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?