Wednesday, September 30, 2009

trust the community entrusted to you

In our organic leadership styles, and non-hierarchical organizations, where starfish grow and spiders flee, it is often heard that we must trust the community. We (leaders of some type) must learn to trust the community (and by that I mean individuals within the community) to work out its individual problems, sins, and issues. If leaders always jump in and attempt to solve the problems then people are deprived of the opportunity to learn the difficult skills of living together under the lordship of Christ. And they eventually become dependent on leaders to solve everything. So of course we need to trust the community, let it grow and learn at the proper rate, experiencing first hand how to live in Christ with others.

But, sometimes this hands-off approach to trusting the community turns into an abdication. For leaders, at least leaders commissioned by the church, have a responsibility to the community which has been entrusted to the leaders. While leaders (and there are always leaders no matter how democratic, or flattened your structure) must trust the community, they must also realize that the community has been entrusted to them for its care, protection, and provision. And while this idea of "entrustment" can lead to authoritarian abuse by those seeking to control a community according their own whims, we must not abdicate leadership when issues, problems, or sins threaten the general health of the church. If a wolf is loose in the sheep pen, it is the shepherd's responsibility to take care of it, not the community of sheep.

Finding the balance between intervention and abiding is very difficult, especially for action oriented and people oriented leaders (yes, that is everyone!). So, thankfully I get to work it out in community!

Monday, September 28, 2009

On not beginning with the book...

“We are inclined to begin with the book, with historical context and social setting, words and idioms, grammar and literary forms, religious and theological vocabulary, and the many other topics that command our attention. But the early Christians began with the risen Christ.”

by Robert Louis Wilken

“Interpreting the New Testament,” Pro Ecclesia 14 (2005): 15-25, 16.

Missional Monday: Pseudo-Spirituality

I had been warned! I had been warned by many that seminary would kill my spiritual life. But it is not the only thing that can. There are numerous pseudo-spiritualities that lull us into a way of life that only mirrors a vibrant life with Christ, but is in reality only a dim reflection.

A friend recently reflected with me about his struggle with the pseudo-spirituality of seminary life, where it is easy to think that reading Genesis 1-50 (in one sitting!) is simultaneously homework and devotion. Where one reads Trinitarian theology for 5 hours and allows oneself to claim the time as also a contemplative practice of union with God. But sadly, this is not the case, and seminary life can all too easily fall into pseudo-spirituality.

But unfortunately seminary is not the only place this occurs. Parenting can turn into pseudo-spirituality as we think teaching our children about God, or living as examples of Christ can replace our own struggle and practices of living in Christ. Pastoral ministry of all kinds (vocational or not) can fall into pseudo-spirituality. Leadership meetings, discipleship times, counseling prayer, hospital visitations, or sermon preparation can all lend themselves as spiritual practices of a kind, and it is tempting to allow them to replace disciplined time with Christ. Likewise, social action and community service, with all the time it demands and the concerns it generates can function as a pseudo-spirituality. The list could go on.

Now I’m certainly not saying all the above have no part in forming a vibrant life with Christ. That would be absolutely wrong. But rather the reverse. That all these must be fundamentally connected to Christ, and should never act as a replacement, but rather as an extension of living with Christ.

Here at Life on the Vine, we seek to “live in Christ, with one another, for God’s mission in the world.” But I must remember that I can’t allow living in community or the practices of mission to become the center of my spiritual life because then caring for/being with other and living the gospel life transforms into a pseudo-spirituality. Rather, “living in Christ” is the center that is not a center, because it permeates all things, for it is only by His Spirit that I can do all the others.

So what other forms of Pseudo-Spirituality have you been tempted by?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Missional Monday: Don't Reify "Helping the Poor"

I know that I am guilty of this at some level. But I'm really stuck. I, and many at Life on the Vine, are both concerned for the poor locally and globally. And that is the rub. You see, I'm concerned about not participating in poverty creating or exploitative economic practices, and therefore try as best I can to purchase ethically manufactured clothes, shoes, food, etc. I believe that every dollar I use to purchase something is not only related to that product, but circulates far beyond through economic practices/companies/regimes that I may or may not want to be affiliated with. For those reasons I support places like No Sweat, Autonomie Project, and Toms.

Now I don't think that is missed placed concern at all, but I also know the temptation to reify my concern for the poor in these concerns for exploitation free economics. Being missional is certainly not to stand on the heads of global workers by buying designer jeans while we go out to a local coffee shops or bars and drink a designer coffee or beer. But that is not enough. We still need to seek out the poor locally and not congratulate ourselves merely for supporting local economics (as good and right as that is).

So, anyway, that is what I'm trying to remember here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

when pushing the envelope, don’t destroy the letter.

Many of us in the emerging church or missional conversations can become wary, disillusioned, and disappointed with the church. It moves so slowly. It changes imperceptibly. It squashed innovation ruthlessly (unless it is innovation of basically the same thing). Many times it seems that we can’t break out of the status quo without a serious jolt, a shock to the system, a dramatic upheaval.

And this is where we come in. The “we” of missional change. The “we” of emerging openness. The “we” of prophetic pronouncement. The “we” that wants to look back on our lives and know that “we” were on the side of history, of a great revolution, for God’s kingdom against the status quo of mere churchiness. And so “we” come to push the envelope. But often when “we” are pushing the envelope “we” end up destroying the letter. In the effort of tearing down walls we end up building new ones. Often we fail to accomplish what we set out to do, and lose ourselves and our relationships over an ideal.

But Paul, even in the midst of his immense frustration with the church in Corinth, needing to push all the envelopes and buttons to get them back in line, still could say and live:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

Because letters written on hearts are from Christ, the ministries and individual which pushes the envelop in the name of Christ must take care not to destroy those letters in the process. Our zeal is no excuse for running over people and communities. So, when you are pushing the envelope, be sure you don't destroy the letter.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Science Fiction Friday: How Will The World End?

So this summer I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, and loved it. It is a post-apocalypic novel about the monks of St. Leibowitz who preserve the "memorabilia" of the previous (our) lost civilization, destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The novel works its way through three different time periods as new generations grapple with the lost sciences and their eventual recovery. It is just brilliant. When Walter E. Miller wrote the novel in 1960, the threat of nuclear war was on everyone's mind. But now, are we really going to blow everything to kingdom come, or will world end in a different manner?

I have a sense that it will end differently, and not out of fear of other humans. It no doubt will still be motivated out of fear. But fear of what?

Here is my idea. What if we immunized ourselves to death out of fear of some pandemic? Really, what if we, in trying to create a vaccine, for say the swine flu, we ended creating some killer strain that wipes out 3/4ths of the world population. I'm talking about the scale of 12 Monkeys (great movie!) or 28 Days Later. I'm just wondering because I have heard rumors that we are headed toward the possibility of forced vaccines if the swine flu truly does escalate (here, here, and a video here), and what if it backfires or instead causes the pandemic.

To add fuel to the fire, below is a hip-hop version of an anti-vaccine announcement. it is pretty fun and somewhat informative (well, maybe). But it still makes one think. Also, if you are interested, you can choose your own apocalypse (at least for America).

But let me know how you think the world will end. Or rather, what do the bowls and scrolls of Revelation contain?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On building walls

So I'm preaching this week on living together in Christ, and I need your help. What keeps us from living in the peace of Christ, the peace that IS Christ himself? What breaks up the unity of the Spirit in believers?

I'll be preaching on Eph. 2:11-22, of which 2:14 says, "For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." Compare it to Robert Frost's "Mending Wall", where the speaker acts like he is against walls, but still keeps mending them all the same (see commentary here, text below). But please let me know what you think is the reason for the Church to typically not live in the peace of Christ.

“Mending Wall”
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Monday, September 07, 2009

Missional Mondays: On not being so bad at b-ball

So this Labor Day weekend was full of sports (no, not just watching them), which means I had a great time of it. I got several games of volleyball in (and found out my cousin has mad skills). Then I played a bunch of corn hole, or as the capitalist Man calls it, Baggo (trademark). But to top it off, a couple high school guys call up to see if I wanted to play basketball with them. And so I just go back from playing some pick up ball down at the local middle school.

I had mentioned earlier about it being good missionally to be bad at something, but thankfully tonight I wasn't so bad (even though one team of polish guys killed us!). But it was really great because I was able to meet this college student, Denis, who is studying philosophy and sociology at NIU. And it just happens that I also studied philosophy in undergrad, and so we were able to talked about philosophy and religion, and little about his aspiration for law school.

Anyway, just briefly, this is a reminder that hobbies in the flow of life are the great beginnings of a missional lifestyle...always getting in the way of people so that they might stumble into the Way. Here is a great summary about ways to get in the way: 8 Easy Way to Be Missional.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Sci-Fi Friday: Cybor-Pirate-Ninja Jesus

So it is the first week of school, and I didn't have time for a real post about compelling Science Fiction, so I went the Sci-Fi route of bad christian jokes.

For me, this is how not to engage middle school boys.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Aninalic Theology?

Ok, now I know this is a bit of a rant, but really, do we need to be SO ORGANIC, or rather ANIMALIC in our theology? We all want to exhibit Organic Leadership, but now we have jumped from biology to zoology. I starfish and spiders (the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations) have become all the rage. But do we really need to learn about The Monkey and the Fish, or The Rabbit and the Elephant. Sometimes a marketing ploy just gets out of control. And frankly, humans don't organize like animals (even if they are just used analogously).