Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Insight at the roadside

I was walking home today after fighting with a lawn mower and over grown grass at our new place for an hour. I had to go and do it since it was the last day before three soild days of rain. On the way home I was really tired, since I had already put in a full day at the office before mowing.

Anyway on the way home, a car pulled over and I soon realized that I had been "picked" as a possible prospect by our local Mormon Summer Missionaries. Through the car window one of them offered me a card which I politely declined.

He shrugged when I said "no thanks" - it was no biggie, they drove off - I walked on.
That's because I don't think they cared about me. I thinn they cared about their quota. I was just another "try" to them. When I said "no thanks" it was no biggie, they drove off - I walked on. There's plenty of fish in the sea.

When the priority is the process - and not the person, you can forget the person and just start the process with another.

How much can we learn from this when it comes to our own hopes to communicate Christ's desire to connect with others? When will we look at other's eyes and not our own agendas?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

This is bound to PO somebody

The blog Antidote wrote a piece based on an open letter by Pam Slim

Some may take offense at the rules named but, nomenclature aside, it's on target. We in the church like to shine up our junk and make it look pretty for our showcase Sunday morning spectacles. It rubs our fur the wrong way when someone suggests that we are human, and so have a tendency at times, to behave as an ass. That's just not polite.

The sooner we drop that, the better. John Doe knows that our flesh and his are the same. Plainly said, he just doesn't believe the suits and ties, dresses and shiny shoes are the way the people wearing them really are. Our pretense and posturing just creates an interpersonal distance between us and him. (And if you just read that and think I was ranting about clothing - you missed it.)

So, here are the 10 points Pam makes, bent for my purposes of talking about church. For each point she provides a paragraph in her open letter, you may wish to read that too.

1. Don't spend tons of money to try and change your church culture.

Our culture will always be defined by what is truly valued by the decision-makers. (I think I read somewhere that it's supposed to be something about loving God and others.) SO insist the leaders are outrageously loving!

Flat out abandon any plan or action that doesn't fit that mode. If it's well intentioned, and committee approved, but won't be understood as love - go back to the drawing board. People, not money, change culture.

2. Stop running your church like the Mafia

Ahh the tyranny, the complete control, the decision makers, the ability to crush opposition, the unspoken codes of conduct and the rewards of being a "made" member - it's all there. Stop.

3. Spend time with the people in your church in their context - not the church's

So often it's about the church's agenda getting moved forward. After all, that's what we are there to do - God's work. But that just lends itself to perpetuating the artificial. It is in the vulnerability of shared human experience that we forge and temper the bonds that permit this extravagant love we are called to live out. You cannot love someone you don't know. You cannot know someone you don't spend any time with.

4. Teach people how to love God.

This could be it's own blog post, but I have to be brief. Let's admit that the "read your bible & pray more" solution we've been prescribing for decades as "the solution to life's problem's" is a mythical panacea that needs to be contextualized. Those two elemental Christian exercises aren't enough for what life throws at us.

We need silence, and the fierce courage of true vulnerable friendship, liturgy, ceremony, songs new and old, art, laughter, tears and so much more - all marshaled in concrete spiritual disciplines that help us and teach us to better love God. A truism I often repeat is "In order to see - we must look, in order to hear - we must listen, in order to create, we must persist. (it seems fitting for this too.)

5. Don't ask for your peoples' input if you are not going to listen to it

It's the height of arrogance to form a consensus, then ignore it, so don't.

6. Don't train people until you know what problem you are solving

Training? What is this training you speak of? Why do we run a special school here for the children every Sunday, just to teach them to be life long Christ followers, and we've never trained any of our teachers? (I think it's so the teachers remain humble. It's real hard to get full of pride if your not sure about what your doing.)

7. Ditch the spectacles.

The sermon just isn't that important. I love to speak to a crowd, so that's hard for me to write, but if I'm being honest.... A sermon (the fancy "church word" for a lecture) is the most efficient way of getting a lot of information to a large group of people all at the same time - but it's the least effective way of learning.

Besides, even if the sermon "goes over" every week it's less than 4 tenths of one percent of the week. So even if your focused and intent on learning during the presentation (and everyone always is) it's just not enough. Teaching is monumentally important - but sermons aren't.

8. Focus on the "what" that people do, not the "how" or "when" they do it

Lots of people in the church serve tirelessly, and never get so much as a nod from the pulpit or anywhere else. We chalk it up to "reasonable service" when the truth is that most pastors would do well to put away their sermon notes for the next week and just spend their time celebrating the men and women who make this thing we call church "go" every week.

9. Watch the burnout

Yours and theirs. Face it the church is the black hole of need. That's the point. "Come to me all you who are heavy laden..." is what the Master said. So it's not surprising that even with a fully developed "I am weak but but He is strong' mentality people will over do it. We take church so very seriously, but often for all the wrong reasons. After you stop working/volunteering/doing for this church there will be someone else to take your place.

You're just not that important to it all. But the "YOU" part of you is vitally important to God. So stop, drop, and roll. Stop believing your own hype about the deadlines and the fact that the sky will fall if that thing doesn't happen, drop the idea that you are the only Jesus some people will every see. (You aren't, and I have verses to prove it.) and roll with the punches.

Will somebody get PO'ed if you drop the ball? Maybe. If they love you and you own your crap - it will be fine. If they love their program more than you, you'll at least learn where their allegiances are.

10. Forbid people to work while they are on vacation

PERIOD. Refuse to allow programs to use people up. Set volunteer service term limits for everyone. Close the church at least one Sunday a year and go do something together that expresses your love for each other and the reason Christ died for us all.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

But what if...

I was on a drive to our office in St. George. It's a 35 minute inescapable slice of time I need to carve out of a day that includes the St. George office. Time to think.

I was considering the nature of holiness. It's an area where I've known a few theologians to do some verbal and mental gymnastics because it's such a big idea. Some of them wanted me to believe that God's holiness is evidenced by His perfection. In an effort to explain this idea "holy" they paint a picture of "the most perfect-est ever ever." (Ok that last bit was a paraphrase.)

Their reasoning seemed to be this: He is perfect ergo He is holy. Now I am NOT rejecting either idea (God's holiness or God's perfection) But I am asking a question. What if the two are wholly independent of one another? God is perfect. God is holy.

I just can't get how I am to be holy as God is holy (Lev. 11 et al) IF holy means perfect. I'm human, inherently and definitively imperfect. This is where the gymnastics start. "Well we can never be as holy as God is, but we work toward it as a goal. But it doesn't say "try " or "strive" it says "be."

So I'm going to assume I’m onto something and ask my question: What if holy means true? It would be easy to confuse pure truth with perfection. The holiest of holies = the truest of truth?

I just know I can't be perfect. I can barely do powerless. And even if I was to “exceed my programming” as it were, and act perfect - I'd still have to contend with my motives and choices all the internal dialog that precedes any human action (Our faith is what we choose AND do.) I can't be holy if holy means perfect.

But if holy means true, God loses no ground - He is completely true ever and always. But since truth (in regard to humanity) is always in the process of being revealed, (Bible, Technology etc.) it at least seems plausible that I could be always working to be more true. More true, more aware of what is true about me and around me.

Be true as God is true: May He guide us in all truth.