Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I do not like your Christians

I'm finding no shortage of great reading related to matters of faith and post-modernism. In case you hadn't noticed, that seems to be where most of my thoughts have been of late.
Right now, I'm reading “The emerging church” by Dan Kimball, with insights and comments by a number of savvy individuals. The book is already 6 years old, but is still light years ahead of much Christian writing. I don't necessarily see eye to eye with everything he says, maybe because I don't think he goes far enough, but it's definitely adding to my understanding of postmodernism.
I've just finished a chapter called 'I like Jesus, but I don't like Christians', and I think I have months of blogworthy material!

Kimball starts this chapter with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

He then gives several responses from interviews with university students. He asked them two questions:
“What comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus?”
--Jesus was beautiful.
--I want to be like Jesus.
--Jesus was a liberator of women.
--I want to be a follower of Jesus.
These are some wonderful, positive responses from people who would not presently be considered followers of Christ.
Then the second question:
“What comes to your mind when you hear the word Christian?”
--I would want to be a Christian, but I have never met one.
--Christians are dogmatic and closed-minded.
--Christians are supposed to be loving, but I've never met any who are.
--Christians should be taken outside and shot.

Why do so many people have a great view of Christ, but so negative a view of Christians?
Don't blame it on the high-profile scandals of a few Christian leaders. That is a very small part of the whole picture.
Another small part would be the portrayal of Christians on TV and in the movies (almost always unflattering, to say the least).
We tend to point at those influences on society as a whole and think that Joe Q. Public's negative view of Christians is based on those stereotypical Christians.
Not so fast, grasshopper!
I think that most negative impressions of followers of Christ are based on personal experience. One way or another, many people have had some connection with a Christian. Perhaps someone at work, or on the street, or a preacher on TV. And that interaction has not been good.
In other words, the biggest problem with how people view Christians is us. 'They' see 'us' and when they do, they don't see much of Jesus.
In a nutshell, we aren't even close to living up to the mandate of living like Christ. How often have we heard people talk about hypocrites in the church, and all we can do is make excuses.

Kimball quotes a couple more people. Scott Stapp of Creed:
“I became disillusioned by a lot of things that happened to me by Christian people.”

Rick Levin, a journalist covering a large Christan music festival:
“I have a hard time locating any similarities between what Jesus says and does, and what the people—in particular the organizers—[at this festival] said and did. Jesus is a beacon of righteousness who leads the way through a dark world to eternal peace, love, and eternal salvation; the Jesus of [the festival] is a blue-light special, pointing you to the quick fix of a righteous bargain in the shopping mall of endless consumption.
These two versions of Christ, and the premises they entail, are antithetical. They negate one another, leading me to a very unsettling, unpleasant conclusion [about the festival]: It was, in the end, a very un-Christian affair.”

The best quote in the chapter is a sidenote by Sally Morganthaler (one of the 'savvy individuals' who added their insights to Kimball's manuscript.
“We need to stay true to who God is and what God has done as revealed in scripture. But doctrine alone is not enough; lived doctrine will make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness in the spiritual landscape, whether we're wanting to reach adults or teens. The postmodern, post-Christian world is relational to the core. It is much more interested in matters of being than simply knowing. As Christians, the most difficult thing about this new world is that we are no longer going to be able to impact the world by just spouting our theology. We're going to have to live it out—radically.”

I think Sally's comment is easily evidenced in people's distaste for the Christianity of televangelists known for their hateful rhetoric, and their love of people like Mother Theresa—because they know she truly was living like Jesus—and the same isn't necessarily true of many of the rest of us, whether preachers, TV orators, and average Joe's.
It's time to practice what we claim to believe.
My own experience bears this out. There are two things that I have come to believe very strongly, and these have gone a long way to earn some 'street cred', and start to undo some of the negative 'Christian baggage' being carried by many people:
--a desire to dialogue and discuss rather than push dogma, and
--a consistent involvement in a local downtown street ministry.
I'm far from perfect, but those two steps toward living and loving like Jesus have opened doors that would otherwise be firmly and permanently closed.
Now, let's all go and be true disciples (followers) of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

'Doing' church

(Thanks to my fellow blog-conspirator/friend/all-round nice guy Peter for stirring up the muse on this subject.)
Is church something we 'do'? Like 'doing' coffee?
Or should it be something we 'are', like being human, or Caucasian (or wherever you fit).
Church has to be bigger and much more encompassing than:
--an hour or two on Sunday
--a list of doctrinal non-negotiables
--an inward-focused gathering of people in search of warm fuzzy experiences.
Sure, church will involve fellowship, some mutually-held values, good times, and personal edification.
But really, that isn't the picture of the Kingdom Jesus taught about. That's not the example He lived, or the lifestyle of a disciple.
If a disciple is a follower, an emulator, and we are called to make disciples (Matt 28:19, 20), then we should be following Jesus' example, and leading others to do the same. And that list of typical church descriptors doesn't exactly fit. Maybe it's time to read the Gospels again and truly see what our leader was like.

In his book “The last word and the word after that”, Brian McLaren uses the phrase 'catholic, missional, monastic faith communities' as a better description of the group of people otherwise called the church.
missional—focused on the good of the world
monastic—a community based on common practices.
Do those words come close to hitting on the strong points of Jesus' message? Do they come close to describing the group of Christ-followers sometimes known as the church? How are we doing in moving forward into that description?
Catholic—most of us are recognizing and celebrating our common faith rather than promoting our particular doctrinal position. Unity rather than division.
Missional—more and more we are desiring to make the world a better place, whether it is a greater awareness of environmental issues or human rights like justice or equality. Some people may still have the notion that 'It's all going to burn anyway', but gradually we are owning the need to fight for justice, and to make a difference, today.
Monastic—don't get sidetracked by the image of bald men dressed in simple robes, separated from society, studying the Bible and praying all day in silence. The 'new monastics' are living in cities, holding down jobs, etc., but are doing things in community—loving, serving, praying, fighting. Most of us have a ways to grow when it comes to this kind of community.

So it isn't a matter of 'going' church better, but truly being the church. New styles of worship, liturgy or location aren't the focus—although they may well be a part of the result.
The 'doing' needs to be “How am I following Jesus, How am I loving like Him, How does my life look like His?”
(By the way, if your theology doesn't allow you to follow Christ's example in some area, guess what needs to change!)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friends to know with

In Brian McLaren's “The last word and the word after that”, one of his main characters talks about a small group of friends he 'knows' with. It's more than just an intriguing idea, I think it is a necessity. He explains his concept of 'knowing with' by commenting that learning and knowing are ultimately communal, social experiences, and that 'I can only know so much until I find a community that shares my knowing.'
It's not that you have to surround yourself with people who think identically to you, but you need to have people to bounce ideas off of, people that you trust, that will affirm and expand on your good ideas, and disagree intelligently with your bad ones.
For too long we have held onto our misguided ideas of truth and not given ourselves the opportunity to honestly search for better understanding
The best setting for this is a safe group of friends—where no idea is too far out, but no one is immune from having their pet theory de-bunked.
For some reason, this isn't necessarily common in the church. We don't trust our deep or potentially treasonous thoughts with anyone for fear of excommunication. And so our questions remain, and the original possibly flawed premise continues to be taken as immutable.

Back to McLaren's group of people to know with. He has them meeting periodically, not for accountability, but for mutual growth. As an essential part of that process they ask each other five questions:
How is your soul?
How have you seen God at work in and through your life since we last met?
What are you struggling with?
What are you grateful for?
What God-given dream are you nurturing?

These five questions are a great place to start in processing the ongoing journey that our lives need to be on. What hasn't already been stirred up by these questions is still fair game for discussion.

I think this kind of friendship is what 'church' should encourage and empower. Instead of stifling doubts and dreams, we need to foster an atmosphere where we are allowed and challenged to continue to search for deeper understanding.
A place to be vulnerable.
A place to be weak.
A place to doubt.
A place to ask questions.
A place to grow.

Now all I need to do is find/create that kind of relationship for myself.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I dreamed a dream (part deux)

In the past I have posted (and again) about finding your passion/skill/gift/place, and going for it. I think our dreams are very connected to our gifts and abilities. Somehow (call it God if you will) we have a unique set of skills and interests. Somehow we not only can figure out that we have them, but can be driven (or at least encouraged) to go beyond what we already know we are. That's what dreams are—a nudging towards something as yet out of our reach, but likely connected to something we already have.
Like Susan Boyle, you may realize you can sing, but somewhere inside is a desire to be as successful as Elaine Paige who is “The First Lady of British Musical Theatre. Star of Evita, Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Chess, and many other shows.” Somehow, I think she just might give Ms. Paige a run for her money.
If you are going to dream, dream big. But don't keep trading one big dream for another before you actually give it your best shot. Some people have a new get-rich-quick-scheme-that-won't-work every week, and you fully expect every one of them to fail. That isn't due to the quality of the scheme, but the quality of the schemer. Not every 12 year old hockey player gets to play in the NHL, but the kid who gives up before he is 14 is guaranteed to only wish he had tried a bit harder.

So, dream.
Dream big.
Dream deeply.
Go to sleep at night thinking about singing in the national talent contest.
Wake up in the morning with a song in your heart.
But don't just think about it.
Take lessons.
Practice some more.
Sing in the shower.
Sing for your family (they really have to love you, whether you are good or not).
Practice still more.
Sing through the stage fright.
Sing louder than the nay-sayers.
If you actually get to start living your dream, you won't mind all of the time and effort it took to get there.
If you don't make it, at least you will know that you tried your hardest.

If you don't make it, maybe the dream has died, and you need to move on.
But don't be surprised if the dream comes back, and you get a second chance.
Remember Joseph.
His dream of being a leader died in the pit and again in Egypt, but it all came back.

The notion of dreaming has inspired many songs and speeches. Here are some final quotes to motivate you to dream, and dream, and still keep dreaming.

From The Sound of Music:
Climb ev'ry mountain
Ford ev'ry stream
Follow ev'ry rainbow
'Till you find your dream
A dream that will need
All the love you can give
Everyday of your life
For as long as you live.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

The Impossible Dream
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause
And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I dreamed a dream

Susan Boyle on 'Britain's Got Talent'

If you aren't one of the over 8 million people who have watched this video, watch it.
And then revive your dreams from years gone past haven't come to pass.
The song this lady sings is so appropriate to her own story, except for the last two lines. It appears that her dream is still very much alive.

Here are the lyrics to the song she sings. Be inspired.

I dreamed a dream from Les Miserables

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used
And wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame.

And still
I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms
We cannot weather...

I had a dream my life would be
So different form this hell I'm living
so different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Isaac's apple

Tradition says that Isaac Newton figured out the law of gravity after an apple fell on his head. I figure that since he was probably sitting under an apple tree, perhaps he could also have figured out that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
That particular little proverb has a lot of examples to back it up. Here's a nice one.
I was watching an episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last night (HGTV). This particular one was in their 'Heroes' series, about the Frisch family from Toledo, Ohio.
They were a family with 3 boys, who went on a mission trip to Haiti. They ended up adopting 5 brothers from a Haitian family, and then adopted 3 more young guys from inner-city Toledo. That's right--one family, 11 boys, 13 total. These parents obviously care, obviously want to make a difference.
Over the period of 60 minutes, they get a new house, university scholarships for the kids, and a plane load of toys, education supplies and more into Haiti.
It was great to see the response of the family, reinforced by the show's commentary. This family is now better set to continue to affect the community and beyond, touching more people's lives. What particularly hit me was the response by the Haitian born brothers. They are headed back to Haiti some day, to carry on the work/life/ministry passed along to them by their adopted parents. After their education is finished, they will be using it to make a difference.
Those apples aren't falling far from the tree.
Of course, a rotten tree can have rotten apples landing around it as well.
In fact, we probably notice the negative examples more quickly than the positive ones.
The kid who is in trouble with the law—whose Dad had followed the same path.
The young mother who seems to be spoiling her child, just like she was spoiled as a child.
But let's not dwell on the negative. Let's notice and encourage the good examples we see. We may not know the family history, but you can probably bet that the pleasant young barrista at your favorite caffeine joint comes from a home where friends, family and even strangers were welcomed, affirmed and well-spoken of. That the helpful department store employee probably learned how to go out of her way to help as a young child at home. That the industrious newspaper carrier was taught the value of earning a dollar by a parent who had regular chores as a teenager. That the friend who just fed you that wonderful dinner wasn't raised on Kraft Dinner or fast food. That the mechanic who just deduced where that strange noise was coming from, probably had a parent who let him tinker with the family lawn mower.
It may be somewhat genetic, but I think it is more a matter of nurture than nature.
And nurturing takes time and effort.
But it's pretty easy when the quality you are trying to cultivate in your child is already part of your own character. You don't need to dig so deep when it is already present in you.
So recognize what kind of tree you are, before you start complaining about the quality of apples lying around!
(With thanks to a Mom and Dad who lived lives of generosity, faithfulness, caring and community. I can certainly see a lot of them in me.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


For years, the networks have been good at it. Broadcasting. That's what the 'B' means in ABC. NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC, etc.
The ability to communicate a wide spectrum of content to a wide spectrum of audience. A soap opera, a hockey game, a talk show, a news story, a sitcom, a game show. A little bit of something for everyone.
Then came the '500 channel universe'. Now we can have a channel devoted to golf. 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Or cooking shows, or poker games, or preaching.
For better or worse, we have the capacity to cater to the narrowest demographic.
Speaking of catering, it appears to me that this pandering to personal desire is certainly fueling the selfish, 'me-first' individualism prevalent in society.
I guess that is the down-side of focus. The ability to pretty much ignore everyone and everything else around you, in order to fulfill your own needs.
I think I see that kind of independence in people around me. Little eye contact with other people, locked in their own sound track thanks to their ipod. Walking down the sidewalk, riding public transit, hanging out at the mall. It seems most common among those not yet committed to home, family, mortgage, etc., although becoming parents doesn't automatically remove that 'me-ism'.

But the ability to focus on one thing is also a good thing.
Granted, it's better to focus on someone other than yourself, but even internally there is great value in narrowcasting.
If you were a TV producer, you wouldn't try to do it all yourself. You might be great at producing a figure skating competition, but probably suck at the fine nuances of The Young and the Restless. So, you would hone your skills relating to your specialty, and not worry about what you don't do well.
I expect that you see where I am going with this.
Time is too precious to try to cover all the bases yourself. Let the situations of life and the wisdom from above help you see where you are best suited to serve humanity.
Find your focus, and fine tune it.
Above all, don't feel less than successful when you don't do something as well as someone else does. Celebrate the fact that you probably do something better than they do.
And that's a GOOD thing!

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