles of how people might be wired to find intimacy with God. Some of them are easily recognizable as 'legitimate' church styles. Others seem to be off the radar for much of the church. Here are the 7 Ortberg lists: 1.Intellectual pathway. Those who draw close to God as they learn about Him. Studying is key. 2.Relational pathway. Significant relationships (small groups, for example) provide a perfect place to meet God. You love being with people. 3.Serving pathway. Helping others is the key way to love God. 4.Worship pathway. Music, praise and adoration provide the vehicle for intimate fellowship with God. Just gotta have music! 5.Activist pathway. They walk out their commitment to God by doing something. With great zeal. 6.Contemplative pathway. Private reflection, meditation, and time alone with God. People are just distractions. 7.Creation pathway. Being in God's creation provides the best place to connect with the Creator. It would be easy to say one of these is better than the others, that it conforms better to the Bible, that it is more 'spiritual'. However, it would not be true. However, that's the delusion we seem to be laboring under. Most of our expressions of 'church' tend to major on styles 1 and 4, with the rest ignored or left for a few exceptional saints. As God has wired us differently when it comes to spiritual gifts, so it is true in how He has wired us to connect with Him. Singing a 'worship song' isn't inherently more godly than taking a walk in the park or marching against injustice. In these days of uncertainty about the validity of the church in our culture, it would be good for us to recognize the diversity of ways God created for people to connect with Him. Majestic cathedrals might do it for you, or maybe you need a quiet room or a good book. Maybe you have to stay home from 'church' once in awhile so you can really meet with God. As we re-think what church is, why it exists, and what it could look like, we need to broaden our understanding to see the diverse ways people might be looking to experience the Divine. Giving them more of the same old cliched expressions won't attract them, or benefit them if they are enticed in. The traditional church setting of stained glass windows and a Sunday morning service doesn't meet every need. Some people need a cause to fight for, a need to help with, or a place to meditate. We can bridge the gap if we embrace the diversity God has designed, and facilitate some different expressions of how to connect with God.
I think one of my 'life messages' is the conviction that we are created with different personalities, gifts and ways of doing things. The diversity is very much a part of God's plan, and we are intended to learn how to live out this diversity in unity. Paul talks about each of us being different parts of the body. For me, that thought is very liberating. It allows me to be different than you, to notice different things, to respond in different ways, to have a different purpose on this earth. That means I might fit in a different mold than you. I will be more comfortable with some people than others. I will align myself with a different group of people (church denomination, political party, or interest group) than you will. We tend to see how this all works within the notion of spiritual gifts, but not necessarily in large areas like theology or politics, although the basis is the same. We see things differently, and make our decisions accordingly. In the past, I might have looked down on (as 'less spiritual') those who voted for a different political party or attended a different church than me. I would have justified such judgmentalism on 'theology'--my understanding of God's truth. But more recently I have begun to realize that even our understanding of scripture is based on how we perceive the world. I might jump up and down and say my theology is 'Bible-based', but in reality it is based on how my upbringing and culture understand the Biblical text. Understanding the text based on the point of view of the original hearers is very important when forming our understanding of it today. It was written by people from a specific cultural setting, so it must be understood in the light of that culture. In the same way, I need to admit that my present understanding of scripture is colored by my culture. Even if I claim to take the Bible 'literally', in reality my history influences how I read it—what I put greater emphasis on, how I believe it speaks to me, what portions I read. So, there is a wonderful diversity in the body of Christ. Now I realize, sometimes this is more division than diversity. But that is a result of thinking there is a final, complete, 'right' way of seeing everything, and we can attain that in this lifetime. Division comes when I think I have the final word from God, and anything else is heresy. Diversity comes when I see that God has given me a piece of the whole pie, and you a different piece. Division is when I fight for my perspective, and belittle yours. Diversity comes when I value you as much as I value me. Division says I only want to hang out with people who think like me, look like me, act like me. Diversity says I can see the nature of God in someone who sees things differently than I do, and I celebrate that. More on one of the practical expressions of diversity in my next post.
I'm grateful for my friends --the 'real' ones I see periodically, drink coffee with, shoot the bull, or even talk turkey. (Nice animal metaphors, no?). --the 'virtual' ones that I read stuff from. Blogs, facebook, etc. Even though there are those that I probably won't ever get to sit and guzzle caffeine with, I am learning to appreciate their heart, their theology, their angst. I am finding myself more and more interested in those who aren't willing to take everything for granted, aren't accepting everything handed to them neatly pigeonholed and indisputable.
I'm grateful I am Canadian. I will never understand the US system of voting--to me it seems even worse than the Canadian system in so far as actually placing people in government that accurately represent the proportionate feeling of the population. To say nothing about the terrible weaknesses in a two-party system. So you have to elect someone who is the lesser of two evils? Of course, in Canada we have the unenviable possibility of having minority governments, and that doesn't seem much better.
I can really see the value of the Golden Rule. In my own words--"Live your life so that if everyone lived like you do, the world would be a better place." I continually notice people who appear to have no regard for others--no politeness, common courtesy, or even awareness of things around them. OK, I'll stop before this turns into a rant.
Final note in honour (note the non-US spelling!) of the US election tomorrow: God help America! Much as I am totally happy to live north of the border (the US-Canadian border, for those of you not aware of such things); I realize that the whole world ultimately is affected by the guy in the White House. The choice made tomorrow will affect the direction the world moves in the years ahead. Again I say, God help America!
I would guess that the song Amazing Grace is probably the most beloved of all Christian songs. It seems that almost everyone knows about the song, whether people of faith or not. Why do we love it so much? I suppose because we love to know that the God we may not even believe in is a gracious God. He is bigger than our sin. He loves us even when we sin. He finds us when we are lost. You probably know the story of the song. That it was written by a former slave trader. That over a period of years his life was drastically changed. It is a simple, powerful song. I heard it again last night, sung by a choir. In itself, that is not too amazing. As I said earlier, many people love the song, because it tells us of God's love. Although we may not have been slave traders, we all can identify with 'I once was lost, but now am found.' The thing I found particularly poignant last night was the fact that this was being sung by a black choir. A black South African choir (the Soweto Gospel Choir). It's one thing for a white converted slave trader to rejoice in the grace of God. It's another thing for a black person to sing about it. A black whose ancestry comes from a group of people who were slaves a few centuries ago. A black from a nation still recovering from the oppressive rule of a white minority.
It's one thing to be forgiven of your sin. It's another thing to be able to forgive someone for their sin against you. It definitely takes the grace of God. The Amazing Grace of God.
Gravity noun 1. (physics) the force of attraction between all masses in the universe; especially the attraction of the earth's mass for bodies near its surface; "the more remote the body the less the gravity"; "the gravitation between two bodies is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them"; "gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love"--Albert Einstein gravity. Dictionary.com. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gravity (accessed: October 21, 2008).
Since the Creator of the universe not only designed spiritual laws, but physical ones as well, it should not be surprising that there will be some similarities between them. So, it seems completely logical to me that the strength of the gravitational pull between God and me involves: 1. the mass (size) of the two objects involved (me and God), and 2. how close they are to each other.
In other words, if at least one of the objects is large, it has a large gravitational attraction towards other things. And, if those two things start out fairly close together, they will be drawn even closer together by the power of the larger one.
If I need to spell it out even plainer: Even when I am far away from God, He draws me towards Himself. The closer I get to Him, the greater is His pull on me. If I want to be closer to God, part of it depends on me.
I feel like blogging about blogging. Talk about art imitating life imitating art....! Blogging and keeping up with your favorite blogs is kind of like facebooking. It appears to be connecting, relating, keeping up with old friends. But is it? Miles wide, and an inch deep (or whatever metric equivalent you want to use.) Pouring out the top couple layers of your soul, but not necessarily the really deep stuff. Or, if you are prone to go deep, is it really a connection with other people? Is it the same as sitting down over a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, staring deep into each others' eyes, spilling your guts? Or is it like visiting a psychiatrist—baring your soul to someone, but not really growing a relationship. More just tossing ideas into the air, and hoping someone will catch them. Maybe that's part of my beef. Talking face to face with someone kind of forces them to respond in some way, even if it's an: “I don't really care about that.” or a “Sorry, not willing to go there right now.” The whole blog/facebook/whatever doesn't really force a response. If you're lucky, someone reading it will feel strongly enough to comment, but at best that's a couple lines, and the conversation is probably over. I guess true friendship is deeper than that. There's a level of accountability that calls for a gut level response, not just a couple lines to show that you are reading the guy's blog. I think it's the conversation thing that is missing. The rapid-fire, not worrying about choosing the best word, let the chips fall where they may aspects of a conversation. The possibility of sticking your foot in your mouth, saying something you shouldn't, but will be forgiven for. The ability for true passion to be expressed. Anger, disagreement, or, on the other hand, the excited expressions of absolute agreement. It's hard to show true passion in just words on a page or computer screen. It encourages the use of a thesaurus in order to truly express the thought, since your face and body language is absent, but it tends to be fairly impersonal. Another part of the issue is that blogs etc. are for the masses, not just for one person sitting across the table from you. You can't tailor a blog entry for a specific person. It's good to have a 'sample' in your mind of your 'target demographic', but just listen to how impersonal that sounds compared to chatting over a cup of coffee in your favorite shop.
All of that being said, sometimes I like to blog! Something hits me, and it becomes a good excuse for putting the thoughts down on paper (or keyboard). Without the chance of an audience, I probably wouldn't get around to putting these thoughts down. They would be lost for all time, the symphony that was never written, the Mona Lisa that was never captured on canvas. OK, I realize that is a bit presumptuous, but I have to dream!
I guess I'm coming full circle. Seeing the value of impersonal entries on some form of social website, but really needing the face-to-face of an encounter over coffee.
Give me a call, we'll 'do' coffee! (You're buying!)
I was praying for a friend of mine, and thinking: “Lord, He's a cool guy, and it would be really good if ...” and then it washed over me like a ton of bricks. OK, like a tonne of bricks (the metric unit for something big and heavy). No, more like a tsunami, with water, not bricks because they don't flow very well. Anyway, you get the picture. Here's what was so awesomely revealed in my human-sized brain. God doesn't answer our prayers based on how deserving we or the other person may be. He doesn't love us because of how wonderful we are. Nothing (and I mean nothing) comes to us from God based on our deserving of it.
Am I more loved by God because I am white? No Does He think I rate extra blessings because I am Canadian? Nope. Because I speak English? I am of European descent? I give change to people on the street?
Here's where it starts getting closer to home. Does He love me more because I am a Christian? NO. Because I pray right, believe right, live right? A thousand times NNOOOOO!!!
God loves me. He loves you. For God so loved the world. That's why grace is sometimes defined as 'undeserved favor'. Because it is undeserved. Thanks be to God.
Is your past or present church experience kind of like eating oatmeal? You know, that hot breakfast 'cereal of champions' that your Mother used to make every morning? --that you wouldn't have willingly eaten, except your Mother made you eat it. --that she told you was good for you, but you were never really convinced. --that, like _________ brand of cereal “ Along with milk, fruit and orange juice was part of a nutritious breakfast” (Except that the breakfast would have been just as nutritious without the __________ brand cereal) --that was kind of bland and tasteless by itself, and only started being enjoyable when she put raisins in it, or brown sugar on it. --that you quit eating as soon as you moved away from home, and started eating stuff that was more fun.
Are your thoughts about your past church experience kind of like your thoughts about oatmeal? Have you quit or become less faithful in your attendance in recent years?
Please don't think I am trying to lay a guilt trip. In the past few months I have been becoming more aware of this phenomenon, and would much rather see the church change from an institution to an organism, a place where there is life and joy, not drudgery and duty.
Guess what! You are not alone!
George Barna (The Barna Group) is a well-known student of the church. His group has done much research and analysis of religious trends in the US. 'Barna noted that the millions of young unchurched have no understanding of or interest in a church, even if it is "contemporary" in style. "Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices."' Barna's research shows that “more than three out of five (62%) unchurched adults consider themselves to be Christian. (2006), and 44% claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. (2006)”
In other words, there are a large number of people by Barna's definition of unchurched (an adult (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).) who have a faith in Christ, but do not attend church.
A fellow blogger analyzed the US General Social Survey stats for 2000-2004 and came up with these church attendance percentages for those who consider themselves Christians: Never, 10.4% Yearly, 32.5% Monthly, 19.1% Weekly, 38.1%
Those statisticians who wonder if people accurately report things like church attendance have discovered that, particularly for those who consider themselves regular attenders, they say they were in church in the past seven days, even if they happened to actually not be there last week. Not in an effort to deceive, but in a desire to properly reflect the fact that they do consider themselves faithful. So, the reported percentages of regular attendance are probably over-reported, and even less people are actually in church. This appears to be supported by comparing church-reported statistics, and poll data.
If you expect that someone who says they go to church would be there fairly consistently, it's easy to see that perhaps 50% of people who identify themselves as Christians aren't regular church attenders (please remember that these are US numbers—overall Canadian church attendance is lower, but the ratios are probably similar).
Not only is all of this a telling description of the present state of society in general, and individuals in particular, but it also needs to aim us in the right direction. Not to try to entice people back to church with cuter programs, but to rethink the whole institution in a much deeper way. What do we as Christ-followers really need to help us be better followers? Is the impersonal 'Sunday morning fix' concept of church part of the reason many people don't bother going? Does 'megachurch' miss the point of Acts 2:42 They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Perhaps it is better to hang out with a fellow Christian for coffee, play a round of golf together, or serve together in some tangible ministry project than to be just another 'pew warmer' on Sunday morning.
Maybe it's time to change the breakfast menu from oatmeal to something like steak and eggs or pancakes or fruit salad.
So, I'm checking out my favorite blogs. (Found a few awesome ones, by the way.) I'm inspired, challenged, encouraged by the words and thoughts of others. And I think: "I haven't written anything for a couple weeks. No inspiration, no burning message to impart to my disciples. What's wrong?" For me, the urge to write something usually comes from a bit of revelation. Some thought starts swirling around the galaxies of my brain, and develops into something somewhat cohesive. I hope. The muse strikes, and having struck, moves on. When it doesn't happen, I don't write. Pretty simple, I guess. But reading other people's stuff gets me wanting to write. To have deep, philosophical, world-changing thoughts. So, being a strong believer that God communicates with us today, I ask/beg/demand that He show me something worth writing about. As if I can make God do anything! That I can force Him to talk to me. Sure, I know He is especially fond of me (Check out The Shack for further enlightenment on that one.) But that doesn't mean I can make Him do something at the drop of a hat. Sure, many times He has answered my desperate calls for immediate wisdom to make a good decision (and sometimes I have even followed His direction!) But still! And I know He loves to be in communion with me. He totally desires for me to share all of the little and big things of my life with Him. But...! Can I just sit here and say: "God, talk to me. I think now is the time that I need to hear something. I think that now is the time for me to move forward in my knowledge. I think now is the time for me to gain new understanding." I think God has the right to decide if I am ready for some new level of understanding. I think He gets to say: "It's not time yet. You don't need to know the answer to that question yet. I'll show you in good time. Don't get your knickers in a knot. Hang on, and Trust Me."
So, I'm not writing about some new revelation about something. This isn't a catchy little turn of phrase that will have you going "WOW!" I guess it's a recognition that God is God. And I'm not.
What is the worst that could happen if we started living and loving like Jesus? If we actually started building relationships with 'the least of these' that Jesus calls us to? Mat 25:40 “Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me--you did it to me.'” There are lots of people that could fit into that 'overlooked or ignored' group. The qualifications vary for each of us. Perhaps one of the various sub-cultures I talked about in my post on culture: --the pierced and tattooed --the homeless --the gays, the prostitutes, the addicted --the punks, the emos, the goths --the hardcore, the straightedge, the headbangers --the non-whites, the non-English, the non-American You know the person you are most likely to walk past on the street, trying not to make eye contact.
But what is the worst that could happen if you actually made a friend with one of 'those kind of people'?
Peter Walker challenged me with the question, particularly referring to being a friend of a gay person: “what if someone thinks I'm 'one of them?!?'” (Realizing that many Christians treat gays like the biggest scourge on the earth) That's the kind of worry we might have, that's one of the worst-case scenarios we might be worried about. So, let's confront our fears, and dream up some more of the 'What's the worst that could happen?' screenplays in our minds.
In many cases, I think we are worried about being tarred with the same brush, treated as part of the same group. Whether it is a gay person, a prostitute or someone on drugs, we are worried that our lily-white reputation might be tarnished. We might lose our friends, we might not be looked up to any more. It happened to Jesus, so don't be too surprised if you get treated in a similar fashion. Mat 9:10 Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. Mat 9:11 When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?" We are a lot more worried about how we feel than with how they feel. So really, our fear is that we will be treated like Jesus was treated—looked down on, talked about. If that is more important to us than loving them, we are missing the whole point.
Maybe you are worried about catching something from a homeless person—some terrible disease, or lice, or actually having to touch them, or caring enough to take them for a meal. Well, it wouldn't be any worse than they deal with all day long. Do you think they enjoy not having easy access to a shower or clean clothes? Do you think they really like suffering with a cold that just won't go away all winter long?
What about hanging around people with different musical tastes than you, having different political views than you, or dressing in a very different style than you? Are you worried that they might actually affect how you think about things? That you might change your political views or perception of society? That you might discover that the 'Christian' way you were taught to see life might not be completely accurate? That you might have to admit that you really don't completely understand an issue, and need to think about it some more? That you might have to admit your dogmatic view needs to be changed? That they might actually be (Gasp!) 'right', and you are (Double Gasp!!) 'wrong'? You might even begin to understand why they have issues with society/adults/Christians.
It has become so easy to assume that our culture is the best one, the only one. That we have figured out the best way to do things. That 'the Canadian (or American) Way' is God's way. That any teaching about anything is from us to them (whoever you perceive them to be at the moment). We honestly don't think other cultures can show us anything of value. This tends to be as true about other national cultures as the sub-cultures around us. Do we see how arrogant that really is? Can we see how much beauty and wisdom we are missing?
So, the worst that could happen as we begin to treat people as Jesus would, as we are friends with people different than ourselves: --we might see how it feels to be treated as a second-class member of society --we might be treated like Jesus was treated --we might get our hands dirty --we might have our minds expanded --we might experience life and beauty from the broader perspective of more than just our own culture.
Google the following phrase: Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.' Gil Bailie and you will discover several pages of people who find it a source of inspiration. I found it on a friend's Facebook profile, and thought I'd check it out. I think what caught my attention was that it says something quite similar to how I prefaced some remarks I made yesterday at a fellowship called 'The Sheep'. I hadn't planned on starting out that way. It was one of those moments when you can hardly keep up with the words coming out of your own mouth fast enough to keep the heresy filter in place. If I can remember the gist of what I was saying, it was along the lines of: “If you really aren't enjoying what you are doing in life, you are probably missing out on a lot of what God intends for you. He has given you skills and passions, and if you aren't using them, you are probably bored, depressed, or stressed. If you are using them, you will be enjoying your life and work more, and will be closer to how God intended you to be. “ We had sung 'Shout to the Lord ' and 'Jesus, all for Jesus' during worship, and the following lines had really stuck out in my spirit: 'Let every breath, all that I am, Never cease to worship You.' (Shout to the Lord, by Darlene Zschech) 'Jesus, all for Jesus; All I am and have, and ever hope to be.' (Jesus, all for Jesus by Robin Mark)
And it wasn't a sense of “I have to give everything up, to lose all my personal identity in order for God to be blessed in and through my life”, but “I have to really use everything I have been given, be truly myself in order for God to really be lifted up through my life.”
God has given us skills, gifts, passions, talents, urges, and dreams. We really aren't going to feel fulfilled until these things start happening in our day to day lives. If you are a frustrated musician, working as a software designer you might be making good money but not feel like you are really making a difference in the world. You would likely feel much better about yourself, and recognize your place in God's kingdom if you quit your good job and become the musician you always felt you wanted to be. Now I realize you should think it through a bit, count the cost of giving up a good paying job, and all of that, but personal fulfillment (or using your talents, or following your passions) will give you more satisfaction in life than making money. Besides, if you really want to be obedient to God, doesn't it make sense that you should be doing the things He planned from the beginning for you to do? Why else do you think you have musical skills, and a desire to be able to move people with your music? (If you follow my advice, and it works, I'll be happy to share the glory. If you end up losing everything, playing guitar on the street, it wasn't my idea!)
So, I agree with the quote from Gil Bailie. Do what makes you come alive. It will energize you. It will multiply the effect of your life. It will make the world a better place.
I can see how it has been happening in my life. I'm feeling more alive and fulfilled now as a volunteer missionary than when I was working my way up the corporate ladder. I know I am making the world a better place (at least the little part of the world I am in). I know more of my gifts and passions are being used. And I think people around me can probably see that I am more alive.
Think of all of the ramifications of the folllowing words: Culture. Multiculture. Cross culture. Subculture. Counterculture.
How many cultures do we have in Canada? Our middle-class European English-speaking culture. WASP. Our French-Canadian culture. First Nations We still have some specific remnants of German, Ukrainian, Italian and other European cultures. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and other Asian Islander, African, South American and so many more.
So, we are a very multicultural nation. This provides lots of opportunity for cross cultural ministry without even leaving home. But that is only one aspect of our cultural mosaic. The adult, historical, generational, geographical cultural aspect. The kind passed along from parents to children. Then we have all of the subcultures: hippy, Gen X, post modern, anarchist, punk, goth, emo, metal, skater etc. People drawn together and held together by politics, music, clothing, etc. These cultural ties are every bit as strong as that of the early settlers drawn together by common history and language. Songs, clothing, stories—all reinforcing their own uniqueness. Some of these subcultural groupings formed unintentionally. People so against mainstream materialism that they became countercultural. Hippies, yippies, anarchists, punks, etc. Together working to tear down the establishment.
And where do we find the church in all of this? Pretty much middle class. The upwardly mobile. WASPs. By and large we aren't from the other side of the tracks any more. We are big. We are powerful. We are right (in more than one sense of the word!) Let me mount my soapbox for a moment. I have appreciated the encouragement from different authors to change from a position of dogma to dialogue, to wanting to discuss an issue instead of trying to prove why I am right. As one author has put it, we need to move from defending the faith to defending the space. After all, if I am being honest I will have to admit that I don't know it all, and may well be wrong, even on those things I feel quite sure about. If you can't visualize how pushy we Christians can be, think about a discussion you have probably had with someone about what version of the Bible you use, or their view of Bible prophecy. We can really get quite vehement when we figure we are right—which is most of the time. Final thought—we aren't as right as we think we are!
But where was Jesus? Where was He really accepted? Not by the religious elite, but by the commoner, the down-trodden, the alien, the second-class.
So what does this mean for us? Although it is OK that the predominant culture accepts the church, our message is totally multicultural, subcultural, and countercultural. Our message of love, acceptance, forgiveness, affirmation, healing and hope really should connect with the fringes. We are totally shooting ourselves in the foot by only being middle class, white and conservative. The chunk of society so well-represented in our churches is just a narrow slice of the whole pie. Next time you are in church on a Sunday morning, look around you. Where are the pierced and tattooed? Where are the homeless? Where are the gays, the prostitutes, the addicted? Where are the punks, the emos, the goths? Where are the hardcore, the straightedge, the headbangers? Where are the non-whites, the non-English, the non-American? If they don't feel at home with us (and most of them wouldn't, at least in our traditional church settings), if they don't feel loved and accepted—where do they go? Back to their subculture where their dissatisfaction with society is understood, where they are accepted and affirmed for who they are. Think about the population of your neighborhood high school. What percentage of them would identify themselves as part of one of the above groups? 50%? 75%? 90%? Ever wonder why not many teens or young adults are in church? Maybe they just know they don't belong. It's not so much a matter of us putting up with their alternative lifestyle, but acknowledging their right to choose it. It's not saying “I'll pretend I don't see your piercings, spiked hair, or hear your loud music”, but more “I understand your disillusion with society, I appreciate your desire to make a difference, I'll march with you against injustice, (or the environment, or whatever)”. For most of us, that in itself is a huge step. Most of us stop dead in our tracks in the presence of someone from any of the above subcultures. We need to go way beyond the ability to tolerate 'one of them', to a genuine effort to befriend and understand them. Did Jesus say: “Come to me and leave your language and customs behind, cut your hair, put on a suit, learn our lingo and quit listening to that terrible music”? Or did He say: “Come to me and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my expectations aren't difficult.” (Matthew 11:28) If we are more worried aobut their ability to affect us than our ability to affect them, we need to have a bigger understanding of God's power, and who He has called us to be.
The modern missionary movement of the past couple centuries turned Africans into black Europeans—dressed in our clothes, singing our songs, looking to the European as the Great White Father. We have finally started to separate culture from message in other countries, but we have a ways to go here at home. No, I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable in a hip-hop worship service, or at a Christian metal concert—but so what? It isn't all about me. God can be honored just as well by a Fijian dance or the patches sewn onto a punk guys jacket as by me singing 'Shout to the Lord' on Sunday along with a worship band. We look at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Although many of the subcultures around us seem impenetrable, often they are filled with the insecurity of a bunch of teenagers trying to fit in. Vastly different on the outside, but feeling very similar emotions of loneliness or disorientation on the inside. So often a gentle word, an open mind, and a listening ear is all that is needed to begin a friendship. Part of it is overlooking the outside differences, but a bigger part is truly sharing the heart of this 'alien'. Are you willing to be a friend with someone who: has 6 visible piercings? listens to 'terrible' music? is gay, transgender or something other than straight? lives on the street, panhandling and dumpster diving in order to survive? shows the physical and mental results of an addiction? figures Christians are closed-minded, bigoted jerks? has a limited vocabulary, frequently sprinkled with words beginning with 'F'?
None of these are easy, often they really try your patience. Are you willing to still be their friend in 2 years when they are still the same, only more so? When they have contracted hep C or AIDS from unsafe sex or needle use? Often our underlying agenda is to give them 2 months or 6 months or whatever. If they don't turn around in that time, we'll dump them and move on. Did Jesus call us to love them only if they are ready to conform to our standards? Part of that goes back to our inappropriate expectation for people to become like us if they choose to follow Christ—to dress like us, sound like us, act like us. Part of it is a willingness to love only if they decide to 'get saved'. True Christ-like love isn't love if. It's love. Period.
The Good Samaritan didn't cross the street so he wouldn't feel guilty about walking by. He didn't use religious duty as an excuse for ignoring the guy in need. He took the time and money necessary to see the fellow healed. He crossed cultural barriers. He really cared. He made a difference. He was a true neighbor. The kind of neighbor I would want when I am in need, attacked by life and left on the side of the road.
WWJD? That's what.
(Just to balance theory with actual practice—it's not that I find most of this easy, because I don't. I've often missed opportunities to be Jesus because I was in a hurry to catch my bus, or something equally less important. But I still know what God is calling me to, and striving to live more like Him.)
You've probably heard about the ability of an opera singer to hit a high note, and have the crystal glasses shatter. That might not be so wonderful for your collection of crystal, but the concept is a wonderful way of illustrating how thought processes grow in intensity. Let me elaborate...
Over the past months (years, actually), I have been recognizing the need to grow in my understanding of the shifts happening in our culture. I can see that we are in a different world, but don't necessarily understand all that is going on. So, I start my journey. Trying to listen to the world around me. Trying to learn the language. To read the signs. To somehow begin to get in the groove (to steal imagery from another time). I hear a word like postmodern that certainly points to a new paradigm, but doesn't exactly explain itself. At times it feels like I am alone in this journey. So much of the church (and other large segments of society) seems to carry along merrily in the same boat we have been in for years. Trying to fish with the same bait, speaking the same language, seeing through the same pair of sunglasses (to mix metaphors). So, I'm wondering if there really is a culture shift going on. Then I read a book or two that seem to not only confirm my awareness of change, but begin to reveal what this change looks like. (Check out my Shelfari page for what I have been reading lately.) People who are either explaining a bit of what Gen X or Y, or postmodern is, or demonstrating it in everyday life. How some people are actually breaking out of the patterns we have walked in for years. It's not that they are trying to change the system. They know the system is changing, and they are operating under the new rules. They aren't advocating change, they are advocating understanding of the change that is occurring. Time goes on, and I dare to read more of the stuff being written. Some people love it, it speaks in their language, it points with hope to new roads that journey to the same place we are all desiring to reach. Others fear it, negate it, pretend it doesn't exist. They keep reinforcing the traditional methods. (Let me get a bit more concrete, more specific, more 'Christian'. Some of the new writings are slaughtering sacred cows that are considered to be as absolute as gravity. The titles give it away: 'The End of Religion', 'Repenting of Religion' to name a couple. I can understand the fear: “These guys are destroying the authority of scripture, they are heretics, they are false prophets.” But somehow, there is a lot of truth that resonates in my spirit as I read and learn. The call is to separate truth from practice, to recognize that no one has a total understanding of truth. There is always a place to re-think and grow.)
So this brings me to the concept of resonance. I read a book. I have a conversation. Something vibrating in the heart and spirit of the person I am reading matches the vibrations in my own heart. Something that has touched my friend's heart has already been touching mine. The vibrations grow in intensity. Iron sharpens iron. Their journey comes alongside my journey, and together we are brought into an alignment. There may be slight variations, but the conversation allows both of us to see things through new eyes and come to a deeper understanding. For me, this has been happening in a number of areas, all of which seem to be threads of the same cord. Threads of understanding postmodernism. Understanding some of the sub- and counter-cultures that swirl around me. Being incarnational and missional in my faith. Recognizing the need for re-inventing the way the Church sees itself, and how it impacts society.
The past couple weeks have been quite insightful. As I have hung out for a few days with fellow staff of the Christian Mission I serve with (Youth With A Mission), and as I have talked with friends and family 'back home' I realize that God is nudging many of us in the same direction. One of the ways I sense and confirm what God is saying in my heart is by listening to see if others are hearing the same thing. I am convinced that it is so. God is allowing us and challenging us to move. To seriously seek to understand our own faith, and not necessarily accept what we now believe as ultimate truth. (No, I'm not questioning things like the deity of Christ, or the atonement, but I am endeavoring to be more open to think about things like style and method in my presentation of the things that matter.) I see many of my cohorts finding ways to be incarnational and missional—living out their faith and following the example of Christ within their communities. I see many people considering new ways of expressing themselves within a community of faith (the Church, if you will). I see people willing to rock the boat in order to stay afloat. (Now, there's an interesting image!) I feel the Spirit's wind blowing. I am excited to continue my efforts at understanding the cultures around me, and to be intentionally involved. This has already been a great 10 days, and I still have another week to find even more confirmation, to vibrate even stronger with the resonance of the wind of the Spirit. You better hide your crystal, this fat lady is about to sing! (I just couldn't resist the opportunity to end that way!)
I was thinking about how gears mesh together. One fits into the other, smoothly one interacts with the other one, together they perform some form of useful purpose. Then it became obvious fairly quickly that meshing can describe how two (or more) people work together. So then I started thinking about the various ways we might visualize two people accomplishing something together. When it comes to personalities and abilities, we could say two people are identical. Now that isn't very likely, since there will be differences. Even if both are gifted musicians, for example, each will have their own uniqueness. However, let's say that both are alike. If they were somehow turned into a chart or a diagram, one would be the same as the other. In some ways, one would be unnecessary, since that one would be duplicating what the first one was able to accomplish—other than the benefit of have twice as much strength to accomplish the task together. So, you could have two identical people doing a job together.
Then, you could have two people whose gifts overlap in some areas, and are unique in others. As they work together on a project, some areas would be done with a lot of discussion as each one contributed wisdom and together they discuss (argue!) which idea was more worthy of consideration. This would particularly occur in the areas where their skills overlapped. Each one would know that their own idea was very good. In the areas that they had no strength, they would probably be more willing to acquiesce to the gifted partner. Still, they would get the job done. It would be done with the benefit of both people's experience and wisdom.
Then there are two very different people doing something together. Where one person recognizes they have little strength, they easily turn to the one who has the experience. Together the gears mesh beautifully. (This is my parable, so it can all be a bed of roses!!) Each willingly, even joyfully allows the other to express their uniqe talents. Each moves forward boldly in the areas of their own ability. Perhaps one is more of the driving force, but the other is happy to be empowered, to receive from the other, to take what is given and turn it into something of even greater value.
There are many kinds of partnerships in life. Sure, marriage is an obvious one, but there are many settings where we have the opportunity to cooperate. The responsibility is shared, and so is the reward.
What's the moral of my little gear parable? It's always beneficial to have a good idea of your own abilities, giftings, and callings. It doesn't have to be pride to say “I believe I have the ability to help in this area of responsibility.” Then, it's also good to recognize your areas of lesser strength. You could call it weakness, but it isn't a negative thing to realize that you don't play the piano. Leave that to someone who does, and you can be just as helpful by being the one who bakes the cookies, or stacks the chairs, or fixes cars. If you are working in tandem on some project, figure out the things you can contribute, the things the other person can contribute, and the things you might be able to cooperate on. If you both are good photographers, share the joy. Celebrate each others great Kodak moments. Then excel at the individual parts that you each will add to the whole affair. In any kind of team effort, I think it would be good to recognize the following caution: Don't expect the other person to necessarily totally understand where you are coming from, or to bend to operate the same way you do. If you are two gears meshing together (or two jigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together), you won't be the same, but together you will form the whole. Your purpose is not to make the other conform, but together perform the task at hand. I like the quote attributed to Mrs. Ruth Graham regarding marriage: 'If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.’
Have you ever put together a piece of do-it-yourself furniture? You know, an IKEA shelf unit, or a computer desk. Maybe even a garden shed. The whole idea is to save a couple $$ by doing it yourself--but you still want it to look perfect, and be done in two hours. I recently watched a documentary about a cathedral in Spain called Sagrada Familia. It's been under construction for awhile. Over 120 years, to be more precise. And it isn't finished yet, not for a few decades--even with today's technology. Done perfectly--yup. Done quickly--nope.
There are a couple of large churches in downtown Victoria a block apart. One building is nearly 100 years old, the other even older. Magnificent structures, but they weren't built in an afternoon. Both of these cathedrals are made of brick. By itself a brick is pretty small, but together they form a pretty impressive building. They must have taken years to build--maybe not as long as the Sagrada Familia, but still a long time. Layer on layer, brick by brick. Constantly checking that everything is level and plumb. I expect that the bricklayers knew the job wouldn't be done this week, this month, or even this year. Or, like the present architect of the Sagrada Familia project expects, not even in their lifetime. Still, day by day the building takes shape. Towers, stained glass, and finally pews and pulpit.
God knows His church isn't built in a day. It's a life-long process. Line upon line, precept on precept. Bit by bit our lives become shaped into His image and character. He has patience, we should too. As we live out our lives in relationships, we often want people to change overnight. What was once an empty lot we want to turn into a cathedral by Saturday. That's not how it happens. It's here a little, there a little. Bit by bit our friendships grow. Bit by bit our friends are changed into God's image. Be patient. Keep plugging.
I admit it. I'm proud to be a Canadian. Proud. Blessed. Happy. Proud to be born in a country known for it's peaceable, supportive spirit. Blessed to have a passport that is welcome everywhere. (Actually, my passport has expired, but that's not the point!) Happy to come from a land with a history of many social programs that support all our citizens.
Our flag is loved everywhere. Some non-Canadians have been known to sew our flag on their luggage instead of their own for the good will they know they will encounter.
We are known world-wide for our skill and passion for peacekeeping.
Our scenery and wide-open spaces are the envy of many.
Our leaders had the courage to apologize to our First Nations people for past atrocities.
Our openness to people of all cultures is world renowned.
So, a lot of this surfaced during our recent Canada Day celebrations. As I was waiting with thousands of others for the fireworks to begin, I had a great conversation with a visitor from Kuwait. his son is attending school here, and he and his family had come for a visit. He commented very positively on Canada's reputation as a source of help and assistance internationally, not conflict. (As an aside, his name is Abdul which means 'Worshipper'. What a great name!)
I was struck with the value of freedom as I wandered among thousands of people, many of them teenagers. --freedom to dress any way they chose (including t-shirts with questionable messages). --freedom to be drunk in public (not that they were allowed to drink in public, but many of them had obviously had a few before they came.) --freedom of speech, although the choice of vocabulary was not a strong point!
No, I didn't appreciate the noise level on the bus (including four letter words, etc.), but I value the fact that we have the freedom to say what we want.
No, I don't like to see our flag dragging on the ground as someone's cape, but I'm glad they are proud enough of it to wear it.
The balancing truth also relates to freedom: Freedom is a privilege, usually won through great effort on someone's part. For that reason, it should be, even must be treated with respect. Otherwise, it will disappear without notice until it is too late. For example, the democratic right to vote and have a say in the decisions our politicians make needs to be exercised, or the few who actually make the decisions will not reflect the will of the people. Freedom of speech is a right and privilege. If abused, it may be curtailed and those whose point of view needs to be heard may be muzzled.
So, honor the flag. Recognize that the freedom it represents has been won by much effort, over many generations.
So I'm watching my computer update Adobe Reader.... You know, watching the indicator show the progress of the various stages of the installation.... And one of the stages is called 'Optimizing Performance'. What a concept! That we could plug into something that would analyze our inner processes and figure out how to make them work at their peak efficiency. Tweaking here, adjusting there, removing, rearranging, fine tuning. Getting rid of the old, cumbersome ways of doing things and updating with new, streamlined efficiencies. Even like the defrag process--taking the bits and pieces of information and operation, and filing them all in the same place so they flow together more smoothly. As a follower of Christ, I can see how God intends this whole principle of 'optimizing performance' to be a regularly scheduled maintenance procedure--like every day. Coming before Him, laying it all out, letting Him tweak, adjust, remove, remove and replace. Allowing Him to weave the various threads of past teaching and experience into a perfectly formed operating system (pardon the mixed metaphors). So, let it happen today. Every day. Schedule it in. If it is useful for computers, it is definitely useful for humans.
Interesting geometric figure, the circle. Quite easy to define: 'a closed plane curve consisting of all points at a given distance from a point within it called the center.' (www.dictionary.com) In other words, a circle is an infinite succession of dots, all on the same plane, all the same distance (the radius) from the center. But this isn't about geometry. Circles can enclose or exclude. You can make the radius large enough to include something, or small enough to exclude it. Your circle of friends can include me, or not. It depends on how your draw the circle. You can choose to be picky regarding age, culture, color or social standing. You can even use criteria like favorite hockey team, pizza or style of music to determine if someone is in or out. Sometimes the size of the circle is a response to someone else's criteria. They don't call you a friend, so you exclude them as well. Or, you can choose to be bigger than them. They draw a circle that counts you out, but you draw a larger circle that draws them in.
"He drew a circle that shut me out-- Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!"
"He drew a circle that shut me out He was afraid of what life was all about. Whenever I saw him he'd be there inside him Locking his heart in a place to hide it. But oh love and I knew just where to begin. Yes love and I started a circle within Oh love and I. We drew a circle, a beautiful circle, A wonderful circle that took him in." Captain And Tennille
We really don't need more walls, walls that separate and divide. Some of our small circles and high walls have been many years in the making. We learn a lot as we are growing up. Racial and socio-economic classes are ingrained at an early age. "They aren't like us, we don't associate with people like them." It's not only cultural or financial issues that can divide us. As terrible as it may seem, even religious and denominational lines can be drawn to separate. Things that don't seem to bother God at all, but sure stir up a hornet's nest among His kids. Do you use wine or grape juice for communion? How and when do you baptize people? What version of the Bible do you use? Sure, we have our reasons for doing things the way we do, BUT IS IT REALLY WORTH MAKING ENEMIES OVER??? What does Jesus say? "The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind" John 17:21, The Message "This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other." John 13:35 The Message Draw big circles. Break down the dividing walls.
Break Dividing Walls
"There is a place of commanded blessing Where brethren in unity dwell A place where anointing oil is flowing Where we live as one
You have called us to be a body You have called us as friends Joined together in the bond of the Spirit Unto the end
Father we join with the prayer of Jesus As you are so let us be one Joined together in unity and purpose All for the love Your Son
We will break dividing walls We will break dividing walls We will break dividing walls In the name of your Son We will break dividing walls We will break dividing walls And we will be one"
I met a young man from the Netherlands a few weeks back at a YWAM conference in Vancouver. He was spending a few months with YWAM Calgary, and then joining with an outreach to India. I've been reading his blog with interest (and the help of a translation program!). He is encountering some of the darkest and poorest places on earth, and writes about Calcutta: "Another thing that has touched me very much is that most children do not dream." Perceptive, moving, and a challenge to me. First of all, for the sadness that statement depicts for the kids of that vast country. No dreams? No hope, no future, no joy. They all go together, or it all disintegrates. How sad for that nation, for its leaders, for its parents. Nothing for their children to live for, nothing to look forward to. It's bad enough that they struggle with extreme poverty, sickness, non-existent living conditions. But to not have even a glimmer of hope for things to get better--that has to be the ultimate kick in the teeth. Now to bring a similar thought closer to home. Of course, our nation is pretty well off as far as food, clothing, and shelter goes. Not too many kids go to bed hungry at night. Most are at least warm and dressed, even if not in the latest styles. But do kids have dreams? Do teenagers look forward to a bright future? A challenging but attainable career? A happy home, spouse and 2.4 kids? A world at peace, an environment that glows with health, a place to grow old? I'm afraid many kids here in Canada don't dream either. The threat of global warming, wars and rumors of wars, skyrocketing prices, and uncertainties everywhere make kids much more cynical than I was at their age. Do they dream? Or is it closer to a nightmare? A new young friend lent me a documentary on metal music. I'm not sure I really understand what sends people into the various communities they find themselves in (metal, punk, goth, emo, gangster, etc.), but I'm sure part of it is that they don't want to follow the route their parents have gone. Their parents probably are trying to live the dream of job, success, money, happiness, and all the rest, but the kids aren't buying it. Not for a minute. And if we had our eyes open to the futility of our generation, we wouldn't blame them. Can't afford the house, gas for the car, or food on the table. Who knows if that college education will get me a job better than flipping burgers. OK, so it seems pretty dismal. Sorry about that, but that's kind of the way it really is. Except for dreams. Praise God for the ability to dream. Especially His dreams. Hope for the future? You bet! Life worth living? You better believe it! Why? Because God is actually still in control. He still has a handle on His creation. With His help, we will keep from destroying this old mud ball. With His help, we won't kill each other off. With His wisdom we'll figure out better ways to power the machines we inevitably think we need. Housing may continue through the roof, but He looks after the sparrows, and He'll look after us. I think the most encouraging part about God dreams is that they go far beyond whatever you can see, or even imagine. And because the dreams originate with Him, there is every reason to believe that they will come to pass. It's certainly a different mindset than we are used to. You have to look past the darkness, the destruction, the depressing news stories. It's not the ostrich with his head in the sand, ignoring the truth. No, it's seeing the rainbow instead of the rain, even while it is still raining. It's remembering that you miraculously found a place to live within your means when you had almost given up; so God is totally able to come through again. It's knowing that God has called you to pursue a job in a certain field, and He will enable you to succeed in it. Dream Dream big Dream God dreams.
Life has taken me from the rather predictable working year after year and not feeling fulfilled to serving with Youth With A Mission as a missionary in my homeland of Canada. I am presently active in Victoria, with responsibilities and interests in our YWAM office, and out on the street. (and feeling more fulfilled than at any time earlier in my life.)