Saturday, March 29, 2014

The problem with obedience

The tendency to conform to those in authority is known as obedience. When it comes to faith, who is in authority? Christ, God, and the Spirit of God, of course are the ultimate authoritiy(ies). Who then is Christ, God, and the Spirit of God.

If you put God first (in lieu of let's say, yourself) what exactly are you putting there?

The authority of God comes from scripture, preachers, the community of believers, family, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers and other voices we allow in our lives.

When torn between trying to reduce God's voice of authority down to something more understandable and practicable vs. trying to hear, acknowledge and explore a wider array of God's authority (explore mystery):

I'm finding exploring rather than dismissing (listening to and trying to understand scripture, preachers, community of believers... differently) helps me connect to God.

The "problem" with the tower of Babel isn't what I thought in Sunday school- that the people were trying to be too much like God.

It is rather, for me, that the people weren't trying to be like God enough.

Research indicates, God likes diversity.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How better questions make better answers

Back in junior high school we learned about the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt and how our country overcame the Great Depression. We learned about Roosevelt's leadership and the programs he implemented.  I came away thinking of him as a hero. I learned that he was pragmatic.

I didn't really understand the word pragmatic, but I thought it had to do with trying different things until you found something that worked.

Later as I started understanding politics, I found out that Franklin Roosevelt actually ruined our country with his policies and the programs he implemented. At that time I learned that Ronald Reagan was a hero. He overcame the programs Roosevelt implemented. No change on what I thought pragmatic meant.

When I came to work for the church and started working with groups, I mentioned to one of them that we should be pragmatic.

I was met with a chilled response.  We won't be pragmatic said one of the leaders.  Yes, said another, not pragmatic.  I got the feeling being pragmatic was a bad thing. At least where faith was concerned.

Turns out to be pragmatic has three tenets that could be troubling to people of faith.

1. Truth does not exist "out there"- reality is shaped by our existence in the world as much as how world shapes our existence. It happens to us. It happens because of us.

2. People base their knowledge of reality on what is useful to them and tend to discard what doesn't work.

3. People define the social and physical objects they encounter in the world according to their use for them.

4. If we want to understand each other: we must understand the interaction of ourselves with the world, we acknowledge we and the world are constantly changing, we interpret our interactions differently.

Are these thoughts dangerous to faith?

I can see where this philosophy would interfere with our charge to believe in things we can't see and prove.

But, if you have ever sensed a disconnect when attempting to connect people, God, and ideas; the reality may be that we are all on some level pragmatists.

The problem is that we are unwilling to talk about it.

Before we discard pragmatism (which in itself would be pragmatic) as bad (or not useful), we might want to make sure we understand how pragmatic we each really are.

For the particular idea you are attempting to share:
1. Is it true?
2. Does it work?
3. Is it worth it?

We often get stuck on the first question. And we spend lots of time arguing with and giving the silent treatment to those who disagree with us.  Question number two is where we might get bogged down in a discussion of pragmatism.

I have found the richer conversations I have are spent with question number 3.  The reason you do what you do is because of question 3.  Here is where faith and pragmatism can be held in a healthy tension.

Figuring out which questions we respond to leads to better answers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What if the photo at Iwo Jima was staged?

When you gather pictures for the church directory or write up a bulletin article asking people to participate in the soup kitchen meal prep you are in many ways mediating your ministry. Like the media does.

You are portraying something that is or something that you hope is or something that you want to become. Like the media.

What if I told you the photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima was staged?

When I first heard that, I was incensed.  The photo represents to me a turning point of the war. A moment when good overcame evil.

I'm really not sure if the photo was staged or not.

I have learned some a few things about the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

The photo was taken before the battle: not after. Many of the men pictured in it were killed in the battle.

There were several photos taken of the flag and at least one was staged or posed.

There were two raising of the flags.  The photo of the first one wasn't very inspirational to look at.

And none of it really matters in terms of what the photo means to me as an American.

It's about good overcoming evil.

Some of the pictures in your directory or the stories of you ministry may or not be staged.

Some of the stories I read in the Bible may or not be historically accurate.

And none of it really matters in terms of what those pictures or stories mean to me as a person of faith.

It's about love overcoming fear.

The way in which we are made by as we participate in the sharing of our faith touches in some way every thing we do. Our context, our history, our scriptures, and our experiences.  Do they lead us closer to God and to each other?  How we embrace that and each other is what really matters.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

How to deal with deviants


Departing from usual or accepted standards, esp. in social or sexual behavior.
A deviant person or thing.

W.I Thomas noticed that "Things which men perceive as real are real in their consequences."

In mission and ministry with the groups of people who have something (let's say us) and those who don't (let's call them deviants) we sometimes stop at attempts to economize how to best get the stuff that we have to the people who don't.

If we take a step further or take a step back, we might try for a moment to understand these deviants.

The homeless, I was told by a homeless person, wish sometimes that people would "quit trying to figure out homeless people."

What we think of deviants often comes from news sources, friends and family, and our pew and Sunday school seat.

Our perceptions of deviants are mediated by the media of our ministry.

In this scene from West Side Story we get the idea that these deviants are missing something that can be provided by the right resource.

The troubles of the deviants are seen as systemic and sociological.  But our troubles occur individually as well.

What we often think of the deviant (you can substitute homeless, poor, unbeliever, fundamentalist, liberal, or any "they are wrong to my right" label you wish) comes from news, theology, or religious beliefs that we figure are just "showing it as it is".

And the fact is that they are all wrong.

Wrong for a reason.

They might even be wrong for good reason.  For earnest, committed, Biblically based reason.

When a member of a church focus group heard some of our ideas about developing ways to get to know some of the folks we minister to on a personal level and then help each other get to know our abilities and gifts that we can bring to the community development table, she remarked "you better check with the mission people about that."

As in maybe the mission people wouldn't like that? Because the mission people had different reasons?  Like getting people on board with a belief system that would make it so that they could get to heaven too. Like us. Like me!

In reality the mission people, if this is their reason, know this is wrong and the people in the focus group know it's wrong, but we seem to have this understanding that we are wrong and the people in our congregations know we are wrong, but we both have a role to play and we are doing it for the right reason (in this case salvation.)

The way to discipleship might lead through coming to understand what these good reasons are for this wrong way thinking.

How do we interpret each other's experiences and beliefs so that we can get to know each other and God?

It might start with trying to get to know the deviants before we try to understand them, much less fix them.

How to deal with deviants?

Make sure you know some.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

4 Choices you have when under stress

Stress for the purposes of our discussion is being in a position to do something that you don't want to do.  In this moment, you would literally rather be somewhere else.

Most of the time we have at least four choices when under stress:

1. Do it because you decide you are going to be in this place in order to see what you can learn from it.  Is there a different outcome you will discover that will lead you to a different, if not better place?  This is basically the opposite George approach.  "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."

2. Do it because, although you see it as a waste of time and beneath you, you know that it is important to someone else and therefore "making them happy will make me happy."  Jin up your energy, punch the time clock, put on a smile and do the work well.

3. Don't do it and be OK with that because you just weren't in the right place for it at the moment.  You earn the ability to take this option most likely after you have successfully employed option 3 a a time or two.  There is nothing wrong with paying your dues to be able to say no.  Consider this option also partly as a time to build up the reserves to take option 2.  Options 2 and 3 might be considered as a bank account.  Option 2 is deposits.  Option 3 is debits.  Try to build up some savings.

4. Do it and resent it.  This is often the option we take most when we don't consider the other alternatives.  But it is an option we should try to avoid at all costs.  Because it costs more than it is worth. It drains any hope of joy.  It bankrupts any capital we have. It creates negative energy and puts us behind the next time we have a choice to make.

The challenge? Developing the wisdom of when to employ which option.

I recently read a story about a doctor who took the time to help a patient eat her food, spruce up her pillow, and empty the bed pan for her.  I must admit it was counter intuitive to me.  It seemed like a rare thing for a doctor to do these things.

I asked a health care professional why it seemed so out of the ordinary.

They usually don't, she said, because they are so busy.  They are under a lot of stress.  They have forgotten that doing these little things for a patient are joy.

As a leader in discipleship, we are busy and under stress.  Have we forgotten about joy?

Maybe being wise in moments of stress will lead us back to the moments of joy that got us into this work in the first place.

Choose wisely my friend.

Find joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Atonement for All of Us

I'm a little fuzzy on atonement.  Or Atonement.

And maybe that's it.  I'm unsure of the relationship between atonement- making amends for our wrongs, missteps, and sins- and Atonement-what Jesus did for us and in fact the whole world.

Jesus came to take on the wrongs, missteps, and sins of the world.

But we still are expected to atone for our wrong doing- confession, asking for forgiveness, and reparations.  In the court room and around the kitchen table.

But are we, as a part of our journey toward Christlike-ness asked to make up for, or own up to, the wrongs, missteps, and sins of others?

Some people say we do that for our children and for those closest to us.

But how about the world.  Did God so love the world that he sent me?

If so, how might I live that out:

  • Giving money to the homeless guy instead of offering to buy him some food and watching him eat the food.
  • Taking the blame for a committee chair screw up at the staff meeting. (Not because taking the blame and giving the credit is good "leadership", but because I am atoning Jesus style.
  • Allowing someone who has a physical disability on the mission team even though you won't be able to accomplish as much because you will spend so much time helping them.
  • Volunteer time to a cause that you don't believe in.
  • Letting someone explain something to you that you frankly understand better than they do.
  • Not explaining about how right you are about a decision that the group makes without your blessing.
  • Letting someone espouse a theological understanding that is wrong.
  • Listening to someone (like your wife maybe) share their frustrations without trying to fix them (not because you are reading Men are from Venus, Women are from Mars, but because you are atoning.
  • Allowing someone to say Happy Holidays without having to remind them about the reason for the season (especially if the reason for the season is to call us to atonement).
Just a few ideas.  Maybe there are others. 

We learned in Disciple that Atonement can be explained at At-One-Ment with God.  Does taking on the wrongs of others draw you closer to God?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The difficulty of deciding when to open the door

There is a memorable scene in the classic movie, Young Frankenstein.

For some reason the character played by Gene Wilder decides that he needs to go into a locked room with the "monster" that he has created.  Things haven't worked out as planned with his creation, and he maybe needs to try to reason with his misdirected efforts at creating a human life.

Before he opens the door to the cell where he has the creature trapped he turns to his assistant and says something to the effect of No matter what I say or do, do not open this door.

Pretty much the second he goes in, the monster becomes enraged and Wilder begins banging on the door and in a very calm tone says, Open this door please.

The difficulty with accountability in ministry, parenting, or discipleship growth is when to hold those we serve in any of these areas to the promises and vows we take; and when to relent.

You can easily find yourself holding the bag (or outside the door of a locked room with a raging monster inside) of the fundraiser, ministry event, small group, or new puppy that someone, some time thought was such an awesome idea.

When to take up the reins of someone else's vision, when to let it die, and how much the monster beats them up before you let them out is one of the most difficult duties of discipleship I have run into.

I guess that is why we find ourselves rushing toward situations that everyone else is seems to be rushing away from.

Which is sounds kind of cool.

But, for the most part: I find myself shouting, "Open this door please!"