Thursday, May 29, 2008

Community Looks Something Like This

Jesus' prayer in John 17 came to life a bit more today in front of a motorcycle.
Wynne, the Executive Pastor of our church, wrecked his bike a few weeks ago. It was a potentially fatal wreck, but he walked away with only a few bruises and a few days of soreness. He thought his bike was totalled and that it would be months, maybe years, before he could afford to ride again.

His bike was a source of stress release for him, and in his role he has plenty of that. But we surprised him today by repairing his bike and pulling a mini "Extreme Bike Makeover" by yelling, "Move that van!" to reveal his reconditioned bike.

He beamed and felt the love...and all of us were drawn a little closer together. It was small slice of heaven on earth and quite a beautiful moment. Community, I am coming to understand, is a patch-work quilt made up of just those kinds of moments. A experience here, a conversation there, a piece of redemption at that moment, some letting out of the heart in this moment...all of it creating community. I love being on a team where community matters.

Two Thoughts Worth Living

BlockquoteMake no little plans.

--Daniel Burnham, architect who oversaw the World Expo in Chicago in 1893 and drew a layout for the city that included putting everyone within walking distance of a park.
BlockquoteWe either shape our future or the future will shape us.
--From a conversation I recently had with an old friend--now a College President--talking about his ambitious vision for his University.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Week We've All Been Waiting For

It's here.
We're in it now.
Try to contain your excitement.
This week, May 18-24, is National Dog Bite Awareness Week.

So with a shout out to Gary Larson, let the celebration begin.

(the brutal intelligence of the canine and thus the need for this week is clearly displayed here in my all-time favorite Far Side).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Doing Justice

I just got back from a tutoring session at Reid Elementary School, a Title I school in the Richmond City Public Schools (almost all of which are Title I schools). As a church family, we've adopted them in order to bless them, no strings attached. So the staff is leading the way by going in first to tutor and help them get ready for their SOL's (a very poorly acronymed name, btw) later this month.

Today, DaTaj, Micaiah and I tackled long division. Since I so completely rocked my way through 4th grade, I was able to actually be of some help (I think). In case you were wondering 601/6 is 100 with a remainder of 1. Please don't ask me what 678/8 is.

Here are some stats on Reid.
**70+% of the 580 students are on free or reduced lunch (which means their family is barely over the poverty line)
**75+% are from single parent homes (mostly run by moms).
**They register kids virtually every day of the year.
**One criteria (and I've researched this fairly thoroughly) for building jails is 3rd grade reading levels.

Turn those stats into a story and it sounds something like this:

A single mom with 1-4 kids--who've maybe been fathered by anywhere from 1-4 different men--is working a minimum wage job (let's say, making your french
fries at the local McDonald's). Because of her erratic schedule, there's very little time for her to tuck her kids in at night, read to them, spend time playing with them, in short, be a mom. Which means those same kids are often hungry, tired and without a mother's love.

When she can no longer pay her bills and/or is evicted from her apartment/rental unit, she uproots them all and moves them to another apartment in another part of Richmond. Since kids have no point of reference, they think this is normal.

Whatever your politics are, you can't argue that these kids start life at a disadvantage. And while this isn't the story of every kid there, it is the story of many.

This is fundamentally, from Scripture's perspective, an issue of justice. Of making sure that every has access to basic resources. Of creating the conditions of shalom. And it goes a lot deeper than I care to post here. I'll also be the first to say that it's not the whole gospel (as those on one theological spectrum might), but it's certainly an implication and outgrowth of the gospel. Paul did say we were saved for good works.
We aren't better than them, superior to them, of a higher caliber than them. They are part of the human family God "so loved" (just like us). So we don't go patronizingly, or from a position of superiority. We go in humility, willing to be taught as much as to teach.

For a brilliant summary of why we should do justice, download the talk by Tim Keller on "Doing Justice" here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lifelong Friends

Jared and I met in Mrs. Peterson's seventh grade history class at Jarrett Junior High (home of the Trojans--"go green!"). We've been the best of friends ever since.

He started blogging recently and is an amazing man and an amazing pastor. They say (whoever "they" are) you choose your friends and then your friends shape who you are. So true.

May Jared's tribe increase. He, along with a cadre of other friends (many of whom are on my blogroll) have been God's gift in shaping who I am. I simply wouldn't be who I am without them.

Attention Suburbia

I am so there.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

To Sum It Up

BlockquoteHere's what the pastoral ministry is for me: Every day, as I go about my tasks as a pastor, I am a follower of Jesus. I am therefore a parable of him to those I encounter. The parable of Jesus works the power and presence of Jesus in their lives.

From David Hansen's, The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers.

Let me see if I get this straight

This is a banner proudly displayed by a church whose building is just around the corner from my house. It's a small building, judging by the number of cars in the parking lot on a Sunday morning, probably 100-150 people attend services there.

The size isn't what's important though. It's the message they are sending that surely confuses our culture.

Let's say I am a High Schooler in Chesterfield County (or the parent of said High Schooler) and I see this sign. First you need to know this about me. I am:
  • heavily marketed to.
  • a consumer, almost first and foremost--trained to ask "what's in it for me?" before responding to the pitches I constantly hear.
  • used to getting (and expecting) the best.
  • asked to go to school, do insane amounts of volunteer and extra-curricular activities so that I will look good to prospective colleges when the time comes (or asked to coach my kid through all those things)
  • involved in more things than I have time to do them.
  • aware of spirituality, but also aware that I can make any choice I want. I have no "brand loyalty" when it comes to religion or churches.
  • made in God's image, so it's all about relationships for me. I'll do almost anything if I have a relationship with someone first.

So I see the sign and here's what likely goes through my head:

  • Who are these people? I don't know any of them, so why would I want to go to some religious thing with people I don't know?
  • It's so small, I bet it sucks. I'm not going to waste my time.
  • I don't have time for one more thing.
  • How long would this last if I went to it? Would it be as long as baseball season, because I don't have time for something every week for the rest of my life (or, there is no way I'm carting my kid to one more thing)?
  • What do they want from me? Are they a cult?
  • I bet they just want to get to my kid so they can get my money.

What's the (surely unintended) subtext of the sign? Surely it's that "X" Church is now playing by the rules of consumer culture: Come to us, we have a product you need. We are now in the game of attracting and marketing it to you. So if I get this straight, God is now on the shelf right next to a great college and a new pair of Saucony shoes (my favorite running shoes, by the way).

So if they are playing by consumer culture rules, they'd better be willing to deliver, or the consumer will just go elsewhere. And here's the thing. They are doing it poorly. The sign is apparently the only marketing they've got. They certainly don't understand the culture they are trying to reach, i.e., the busyness of teenage life and the need of consumers to have value added before "buying" the product. The sign even communicates a certain arrogance; "You call us."

Now they could have done this differently. They could have researched the target demographic, addressed their felt needs, tapped into their life narrative, imprinted onto their imagination about the value they would add and produced a much better campaign that isn't simultaneously slightly offensive to their way of life. I know of churches that do this routinely. They are attractional

But my question is: Should the church be playing by these rules? Do we really have a product to sell?

Jesus said we (his disciples--the people who follow him) are meant to be the salt of the earth (it's flavoring and preservative) and the light of the world (it's source of illumination, warmth and direction). It's a calling that implies presence and time and relationships and sacrifice. A "we'll come to you", not a "you come to us" mentality. This is the essence of what it means to be "missional."

To lead so that the Church--the body of Christ on earth--lives that way...that is the challenge of a lifetime.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Loving the Truth, part 2

More on Thomas a Kempis' seed thought about the necessity of learning to love the truth no matter where it comes from if we are to pattern our lives after Jesus Christ.

It seems that in loving the truth, there are competitors. Things I can love more.

Like what I think. What I believe. What I know. All of which--and I don't think it's a very big stretch to say this--are tied up with my reputation, aka 'how I think I am perceived by the people I think are important.' It goes almost without saying that our list of who we think is important, based on our actions, usually goes beyond the people we first bring to our mind on that subject.

It seems that reputation and truth are often mutually exclusive (though this doesn't always have to be so).

If I love my reputation and what you say tarnishes something I've always thought. I'm probably going to get defensive (unless, as Proverbs 9:8 notes, I already happen to be wise). I can't be made the fool, so I must prove you wrong. Real conversation is then short-circuited in favor of posturing, image-management and subtle or not so subtle one-upsmanship.

If I love my reputation and something you say or do tarnishes how people will see me (in my perception), then I'll probably lie to cover it up. My reputation is too important to have it ruined by the truth. "How could I possibly get over this blow?" "How could my relationships go on like they've been?" "How can I continue doing my job?" "My ability to get things done will be gone." etc. goes the thinking.

Maybe what I say next won't be a 'whopper' of lie, maybe it will even be factually accurate, but it certainly won't be full-disclosure. My self-worth has become entwined with what you think of me and so the truth has now become my enemy.

I'm sure there are more instances of reputation vs. "x" that could be mined here.

Bottom line is that there has to be something bigger, or as Augustine noted, "something I love more than" my reputation for truth to take real root in my heart and mind. John was on to some serious psychological insight in his 1st letter: We love because we have been loved, not because we have our own back-warehouse supply of love from which to draw.

It is the fact, the reality, and the perceived feeling (something I think is just as important as the fact of the thing) of being loved by God that allows me to stop demanding satisfaction for my reputation and so to love the truth.

I know of no other way to live in this than to be in rich, thick community where an actual person regularly reminds me that I actually do matter and to daily begin the day accepting the love of God into the darkest and lightest places of my soul. Or as Tony Campolo says it, I must "surrender to God in the stillness and there let him invade me."
The monument above in Zwolle, Netherlands reads: "Here Thomas à Kempis lived in the service of his fellow man and wrote 'Imitation of Christ'"