Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jesus Did Not Convert Saul (Paul)

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

Notice Jesus did not tell Saul he was a sinner. Jesus did not present a plan of salvation for Saul. Jesus said something more akin to 'hey Saul, why are you fighting me? We have work to do and you're hurting the cause and yourself.' I think this is very soft-touch from Jesus for a man who was imprisoning Jewish Christ-followers.

Jesus already thought Saul was suppose to be a part of the mission. But presently Saul was not helping. I like the idea of Jesus quickly sweeping past Saul's objections and blindness. Paul, the new Saul, needed blindness so that he may see. I believe many of us who have been around the church for a good long while should be knocked down and blinded so we may see that Jesus is more for us than we imagine. Jesus thinks we are a part of his team, his mission. We don't. We keep asking thick obtuse questions, "Who are you?" Jesus replies, "Come on! You know me! I need you to get on with your calling, your work. Let's go."

This is not an obedience issue. It is atheism. We do not believe in Jesus, just the same way Saul did not believe in Jesus. But Jesus believed in Saul. But Saul thought he knew better than Jesus what was the work and mission of Jesus. This is the religious false self: "seeing but blind, hearing but deaf."
Jesus said to [the Pharisees], “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains." (John 9:41)
Paul's calling discloses a very generous Jesus. God is more generous than most of us. Take for instance, the 87th Psalm:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
Really? Babylon knows God? The Philistines are God's children? Tyre and Ethiopia? They are all born in Zion, in other words 'God's house.' My Christian upbringing told me the Philistines were bad. Those we think of poorly, those we judge as 'outside' may be God's children more than we care to affirm. Why are we kicking against the goads of God? God is goading us to love and care. But we would rather split apart and judge others.

In our own times, I wonder what American Christian can share Jesus with a Palestinian, a Syrian, an Iraqi or Iranian. Apparently Christians in the West are supposed to have enemies. But like the old monk living in Syria these days said, "We are Christians. We have no enemies." The only enemies of Jesus were the religious "blind," the Pharisees. The Samaritans were not enemies. Even the Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was not a first-class enemy, but God was using him (John 19:11). Imagine what it would be like to try and share the Gospel with someone in Hamas: "We hate you, and you hate me. I want you to know that Jesus loves you. I want you to become like me." I think he has. Neither has Jesus however.

We need a generous Gospel. I think Acts chapters two, four, and ten reveal that ethnic distinctions were the first boundary to come down. Economic status was there too. Galatians 3:28 expresses the lack of distinction - "there is neither Jew nor Greek." Paul's letter to Galatians and Ephesians are letters of generosity toward the gentiles.

I will not think of Paul as converted any more. Knocked on his butt by Jesus: yes. I am picturing Caravaggio's "Conversion of Saint Paul" (1601). But not converted. Jesus just corrected and told him to go out and be a key player in the game. "Embrace me and your true calling - Paul." May we embrace a very generous Christian family. May we think of our "enemies" as children of God. May all of us get knocked down and blinded so that we may see.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I got my blog back!

Thanks to Doug Johnston, media guru, for getting my blog back. Now he says I should move over to Wordpress. We will see.

Social media is a curious thing to me. I keep thinking of the quote,

"It's always noisiest at the shallow end of the pool."

Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, are so immediate and present. Henri Nouwen had several choice words to describe our culture's milieu: Competitive, Chaotic, and Compulsive. The car may be the single most important American suburban cultural change agent. Suburban sprawl is only manageable with a car. All our life systems depend on the car: first and foremost is groceries. What a complex and fragile system. One huge fuel crisis and we are foodless. (I don't like to ride my bike.)

What we miss is "village space" in suburbia. Media removes the need to gather. We can live completely apart and yet think we are "connected" via this right here: a blog entry. The church was supposed to be village space. (The other two spaces are private space - your living room; and the second space is public space like Walmart and airports.) But church is filled with compulsions: "What time does this service end?"

Facebook is a virtual village space. But like the car, we can leave any time we wish. Hospitality and social obligation (social contract) has lost its body. Social speed has become flighty and flickering like a late night neon motel sign in some unknown high-desert town in Utah. Each of us flickers and flashes online. Then we are gone.

Thank God there is still communion, the Lord's Table. You have to show up, stand in line, dissolve your hurry-sickness, submit to the body and blood of Christ in others. The remembrance of communion includes remembering you are not an island, you are not a sovereign state, your skin is not a national boundary.

I answer social media with one loaf, one cup. Social media is what it is. I don't dislike it. Instead, I study it as a prophet studies the signs of times, watching and turning my face toward God, and asking, "What does this mean?" It means our current cultural norm will not produce saints. Instead it will produce bloggers, talkers, drivers, wait-in-drive-thru-ers, impatience, chaotic time, exceptionalists, entitlement... harried living and tiredness... and not the unhurried rhythms of grace. Jesus walked and listened. We drive and tap.

G.K. Chesterton (1920s, British) despised the automobile. He wasn't too excited about the horse.  He said a proper human (by "proper human" he meant a large British man like himself) is supposed to walk - with a stick. A proper human is supposed to use an ink well and quill to write. Sounds impossible to us nowadays. But image how slow life would be if we walked to a neighborhood market each day, and wrote with ink and quill.

So I got my blog back, and now I can, you know, write stuff quickly. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lent: The 90,000-Mile Major Maintenance

I am thinking about Lent. I am worried that most Evangelical Christians will not participate in Lent because they are worried about exercising shallow, vain, punitive "works righteousness." That's a good caution. We want to live in grace, not works.

Except we need Lent. We need Lent to rattle our cage. We need to be disrupted. We need to "Awake O sleeper, rise from the dead! and Christ will shine on you."

Lent is like taking your car in for a 90,000 mile check up. We don't just need the tires rotated and an oil change, we need the values set, and the timing belt replaced. Yes that's right, our timing has become sloppy. We just don't know what time it is. Perhaps we are just getting up and doing the same drill each day. By "time" I mean 'what season are we in?' 'What "right-time" is it?' (Greek: kairos) "Wake up!" The worst place to be is to not even know we are living each day without Jesus. We are sleep walking. The clock just ticks. The car is - just a car in slow disrepair.

Lent is a time of self-examination. We ask, "Am I close to God?" "Does God have my full allegiance?" "Have I bowed my knee to King Jesus?""Will I go with him to the cross?"

There are many ways to draw close to Jesus during Lent. Giving up soda or chocolate has to be some of the most silly ideas. Scot McKnight has the best book about this sort of false thing. He book is simply called Fasting. Rather than punishing one's self with abstinence (dieting?), we do better to read a book like this one. Or how about read the entire Gospel of Mark?

Lent follows the Gospel path of Jesus: a) into the desert where he is tempted and he resists; b) ministry and the journey toward Jerusalem even though everyone thinks that's a death-wish, but Jesus has a bigger story to follow; c) the cross, d) the Sabbath sleep, e) resurrection, and f) the participation of heaven, and heaven on earth (new creation and the church).

This note is but a brief cage rattle. We need the transformation of the mind (Romans 12). We need new thinking but we get there with new bodily disciplines - not only information. We need resurrection, but we should follow Jesus and go through the desert and the cross (death to self) to get there. Our aim is resurrection.  So I will leave off here with a thought from Augustine. (4th c. AD)
The body is dead - why is it dead? - because of sin. But the spirit is life, because of justice. So do we leave the body dead, then? No, but listen: But if the Spirit of of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells within you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies. So you see: now the body receives its life from the soul, but then it will receive it from the Spirit.
Get it? Now our mind, heart and strength (the soul) fight sin. But at the resurrection the Holy Spirit gives us our life. That is why we no longer sin. That is how we are physically and bodily resurrected.

Lent is the season to chew on such thick thoughts. Take the journey. Put on your boots, grab your backpack, cinch up the belt, take hold of your walking staff, set your eyes on the path, and step out your front door.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Does "Faith" mean "Belief?" No.

When I was a young Christian my relationship with Jesus was based on his atoning sacrifice on the cross, to rid me of my sin problem. I talked much about a personal relationship with Jesus. I had a personal relationship with Jesus. That relationship was based on gratitude for his atoning death on a cross. Jesus Christ was my substitute. I should have been on that cross.

This relationship with Jesus was fortified by the nature of Jesus as both God and Human: God became human and died like one of us. Christ was sinless, and that made his atoning sacrifice "perfect" because Jesus was the only sinless human, and thus his sacrifice was effectual. My understanding of Christianity was further fortified with a hope that when I die some day I will go away to heaven to be with Jesus for all eternity. My Calvinist Reformed Theology told me salvation was "a grace," a gift I never deserved nor earned.

I still believe all this. But these days it feels rather thin and cool - not very relational for all my prayers and thoughts about a personal relationship with Jesus. Something shifted within me. I grew old.

In my first half of life "faith" meant "belief." "I believe in Jesus Christ" was my very loaded faith statement. When I said those words, I meant everything I just said above. "I believe in Jesus Christ" was a creed, a doctrinal statement, and a summary of all my beliefs.

In my second half of life "faith means "trust." Sure, I trusted Jesus in the first half of life. But now Jesus and I sit together in much silence. Jesus is not my friend. Jesus is my King. I wait for him. I wait at his feet. I am his servant... and it appears I have become a favored servant. Not because I did anything special. Jesus just likes me. I don't need to prove anything anymore. Funny thing, because in my first half of life, despite all my talk of grace, trust and relationship, I still performed for Jesus; I still replaced trust and relationship with a set of beliefs.

This is all fine. I wouldn't really change much even if I could. For the first half of life Faith is called Foundationalism. We build a foundation. Or as Richard Rohr likes to say, "We build a tower." We argue doctrine and the true meaning of Greek words in the New Testament. We are right, they are wrong. In the first half of the Christian life, we have enemies.

But in the second half of the Christian life, we must jump from our tower, lose the arguments, embrace the triviality of most everything we thought was so important that it caused us to leave churches, renounce Christian leaders, pick favorite parachurch ministries, and take pride in how dog-eared and highlighted our Bible had become. We were in love with ourselves, and Jesus helped prove how lovable we were (which is a strange irony of depravity and grace). Genuine Christians have no enemies.

These days for me Faith means Trust, not Beliefs. Spirituality is more important the older we become. In the second half of life we gain a real relationship with Jesus, because we stop performing for him. We finally understand grace, and "good works" now flow out of identity with Jesus, instead of grasping control of mission, leadership and morality.

For the young Christian: beware! Beware of clipping off genuine trust and relationship for the sake of being right and trustworthy. Beware of turning Faith into Belief instead of Trust. Follow Jesus and empty yourself. Become nothing so that you may be filled up with Christ... so that you may be "In Christ."

Wait before you speak. Sit before you stand up. Pray before you think. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lakeland's Redemptive Communities

In Lakeland's context, a Redemptive Community is a midsize group - around 20 or 30 people. Redemptive Communities accommodate families, especially families with younger active children.

A Redemptive Community has three features:

Common Cause
Common Meal
Common Prayer

"Common Cause" is the most powerful of the three features. Other groups, small groups may gather around information like a book or a teaching. They may gather around relationships and attempt to gain some meaningful friendships to do life together. But a Redemptive Community (RC) begins with a cause. In Lakeland's case, there are two active Redemptive Communities that fit this definition: Anapra's Rice and Beans Community and the China Redemptive Community.

Each RC begins with a called passionate pastor or pastor-equivalent leader. They rally the vision and keep the flame burning for the cause. Others join who embrace the cause. A typical meeting of the Redemptive Community includes updates about the cause and strategies to build the cause and do something productive for the cause. Laurie and I help lead the China RC. As a part of our ongoing effort to support Jack and Hannah Liu in China, and their training up of young emerging leaders, the group members take turns and Skype the class on Sunday evenings. So we talk about how the classroom teaching time is going.

"Common Meal" is a theological point. Food is fellowship. So we break bread together and Christ is revealed, just like in Luke 24:13ff where the two disciples of Jesus are joined by the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Over dinner Jesus breaks the bread and reveals his identity to them. While we may ignore this bread-breaking epiphany of Christ, it is still true for those with the eyes to bear witness to it. The Redemptive Communities should acknowledge this truth: food binds us to each other and to Christ.

Redemptive Communities may or may not have deep personal relationships with each other. The size of the group usually keeps it from being all-inclusive intimate. Folks may have private conversations, and personal interaction and learn and care for each other, but it is not necessary. The mid-size group includes more numbers, but doesn't worry about intimacy. So for those who want a small-group experience or a covenant group experience, or mentoring, the RC is not that. In fact, the RC may feel "thin" or superficial. Kids run around and "tag" mom or dad. It is noisy and disruptive. If you want Bible study then it will be hard to accomplish at an RC.

It is better to have activities rather than information. Create activities for the kids to pronounce the gospel's presence in the RC's midst, and the hope of the gospel in the cause's location, like China or Mexico.  Language lessons might be appropriate. Plays and skits work. Kids can create presentations. The Common Meal is the gathered space, the village time and space. And RC's function more like a village than a Bible study or support group.

"Common Prayer" codifies the cause. Our China group meets for dinner once a month on a Sunday evening. So we use Vespers, or Evensong (Evening Song) prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. We adapted the prayers to include missional prayers.  And there is a time for intercession on behalf of the coworkers in China and cause. The children are asked to participate in the prayers. The prayers are liturgical, so they may start out dry. But over time liturgical prayers gain power and sway because they are repeated, which forces reflection and depth - even if they are not emotive and exuberant or heart-felt the way spontaneous prayers feel.

Evensong is nice because candles are lit during the prayers and the kids can participate. Lakeland is not very good at gathered prayer (there, I said it). But we are learning. Evangelicals value spontaneity but sacrifice depth of prayer for feelings. We don't confess, we don't give thanks, we don't pray for the world - usually Evangelicals pray for themselves. They self-appropriate the Spirit. That's permissible but it is narrow and Existential. We love to love ourselves. Yes, that's a harsh critique.

Evangelicals need a depth of mission, a self-denying, self-effacing, settled, stable, and secure groundedness. Liturgical prayers are "dry" because they don't indulge us (the private person.) Gathered liturgical prayers include everyone. Liturgical prayers are about "the we, not the me." There is nothing more beautiful than when the children join us for the Lord's Prayer and they know it by heart.How do they know this prayer that Jesus taught? Repetition.

Redemptive Communities are gaining traction at Lakeland. We are figuring them out on our own. I am sure there is a workshop on them, or some big time church is selling their best practice of mid-size group. But I'd rather we own this one ourselves. I don't want to think, "Oh man, we are not as cool as that church's midsize group program." Let us continue to explore and experiment with the Redemptive Community posture, and see where it takes us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attachment To God and Others

I continue to study and apply John Bowlby's Attachment Theory to church, spirituality and relational health.

I am re-reading A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development, 1988. Attachment Theory is based on the idea of a child's dependency upon its mother. Like a duckling's dependent attachment to its mother figure, all of us attach or do not attach appropriately to our family of origin, namely our mother. Originally psychologists, from Freud's era (1920s) thought dependency was a sign of weakness and pathology. Bowlby thought the opposite. Dependency is good.This is a good God thought I believe.

A secure child (let's say an 18 month old) should feel comfortable exploring and then returning to its parent for "refueling" - that is, security (secure base). This is good and natural. A secure child should be upset when its mother leaves the child at the sitter's, doctor, daycare, hospital, etc. They want their mom. When the mom returns they should want them, cling to them and then finally feel comfortable exploring again. Insecure children will have a variety of reactions to their mother leaving: a) they could be very anxious, inconsolable, and be angry and mourn the loss. Or they could have no reaction. Upon the mother's return they could ignore them; or they could "punish" their mom. The insecure child may remain inconsolable with their mother. Bowlby and other attachment researchers (Mary Ainsworth, Chris Fraley) therefore make four classifications based on the loss and return of the mother:

1. a secure child has appropriate anxiety and comfort upon the loss and return of the mom. They do not avoid nor over-react to their mother upon return and are comforted easily.
2. the child may be preoccupied - high anxiety upon the mother's departure, and inconsolable upon return.
3. the child may appear unconcerned that mom left, not interact with the present caretaker, and busy its self with an object on the floor. Upon the mother's return the child may appear unconcerned and not needful of consolation or affirmation.
4. the child is fearful of the parent leaving, inconsolable and clingy to the caregiver, and remain so after the mother returns, "punishing" the mother with avoidance.

The theory purports one's attachment response or internal working method continues into the rest of one's life, including one's experience in close relationships like a spouse. God is viewed as an attachable figure. And some Christians may avoid and dismiss God as distance and not opinionated about their life if they have a dismissing pattern of attachment. They don't trust God, they place their self in the position to need God, and therefore they don't really know God relationally. God may be more aloof and more theory than intimate. Or another Christian who is preoccupied may construe God as all satisfying. This Christian is on a spiritual high all the time. However, when God "lets them down" then their world falls apart. There is no place for God now. Or they just simply lie to themselves that all the bad is meant for good and is God-sent. The secure Christian wrestles through the ups and downs of life with God present.The secure adult Christian struggles to make sense of life's trials but doesn't abandon or blame God for a long time. God is present, and they return to God and stay there. This doesn't mean they do not mourn and go through the normal process of loss: anger, disbelief and hope for reunion or a new orientation or neo-homeostasis.

I run into all the various types of attachment within the church. Some congregants expect me to be their best friend. They are clingy and obsessive. Then (inevitably) I "let them down." And if it is too much they leave. Others avoid me like the Plague. They expect nothing from me, but may think poor thoughts about me or the church or life or God - but don't say much. If they were more honest they say their don't trust and they are scared. Others are performers. They serve themselves to death. They have high anxiety about being good and doing well. They want the accolades and applause. But may still feel anxious and inadequate, like they need to do more. Unfortunately the church likes these kind because they can unwittingly use them to accomplish ministry.

In my opinion (that means I'm going to get in trouble now), these same responses play out in the various denominations and styles of church as well. The Pentecostals attract the obsessive clingy high exuberant styles, who grab a God who is nothing but a feeling experience. If you happen to run into someone who left a Apostolic styled church, and are not cynical and burned out, they will say it was all a sham, a show and big joke. It wasn't real. They are still preoccupied with God, church and pastors satisfying their wildest desires - but now they are deeply disappointed in them all. They are inconsolable.

The Attachment To God Inventory (AGI) created by Richard Beck and Angie McDonald, (Beck and McDonald, 2004) measured Christian college students in Texas, and found some correlation on attachment style to denomination, though this was not their primary aim. Catholic and "Non-Denominational Charismatic groups did not differ on the AGI-Anxiety scores, each had lower scores when compared to the Church of Christ group. In addition, the Church of Christ group had significantly higher AGI-Avoidance scores when compared to the Roman Catholic and Non-Denominational Charismatic group..." (Beck and McDonald, Journal of Psychology and Theology, 2004, Vol. 32, No. 2, 92-103). They found the Church of Christ students leaned toward a more avoidant style and therefore were avoidant of God.

What this could mean is that different worship styles, views of God, theologies of sin and atonement, redemption, discipleship practices and disciplines, church ethos and culture may play a significant role in how a person chooses which church to attend and be involved with, just as within Attachment Theory a person may "choose" a romantic partner based on perceived and expected reciprocity, in relation to their own attachment needs and style. My wild hunch is that Catholics and Baptists have a more "legalistic" or moralist God and church culture need. They need to feel "bad" in varying degrees. Gen-X churches (like ours) attract "broken" men and women, which means they were "abandoned" through the excesses of their BabyBoomer parents - read "latch-key kids" here, just one example of what I've heard over the years. Years ago I had a Gen-X man tell me that he'd never received an apology from a BabyBoomer. He expect the BabyBoom Generation to apologize to him. I don't think a) he knew exactly what they were supposed to apologize for, and b) I don't think any apology would have been sufficient for him.

I have done ministry to Gen-Xers now for over 25 years, and I never found much traction with the classic Evangelical substitutionary atonement model - "as your substitute, Christ died on the cross that you were supposed to hang on - Jesus saved you, so you owe him your allegiance." But I always get a response from the Prodigal Son redemptive story: 'the Father is waiting and watching for you to come home.' Our church gravitates toward a spirituality of belonging and exploring and finding one's identity in Christ and the god-bathed universe. "Home" is a significant spiritual concept for Gen-Xers. Parenting is huge for them, even though they have had to make it up on their own. (That's okay - most cultures always have.)

Along with a small set of spirtual direction tools, I use Attachment Theory to sort through the problems of congregants. I use it to formulate discipleship patterns and plans. Contemplative spiritual, with its emphasis on "true self" (god-defined self) versus the "false self" (sin self) plays well in an adult, mid-life Gen-X church ethos.

And I have decided to incorporate the AGI into my retreatant intake information. I will conduct my own research over the next three years and attempt to correlate my findings with spirituality preferences and denominational upbringing. This should result in a better emotional/spiritual health of the retreatant. I hope the same can happen throughout the church as well.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Measuring Closeness to God

Yesterday at the office I tossed around a link to an Attachment Inventory, which I learned about while in DMin class. Please feel free to take the inventory. Here is the link: 

It takes about five minutes. Be careful: you can fake it (skew it) if you so desire to fool yourself and others - but there is nothing helpful there. (Then you'll need to take the I-Lie-To-My-Self-And-Others  Inventory.)

Just so you know, this relates to my doctoral thesis. I am beginning to chase down some types of survey metrics regarding "how close to g-d are you?" This is very slippery data to collect. Most Pew, Gallup and Barna measure satisfaction with g-d or church - but not closeness. The typical survey may pursue spiritual formation practices and habits. That's good. But measuring moral behavior is NOT really a measure of closeness to g-d. Still, it may be as good as it gets. Unless there is another approach. There might be.

I am pursuing the idea of "attachment" to g-d. There is another inventory called The Attachment to God Inventory. I have it, but haven't set it up yet as a test with the appropriate profile questions... "Age, gender, denomination, etc.") The results will briefly explain the measurements.

Of course we all know there are "lies, damn lies, and then statistics." But we are left to attempt to establish some ground to stand upon - even though the ground shifts.

Stay tuned. And have fun with the inventory. You may wish to have your sig other or spouse take it too. Makes for nice discussion - unless your Dismissing.