Thursday, January 31, 2008

Can You Help Me Change My Tire?

One tension that is causing me much consternation in my faith is that large chasm separating the things I’ve been taught and told are true and that which is reality. Seldom does it seem like I can hop from one side to the next and back again. Instead it seems like I stand on one side looking through binoculars toward the other, wondering what its like on the other side and just how do I get over there. Much of it has to do with how I was taught to tell others about Good News. My upbringing involved a 90-second to 3 minute Summary of the Story that could be offered at any place or time. The rationale given was based on the idea that we should always be ready to give an account for the hope that we have, whether that be in a checkout line or the Holy Grail of encounters: the Airplane. Now when I consider giving a reason for the hope that I have, that 3 minute Summary of the Story makes about as much sense as trying to tell a guy on the side of the road how to change a flat tire by reading him the brief facts from my birth certificate. It doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the matter at hand. The Good News is supposed to be about reconciliation, of bringing people back together, of making wrongs right again. So why is there so much division in the Church As We Know It? Why is the divorce rate no different among folks in it than outside of it? If BibleMan got wind of my objection, I’m sure he would quickly swoop down on my argument and take it captive before it did anymore damage. He would point the finger back and say that it is a You problem and not a Gospel problem, and to that I would say you’re probably right and quietly dismiss myself and go find another person with whom I could buy a pint and really talk about my issue. If the Story is true, why does it seem to lack power? If It is all It claims to be, why is there so little evidence of it? Why is the distinguishing difference between ChurchGuy and AverageGuy not a powerful life, but of what he does between the hours of 9am and noon on Sunday?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Food and Sex

My friend brought up an interesting thought yesterday. We were musing the condition of the Church As We Know It and came to the topic of sexuality. “Why is the bulk of conversation about sex in church given in such negative tones? It makes about as much sense as culinary school offering more courses on gluttony than on making really good food.” “Good point,” I replied. “Run with that.” I lifted my pint to his for an affirming “clink.” While I admittedly haven’t had any kind of culinary training, most of what I have read or observed seems to show that the focus of the education is on being the best chef you can possibly be, not on how to keep people from being foolish with your food. The assumption is that most people can take care of themselves and your job is not to govern their actions, but to put something exquisite on a plate at their table. Future Pastor, your Future Church will make this same assumption. You will trust people to live and act like grown ups in the faith. You can do this because you believe that the Spirit is sufficient to help them know what is right and wrong and how to discern between the two. You won’t have to lay a guilt trip on folks to keep them in line. You will lead them to freedom and turn them loose to enjoy that as it was intended. You won’t need to make stories like “Supersize Me” in order to prove your point. Natural consequences of an action should be enough to tell people they shouldn’t gorge themselves on something that will make them ill. Put your focus on beauty, freedom and joy and see what happens. Won’t it be great when a generation grows up in the Church of the Future that doesn’t have the same baggage about sexuality as we did? And how ironic that it will take the one thing our leaders feared in us to bring about that kind change.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dear Future Pastor

Future Pastor, please go ahead and leave the Church As We Know It and set out toward what you deeply envision. Unless of course you are one of those who are being convinced that you should stick around and try to bring change from within. You’ve probably been encouraged by someone who tells you “we really need people like you to bring a fresh perspective.” But even if you have good ideas, what are the chances of them really getting implemented? You are probably a likeable person. What they are really saying is that they just don’t want you to leave. You have to do what you think is best, but I’m so glad I have left The Church As We Know It in search of the Future Church. Some have told me I have been missed, and I appreciate the sentiments. But I can’t look back and see any kind of sweeping change that my influence instigated. I got tired of being faithful to what exists. I needed a fresh start. Which could be what you need, too. How long have you been feeling this way? If it’s more than 2 years, I would say you’ve got to leave and embark on the journey to find the Future Church. I’ve known guys who give me the line that they want to stick around to help change the course of the ship, but the real reason they can’t leave is that they are just plain scared. They are afraid of what people might think, afraid that leaving might be burning a bridge of opportunity in the future, but especially they are afraid they think they can’t make that kind of financial risk. If yours is the last excuse, do you really want to be strapped to a way of doing ministry because it’s the only way you can earn a paycheck? Trust me; you don’t want to live with that kind of regret. Future Pastor, I can write to you this way because I know you well. I know what makes you tick, and status quo is not on the list. I would not say these things to just any Joe Schmoe. He wouldn’t get it. Others can stay where they are. The current way of doing church is just fine for them, and I am not being judgmental when I say this. But you are not one of them. For you to stay would make about as much sense as one of them trying to be you. You belong to the Future. You are the Future. Don’t miss out on the joy of what lies ahead for you. And for many others because of you.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lord, help me be right

I’ve come to believe that it is more important for most human beings to feel right than it is to do good. To me, the overwhelming body of words we have from Jesus centers on loving well. He summed it up for us by telling us to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves, You’d think that should do us for a while, but is love really the first thing you think of when someone identifies themselves with Jesus? Part of the package we have been blessed with since entering this world is an inferiority complex. As babies we each had lots of needs that demanded attention and most of us have never grown out of that self centeredness. Good marketers understand this by blatantly exploiting your felt need for everything to be all about you. Google the phrase and find a hair salon and a bra named for it. There’s even a PR agency devoted to being all about you. Brilliant. The flavor of Christianity I was nurtured in seems to have the same bent. Church was built around felt needs, never really designed to go much further past that. Oh sure there was the focus on discipleship and of self discipline, but even still self seemed to be the benefactor and it left me with a feeling of superiority and not one of true sacrifice and service. Having a daily time of reading the Bible and praying made me feel better, but I’m not sure how it made the people around my life feel. You would have to ask them. Which is why I question the role of teaching and preaching in the Church As We Know It, of which I played a bit part. We say it’s to bring about life change, but does it really help me to take Jesus’ words about loving well seriously? I don’t believe the Church of the Future will rely on the central figure of the pastor as Teacher. If you haven’t noticed, we are not in want for teaching resources today. The Internet makes everyone and their dog’s sermon available. Why do I need to spend so much energy getting all my people in my building to hear me speak? Unless of course it really is all about me?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am of

I am reading a book by Mary Pipher called Writing to Change the World. In it she offers this exercise to help learn and understand your own voice. This is my first try. ====================== I am of Jack and June of route 2 box 162, of proud parents who believed in everything I set out to accomplish. I am of Oklahoma and its friendliness and its pride in its own and its simplicity and patriotism I am of small town and everyone knowing everyone and their business, of the cult of football and the longing to feel a part of it and the desire to reject it for what it was. I am of bad eyesight early on, of thick glasses and feeling different and awkward, and of gratitude for contact lenses that brought opportunity and not limitation I am of Church, the kind that taught the importance of a savior and a relationship therewith, that getting wet in a tank behind the stage was one of the most lauded and important decisions in the world. I am of social Church, where all my friends existed and thought like me and held common values and reinforced certain practices and ways of thinking that I would later come to reject. I am of identity Church, which shaped my lifestyle, from the kind of music I made and listened to and the books I read, to the job that I held for 18 years. I am of authority Church, where everything a preacher said was right, and everything you thought was wrong, which led to a blind acceptance that I was pretty much a loser that needed to work harder at not being such a bad person. I am of Busyness and not Idleness, where Saturdays growing up consisted of one hour of cartoons at 7am followed by a day full of work around the farm, of now preferring to plant a garden than watch TV, of feeling a need to clean or bring order instead of feeling like I’m doing nothing. I am of Self-Sufficiency, of relying on yourself out in the country, of not waiting on someone else to come along and help, but of getting it done by yourself with whatever you have on hand, and of not wanting the government to tell me to support and pay for someone who is just simply lazy. I am of all of these and more, much more than I will ever know or remember. I am of this blog, and of risking writing it, wondering if it will even be worth the effort, or if anyone would ever read it, but eventually of the comments from unknown sources saying thanks.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

They said it can't be done

Upon further reflection about the subscription piece this week, I thought about how suspicious people seem when you say you are doing well. “Yeah, but how are you REALLY doing?” “Great. Never better. Really.” It should be odd that the basic assumption of this publication is that you are not doing well, but it isn’t. It shows us what brand of faith we have created over the years, one that says the norm is subpar and that you and I are always on the brink of spiritual oblivion. So much so that it becomes lucrative to publish a magazine to address the condition. It’s sorta like thinking that no man could ever run a four minute mile. You live with that resignation your whole life, until one day, you finally see a man like Roger Bannister run one. For years men tried to break it and couldn’t, and yet six short weeks after Bannister made history, his record was broken by an Australian named John Landy. And since then it has become the standard achievement in short distance running. Order the magazine and you reinforce the editor’s belief that the four minute mile is impossible. Or you can trust the Spirit and believe you are brand new Creation, capable of doing greater things than even Jesus did. (I’m not making that up; Jesus himself said that, at least it’s in red letters in my version.) Future Pastor, realize you are quite capable of living the life you long for. Consider this: the one thing that could be holding you back is perception and not reality. If you have been told all your life by The Church As We Know It that limping along is the best you can hope for, I say you’ve been handed a bag of hooey. It might make plants grow, but not hearts of faith.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

$23.97 worth of more guilt

It was on the bottom of the stack of the usual credit card applications and various appeals for money I get on a daily basis. It was a classic piece of junk mail, and typifies the type of faith I used to pursue and the kind I want to leave behind. In bold red letters on the front of the envelope was printed, “WHERE’S THE FIRE?” Listed in bullet points along a left margin underneath were statements like, “You want more depth,” “You read the Bible because you should, not because you want to.” And “You wonder where the joy went?” "Sound familiar?" They couldn’t have summed it up any better. This was an invitation to purchase a subscription to a religious publication. I have to hand it to their marketing team, they know their audience is full of guilt and shame for not being a better disciple. There was a time when this kind of thinking made sense to me, and I probably would have shucked out the $23.97 to get a year’s worth of beatings in the form of a nice, glossy paged magazine. It strikes me odd that the Church As We Know It has created a such a culture of competitiveness. How did we get to this point? I remember the feeling too well. The playing field was spiritual disciplines and the score was kept by how well you did in a particular aspect of the game, depending on the values of the culture you were a part of. Mine happened to be Bible reading, verse memory and how many people with whom you got to share a Summary of the Story. If you did well in these areas, you got asked to do things a lot. And I played the game with the best of them. I worked the system. I fit the profile. I worked about as hard as any young man could. And like it said on the envelope, I wanted depth, read and memorized out of duty and obligation, and hated every minute of it. I wonder how many new subscriptions they will sell based on that piece of mass mailing. Probably quite a few, until people realize the competitive nature of the faith culture they have bought into. Future Pastor, there is a better way, and you know it. Find your joy and lead others there.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Milestones I will remember about 2008

  1. Marathon tired. One indelible memory of 2007 is the depleting fatigue I felt during the first few months of opening bread&cup. There is tired, and then there is what I call “marathon tired.” This kind of fatigue comes from prolonged exertion. When this happens, the mind has to kick in and take over, because the body is ready to stop. In runners’ terms, you may have heard this referred to as the Wall. The body hurts so badly, but the brain asserts its authority in order to get the task finished. I hope I never reach that point again in my life.
  2. A 16 yr old. My son turned 16 this year, which in our state means the opportunity to drive a car on his own. In the US, a car is equivalent to personal freedom. He is free to move about as he pleases, and his mom and I are free to worry about him driving on the ice and snow. I grieve the loss of my little boy, but I am proud to watch a young man of strength emerge
  3. Happy. For the first time in years, I can honestly describe myself as happy and not depressed. Actually looking forward to going to bed again is a relief. I used to not like lying down at night because of all the dark thoughts that seemed to be hanging from the ceiling over me, just waiting to fall and crush me under the weight. Those guys are gone now. Good riddance. Don’t come back.

A while back, Jack of All Trades and I were planning a ski trip to Colorado for our students. As I was checking a website for ski reports, one resort had a few pictures posted of the fabulous conditions due to all the new snow they had just received. Underneath the photo was typed “This is the way the day got started, and it only got better from here.” That set the tone for our trip. But I like to think that it is indicative of my future. When my depression began, I fully believed that my best days were over. I thought I had made my contribution and that my next job was just to get old. Oh, the foolishness of youth. I now see that even though my body is slowing down and will eventually give way, wisdom and joy supersede youthful vigor. As 2008 begins today, I see that bread&cup represents a starting point, not a destination. It serves as a daily reminder that better days lie ahead. After enduring years of waiting, planning and struggle, it eventually became a reality. Better days don’t mean that there won’t be hard times ahead, but patience and endurance will see us through to the other side.