Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Christian Shame

The past weekend I arrived with my wife at one of our favorite retail stores of which we have started somewhat of a casual relationship with the owner. She is in her mid-40's and very funny and sometimes even a bit inappropriate. (That day she cursed at us for making her get to work then casually laughed it off.) But I must confess that I enjoy how comfortable and real she is around us. She knew that my wife and I are both grad students in Pasadena, however; she did not know that we were working on Master's of Divinity degrees to go into some capacity of ministry. She of course asked us this past weekend to explain what we were studying and then after we responded she looked slightly confused and began a barrage of questions about our chosen path of life. THIS WAS SO AWKWARD. I and my wife afterwards discussed how difficult it was to convey to her that we are not only Christians but those pursuing professional ministry.

So where does this fear come from? It comes from the worry of losing that which we already had; a good open relationship. We enjoyed her comfort and knew that her demeanor was at risk with our being exposed as moral Christian folk.

I have had a bit of time to reflect on this and I was recently met with a reflection from a reading by Greg Ogden. He uses Eph. 4:11-12 to explain the role of a pastor. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...." (NIV) He then quotes Elton Trueblood in saying: "...the pastorate is for those who possess the peculiar gift of being able to help other men and women to practice any ministry to which they are called."

In both of these passages there is a great sense of call. In other words, I am not in charge, God is. My fear is in spite of trusting the work of God. In reflection, having her ask about what I study is the easiest way to state that I am a person who knows God. If it changes her behavior around us, have I lost much? No, because I do not change around her. This is a part of being in our world but not of our world.

In the end, we made a purchase and "talked shop" a bit more and were reassured that we will be given a hard time for making her work in any subsequent Sundays we decide to stop in. She knows we will be back, and I know she will probably welcome us with an equal and akward warming demeanor as usual. However, just as I trust God with my call, I will trust Him with our next conversation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Are We There Yet?

I love progress. I would venture to say that as a western thinker I view my past, present and future in terms of progress. My success is typically defined by progress as well as my failures. I enjoy music in a progessional fashion, I play video games with the sole purpose of progressing, and I go to school that I may progress in my education. Sound familiar? Westerners love progress; it is an innate part of our culture and mindset. We see it in our culture through marketing and advertising. (I think marketing and advertising is one of the most applicable arenas to observe our culture.) With messages of "be better at this", "look more like her", or "be more successful like him" we are bombarded by progress. This does not evade the Christian Church either.

In Craig Van Gelder's book The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led By the Spirit, he makes a statement that the missional church will never "arrive." (On a side note: I am at some point going to talk more about Craig's book, but this is not that post. I would recommend it though whole-heartedly.) It is a great deal easier to understand this statement when we understand what missional church means to Craig. To make things short he would say that the missional church is a church that combines missiology (the study of missions) with ecclesiology (the study of church) and then puts the results into practice within its own immediate community.

When Craig says that this church will never "arrive" he is dissuading people who are giving their lives to discipleship and following the discernment of the Holy Spirit within their communities to the facade of progress being complete. Doing church is not about progress and then arriving, it is about participating in what God is doing in one's community daily. This will never cease. Change is inevitable in God's Church. This means that we can never "arrive" and become comfortable. There is no such thing as a final vision for a Church. As people who are seeking to lead the Church we have to assume that God is always at work confirming what we are doing and also changing the direction as well. It is so easy to get caught up in a vision that we are not quick to let go when it is time, or to even listen to the Holy Spirit to see where we should be moving, be it towards or away from an original goal. To close with a statement from pg. 179 of Craig's book he says: "Planned change is typically a process that is ongoing. For a congregation that is being led by the Spirit to engage its context with meaningful ministry, the process of guiding change is usually a continuous responsibility of those who provide leadership for a congregation."
Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Who is our savior?

Now that finals are over and a new quarter has begun, I guess it is time to step back into the blogging world. Ready, set, here we go...

I had an interesting thought today while discussing Michael Budde's book The (Magical) Kingdom of God in class. When we look at culture and media who do we really put our stock into for our day-to-day salvation? In other words, does our peace of mind come from the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of entertaining myself?

Everyday we are being told that our salvation lies in the grasp of an iPod or a new car. (I say this as I write on my beautiful Mac Book Pro laptop.) Is there any room for Jesus in our need for stimulus and entertainment? We are being shown that to own a computer is to own a barrage of little programs and widgets to make sure that we never go a moment without a joyful glimpse of satisfaction to stimulate our minds. However, if this is true then do we have the patience to listen to God and focus on the Holy Spirit? I cannot remember the last time I prayed for more than 45 minutes and let alone committed a day to it. I am far too busy for something like that. If I have free time I am going to utilize it with my many assortment of tools and devices which I have invested in for my leisure.

A problem that Budde brings up is that through media we have been subjected and programed by messages that teach us how to be consumers. So as a Christian, I wonder if I am I guilty for becoming a product of my environment? This is probably the wrong question to ask in light of Budde's claims though, because it is not a question of labeling the point of fault, but of labeling the motivation of we as Christians to seek a world of faith and love beyond consumerism while still in the world which encapsulates it. Am I willing to slow down and listen? Am I willing to identify with the moments that I know I am being abducted by my materialistic upbringing? Am I ready to engage media and consumerism as a Christian who watches television and buys things, and set an ethic that show Kingdom values from within that context? Because it needs to be said that products themselves are not bad, but just like stealing, murder, lust, sloth and other sins, we can desire something so much that we try to get more than we ought. I think that is the lie that we must identify every day in the west - How much do I need and what do I do with the rest?