Monday, November 30, 2009

The Little Engine That Couldn't

It’s Wednesday. You tolerate going, but she likes attending, and since she’s a stay-at-home mom, she relishes any kind of adult interaction she can get. At least this week, the group meets at your house, which means you get to watch all the kids in the basement. This is somehow preferable for an hour and a half than discussing the thoughts of man that has sold millions of books, even though you aren’t sure you agree with him, but what are your options at this point?

The Life Group, Family Group, Connection Group, or whatever it’s called, doesn’t provide you with any life, or sense of family or even much connection with other people. And yet to voice this leaves you feeling like you have a scarlet letter on your sweatshirt that is not mistaken for the college you attended. These are nice people. They have nice kids. They all seem very responsible. So why don’t you want to meet with them?

It’s not that these folk are bad or have anything wrong with them; it’s just that, it’s boring as hell.

And you hate this feeling. You wish it would go away. You aren’t a judgmental person, which makes it worse that you see it this way. Why can’t you fall in line, get with the program, stop being rebellious and self centered? It is working for so many other people, just not for you.

And so you feel trapped, stuck, with no alternative except to go along with the flow, which would be fine if there was an actual flow. Instead, you feel stuck in an eddy, spinning back and in and around, getting nowhere, only dizzy in the process.

You try harder. You remember the little choo-choo train illustration from your college days. You were always taught that Facts are the engine that pulls the Faith car and Feelings tag along like the caboose. You must be speeding downhill backward, because all you seem to have are feelings, ones that appear to be leading toward a train wreck. You fear you will be another spiritual casualty along the tracks of life.

So where do you turn? Who do you talk to? The pastor doesn’t get it. He’ll feel threatened that you don’t like him if you admit your boredom. Your wife, try as she may, does not understand the core of your dilemma. And while other guys may concur, they still seem out of touch with their own soul that they fail to identify what you are getting at.

Your only logical conclusion: They are right. You are wrong. They are in. You are out. They are fine. You are alone.

And this is where I beg to differ.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can I Really Sing of Your Love Forever?

If I were to guess, you’re about 39 years old, give or take a few. You have a couple of kids, small little rugrats, and you love being their dad. Your wife is a great mom and life companion. You share similar values but are different enough to make it interesting and humorous. You have the usual squabbles like everyone else, but you love her dearly.

You have a decent career oriented job. You feel challenged, sort of, but the pay is good, so you can’t complain. You’ve had a few offers to go elsewhere, but you’ve turned them down because of family priorities. Kids are happy, wife is happy; no sense in uprooting everyone for your ego. Besides her folks live nearby and watch the kids often, so you and your bride get regular time away. Can’t put a price tag on that, can you?

But you can’t put your finger on it. With all this going for you, why does it still gnaw at you at 3am, after tossing and turning too long? You’re too tired to get up, but too awake to stay in bed. You don’t want to read, late night TV only leads to more senselessness. What is the answer to this persistent question…

…why am I so bored?

And it’s most evident on Sunday morning. You’re a good dad, so you get the kids fed, dressed and in the car while your wife gets ready. At church you take them to their respective classrooms and leave them with eager, wonderful people who give you no reason to worry about their well-being, and you and your wife enter the flow of people into the large theatre and settle in for the next 56 minutes.

She knows something is wrong, because you have this tell-tale signal of rubbing your eyes that give an indication you want to stab them out with a fork in order to divert your attention to something engaging. You sing, sort of. You shake hands with people around you. You actually shut off your phone per her request so you aren’t tempted to text someone else who feels the same way you do. You listen as best you can, even though your mind wanders. You leave your tithe in the collection plate. And next thing you know, your 56 minutes is up.

So you shuffle out of the theatre, saying hi to a few folk on the way back to pick up your kids. They hand you their coloring sheet. The teacher gives a hug and a farewell. You buckle the kids in the back of the minivan, turn on Prairie Home Companion and listen to Garrison Keillor while you wait on your wife to fill her tank with social interaction.

When the bee is finished verbally pollinating the ears of the other familiar flowers, she gets in the car and informs you of the other families that are meeting at the latest child centered food and entertainment bonanza and asks if you would like to join them. “Of course” is the expected reply, and you pull out of the parking lot as the radio changes from NPR to Veggie Tales.

On arrival, mom suggests that dad take the kids right away to the playground while she orders the food, so you find the other dads at the ball pit with the same marching orders. You talk a little Favre and hope you can get home in time to watch the second half. In the meantime, its time to eat, so you begin the process of corralling the children and redirect their attention toward lunch. Once all the other parents clue in to their children’s restlessness, you all agree to disperse and say goodbye for another week.

And you wonder if you’re the only one that feels the way you do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Old Stocks, Please

Here’s another reason I will never be invited back to speak at the Church As We Know It. I’m not burning these bridges on purpose, or maybe deep in my subconscious I really am, but feel I’m only trying to speak about what makes sense to me now more than ever. Also, I’m not trying to be contrarian for the sake of stirring up controversy. I just look at the practice of my faith in a very different light now.

At the risk of burning in theological hell for this one, I’m really puzzled about the use of bible language to describe the future of church movements. Is it really a good thing to refer to our gatherings as “Acts 29” models, or as “New Testament” churches? Is it best to define what the future needs by going backward instead of forward?

No, I don’t hate the Bible. Just follow me for a few more paragraphs.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this in seminary, or in my years of being a part of the Church As We Know It. Maybe it was because I was too close to it all to see how I might be worshiping a sacred cow all because of a culturally held value, instead of a faith-based one. But I have to keep coming back to the words that were recorded of Jesus when he told his followers, “greater things than these you will do, if you have faith in me.” My question that is begged from this statement is: How will looking to recreate what has already happened lead to a movement any greater than the one we are trying to imitate?

Many of us yearn for awakening. We seek a movement and like to feel we are a part of the next wave that will roll like the tide and change the course of history. I know, I’ve been a part of it, and in some ways, still want it to and believe it can happen. I was convinced that the Passion Movement was going to usher in a cataclysmic event that would affirm Bill Bright’s vision of seeing spiritual awakening in his lifetime. But I was still looking backward, not forward.

Notre Dame Football is a case in point. Guys my age think about the Fighting Irish much differently than the 17-year old high school recruit looking to play football in college. It’s the older folk that want to get their school back in the National Championship hunt by speaking in terms of tradition, core values and past successes. Talented Prep Star doesn’t relate. He’s looking ahead, not behind. Why spend his abilities on a school that seems irrelevant to where he’s going?

We’ve done the same with the Future Pastors. They are the young men and women who show talent, leadership and vision, but instead of giving the keys of the Church of the Future to them, we want them to take over something of ours instead of creating something of their own. And when they don’t show an interest, we mark it up to the flaws in the generation.

Could be the problem lies with us.

Like it or not, Current Pastor, people like this are the future, and they are the ones that are going to replace you.

Both you and Notre Dame are going to have to contend with the future of your existence. Are you going to build a future or continue to create a world that looks like your past? If I were you, I would seriously take a look at the defensiveness my words are stirring up in you. I’m not talking about being relevant or dumbing down the message or diluting the Truth. If that is all you can see of this post, either I’m not being clear or we need to have a few beers together so I can explain what I mean further.

I’ll buy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We used to have to walk to school uphill, both ways....

Over the years I’ve read several books on the subject of spiritual awakening. The topic has always been of high interest to me, for reasons I can’t take the time to fully explain here, but I am drawn by fascination to the process of how and why social change occurs. Every author has his or her reasons, or solutions, but there seems to be one common thread woven through most writing to which I am familiar. Most everything I’ve ever read about spiritual awakening describes the process in terms of returning, or getting things back to the way they should be.

You can find works written about how to take our cities back for the glory of God, or for those who are interested in returning America back to Christ, or how to get our world back on the right track. In each case, the operative word is “back.”

Why not forward?

The wisdom of Solomon led him to propose this idea years ago. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” I believe he recognized that in every generation, there is a tendency to think backward instead of forward. We do so because of personal experience. We’ve seen the past, but we’ve not seen the future.

But this kind of perspective requires very little faith. Faith is the essence of what is unseen, not what is seen. It takes less faith to look upon what once was and think it should be the norm. As I described in a previous post, I saw leaders who wanted me to recreate the Jesus Movement of the 70’s by telling stories in such a way that assumed they should be normative for my generation. All it created was a bunch of frustrated students.

This is why Solomon chides us to stay away from looking back on the good old days with anything other than fondness. It’s one thing to enjoy history, collecting antiques, and eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel, but when that affection turns into an obsession to remake the future in that image, it’s a good sign that faith is starting to erode.

Future Pastor, this is why I believe in you so much. I don’t want to become Bobby Bowden or Joe Paw. They are both legends in their field, but they are relics because the game has changed significantly. I know there will come a time I need to get out of your way and turn the reins over to you to lead your generation according to the vision you have that is instigated by your faith.

I love Al Pacino’s speech in the locker room scene of the film, Any Given Sunday, where he stands in front of his team at halftime and with the cadence of a gospel preacher, paints a picture of what it will take to win the ballgame. At one point in the speech he tells them clearly, “Now I can’t do it for you...” which is how I feel about finding the Church of the Future.

Future Pastor, you have a better opportunity to move forward than I because you have less of a past than I do. I can lead you, inspire you and walk a while with you, but it’s up to you to see what the future can be by faith. Trust what you envision. The old days were fine, and old guys like me will always look at them differently than you will, and that’s why you will change the world, not me.

Monday, November 02, 2009

He's an Unidentified Flying Object...

It will be interesting to see how this generation of students will look back on their faith development 30 years from now. I wonder if they will feel the need to react or adapt with as much vigor as my generation.

I was spiritually raised in a post-Jesus-Movement era by leaders who experienced the awakening first hand. If I could narrow down what I got from them, it was built around the importance of having people pray a prayer of salvation. This was the cornerstone upon which all other components of my faith were laid. If I didn’t have a story to tell about how I witnessed to the person I met in line at the post office in 90 seconds, I felt a little less than whole.

It was commonplace to hear unbelievable illustrations about countless people in that day that were deciding to wake up, abandon their life of sex, drugs and rock and roll and follow Jesus. The stories were fascinating, and to a young college student, inspiring, but there was one major problem; they were told out of context.

The Jesus Movement happened in a unique period of time which, depending on who you cite, began sometime in the late 60’s and effectively was played out within ten years. I do not deny its historical importance and my point is not to criticize it. I am only trying to make sense of the shift that has come since then.

I believe a common yearning in every generation throughout the ages is to see society correct its course away from decline and redirect it toward goodness. I think most of us would agree that in any case, a reduction in crime, a shift in the divorce rate, lower teen pregnancies and greater charitable giving would be preferable. The Jesus Movement was one of those historic times that presented an answer to which many, especially young people, responded.

But I was handed the Jesus Movement ethos as normative, without realizing that the circumstance for it had already passed. My leaders were not aware either, and continued to tell their 15 year old stories, wanting me to replicate their experience. I tried for quite some time, until I discovered we weren’t in the 70’s any longer.

What I have kept with me on my journey toward the future is that same desire to see spiritual awakening occur in a new generation. How it will come about, however, is a whole new ballgame.

Awakening implies a transition from a state of unconscious slumber to one of conscious awareness. I physically underwent that shift this morning around 5am, when I no longer was asleep, to getting up out of bed, making a cup of coffee and typing this post. Does this same changeover occur spiritually? I believe so, and here’s why I think that way.

It has to do with why so many people leaving the Church As We Know It.

The last 30 years after the Jesus Movement has allowed a person like me to become aware of how I have been asleep. I am awakening to find what is not working, and to seeing what needs to be done, and eventually toward what could be, if only I stop looking for results that happened in the past. We can’t recreate the Jesus Movement, or the Student Volunteer Movement or the First and Second Great Awakenings, nor should we. It’s time to wake up to a brand new day, one with new mercies and new beginnings.

I would be willing to guess that the reason you read this blog is because the topics about which I choose to write are connecting with you in some way, that they arouse your spirit and make you ponder whether or not you are stirring from your sleep also.

Future Pastor, lets look ahead, not behind. Let the past inspire us, but not limit us. I’ll continue this vein of thought soon…