Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Missional Community Living...How Desperately I Need It and Find Ways to Avoid It

It is everywhere.  Bloggers and books are constantly telling us that at the root of "being missional" is a very deep understanding of what it means to be community. Most missional models of living in community involve Christians living fully in their place of habitation.  By this I mean, you are part of the community you physically live in.  It could be as big as a town or as small as an apartment building.  People will then choose to associate with their "neighbors" as fully as possible, by sharing meals together, sharing their goods with one another, shopping, dining, recreating, and even governing as much as possible within the boundaries of their defined communities.  Interacting, playing, and sharing meals with those in your physical location is a big part of what it means to live missionally.  When you live this way you share in the good and the bad with others, most importantly others in your local area.  This is done by sharing your best assets with one another.  Gifts, talents, possessions etc.  What cannot be attained within the community is then sought from without but agreed upon by the community.  I have seen this taught from a very biblical standpoint.

First my favorite is Luke 10:1-12 When Jesus sends out the 70.  These Jewish followers of Jesus are to go into Samaria with no extras.  They are to live with the people there and say, "Peace to this house!"  They are stay in these places and eat whatever is put in front of them (and this is emphasized twice v7 & 8).  Probably not things they would normally eat and certainly not things acceptable in the dietary laws.  While there they are to heal the sick, and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near to these people.  This is very cool.  They are to live among people, eat what they eat, do what they do, and then and only then do they have the right to proclaim the Kingdom of God to them.

Secondly, in Acts there is a neat little formula that goes a little something like this.  The Apostles/Jesus Followers are in the community, the Spirit moves in some way, the people in the community ask what it is going on, the Gospel is the answer.  So in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit arrives, the Apostles preach in foreign languages, the crowds ask what is going on, Peter preaches the Gospel.  In Acts 3 A lame man asks Peter to give him money, instead Peter heals him, the crowds asks how, he shares the Gospel.  In Acts 6, Stephen is doing good works and arrested, the court asks how he did the things he did, he proclaims the Gospel even though it leads to his death.

Living in community, interacting, playing, and joining in the community is what gives one the right to preach the Gospel.  If people are not asking questions to which the Gospel of Christ is the answer then you have not earned the right to proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near.  There is a popular Community Development Credo that was first written by Y.C. James Yen that states:
Go to the People; live among them.Learn from them; plan with them; work with them.Start with what they know; build on what they have.Teach by showing; learn by doing.Not a showcase, but a pattern.Not odds and ends, but a system.Not piecemeal, but an integrated approach.Not to conform, but to transform.Not for relief but release.And when the best leaders, leave The people all say: ‘We did it ourselves.’
The idea for the Christian community is for them to live and be among their community.  Not to live, work, and play in a different environment than they minister with.  And when good things happen it is because the community worked together to accomplish it and they will say, "We did it ourselves."

This is difficult for me. I am a classic suburbanite.  While my career is built around quality relationships, I could shop, eat, and play and only have to superficially interact with people because they are my waitress or check out person.  I could go about my everyday life and never once have to speak to my next door neighbor.  I don't currently participate in anything outside of work and family so there are no social engagements.  And the most horrible thing, I find myself comfortable with it.  Outside of work I could never have a meaningful interaction or relationship with another person, and I am not motivated to move beyond that.

I feel as though this makes me a half hearted follower of Christ.  I believe in this missional movement, I even preach it.  I believe the church is created to be a foretaste of the kingdom. It must be "a place where people can get a taste of the future in the present." The church must demonstrate what life is like when we live under the rule and reign of God. The church becomes a concrete, tangible foretaste of the kingdom, not perfect yet, in transition to being the body of Christ.  I believe that we believers are the church wherever we go, therefore I should be living into my future hope even in the midst of my present realities.  I believe that is best demonstrated through community.  I believe I would be more whole believer if I had other couples, families, or individuals to share my table with.  And I suppose the worshiping community I call my local church plays a role in that, but when people write and speak about the missional church movement they are not usually speaking of the place of worship but the place of living into that worship with others.

So there you have my confession.  I believe that the missional church concept and the whole Gospel of Christ calls me to live into God's future Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven by living among people in community.  But I feel as though I am not doing this very well.  I have lived in my new neighborhood for four months now and only know the people my property touches.  I have never had any of these people inside my house and I have not been in theirs.  We have spoken on driveways and on sidewalks but beyond that we have no real relationship.  I have not even had the people of my worship community in my home, though I have been to two of their homes.

So I throw this out there to say, I believe in community, I need community, but I don't live in community very well.  By God's grace I will improve, but today I am struggling. 

The Table in The Neighborhood  Reclaiming the Mission's blog discusses the importance of gathering around the table.  Sharing meals is a powerful community builder.

Three Ways to Be Missional on Halloween  Probably to late but still some ideas

The Church in 2062...Maybe.  According to Dave Murrow this is what the church will look like in fifty years.

Reformed and Missional?  Here is Tim Kellers perspective on why you can be reformed and missional.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

007 and Early Voting!

I voted early today.  Not because I had any intention of voting today but because I wanted to be able to vote when the time came in November.  Here is the story.  I needed to update my drivers license because I have moved and thus had to update my address.  I am not sure but I assume most states are like mine.  When you update your drivers license you also can register to vote, or in my case re-register to a new district.  However, with it being so close to election day I was informed that if I simply re-registered through the DMV process I would not be eligible to vote in this election because it takes too long to process the request.  I was informed that if I desired to vote in this election I must go to the Election Commissioners office across town, and tomorrow is the last day to register! 

So with a sense of urgency I traveled across town to the Election offices to discover a line of hopeful voters filling the building, sidewalk, and parking lot!  Since I had traveled this far I thought why not wait and see how the line is moving. The line moved fairly well so I stuck it out despite the cold and the rain.

While waiting the half hour for my turn I made an interesting observation.  Nobody was in a bad mood.  Everyone was if not excited, genuinely content with waiting and chatting about the lousy weather.  Beyond everyone's contented excitement, there was absolutely zero discussion of politics!  In my time in line or inside the building or in the voting booth area did I one time hear a single person discuss what candidate they were supporting or how horrible they feel the candidate they were voting against is.  

The only conversations I did hear was about the process itself.  The importance of voting.  The responsibility of it all.  The honest joy it brought them to feel their individual voice mattered.  Everyone just stuck out the line and voted their opinion.  I find this reality interesting.  I have no idea what it says about my city and the people I get to share it with.  I don't know what it says to the larger political climate in our nation.  Perhaps we just realized at this point we had made up our minds and the conversation in line wouldn't change that.  Perhaps it is a reminder that the talking heads on television, radio and internet are really in the entertainment business rather then the information business.  So their excitement, anger, and poles don't really relate to the common voter of the midwest, even if some of us are in "swing states."  Perhaps it really means as long as we feel we have a voice we are willing to deal with the outcome, so long as we had our say in the matter.

Well I received my ballot and discovered to my utmost elation, as well as that of the employee helping me, that I am now in a voting zone that has the number 007!  Also while re-registering he said I could vote today if I wanted.  So today I voted and though I don't believe my voting zone gives me a license to kill it does give me a voice in the process.  I hope you have a chance to vote this year.  I hope you also take the responsibility very seriously. 

Below are some good links to help you think through the responsibility of voting and how to process that responsibility as a Christian.  None of the links I will share give any support to any candidate and I will not share here how and why I voted the way I did.

Is there Room for Christ in the voting booth?  A great article by the Executive Minister of Chicago for the American Baptist Churches USA.

The Pastor and Politics   A reminder that a pastors place is not to persuade parishioners in political issues but to proclaim Christ crucified.

What Belongs to Caesar?  Red Letter Christian article on why loving or hating a political opponent for abstract things is unChristlike.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bill Clinton and Internal Christian Politics

I travel on a fairly regular basis in my ministry. To be sure I am no jet setter and there are some weeks I never leave my county.  But I do get to travel across the state often enough that I have taken to listening to audio books on my trips.  It has provided me the opportunity to "read" or listen as the case may be, to books I would not normally read.  I am currently listening to "Back to Work" by Bill Clinton.  You can check out my hyper link below to preview it in Amazon.

No matter your politics or your personal opinions of him, I find him to be intelligent and engaging.  And my roots are Arkansan so I have a soft spot for him.  The book "Back to Work" is full of great insights and an explanation of the political history from the past 30 years. As I listen to his explanation of our political history and rhetoric, I cannot help but make connections to my personal experience with American Christian politics from the same time frame.  Here is the quote that began my connections between the two topics.
“In other words, our constitution was designed by people who were idealistic but not ideological. There's a big difference. You can have a philosophy that tends to be liberal or conservative but still be open to evidence, experience, and argument. That enables people with honest differences to find practical, principled compromise. On the other hand, fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and arguments irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme.” 
― Bill ClintonBack to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

What a powerful quote.  He is referring to conservative republican viewpoints verse democratic ones.  I find the same basic principle to be easily applied to Christian internal politics.  To many denominations have suffered fights and splits over ideological issues.  There is a huge difference between being ideological and being idealistic.  Being idealistic still leaves you open to conversation and debate and a willingness to compromise that is lacking in an ideological stance.  We measure our denominational and Christian loyalties based on a few ideological points.  The points will vary from church to church or denomination to denomination, but the essential unwillingness to have civil conversation caused great divides over the past thirty years, many of which were and still are avoidable.

In her Christian Ethics Today article, "Baptists Bank on Fire and Brimstone" Valarie Tarico lays out why the changing of the Southern Baptist Conventions name to "Great Commission Baptists" is not going to change their image and only further isolate them.  She gives 4 very good points as to why this is.  They are all ideological points not idealistic.  By focusing solely on the Great Commission as their standard: 1 Every member becomes part of a sales force.  Great Commission Christianity is first and foremost about recruiting members.  2. What is sold is a package of exclusive truth claims.  Inter spiritual and interfaith perspectives are wrong, and all need to be wooed from misguided beliefs.  3. The measure of a spiritual person is right belief.  Specifically: You deserve hell, Jesus died for your sins, accept him as your savior so you can go to heaven.  4.  Other Religions and denominations are competitors not partners. In a world that requires cooperation this move isolates them as being the only right and true group.  That is the great flaw in their name change. 

The SBC is not the only group going through this.  Every major US denomination, especially those with international connections are working through a variety of issues even today.  My hope and the purpose of this post is simply to call for more idealistic conversation and less ideological ones.  Because if all we are ever doing is "doubling down" on misguided behaviors what can we possibly accomplish?

I have a hard time praying sometimes.  In fact I have tried a variety of different prayer models and have read a variety of books and articles on the topic.  It never really comes naturally for me.  Here are a few articles on the topic I came across this week that are at least interesting.

Some may be aware of the dust kicked up around Racheld Held Evans' new book, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," but in case you have missed out on this popular debacle being called, "vagina-gate" read this article by Christian Piatt to catch up.

Preaching and applying "best practices" in ministry are always good topics for discussion.  Here are a couple cool reads from this past week.

  • How to Minister in the 21st Century from Out of Ur is an interesting article about preaching from manuscripts and how the 18th Century Theologian Isaac Backus hated it.
  • The Gospel of Loneliness by David Finch has a brief paragraph on reaching out to the "least of these."
  • The Difference Between Floating and Falling by Scott McClellen.  Not actually about preaching or ministry but certainly an illustration regarding how tightly we hold onto our own convictions that may not be the most accurate.
  • Waiting for God's Direction by The HighCalling discusses the notion of having a very specific call compared to a general call to do good and love your neighbor.
I found a cool new website that has some interesting videos on it. The site is called UPWORTHY and its stated mission is "make meaningful videos go viral."  Here is one such video you have to watch the whole video to get the full impact.

I try to read a variety of things.  Here are a few things I have been reading lately
Back to Work by Bill Clinton
The Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar
Divide by Faith by Michael Emrson and Christian Smith
The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Monday, October 8, 2012

Foundations Matter. Do houses?

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwater's rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”  Luke 6:46-49 NLT

A structural foundation in its most basic element, as far as I understand it, is what takes all of the loads from the roof to the walls to the floors, and it takes them and transfers them into your soil.  Modern foundations are made of concrete.  Ancient foundations would have been made of crushed rock and debris but the principle is the same.  Build a strong foundation and the structure won't shift, crack, and fall.  

I like that as Christians we told to build our "houses" on strong foundations.  We are to take the words of Christ and scripture and allow them to set the foundation of our theological and spiritual houses.  It would lead one to believe that there are a few core things that are required for foundations are all basically the same and serve the same purpose.  I would say such foundational core elements to the Christian life can be found in scripture with Jesus' interpretation of Torah, Commandments, and Prophets, coming down to the two great commandments to 'love God, love others.'  I would say outside of scripture the Apostles Creed really gets at the heart of foundational issues that most all Christians believe as being the core of their belief.

What I also have been pondering from this passage is that there is no formula, creed, or edict to describe the "structure" being build on this foundation.  As long as the foundation is sound any structure will suffice, home, business, sky scrapper, trailer, or shed.  To further my ponderings, I want to say this is a good thing.  Where I live most homes are constructed into the sides of hills and as such have a "basement" style foundation.  However there are a variety of actual housing structures built upon this same foundation, multi-level, split-level, ranch, American Colonial, Tudor, bungalow, and a variety of others.  Each unique in their design, architecture, and tradition.  But all the same basic basement style foundation.

Let's carry this concept to faith.  As long as we have the proper foundation what is to say that all of our faith houses then have to be identical?  There are a few things all homes need, load bearing walls, roofs, floors, windows, etc.  But with a little imagination the combination of these things are endless. Beyond the endless combination the ratio's themselves are endless.  You could have large living spaces and small bedrooms emphasizing the concept of community.  You could have large bedrooms and small living spaces emphasizing concepts of solitude and reflection.  You could have three bathrooms or just one.  You could have a two car garage to shield modes of transportation to leave the house or you could instead have an extra bedroom to welcome the stranger.

I have noticed very often these days that many in the church are becoming divisive over, what I would call for the sake of this metaphor, architectural issues.  We are complaining this house doesn't have enough kitchen space or that house doesn't have the right carpet or too many stairs.  Instead of simply saying, this house has a great foundation and it is lovely and it will past the test of weather and time.  Some will certainly be more comfortable in a ranch than a bungalow but that doesn't make either more right than the other.

So on a day removed from World Communion Sunday, I am simply pondering, is it okay to be different?  Is the foundation all that matters or do our houses have to look the same too?  Is there something to celebrate in our differences or should we constantly be striving for some sort of equilibrium where we try to look, think, and act as similar as possible?  Finally, where can our differences be exercised?  In our denominations, in our local churches, in our own faith journeys? Because in the end wasn't it the foundation that failed and caused the house to fall under the stress of a storm, not the number of bedrooms it had.