Monday, March 29, 2010

Seeking a Simple Solution

Cowboys & Indians

Cops & Robbers

Saints & Sinners

Democrats & Republicans

We like categories. They simplify our choices and help us delineate good from bad. It’s easy to have clear cut lines that distinguish between right and wrong. Much like Ryan Bingham in the film Up In The Air, speaking of his experience getting through airport security quickly. “It’s not racist, I just stereotype. It makes things go faster.”

Categorizing our beliefs would be helpful in bringing clarity if the belief only had two sides. You believe in God, or you don’t. You want healthcare reform, or you don’t. You support gay marriage, or you don’t. The Bible is true, or its not. But I doubt that there are very few issues you and I would come down on either side, with a stark black and white line dividing us.

This is my problem with politics and religion. Both require a choice based on an either/or assumption of any given issue. Religion taught me that I was either for God, or against Him. Politics taught me that I am either Republican or Democrat. If I check the Independent box, I don’t get to play in the regular season.

Yes, it’s easy to categorize, but easy doesn’t always translate into effective, especially when it comes to making progress in religious or political discussion.

I believe there is a simple answer, but simple is not to be confused simplistic.

Digging a foundation is simple, but the work is hard. All it takes is a shovel, a strong back, and a little determination.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jesus, save me from your followers

I intentionally steer away from writing about politics, or even discussing them for that matter. It’s such a polarizing subject that it’s rare to find someone with whom I can air my thoughts and not fear I will be labeled a hypocrite, homophobe or some equally endearing kind of moniker. But it’s because of this reason I’ve decided venture out into the unknown.

As a writer, I have the tendency to stick with what I know and with that which I am most comfortable. But as I get more serious about writing, I am beginning to see how this will act as a major hindrance if I ever desire to improve my craft. One author puts it this way, “I write to learn and discover, not to air what I already know.” I like this approach.

Another part of my resistance in openly engaging in political discussion is because of the dissonance that is created by my faith. For some, it is their faith that pushes them into the political arena. For me it is just the opposite.

Faith and politics are two extremely personal and emotional subjects. Both elicit responses from the viscera, and in turn, wind up exiting the mouth before passing through the brain for a much needed inspection of humility and civility. What you end up with is a shrill debate with no understanding or progress.

In the days ahead, I will attempt to sketch out a series of conflicts between my faith and my politics, not for the purpose of resolving them, but more as an exercise to communicate my desire to hold both in tension. I’ve watched too many of my friends abandon one or the other because of this friction. I don’t subscribe to either/or thinking any longer. My world view is not that tidy, even as much as I wish it could be.

Faith would not be faith without the handmaiden of doubt, the doubles partner of uncertainty, and the antagonist of chaos. Faith blooms and flourishes because of what is unseen, not because of what is visible and obvious. For me, politics plays this role. It is my Lex Luther, my Mr. Glass, waiting to test the strength of its counterpart.

Karen asked me a question this week that I can’t get out of my head. She said, “Do you think more people would be interested in Christianity if it weren’t for the reputation of its followers being so judgmental?” In my mind, the essence of its Good News is anything but judgment, so how in the world did it get to this point? Jesus; OK, Christians: Not so much. The bumper sticker sermon that reads, “Jesus, protect me from your followers.” is not hard to comprehend.

This blog was born first for my sake. My first motive was to write for myself and not for an audience. I needed this blog more than you did, and still do. And if that ever changes, you will be able to tell. I will hang up writing.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Doing the Lord’s Work

One of my servers came back into the kitchen during service last night and relayed the message, “Table 52 wanted me to tell you guys specifically about the brisket, “Oh my Lord!”

It told him that’s evidence that we are doing the Lord’s work.

The same was used in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle by the workers in the early twentieth century Chicago slaughterhouses to keep their sense of humor while toiling under grueling subhuman conditions. When the pace of the line was forced unbearably forward, they would chide each other, “Now we’re really doing the Lord’s Work!

I defined the Lord’s work for years as a vocation with a certain look and appearance within a dedicated organization, defined by activities of preaching, teaching, and organizing events and activities for people. We called it ministry, and its meaning was commonly understood. This language is now changing, and so is its definition.

I remember my student director in college telling stories about the days of the sixties, when his culture was clamoring for spiritual truth, and how he took a semester off from college in order to travel around to campuses, preaching and leading people to faith. This model was used as a template for countless students, myself included, who were interested in trying to make their lives count for God. “Go into ministry,” was the response standard response to that yearning. And so we did.

As a businessman now, the terms Supply and Demand are a daily part of my thinking, but I think they should also be considered by the leaders of the Church As We Know It when thinking about how to counsel young talent and their vocational direction. Is the current Demand for spiritual direction from our culture equivalent to the Supply of people who make their living from the gospel?

Will the Church of the Future be better served by fewer professionals?

As a former professional, I always felt the need to justify my existence with stories of people and how their lives were improved because of my work, and the more of these I collected and dispensed, the better I felt about having you write me that support check. Now that I make my living from another enterprise, that pressure is off, freeing me to actually enjoy both my work and my faith to a fuller extent.

I am a pastor at my core. This is my gifting, but no longer my profession. And as with any true gift, it will work itself out in whatever I do. My reflex is to know you are taken care of, and to lead you to green pastures. I can’t help it, and neither can you.

Future Pastor, your gift is not based on your office, but found deep in your soul. It will percolate up from that source wherever you find yourself, be it in a job called Pastor, or in one with a seemingly unrelated title. How many of us know a pastor who hates his life? I bet we could make a sizable list. And how much of that disdain extends from the inorganic, unsustainable design of the Office of Pastor? The Church As We Know It chews you up and spits you out, and your average pastor stays in one congregation for an average of two years before he feels the “leading of the Lord” to move someplace else.

Find what makes you alive and exercise your gift within that realm. The seeds of your fruitfulness will grow much better in that soil.