Saturday, December 1, 2012

Community and Fandom

I am watching sports today, but I can't bring myself to cheer for anyone.  Reading about the recent events in Kansas City over the past few weeks had made me wonder about our attachment to sports, and our level of fanaticism in general.  Today that feeling took on a whole new level of meaning with the news regarding the deaths of Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend.  While details have not been released, and we may never know the full story, it's hard for me not to wonder about all the words we say about these "stars" and "athletes" who we really don't know at all.

A thanksgiving article on the team's website that spoke of where he was a mere 10 days ago (thankful, driven to succeed . . .which the titled said helped both himself and the team) has been pulled down, but I remember reading it along side many articles out there on other sites that listed him as the worst starter on his team.  I also have read more articles about the other events in KC, such as the cheering of an injured QB, and the concern that players didn't hate their opponents but praised them and asked for autographs.  Even at the time I thought a moment about how much pressure that must put on people when it seems like everyone hates you and you can't do anything right.

I tell parents of teens I coach and work with regularly that they need to be careful what kind of pressure they put on their children.  We often live vicariously through our children under the guise of wanting the "best for them."  We want them to succeed, and we go about defining what success looks like for them, often without hearing what they actually are trying to tell us about how they feel.  In the form of a family that's something that can be done rather easily, there may have to be some habits changed by parent and child, but there is a relationship that is quite personal at the core.  When it comes to players in sports, or politicians we like, or artists, or pastors/writers/speakers or anyone else in the public sphere that we feel a level of commitment or connection to, there isn't that base.  We may feel some level of connection through social media, or even the continual running commentary from analysts and talking (typing) heads, but we only really understand these people to a certain level, and really we still are expecting more of them, than they are expecting of us.  This unbalanced relationship, and the constant stream of opinion cannot help but create a whole new kind of pressure.

For me, there are a couple of questions this begs.  The first is "Do we need to re-examine the place of sports (politics, music, public figures) in our lives?"  The second is "If we are going to continue to make these things important in our lives, how do we better see these people as fully human and not just characters in a 'game'?"

I could easily answer "yes, and just being less wrapped up in these things in our lives" and be done with this, but I think the issue is bigger.  We are all people looking for acceptance and connection with others, in our search for this we have become people who are willing to accept the pseudo-communities built along like mindedness (that is quite clear in things like sports/politics where there are "winners and losers" and a simple thing that connects us ideologically) rather than focusing on being fully connected with community.  If we would actually get to know the diversity and connect to the people (and thus their problems) who see in our daily lives, we would become more wrapped up in this life we're living rather than having our lives swing on the actions of others and our escape from reality.  It is escaping this reality that creates a false reality where we create pressure and anxiety in the lives of those who we don't even know.

Let us not add to problems we cannot fix.  Let us not be wrapped up in the lives of those we do not know, but let us get to know those who we live with, and let their lives wrap us up.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Love is Logical

When I look back over my life there are some key things that most every girl I ever liked had in common.  On the other hand I can also look back and see some great people who really liked me that I wouldn't even give the time of day.  What was it that kept me from being attracted to these girls?  In reality, I just wasn't, I had a very specific type of personality and physical look that would keep my attention and moved me romantically.  I couldn't then, and can't now logic being attracted to others in that way.  Of course at one time that inability to logic attraction made me wonder how ANYONE could be attracted to those who I wasn't.  As I though came to a greater understanding of how we communicate and began to better see the world through others eyes, I saw that everyone had things that they were attracted to, but they weren't always the same things.  

I now feel this is THE most reasonable argument for why same sex attraction is normal.  It's not that everyone should be, but that some just ARE.  It is what they are romantically interested in, just as I have only certain people who attract me, they do too.  There is no difference.  So if you are to tell someone not to be attracted to those of the same sex, you are also saying that you shouldn't limit who you're attracted to by anything other than a set of external rules.  I'm not even sure how we could determine these external rules. It's just illogical to think that we should all only be attracted to the exact same people.  I have never seen anything that makes that seem realistic.  

Why do I use this as my core argument?  Because it is all the same love.  Beyond the complexities of Gender Identity, Roles, Physical Sex, and all of that, who we're attracted to is just that, a short list of people that is different for every person.  It is just how we all do it, regardless of where we may fall on a spectrum.  I can argue with you from a theological standpoint, from a justice standpoint, from a legal standpoint, from any number of other standpoints, but this simple idea to me seems the most universal to all.  Even if you're not attracted to anyone at all, you know what you don't feel.  Why can we not understand that this just is what it is, and we can't really just go change it?  

I tried after my divorce to date a few people different than my ex, mostly physically different but also personality.  My wife now is physically similar, and in some core places is almost the same, same with her personality, there are differences, but there are some key similarities.  I know for some these core attractions do adjust over time, but we all I think can find some patterns either throughout life or within a season of life.  

I don't care what you think about people's actions, there is a serious issue with judging who a person is attracted to, regardless of if that judgement is based on gender or personality or a person's look.  It is like judging another for other differences in thought, such as if you were to judge me because I'm an aspie and can't think the same way as "most" or judging me for what I choose to eat because I am a diabetic.  I do not fit simply into either of these boxes, and to simply use your experience with others who are labeled with these labels to define me is unfair and judgmental   These are both complex situations I find myself in that I have to work with.  But they are more than illnesses or disorders, they are part of me, part of a full me, a core me, a real me that is as real and complete as any other.  

Equality is not as simple as the rights to do what others get to do.  To allow all legal rights does not make us equal.  What makes us equal is seeing all people as complete people and treating all that way.  That means there is no one set of rules that will always make everyone fit, that is actually the core of a relational theology.  God is three and God is one in relationship.  All three are different, but they are all fully God.  It is the same for us, we are each individual, but it is in our relationships with others who are different but still fully human that we ourselves can be fully human ourselves.  

Let people be who they are.  No law is going to change us, we have to change us.  We have to see people as fully equal to us if we want to move forward and bring the kingdom.  Time to get rid of the fear and embrace the same love one for another that we have been given since creation when we were made in the image of Love.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why I don't vote (a rough sketch)

**Note: This would be much better stated within a RL dialogue.  I don't think anyone should just accept this fully at face value.  This is complex even within my own head.**

Who are you going to vote for? I hate that question mainly because the answer I give usually turns into an argument with whomever may have asked it.  For most people there is a "right" answer to that question, or at the very least an acceptable "wrong" answer, but very few people are willing to even try to dialogue with someone who says: "I'm not voting."  The only response I ever seem to get to that is one of frustration often with a side of anger.  Things are said like "Well then I better never hear you complain about things!" or "You are neglecting your duty!" or "How can you not use the great freedom you have, do you not care?!?"

Yet when I ask them why they feel this way, and to help me see what I might be missing, they tend to speak to the exact things I've thought about time and again as voting seasons come and go each and every year.  Let me first address the 3 big reactionary statements listed above because I feel those are a bigger issue than what I really want to talk about.  

"You don't vote, you don't get to talk" is a bull response.  I don't get to say "I wish we had a different X" or "If Y had just gone the other way."  I'll agree with that.  But can I still say my views on social, family, world, and even government issues? Yes, I'm still welcome in the world of the public square and honestly I'm quite active there, I just don't vote instead choosing to act in other forms.

"You have a duty, You must use your freedoms."  You know what makes things free? They're not your duty and you don't have to do things. There are lots of freedoms that I don't use and there are good reasons why I don't.  For example, I don't bear arms, and there are many who agree with that choice, so why is voting different? Also, do you know what I feel my duty is?  Love others, Love God, Love creation, act as a good steward and servant through faithfully discerned actions.  That (in my case) doesn't include voting. 

Okay, now that all of that is out of the way:  Why don't I vote?  I wish there was a simple way to state this that everyone would understand and not just ignore as if I'm ignorant, but I know my reasons aren't that understandable to most, especially when I tell them that I WANT them to vote.  The simple answer is that in my lifetime of discerning my call from God, voting has never been something I've discerned as an act faithful to my understanding of that call.  

That though is just a reactionary answer.  The deep answer is that I feel very called to certain acts of ministry, certain stances on what it means to act as a Christian, certain things that God has placed before me, and voting could damage that work, and honestly might be seen by some as hypocritical of what I claim.  

I am called to relational work, work with all those who I come in contact with.  I am called to help them in the moments I have with them and try to empower them going forward.  I expect many readers now are thinking: well that's why you vote, to better empower others and to help them, but that's not where I fit in, I feel that I am called not to change the system, but to be change in the world.  

I am called to love all.  The way our political system is set up, to vote is to choose a side, but this is not God choosing the side of the oppressed, this is us choosing an ideology which we then defend, even as it (as all ideologies do) oppresses others.  My love for all is relational, I can only fully love those I know.  I feel my call is weakened when others see me as a label.  

I am called to a world beyond principalities and powers.  This world for me is not some future place, or some other plane of existence  but here and now within the Kingdom of God here in the Creation of God.  I cannot be part of choosing other powers over God's.  I feel I must be willing to do that which I choose to do regardless of its place within society.  I was once asked by someone upset at me not voting why I didn't go to China or Russia where I couldn't be free.  All I could answer was, "I would like to think the legality of my actions will always be secondary to the faithfulness of those actions."  I cannot be sure that I would actually do so, but here and now in the country in which I live, I will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's as long as I first render unto God that which is God's.  

I have been called by others a "Utopian Anarchist" and I have redefined that term to fit as a compliment.  I do believe in a world where we will do what is right for one another in all cases without a government to "make it so."  I believe I am called to work towards that world.  There is the need for many to vote for whomever they discern to be the faithful choice as they are able to understand it, for me that need is to not vote, to speak through actions to a world possible regardless of what worldly powers exist.  Jesus did not overthrow the government, Jesus changed the world through his individual actions, changes that have influenced so many to do things in their lives faithfully as well.  God's world is not political, and for me that is key to my faith at this time.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aspie Faith and Ministry

The following is in response to some friends and cohorts asking for my reaction to: Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas) as found on Rachel Held Evans' blog.

When I awoke this morning I had a plan:

  1. Get up
  2. Get ready
  3. Go see Wife and Mother in Law downstairs
  4. Check email and social media
  5. Test and take medicine (diabetic)
  6. Get to work on polishing my sermon for Sunday

I have Aspergers' syndrome, I like my plans.  I need them to keep my stress level in check some days. But this morning, like many mornings, things didn't go as planned.  As soon as I got downstairs and on my computer there were a number of people asking what I thought about this blog.  Suddenly the TV was loud, my clothes were uncomfortable (tags, I hate them sometimes) and my focus was shot.  I was off of the plan, but because I was asked for an opinion, I needed to respond. So here we go:

A little background into my own experience as an Aspie in the church.  I was in some ways lucky, I was introduced to the faith at 4 at a random baptist VBS that I went to for just one night.  I heard the closing speaker talk about having a real friend in Jesus and that's what got me.  I'm an extrovert, an EXTREME extrovert who is always seeking interactions with others, of course as an Aspie, I don't adhere to social norms well at all and take everything too too literally, so friends are not something I make at all easily.  But the idea of a friend who would never leave you hooked me.  They then dunked me and gave me a bible, telling me it was all about Jesus and this relationship.  I went home and read the whole thing over the next few days. The bible is gibberish to a 4 yr old, but I did scribble down lots of questions to ask.

I got into church after that, I needed some place where people could answer my questions.  Many Aspies tend to have obsessions, things they get stuck on and love to talk about.  I certainly do.  I love theology, quantum physics and human communication theory.  My desire to make the bible make sense is key to my faith because of this.  It should be noted that I was not diagnosed until I was an adult, I didn't know for much of my childhood what I was doing was weird, or that you weren't supposed to question certain things.  I was obsessed with making the Bible and later this whole Christianity thing make sense. This continues today, even as I am now out of Seminary and in the ministry.

Back to the blog response.

Point 1: STOP SCARING KIDS! I have a number of kids in my church on the spectrum (Autistic, Aspie, etc.), one of whom asked me "how does the devil get you?" I remember thinking about that sort of thing due to pop and Christian culture. This child thought the devil was going to grab him and pull him underground to hell when he had done too many bad things.  This sort of cheap theology is junk, and does nothing more than what Erin says in her post. It leads to people who cannot get around fear and worry and that can continue an entire lifetime.  Every time we tell a kid something, some are going to believe it completely as the one and only truth, which leads to

Point 2: The church needs to leave space for people to think and form their own viewpoints, not give a set of rules and standards.  One of my earliest struggles was between a God who is Love and a God who punishes.  I didn't get it.  I played so much by the rules that told to stay somewhere when my parents had to rush to the hospital, our neighbors had to cover me in blankets for the night because I wouldn't go in with them. "Mom told me to stay here." So the punishment never scared me as such, I just did it because I was told to.  But I didn't GET punishment, and couldn't picture a God who wanted to create also wanting to destroy.  Even those of us who tend to preach and teach a fully God is Love gospel often define what that love is to look like in no uncertain terms "Boycott this, listen to them, fight against that teaching."  For those of us who are extremely logical and for many others this is nonsensical.  We have got to work on helping people be faithful to the things they feel called to and not making so many universal statements on contextual things.

Point 3: STOP THE GAME!  This is a hard one, but win-lose Christianity is bull, and we need to get away from it.  We don't know what happens after this world, and the world here has enough games of its own without us adding one about heaven and hell on top of it all.  Yes, there is some peace in knowing of a loving God beyond death, but we are called to act here justly and to change the rules of the world's games.  To add the salvation game on top of things not only leads most Aspies to worry and stress, but I see it happening in so many NTs as well.

Point 4: The relational aspect of Christianity needs to be addressed better.  My obsession with Human Communication Theory and my extroversion  make this a hard one for me.  Relational Christianity is an issue for Aspies, myself included.  Most also are introverts, and as Erin says playing the social extroverts game and forcing ourselves to meet those social norms will basically make us all want to go hide and recover.  In some ways it's even harder as an Aspie Extrovert, I NEED that interaction and connection, but pretty much fail to find it because I'm so socially uncomfortable, and even when I start getting close, I may just melt down from the exhaustion of trying to meet social norms.  Yes, I do believe that we are relational creatures, but there is in the church a power imbalance that favors extroverts and NTs and that needs to be changed.  We need to look at ways to connect to the entire spectrum of humanity and do more to bring balance to our faith.

Point 5: We need to do more to help people understand that we're all different and that's okay.  Not only is it okay, it needs to be EMBRACED by the church.  It's not enough to say "Sammy is autistic so it's okay that he doesn't sit through the service."  But we need to find better ways to embrace our differences and do more  to allow all to be fully part of church and a shared faith.  I'm not going to remember your name, but I can probably engage with you on certain topics very well. That is okay and encouraged.  I think by turning Christianity into a social extrovert's game we've actually done a real disservice to what it means to be in relationship.  I am very capable of sharing your burden, very capable of emphasizing with you,  very capable of walking with you, allow me to do that.  How we form relationships is not one size fits all, and that is good.

Point 6: Not just for Aspies, but for most all, we need to realize that some parts of church are actually hurtful.   To ask one to be social, vulnerable, connected, loved, touched, joyful, open, and other things means potentially asking someone to not just be uncomfortable and pushed to grow, but often to open up hurts to a point where love and trust fail.  We are quick to judge.  I have worked hard to make eye contact, but it is exhausting, but because I can I'm judged as "not acting like an Aspie".  I have a youth who if they haven't found comfort in EXACTLY what's going to happen at an event will only be found under a blanket in a ball in her car.  Her mom told me once that if she did it again she'd be punished, I responded that we needed to get better about meeting her needs because it seemed if she was punished enough by being asked to come.  This needs to change.  We need to adjust and meet people, not expect others to go where it hurts.

Point 7: We need to change soon.  Too many people are hurt by the church, not because we intentionally do things to harm them, but because we are busy playing our games and think everyone should play along.  We miss how what we do can create anxiety, confusion, depression, fear, and guilt.  We need to hear the voices of those who can see where teachings have gone haywire, those like Erin who stay with the faith even when so much of it seems like it was crazy.  God did not create any of us to be distanced from God.  I found a friend in God because of my Aspie-ness, it was the logic that brought me to a loving God, one who called us to be faithful in our attempts at acting in this world.  Reading Erin, I realize how easy it would have been to have needed to find this in spite of my Aspie-ness.  That's scary my friends, we're pushing away more and more people by playing these games.  We need to change, we need to hear these voices, we need to stop the games that look a lot like those the world plays, and create something new that looks completely different where all of our complexities are truly welcome, and not just (at best) "understood".  That's our call, let's stop playing around.

Thank you Erin for sharing your journey and thoughts.  Her blog is The Underground Railroad.

Now off to test and take my meds. :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Call the Question

I put a motion to vote
But debate keeps hitting 1 note
So here with the paddle I tote
To put an end to your say

I'd trade some money for time
So tired I'm speaking in rhyme
I think that to be kind
I'll do this anyway

Your just repeating, and your debate is boring
Oh is my paddle showing?
What are you doing, lady?

Hey, I just got here
Mic time at the session
I've just got to say
Can we call the question? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Frisbee and Faith

Tonight while playing Ultimate Frisbee there was a moment that reminded me a lot of what I've seen going on through social media with my the PCUSA.  In this blog I want to present a series of quotes (as I best remember them) that I heard there and how I've seen them at play in my denomination recently.

First some background: I've played with the same basic group of people for the last 5 years.  Some members have come and we've added some new ones but there has always been a core group that had come together just to have fun and play.  We've had a few come in with different views of what "fun" was but they tended to come and go fairly quickly.  Recently the always open invite has brought a large group of diverse points of views, and tonight the core group was certainly a minority.  A number of college and club players were there as well as others who "want" to fit into that world. 

So that is where we start.  And it doesn't take long for tensions to increase and interactions such as the following to begin. (all expletives are adjusted out)

"You can take it out and bring it back in"
"Sorry, that's not how we play here"

"Cut IN, Why won't you cut?"
"Because that's a normal throw to make."
"Not if you're REALLY playing"
"Well that's how we play"

"What's that?"

These types of interactions I find common in the PCUSA.  It's like we're speaking two different languages and the longer we don't feel like others are getting what we're trying to say, the more agitated we get. 

Finally after some comment that I did not hear one of the core group (we'll call him Kurt) started picking up the cones (his) and running off.  The rest of the core group also slowly faded to the sidelines.  As Kurt ran away from the field he yelled "Who do they think they are, they came to play in OUR game!"  One of the other players yelled back "We're just trying to play the right way."  At that point the rest of the core group outside of me left as well (mostly just uncomfortable with what happened). 

I again see this time and again in PCUSA.  Take our toys and go home? Sure.  Tell people that they need to get with the "right" way to do things or to think?  Sure.  Yell it back and forth because both sides have decided to hold their ground at all costs? For Sure! 

As they left, a series of questions and comments came my way as we made use of waterbottles and hats as cones. 
"You've played with them the longest, what was that about?"
"Let them go, let's just play"
"Seriously, are they always like that?"
"I've never seen them that way, what's going on?"
"That was uncalled for"

I wasn't sure what to say.  No one really wanted the answer it didn't seem ("You've taken what they saw as fun and made it something they don't recognize without really including them in the changes."  "Why they are here doesn't mix with this well without first feeling like you respect who they see themselves as")

Yet, so often I feel like that's what I'm called to try to explain within my church and denomination.  Why does one side not see the world the way another side does on an issue or as we tend to camp together with like thoughts as a general worldview. 

Both sides didn't want to dialogue, they didn't want to work together, they wanted what they wanted and wanted it now because they both felt like they had the "right" answer and the "right" to dictate how things should be.  They wanted to poke holes in what the other side wanted and prove to them why they should change.  They didn't want to hear a different viewpoint and then find a way to move forward and find what would be what things "should" be for the good of all.  Yes, the good of all may have ended the same way, but really there was no desire to do so. 

So often this is exactly what I hear.  I work with a conservative Head of Staff who really wants to dialogue but gets defensive because he's been attacked so often.  I tweet regularly with people who consider themselves progressive and liberal who likewise take up defensive stances from the attacks they've suffered.  I can't blame either side for being defensive honestly from a cultural point of view, but I feel we're called to be counter cultural as the church.  So how do we begin to actually dialogue, discern, and live faithfully together into whatever the future will bring?  We're far from it, our current GA thus far seems to be pointing to a culture much like our Frisbee game.  Some are tired of fighting, some are very much standing their ground, some are stuck and unwilling or more likely unable to help anyone move forward.  Regardless of what you want for the church, we need to move against the culture of "us" vs "them" and show another way to struggle with things that are divisive and with worldviews that just do not match up. 

In Acts 10, Peter sees a vision of a sheet and it is filled with things that he correctly labels as unclean, yet God gives him a new way to interpret what he sees.  It is not a simple revelation, it is one we see many struggle with over time: "Do Not Call Common (Unclean) What God Has Purified."  I believe we all have sheets, some of them include people we disagree with, some include actions we find unforgivable, some include things we don't understand in others lives, but we all have a sheet.  We need to realize that God has created all of us in God's image and God is always working towards unknown ends.  That will always leave us with a certain uncertainty, and it is that uncertainty that we need to focus on.  We don't have the answers, we're just asked to struggle together towards that distant, hazy goal that is beyond all the stuff that we have to get through to get there.  Let us focus on struggling together, realizing we don't KNOW anything about what is going to happen or how it is going to happen and live at peace with the uncertainty of "What's Next" or even "What Now."  If we are able to do that we may have a chance to do discernment together and be something more than people fighting over how to play a game.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week Music Bracket

So I made the comment that I wanted to make a "High Fidelity" style Top 5 of the best Holy Week/Easter musical artists and got much encouragement to do so.  Of course today I immediately thought of 40+ artists, but did quickly knock them down to a top 16.  So for the fun of it here are the matchups:

U2 vs Cowboy Mouth

Queen vs Jimmy Eat World

Social Distortion vs Jennifer Knapp

Rich Mullins vs Jeff Buckley

Mumford & Sons vs Martina McBride

Johnny Cash vs Michael Franti & Spearhead

Flogging Molly vs Los Lonely Boys

Avett Bros vs Zucchero

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

College or Hypocrisy? NEITHER!

Let's get this out of the way: Going to college has NOTHING to do with young adults not being part of church or identifying as "no religious affiliation."  There are so many issues with that idea it's barely worth discussing at all. But let's point out a few major issues:
  1. It's based on a weak view of God, one where God cannot even "win" against "human ideas." So many places in scripture and in the Christian tradition we see this is a false idea.
  2. It also requires us to think that we can fully understand God and God's ways.  Also a view that holds no water in scripture or tradition.
  3. It also seems to assume we're better off not being part of the world we're created as part of, as well as assuming that we shouldn't learn about and discuss with those who challenge our ways of thinking.  Even Paul would laugh at these pieces, and many who hold this type of belief often point to his works as THE authority on what Christ and God mean to the world first and foremost.  
  4. Many who make this argument have advanced degrees themselves.  Which just makes no sense.  So many issues here.
 Okay, so now with that out of the way, let me also say the response I've seen often recently seems to be just as problematic and weak.  I am going to oversimplify them all a bit for the sake of brevity and call it the "It's the hypocrisy" argument. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, has been for ages.  We often do not do what we should, and we often preach and act in illogical ways.  Yet, I don't think this has any more to do with why young adults are not in church than the argument that their education is the cause of this phenomena.  There is hypocrisy in so many places in this world, we understand it's existence, and are willing to accept it most places, yes we may have slightly higher expectations of our religious organizations, but let's be honest: This is small fries for most who just don't see a need for a church.  

So why don't they see the need for a church home, for a community of faith, for a place in the body of God?  Because they are adolescents.  People trying to find their individual identity, people who have been for most of their life.  Adolescence is extended in our society, and as much as I wish we could just fix that problem, we can't, we have to deal with the reality of that is what it is.  We have to stop having church for adults, and become where adolescents take what they are discovering about themselves and connect to something greater. 

Which makes the church a place that nurtures people towards adulthood together. Which of course is not as simple as it sounds.  Yet, I think until we deal with the fact that we live in a society where adolescence is expected/allowed/encouraged to exist for 20-25 years of a persons life, we're not going to actually do anything that changes the end result for the church. Seeking identity with great freedom will always look something like this.

Young people aren't going to have the same attachment to the institutional church that any other generation has had. Yet, we, as the church, can create new relationships with those who will one day want to find a home community of their own. We just can't expect them to act like what we have seen in the past. Forty year old adolescents who are raising eight year old adolescents aren't going to come back to the church, but they do know a community that shares their passions for justice and a better world when they see one. How do we connect to those who are seeking those things while not expecting them to fit our adult mode until they get there in their own lives? 

That is the question that I think we should be asking, that is what the "Next Church" looks like.  It is both a bunch of individuals who think they may share similar passions within their larger world.  Not brought together by a set of beliefs or even a "faith," but by the commonality of searching and becoming.  Giving people that space and opportunity will become a larger part of who we are.  

All of this is to say we need to not focus on what is causing a certain group to not be active in the church, bur rather on the "whys" that they are looking for.  This means more focus on Human development and communication theory as we move forward, which does mean less simple answers, but as seen above the simple answers just don't hold up.  Let's move forward in reality and let God deal with what makes the world ideal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crimericans and Chrisamericans

I created two portmanteaus a few years ago when trying to explain my frustration with how Americans had mixed what they understood it meaning to be an American with what it meant to be a Christian. I decided to write this blog to explain the terms and the differences in them, and the dangers behind both of them. 

Chrisamericans or ChrisAmericans - This is the group that I think has existed for the longest, is the most logical post-reformation to exist, and is perhaps the least dangerous of the two.  People in this group primarily see Christianity through American lenses. This can be as small as a view on mission as us "taking" something to others, or as big as thinking our version of democracy is God's preferred government.  While these things keep people from seeing God at the complete center of all things, they are typically willing to learn and hear other viewpoints and don't think they have all the answers to everything.  They just want what's best for the world and think their country is as good as it gets.  This is slightly short sighted, but we all have lenses we see the world through that keep us from seeing things clearly.  Thus the name Chris (focused mostly on faith) Americans (focused wholly on country). We all have biases and well this is just another one, at the best someone will realize they see the world this way, at their worst they are easily swung by our second group. 

Chimericans - This is a group that I see and hear more every day recently.  They not only think that America is central to everything, but think there is only one version of America and one version of Christianity and the two and attached in all forms.   This is where it gets dangerous because while ChrisAmericans exist throughout a political, social, and spiritual spectrum, those who fall into the Chrimericans category create an "Us vs Them" dynamic where they blindly ascribe to their ideologies regardless of what others may present as counter arguments to their points.  Chrimericans will even move along a range of thoughts as long as it serves the end of maintaining or gaining power. They convert both Christian and American ideals into some mixture that fits their comfort level.  To argue with those who have done this is a struggle at best, even relationships that show them something different can be less than convincing.  Their name signifies how they choose to short both sides, both American ideals of freedom and Christian ideals of justice to create a comfortable place for them, or at least one that they perceive as being a certain way in the future. 

The soundbites from those in the later category have become so loud, that many of us who do not agree with them have begun to lump these two groups together and in the process begun to create the same "Us vs Them" rhetoric from just a different standpoint.  There are differences between people who have issues seeing the world from outside their experiences but are attempting to do good, and those focused mainly on achieving an end that is at its center self-serving.  Not all who do things we do not agree with are trying to create a world counter to the one we seek and hear God calling us to.  We must be careful who we vilify less we take the same mistake to think we have the full and complete vision of God ourselves and limit what God is doing in this world by our own desires.

"The grace of God is dangerous. It's lavish, excessive, outrageous, and scandalous. God's grace is ridiculously inclusive. Apparently God doesn't care who He loves. He is not very careful about the people He calls His friends or the people He calls His church." -Michael Yakonelli

Monday, February 13, 2012

Treasure Hunting for God

Asked for a devotional on how I deepen my relationship with God, I came up with the following.  Sadly I couldn't fit a Cowboy Mouth or Adele song in the 1hr I had to write it:

Weep for yourself, my man,
You'll never be what is in your heart
Weep Little Lion Man,
You're not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself,
Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems
That you made in your own head
– Mumford and Sons

My relationship with God deepens through any number of processes, events, practices, and encounters.  Yet often the most meaningful, life changing moments come seemingly randomly while focused on some organized process aimed to an end, much like following a map to the X where the treasure will be found.  Yet, rarely do these “treasure” seeking missions turn out as simple as the map makes them out to be. Along the way things happen which cause me to look more deeply at myself, to see what my personal motivations are, to hear the music that is playing as I walk along side others, to see the world more deeply through better understanding myself and those I’m traveling with. 

Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin’ in the swarms
Still can’t find out how to hold my hands –
Avett Brothers

Sometimes what we find even at the end of these adventures is the thing that changes us.  Sometimes we think something is the answer, but when we look at it deeper it actually changes us and changes the questions. Our relationship with God is deepened by realizing that the everyday has great amounts of spirit moving throughout it and it leaves us caught in a tension between realizing what it is that we could have done differently and working to reorient ourselves on the path we’re now on as the people we’ve become.  This constant state of flux and searching makes up life itself and pulls at us so we can’t just be comfortable as who we see ourselves to be.  When we are willing to not just focus on an end, but to see the means of life as ends unto themselves, we find ourselves continually moving, changing, growing, and ever more faithfully searching for who we were made to be. 

In these bodies we will live,
in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love,
you invest your life
– Mumford and Sons

Awake My Soul.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poverty and Change

A while ago when the fight against SOPA was in full effect, I made some comment similar to the following "I wish we would put some of the energy and unity seen with SOPA into helping fix those things that affect peoples real rights everyday."  I tried to blog on it at the time but most things I typed were just angry, but today while out shopping it hit me.  My issue isn't the idea that SOPA wasn't worth the fight or even that the energy could have been better directed, the core of my issue was the argument that this was a justice issue over a comfort issue. 

We find it easy when our comfort is being threatened to get up in arms.  We find it easy to fight against change, easy to fight against things that affect our "personal" rights, easy to sign petitions and write letters and even go protest, but are we willing to get down and get dirty and help on the relational level?  Are we willing to actually enact the change we want to see? 

So what does that have to do with my shopping trip?  I headed out today to get some yummy diabetic friendly food from Trader Joes.  This trip involves me driving off the island I live on, through the inner city and then out to a place that others call Mt Plastic.  (I've never been sure if that relates to the appearance focused culture, how many there spend money, or if it related to the view of things as disposable, but that's another blog.)  On my way out there I realized that I was taking a long trip just to get "healthy" food.  While there I realized the extreme lack of diversity in the parking lot (mine was the only car which didn't look like it was kept in a garage and had been purchased in the past 2 years) or in the store (white, upper middle class or above).  So on the way home I decided to stop at 2 stores, a corner grocery downtown and a Piggly Wiggly that was found nearish to the area and it cemented my thoughts for this blog.

In the corner grocery store there was basically nothing that could be called diabetic friendly and most everything was high sodium and fat.  There was a bit more selection in the Piggly Wiggly, but still only hard candy that was diabetic friendly and most "healthy" food is what I'd call nasty-healthy.  There was nothing like some of the things I saw at Trader Joes.  Yet in this consumer based culture why would Trader Joes or anywhere build or stock things in that area?  People there aren't going to pay the prices or buy as much as those in more affluent areas.  Nor are they as "interested" in nutrition (because they're interested in survival, saving what little money they can, making it through, etc.).  So in a consumer capitalistic culture of course there's no reason to build a place like that in an area it won't survive as a business.

So what?  Well I realize due to being diabetic shopping these places regularly isn't a real option, but at the same time it points to how we so often avoid going where we're uncomfortable to shop, eat, or do anything financial.  We don't do anything to support the areas of poverty, we rail against the system that creates the issue, but we don't get down and dirty, risking our own comfort, money, or safety to actually travel with these who are struggling.  We avoid their pain by looking at our own.  Do we have debt?  Are we struggling? Yes, but guess what, if we have smart phones, I can point to a lot of people that need our help more.  Yes, there is a place to fight to change the system, but God came to the world not to change the system, but to change the world and do it relationally.  If we're not willing to put our money and treasures where our mouths are, we're not doing anything.

We can be passionate about our precious "information superhighway" but it's not what changes the world.  Those who claim it helps the poor fight oppression, the poor fought for years without it and still do so.  Those who say it gives movements more reach, are not places and movements from before this digital age famous and became large without the help of social media?  I have nothing against fighting for free information, open source, and all of that, but to claim it's anything more than fighting for comfort is to give up the relational connective power that comes from being made in God's image in favor of something made of self.  It is a tool, it is not the source of change.  The source of change is relational, physical world relational, the movement of people is the coming together in physical community, anything less has yet to change the world.  I want to change the world, who's with me?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Missed and What's Missing

A few times in the past day I have been part of discussions about "better terms for 'unchurched.'"  There have been attempts to explain/differentiate: "those who've not connected yet," "those who have disconnected," or "those who may never connect" and snarky responses: "Hell-goers," "heathens," "target population," "opportunities," or "lucky."  Mixed in all these "typical" responses there were also a few more honest attempts (from varied backgrounds, and all with issues admittedly) "Lost," "Missed/Missing," and "Seeking."  "Lost" and "Seeking" come from the same argument.  People out there are looking for something they can't or haven't found yet, and WE have it, so how do we let them know they can find it HERE.  They are cheap advertising words, not words that should be used when talking about real people or a real community (church).  "Missed/Missing" is an interesting idea: We miss these people in theory and want them in community, and God likewise misses these beloved treasures that are not in a relationship supposedly.  Of course again there is a major issue here: We're assuming a lot about what is going on inside of these actual people and trying to put a label on them.  Same problem that comes with the attempts to differentiate sub groups of this "group" that we so often talk about in the church and in relation to evangelism.

So if it's not about "The Missed" then what is it about?  I want to argue it's about "What's Missing."  We shouldn't be worried about "who" is out there and how to describe "them."  We should be doing our job as the Body of Christ.  Jesus doesn't go around asking who is going to come to him, people just do.  The sense something they want there, they sense a spirit of love and healing, they see someone who comes to them without question, without judging, without requirements.  We don't do that, we rarely even get out and do good in a lot of cases.  We may do a little here, and a little there, but Jesus says that The Son of Man has no where to lay his head.  And well if we're Christ's body, that means we also shouldn't be looking for a home, but going, doing, acting as Christ to this world.  Yes, God wants people to come to know Christ and through him Godself, but people will come to know God because God is active in their lives, not because we bring them to church. 

I do believe people want community, I believe God made our deepest desire one of escaping our aloneness, to feel part of something greater, to understand love in it's truest form, to build relationships. As the story goes, after Adam and Even had eaten of the tree of knowledge, after they have become aware of themselves, the world, and each other, they are aware of their separateness. The awareness of separation is the source of anxiety and the deepest need of human beings is our need to overcome our separateness, to leave the prison of our aloneness.  This is an internal pull, we can do nothing to change to what extent someone feels it, nor are we able to really understand how it manifests itself in another.  Thus I argue that we need to get beyond a desire to know who we're "evangelizing" to, and just "evangelize" the world through action, actions of love, of justice, of care and concern for others regardless of who they are or where they are in life.  We are all seeking, we all are a bit lost, we all have parts of church we love, hate, and are ambivalent about, we all are unique but connected in that we all are made in God's image.  May we treat all people as such. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Too Much?

Today I pounced on an opportunity to preach.  I've made a big deal at work about wanting to focus on doing my job the best I can and thus skipping out on more things like session, being liturgist, and planning meetings, and trusting the Education committee to pick up that slack.  So I understand when my Head of Staff questioned me offering and wondered if I was being hypocritical.

Yet as a seminary trained educator I feel that I need the random occasion to preach.  It is an important place of education, and for some people the only place that they receive education in the church.  Do I dislike that second fact? Yes, but it is a fact.  Thus I try to do lots of other things where maybe they'll read or see something educational.  Part of the reason this blog has been quiet for almost 3 months is that I was starting up a church blog that I hope will help people hear other voices and grow in their faith.  So in order to put my creative energy into that something had to give.  In this case it was my voice here that went.

Priorities, my friend.  We all have them, and we should review them regularly.  What was important to me last year, last week, or even last hour may not be now.  Our priorities constantly change and rearrange and we need to be willing to move with them, or to move them around as needed.  I hear often of the need to be focused on prayer, scripture reading, service, confession, submission, or worship, but while all of those are good, they are only half of the classical spiritual disciplines.  The others: Fasting, Meditation, Simplicity, Solitude, Celebration, and Guidance?  They're no less important to us in the big picture.  There is no one set list of what makes us most spiritual, most human, most righteous, most anything.  It's not about being most, it's about finding what touches us, reaches others, stewards creation, and seeks God at any moment of our lives.  All we can do is the best we can do at any one moment.  Well that and enjoy things like this:


Also, if you missed my return late last night to blogging please take a look at this and then my view.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bible Thumping Christians

I have heard a number of people I respect told recently that they don't hold the bible in the proper esteem or that they completely ignore it.  I know better than to fight their fights, but I do know that I want to state my own view on the subject.

I am the very model of a modern major general . . . oops.

I take great pride in calling myself a Bible Thumping Christian today.  I take scripture VERY seriously.  It is at the core of what I believe and what I desire for life and all of creation.  I don't think there is any of scripture that is not useful for teaching and learning and talking about.  I don't think there's anything in there that's just a waste of words. Actually my feelings on those words is what I think makes me able to claim that title of "Bible Thumper."

I love language.  I took Chinese, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and German in school.  And then when I made it to seminary I was so addicted to Greek that I was named our schools language scholar and got into regular long winded discussions with my language professors.  I started trying to find as many ancient Greek texts as I could from all areas.  Trying to find how words may have been used outside of scripture.  I started looking at the little nuances of words and phrases, not taking even the "best" English translations at face value.  I picked apart words, trying to make it all make more sense, trying to see what it is that scripture could teach me about this God who I knew existed.

I knew tons about the world, I wrote my proof of God based on things I found in String Theory.  I saw a spirit moving in people and throughout the world, but it is scripture that brings me back to God.  Scripture brings me to a place where I face the struggle, the epic struggle of humanity to be who we were created to be.  The struggle that makes us question how someone like David could be "after God's own heart."  The struggle that makes us wonder why God made a world so diverse that we actually have to work to be in community even when we're around people very much like ourselves.  The struggle that brings people into a church crying because they are desperate for God.  The struggle that makes us look at what is written in scripture and wonder what pieces are contextual, and what is really truly a universal truth.

Yes, I know this is the sensitive subject.  Yet we all claim some things are universal and others aren't.  We know that scripture is written in a certain time, and in many cases there is no debate also for a certain community.  We all teach about the specific problems in Judah, or Egypt, or Ephesus, or Corinth.  We know that was the context that these are created for originally.  We also know that the words that are chosen are specific and nuanced for those communities and even the best of us who translate betray the actual text to some extent.

This is especially true when you get into word studies.  Some words are used differently in law texts, social texts, religious texts.  Other words are only found in one type outside of scripture.  Some aren't found at all and we really start playing games to try to define them.  Do I think there is one meaning that HAS to be the meaning? Well in some ways yes, because there was an original context. Yet in other ways no, because it's really not that simple.  I will argue till I die that Pistis is best translated as Faithfulness, and that will influence everything I teach and lead because it changes how I interpret scripture.  That is the key for those of us who are claiming a title others want to keep away from us.  We are Bible Thumping because we value that text as something special, something that informs all we do, and is a key to our faith.  It is not the only key, but without it we do fall down, or at least I do. God Bless the Bible Thumpers.