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.