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But I’m bored already: a call to long-suffering

 

As a church… as a culture…. we are easily seduced by the instantaneous.

Never has that been more true than in the age of Internet, fast food, and airplane travel. Yet the seduction of doing things as quickly as possible has been a part of Western life for over 150 years, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The effect has simply snowballed.

Church communities have long since bought into this as well:

* The 19th century saw a rapid spread of Protestant Christianity in the US, which necessitated more “efficient” ways to become a Christian. Tenets of faith were reduced to simple “fundamentals” that everyone could digest, understand without much intense study, and were easily replicable. Theology became the means to substantiate this “Christianity Lite.” Circuit riders and wagons followed Manifest Destiny west.The proliferation only increased in speed with the advent of technologies such as the steam engine and the railroad, followed by the automobile and airplane.

* Pastoral care had to speed up, too. Inspired by the miraculous events in the scriptures, and perhaps by the testimonies of healing, some of these evangelists took up “healing ministries”—which was a convenient way to both continue full-fledged proliferation of the “gospel,” without having to get bogged down in slower, messier activities like relationships or compassion.

* Of course, while many denominations and groups maintained their devotion to compassion and justice, many communities spent less and less time on such things, unless of course doing so posed some direct benefit for their cause to “spread the easy-to-swallow Gospel.” Justice, fighting prejudice, challenging unjust laws, these things take time. The 19th and early 20th centuries still saw some progress, but it was around that time that people advocating for a “social gospel” were being demonized as heretics and Communists…such causes were deemed as ‘getting in the way’ of spreading the real Gospel message.

* All of these incipient trends began to accelerate in the mid/late 20th centuries. Along with it, churches and revivals became places of mass religious consumption, designed for maximum conversion rates. Reactions against liberation movements for women, blacks, and others led many churches’ silence or outright condemnation, which allowed abuse, scandal, and corruption to go unchecked in homes, businesses and in churches themselves. In the face of threatening post-Christian culture, churches catered more and more to the styles and modes and fashions that they hoped would make their Gospel-nuggets palatable again. Missionaries were being slowly replaced by the medium-term, and then the short-term missionary. This allowed more people to have “life-changing experiences,” but cost far more money, less of which actually went to the poor… but it was all good, because the trips gave the participants all the feelings of “investment,” without actually investing. Needs of the community have been farmed out to committees and sub-committees, all to find convenient, cost-effective solutions, advertised as easy, not-too-life-consuming “ways to get involved,” nearly always in the form of a structured church program.

Is it any wonder why people feel lonely in our world? Even at church?

It’s time for the church to think long-term. 

To not do a hundred things at the shallowest of levels, but to do only a few things, and to do them well.

The new benchmark for church success? That people build deep, long-lasting, long-suffering relationships.

With each other. With community projects. With the poor, young, abused.

It’s time to stop judging a ministry on the basis of whether or not it “grows,” or if it leads to “conversions” (but probably not disciples)… but on the basis of the love that is shown, and grown.

It’s time to think in terms of years, not months…. and in DECADES, not years.

It’s time to realize that deep, systemic, deeply rooted-within-societal problems don’t go away with our prayers, if no loving action goes with it. And they don’t go away with our one-time action, or even, oftentimes, our one-year action. It takes deep, systemic, deeply rooted responses to such deep problems… which includes prayer, AND involvement, for the long-haul.

It’s time for churches, as well as the individuals in them, to build relationships. Real, two-way relationships. And to realize that these, unforced and uncajoled, take time to develop.

It’s time for churches seeking pastors, and new church leaders, to see the inevitable “downswing” that happens after new relationships are forged and the “honeymoon phase” is over, as an opportunity to “long-suffer” with another, rather than high-tail it and to look for another community, group, individual, etc. to fawn over, or to let fawn over you.

It’s time to stop patting ourselves on the back for only the things we measure as “success.”

And for the love of God, we must, we must, we MUST stop supplementing our quick-fix, easy-answer, instantaneous-results orientation with a “Gospel Lite.” The “Good News” is not truly good, until it affects every strata of living— physical, emotional, social, spiritual, political, ecclesial. Until it is Good News for those who long-suffer and carry heavy burdens of oppression, guilt, abuse, neglect, poverty, self-worthlessness. Until that Good News becomes Incarnate, en-fleshed, in the very midst of that suffering, and we then “suffer with” (com-passio) the suffering.

Even if it takes a while.

A LONG while.

….

Are we willing to work on behalf of others without immediate or continual payoff?

Are we able to?

Does our theology, our Gospel, give us the resources to do so?

 

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen

 http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4837.Henri_J_M_Nouwen

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in church, jesus, theology

 

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Unity in love; unity in purpose—possible, or a pipe dream?

This post is a part of the Rally to Restore Unity hosted on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

NOTE:  I largely wrote this post last night, prior to learning about the Bin Laden death.  Thus, I make no mention of it.  I’ll just say here, no matter your perspective on it, that I hope we could consider this apposite RTRU sign(Courtesy of @WritingJoy). 

If you knew me back in my high school and (especially) college days, you would probably know that the concept of Christian unity was always a passion of mine.  I always felt like the church’s fragmentation and Christians’ general distrust towards each other was a tragedy, and that God has called the church to live and act as one… and that by remaining fragmented, the church’s message to the world would continue to be tarnished. 

Of course, I should clarify that by “concept” of Christian unity…I meant: “If only all churches would just believe the same things THAT I DO, and care about the things I CARE ABOUT, then we would be able to truly be one again.”

Of course, I didn’t think about it that way at the time… back then, I would’ve said it this way:

“If only all churches believed what the Bible says…. then we would be truly one.” 

So simple!  Why hadn’t anyone else thought of this before???  Smile 

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in church

 

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Thoughts on Rob Bell (part four).

 

Evangelicalism’s Doom and the Phoenix that is Mainline Protestantism:  A response (sort-of) to David Fitch and Scot McKnight

 

{DISCLAIMER:  Post (and especially picture captions) are not for the easily offended.}

 

Faculty David Fitch

David Fitch and Scot McKnight are both evangelical theologians of the highest caliber, both with better-than-average communication skills in a field that’s not exactly known for its sublime prose. 

Fitch has a new book out, that you can learn all about here.  I’m excited to get a chance to read it soon, and as you can see for yourself on his website, you can get a copy at a 40% discount.  What a guy. Smile 

[See “our conversation” (in a manner of speaking) after the jump.]

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in church, emergent, future, RCA, theology

 

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God-Notes (ANKC): Morsels and Tidbits from Chapter 3

 

Not only would doing a long post on every chapter of A New Kind of Christian be tedious and time-consuming (I’m hoping to make my posts more succinct anyway) on my end, I don’t think it would make for very compelling reading on your end, on the whole.  Moving slowly breeds redundancy for me. [I feel like I’ve been setting the table for months now.  It’s time to move on to the main course, already. ] 

Also, some of these chapters are not going to be as strong conversation-starters as others— Chapter 3 is an example.

That said, I wanted to highlight a few interesting “morsels” from the chapter, before we dig into full-fledged meals [so if you’re on a blog-diet, you can just read this post.]

The John Robinson quote:  If you want to read it, it’s the 2/27/11 entry on my page-o-quotes.  Basically, the prayer of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ pastor prior to embarking on their grand excursion is an amazingly gracious prayer that echoes the sentiments of those like McLaren, seeking a New Conversation. 

The overall sentiment? A desire for HUMILITY.  Exemplifying openness and desire to plumb the depths of faith, not destroy it (despite what critics may claim).   Commitment to dialogue.  Basically, the stuff I’ve mentioned in the last few posts.

The rest of these are things I thout about as I read lines from this prayer:

* “We acknowledge that we have made a mess of what Jesus has started…”  

People are not scandalized by the gospel in our culture… contrary to what some might say. [We’ve made it so easy; what is there to be scandalized about?] People are not scandalized by Jesus; they’re first and foremost scandalized by the church and its innumerable sins against God’s world.   Acknowledging this (and our need for repentance) is one of the first steps necessary to our New Conversation; it’s also necessary to our conversations with those outside the Christian faith. [<—- Shane Claiborne’s article to Esquire magazine=a must read]

* We understand that many good Christians will not want to participate in our quest, and we welcome their charitable critique…” 

Pesistent, loving  invitation is the primary attitude of this conversation; it is also the primary posture of the Church that lives in a post-legalistic and yet also a post-“making-church-as-easy-as-possible-for-me-so-that-I-no-longer-have-a-clear-sense-of-what-the-point-of-church-is” –mentality.    We want to belong to something bigger, but we are still individualists, who cannot be coerced into believing or belonging.    But we can invite participation into a “deep relationship,” and do so without judgment or passive-aggression.

* “We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point and they all call for reassessment and in many cases, repentance…” 

All forms of Christianity are constructed.  (Again, no pure Christianity!)… The way we respond to that is to continue to construct, but not after careful evaluation and “deconstruction…” because we must be HUMBLE about what we believe— lest our theology become our idol!

*We desire to be born again as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Interesting that he (Robinson) did not say “we ARE ‘born again’…” even though that’s how most of us have heard this phrase used— as a static state of “in-ness” vs. “out-ness” imputed onto anyone who prays the “magic words.” 

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2011 in church, theology

 

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my wife and I have been talking about aging lately….

 

… and specifically, how the church ministers to older adults, especially as they approach the end of life. 

 

Quite frankly, we could do better.  Especially when, as Amy has told me that, based on statistics, the majority of the US population will be over the age of 60 in just a few decades. 

 

We’ve talked about the way in which older adults are regarded in our individualist society in comparison to communal societies.  We’ve talked about the loss of identity one feels when they age in an individualist society, when they begin to lose their sense of independence.  We’ve talked about how many older adults in the coming years will have less connections with their families than previous ones, and will have a lessened sense of wisdom to pass on.  We’ve talked about how, in psychosocial theory, without a sense of openness to the world and a sense of loving contribution, older adults can potentially enter old age with either a sense of despair, or a heightened bitterness and defensiveness. 

And, we’ve discussed how churches have been working for decades to do a better job at the discipleship of children and youth… but we haven’t had much focus on discipling older adults, and probably have no clue on how to do it any differently than we are. (Even though that will be a huge need of the church in the coming decades.) 

 

Really, we just both long for a more intergenerational church, in a society that doesn’t value intergenerational anything.   (Although we have different ideas on how to get there.  I think Amy would start with helping older adults own their role as wisdom-holders of the community and encourage younger adults to be the ones to “bridge the gap;” I would tend to start with wanting to see older adults, and the generation underneath them, begin to share their “power chips” with the younger adults, and even youth, in their communities, and encouraging all generations to be “lifelong learners,” humble and supple to change.)

 

On a half-way related note, I was touched by the recent interview CT did with the 92-year-old Billy Graham, particularly when it deals with his own perspective on what it is like, and what it means, to age. 

 

Check it out.    And if you have any thoughts about Billy G or why my wife is smarter than me (as I’ve always said), feel free to comment. 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in aging, church ministry

 

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