Sunday, July 30, 2006

Reunion or renewal?

As I write tonight, I am sitting in a cottage near the ocean. I am relaxing (sort of) and reflecting on a good many things. We are in the middle of our annual camp meetings in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I have been coming to these meetings off and on for the last 20 years. Some of those years I have served on the staff. Mostly, Janet and I have been part of the youth and children's ministries.

This place has a rich heritage and a good many people, even younger ones, have walked up to me and indicated their love for this place. Most of them have indicated their desire to stay part of the meetings, because the meetings serve as a "reunion" place. Few if any really mention the place having spiritual significance to them. The lack of the spiritual connection has saddened me this weekend as I have thought about that. Many spoke to me about the meetings as sort of an ancillary function to the reunions they would have. The crowds have not seemed to be very good this year.

On the other hand, I had an opportunity last evening to attend a lecture by Adam Russell Taylor of Sojourners. He spoke openly about the organization's new initiative to call our politicians to a new covenant with America. At the end of the lecture, during the questions and answer session, people talked about the spiritual commitments they made and renewal they felt as a result of hearing about social justice. They saw the need for Christians to rally around the issues of the defeat of poverty, the strengthening of the family, and the efforts to end violence in our land and others. They voiced that this was a renewal experience for them.

I wondered about this. Here I have been sitting in meetings where we are to worship and hear from God and heard very little of a spiritual connection. On the other hand, I go to a lecture and hear about spiritual renewal that takes place in the fight for justice for all.

I would hasten to say that this morning, I felt God speak in the worship gathering and I had opportunity to pray with some friends. I do, however, not really see this as the norm in most of our big gatherings. I am not sure why that is. I think people expect something. I am not sure they see the experience as authentic. Yet, those 75 or so people gathered last evening, made real spiritual commitments to living out the Gospel in a practical way.

Is it that we have lost our hands-on Gospel in many places in the church? Is it that worship is best exemplified in missional pursuits? I am convinced that the church needs to move to the big issues such as fighting poverty, providing leadership in education and the cessation of violence. For too long, we may have let one section of the church center our focus on our needs and our prosperity and comfort. We have allowed a small minority to say the "Moral Values" are those of fighting gay marriage and abortion. They are important issues on which the church must lead, but with grace and dignity. Yet, it seems that our best evangelism tool is getting people involved with us in fighting poverty and improving education. Could these be the real moral values on which we can build a bridge of grace and hope to a world that needs Jesus?

I am still wondering if we need $20 million dollar facilities to do it, as helpful as they may be.

Is it possible, as we have gathered in our Sunday best in our big meetings we have chosen form over function? Is it possible that our talk of needing renewal is code for finding comfort? I struggle with finding a balance in my own life. I don't have any good answers.

Sure God speaks in the worship gatherings. He did today. But I wonder if mission may be our best form of worship and evangelism.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ordinary Radical?

Well, I am only about a month into my new ministry and I have found that I must have an eye for detail. In fact, I must be meticulous (as witnessed by the fact I nearly messed up my first big presentation. Don't worry JoAnn and Larry. Fixed it before it was sent.) People have told me I need to develop this more because I am a now a "processor." Man that hurts.

While I understand that processes are important, I really have always questioned most processes until I understood why they were put in place. When I found out, I usually questioned more.

The point is processors are important in the work-a-day world. We need processors. We need people who can keep things moving. We need the bean counters and the policy people. I know I have to have some of this in me, but I would rather be an "oridnary radical."

This term was coined by Shane Claiborne in his most recent book. It is a book about ordinary Christians who question the status quo, the most accepted thinking to get to the heart of what the Master is calling us to do. These people are not malcontents. They are people who just want the deepest answers to the simplest questions They want the best for the Kingdom and will sacrifice procedure, policy and power to get it.

They will stand up to government. They will submit to Godly authority but with an eye for challenging group-think, which often leads to rote answers and extra-biblical living. They are not comfortable with the way everything has been done.

I am fighting being a processor - alone. I think I want to be a radical. I am not comfortable with a suburban Christianity. I am not happy with Christian T-shirt theology. I am not happy with the far right setting the evangelical agenda, or telling me I am not Christian if I oppose theirs'

I want to be a radical. I won't grow my hair, live in a box and carry protest signs. (well maybe not live in a box and grow my hair.) I know one thing I don't want to get caught up in process. That would be the ordinary person Process without a personal touch and a powerful encounter with God has killed many a good person.

I just want to be an ordinary person who will change his world with God's grace. The only question can one in our organization be an ordinary radical?

What do you think?

PS. On vacation for the next two weeks. The ocean calls!!!!!!!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Godly in a different way?

Yesterday I had the opportunity of sharing a meal with a group of retired officers. I grilled a variety of red meat, participated in a couple of silly games (Those who know me well, know that in itself was an act of humility and grace on my part.) and joined in some meaningful conversation with a couple of people who have known me since I was a young child or a teenager.

I love these people. They love God. Many of them have prayed for me and have pledged themselves to pray for some very difficult situations in our part of the vineyard.

I also realized that their view of ministry is incredibly different from mine. There was talk of our corps needing more "program." "Where is the open-air?" one asked. I thought to myself, "Why would we have one like they did?" Maybe it worked for them. I think now most of what we think of as an open-air meeting would cause us to be laughed at or at worst ignored.

There was very little talk of ministry to the poor. Instead the language centered around building our corps around "good people." I am not sure what that means.

Most of them are staunch Republicans. Many understood it as the party of the Christians. I am fairly conservative, but realize that God is neither Republican or Democrat.

I also have realized since my move back to the Midwest that I live in an incredibly conservative culture. Many of the people I am meeting see Christianity in terms of T-shirt slogans and traditional evangelical values. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just not my thing.

I think that much of this thought of conservative equaling Christian and Program equaling ministry is due to the training of a generation by the godly people with whom I shared a meal. They are godly!!! They are just godly in a different way from me.

They pray hard. They love people, even if they do judge some. They express a desire for God to have His way in the world. I just see their way as being so out of touch with where I am and where I think this emerging culture is.

Don't get me wrong, I love and respect the faithfulness of these people. Every-once-in-while, I think that maybe I am out of touch. Maybe I am too liberal. I struggle with some of the evangelical values which stress performance instead of personal and spiritual development. They equate a warrior mentality of wanting to win the world with evangelism and apologetics instead of a wooing mentality which serves people.
into the Kingdom.

While I thanked these people for their faithfulness and prayer, I really saw myself as being somewhere else in my walk. It is not that I am better. I am different. I am trying to be Godly, but in a very different way. For that matter, I see myself as very different from many of those who are part of our movement.

Someone once said "Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." So where do we strike a balance? While I owe much to those who have gone before or those with whom I work now, where do we have a meeting of the minds? As the emerging church starts moving into the Army (I see this coming fast) how do we keep ourselves from being in constant, bitter conflict? Although I do not doubt the godliness of many of my mentors and colleagues, I find myself and many others as so different. Is it possible for us all to be godly and committed, but godly in a different way?

What do you think?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The wrong label?

Well after about ten days of being unable to access a computer I am back on. I know that is probably bad news for many of you out there in the blog universe.

I just saw the Chronicles of Narnia again. I was intrigued by one of the opening scenes, when the children were sent to the country to escape the London bombings. As they were came to the country, they were to be picked up by a friend after the disembarked the train on which they travelled.

As they stood waiting for their protector to come, other children from the train were wisked off by other adults, who recognized them by the tags they were wearing on their jackets. After being bypassed by several rescuers Lucy says, "Perhaps we have the wrong label." Soon after that comment their protector comes to take them to the saftey of a country estate and the adventure begins.

Since moving into my new job (I have been in the office all of three days) I have become more keenly aware of the fact that labels are part of our movement. I have seen more abbreviations and ranks in the last two days than I have I the past 5+ years. Whether it is DYS, GS, DSP or DLDS everyone and everything has a label.
I am sure this can all be maddening for those who are casually involved with our movement, because many of the people in our organization talk in this code of labels.

We served here in this area several years ago. I have known some of these people I work with for more than 20 years. I count them as friends. In the few days I have been here, I have been called by the people who know me "Mr. GS," "Major," "Boss," and even one person said to me, "The DSP just called for you." The DSP (Divisional Program Secretary) is my wife, Janet. Come on. Do we really have to be so labeled? I have someone who works with me who I have known for nearly 30 years who called me Major. I had to tell them to stop. Major is what I do, not who I am. I finally just said, "Would you please just call me Larry?"

I had a discussion with some family members about this last evening. They are new in a community and feel they need to introduce themselves by their ranks. "How will people know who we are?" To which I suggested there might be a strong case for the dismantling of the rank system. I happen to think it might be a very theologically weak system. (That is for another discussion.) I think my family just ought to introduce themselves by their names.

The fact is that these are not the only labels. Do the words, conservative, liberal, evangelical, republican or democrat do anything for you? What about traditional or contemporary or for that matter emergent? We use them in describing Christianity and in staking out our polarized positions in society and even between Christian brothers and sisters.

I am thinking God is not really impressed by these labels. I think they may be a subtle way that Satan uses to intimidate, confuse and drive wedges between us. All those labels and ranks seem to do is keep us from really focusing on the mission of the Church. Well, that is if those labels are important to you.

I am thinking these labels are really the wrong labels. They may be the labels that keep us from going to house of God as He wants us to. They may be something that keeps us from the great adventure that is really living in community as Christians.

I am thinking that the rest of the labels are really menaingless. They are the wrong labels. I think the best label is just "Child of God." I think I want to put that on my business card. In fact, I think the issue may be that we get impressed with titles because we get impressed with what we do instead of being concerned with who we are and the way our spirits are formed. After all, it is easier to hide behind a label than to walk honestly into the community of Christ and simply lay our souls bare where honest, open sharing can strengthen us and encourage us.

I am sort of tired of the labels I have been seeing. They really don't mean much to me. I think the whole label thing may be really just a smokescreen for us to be something other than what God intended.

What do you think?