Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tyranny of the Impossible?

I am going to step out of my normal questioning mode (sort of) for this post.

I have always felt somewhat like a square peg in a round hole in my journey in The Salvation Army. I went through a stage in my life where I really tried to conform to the system, all the way. I was miserable. In fact, my conformity and my subsequent disappointment with the organization for what I felt was a lack of reward for my attempt at conforming, led to a very dark period for me emotionally.

So now I am in a position in which I feel, at times, is pushing me toward conforming to practices which make me uncomfortable. It is not that these practices are illegal or unethical. My spirit makes me feel as if they are not graceful enough. I think that many of these practices, lead to a sense of despair for many of my colleagues in the officer ranks. In other words, practices which seem good at certain levels of our organization (I am speaking of ecclesiastical practice, standard of meetings, uniform standards and others) do not resonate with much of the rank and file. Maybe I am wrong.

I don't doubt the intentions of our leaders or others. I believe them to be good people. I just feel that there may not be as keen a cultural awareness as there needs to be. I think that many of their decisions have led my colleagues to feel a sense of impossibility in their ministry and have almost frozen them into inaction.

I work with some forward thinking leaders in my office. I see them as people who, while maintaining a form of godly discipline, also see the need for freedom and not a utilitarian way of operating.

I know I have beat around the bush a bit. So I will lay it out there for everyone. I think there might be at this time a sense of what Brian McLaren calls "The Tyranny of Impossibility" in our ranks. "They won't approve it." "It is too hard." "It does not make sense" are among the comments I get regarding some of our practices and some of the projects in which I am participating. It freezes people and they feel "Why should I even go forward? It will never change." Impossiblity hangs over everything. It is tyrannical in its nature.

I got a glimpse this weekend at our family camp that God is about to break the tyranny of the impossible in our midst. The sessions were simple in nature. There was not much in the way of pomp and circumstance. The Spirit spoke to many of His desire for more in our lives. A drama was presented lifting up the non-conformists of our past as heroes. I believe God spoke powerfully through that presentation.

McLaren points out in his writings that he never thought Apartheid would be abolished. He never thought racism would be anything less than overt (although we are cognizant it still exists.) We never thought the Berlin wall would come down. It did! Few people expected that things would change. They just took for granted that they would stay the way they were. There were the few who were convinced in their spirits that change was necessary and that as a culture or nation God was calling us to change. These few who refused to accept a conformist view, under the power of God, brought change.

Do I believe that The Army will once again capture its roots as the movement of non-conformists for the sake of the Gospel? I believe it can. It is not impossible! In fact, I think the idea of non-conformity, not rebellion to godly principle, may be what saves the day for our movement! It may mean that people will not get "promoted." It may mean we will not be the spit polished, corporate-minded and tame people which seems to be what is valued. It is interesting that there are those who beat the drum for mission at all costs and then say, "It has to be done this way." by their actions.

So I guess this post is for those of you who feel at times like I do. You feel like a square peg in a round hole. You face life thinking your vision of where you believe God is leading you, that has been confirmed by the Body, will never come to fruition, because our system won't allow it. Maybe you are thinking that your ministry will never be able to afford it. I say, that is the tyranny of the impossible speaking. Jesus says, "Nothing is impossible to him who believes." Maybe it is time for some visionaries to step forward and work even in a non-conformist way to advance the Kingdom.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gym and Swim?

Kroc money. There has been much written about it. Kroc Centers - places where the money will be used to establish unique community servces.

My friend Drew recently shared with me some of his incredible work in making the vision of the Kroc Center come to fruition in Boston. He did great work in meticulously preparing a detailed program proposal. That Drew is a smart boy!!!!

I am in the thick of working to ensure the vision of Joan Kroc (by the way I think it was a heavenly vision) is carried out in a place not far from me. I was in a very long meeting today regarding the Kroc gift. Someone said in that meeting "Is this really the blessng of God?" Those of us who heard chuckled a bit. We realized the enormity of our responsibility in being good stewards of the resources provided. We shuddered at the thought of the hard work ahead.

There was lively talk of mission and whether recreation and arts really did fulfill the mission and mandate Jesus gives us to minister to the poor. There is great fear among many of us we could turn gift into places that are purely "gym and swim" places.

Some have gone as far as to indicate the gift may pull us away from the mission of The Salvation Army. These people think that unless we are conducting soup kitchens and providing large amounts of social service, we are not fulfilling the mission of God. I do believe that there is a great tension these days, regarding this subject.

I for one think that even the gym and swim is fulfilling the mission of God, especially if it is available to the poor. Just before his death Arch Bishiop Romero said this, "We know that every effort to improve society ... is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us."

If these places are just gym and swim and improve society do they fulfill the mission of God? I am not sure that you even have to preach in them.

I am thinking they can be life changing and fulfilling the mission of God.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Redemptive violence?

I was recently heartened to see the General of The Salvation Army call us to prayer for peace in the Middle East. I also recently encouraged to see his support in "The Officer" for non-violence. This is a positive step.

Many of you know that our son has worked as an intern this summer at the Israeli Consulate in Boston. It has been an interesting and challenging summer for him. He has been in the middle of interesting conversations and has had to prepare press briefings for the consulate staff. He does not really agree with Israel's response. He, like me, is not really sure how they should have responded.

In the middle of the conflict I had conversation with many Christian friends who were actually glad that Israel gave such a strong response to the attack on their sovereignty. "They don't mess around." one friend said. "They always hit back harder. They step it up." I was surprised at the reaction. I am not sure that Jesus would have been glad for the response.

As I looked at pictures today of Northern Israel and Lebanon, the death and destruction sadden me. Pictures of war are always sad.

I had another friend ask, "If a terrorist set off a nuclear device in our subways should we use nuclear weapons in response?" My Christian brother seemed to advocate this as justified. I simply could not bring myself to think about this as a Christian response.

Often, I have the same type of discussion regarding the death penalty with my friends and colleagues. The term that is often bantered about is "redemptive violence." In other words, good people must stamp out evil even if it means putting someone to death to stop them. This includes "just war" theology.

Jesus taught about turning the other cheek. (By the way, his teaching is not meant to act in a cowardly way. It actually means to stare your attacker in the face and almost dare them to look you in the eye and hit you again.) And with His teachings about living and dying by the sword and turning swords into plowshares, I don't see how we can support the doctrine of redemptive violence.

No, I have never had a loved one murdered. I have had people I love go through some very horrific experiences at the hands of violent and sick people. It still did not enrage me enough to want to kill them.

Cardinal Bernadine spoke of a "seamless garment of life." In other words, if life is sacred at conception, it is sacred until the end. Humans have no right to take a life.

I am sorting through this whole doctrine of redemptive violence. I am open for discussion. I am thinking that Jesus calls us to be people of peace.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Repentance and rethinking

I have been reading Brian McLaren's new book "The Secret Message of Jesus." His premise in the book is that we take too much of the Gospel at face value and really are not accurate or desperate enough in our desire to correctly struggle with the message of our Lord. It is also a great treatise on the Kingdom.

One of the terms he explores is repentance. Our statement of faith talks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus are necessary for our salvation. I have always thought of repentance as saying "I'm sorry." It is that. It also has to do with doing a "180" in our lives.

I have tried to count the number of times I have said "I'm sorry to God" They are beyond measure. They are often followed by repeats of the actions for which I have repented. Saying, "I'm sorry" is a good start but not enough.

I have thought about this in the context of the Kingdom. Those of us who are evangelical often beat the drum for "personal salvation." It is true that God wants people to know him intimately. He wants us to be in right and loving relationship. I think though where we miss out is just there. I believe a broadened sense of salvation is necessary. Is it possible that God wishes that the whole world, our systems, environment, our politics (I don't equate God with republican values or democratic ones either) are in need of salvation. It may start with our repentance.

I believe repentance has much more to do than with the way we relate to God. It means a rethinking of the way we treat the environment, spend our money and order our priorities.

For example, I recently had a conversation with my friend about how I feel it is excessive and sinful for Christians to drive Hummers and other cars that waste fuel and send off a sense of extravagance. His reply is that it is a choice and that it is their money. Later we saw a dog with little booties. He was "sickened" by the site. How dare they spoil a DOG that way. My reply, "It's their money."

The sparring was great. I think you see my point. We take comfort that we are sorry to God, but relationship is also found in translating Kingdom values to the world. IN other words, changing our thinking about everything. Maybe we should ask "How did Jesus think?"

When we sing the Founder's song and get to the phrase "The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free" we should not think of just the people but really the world and its systems.

Maybe we need to rethink the concept of salvation. Salvation is not just a personal thing. Is it in fact, that we need environmental repentance, business repentance (been to the gas pump lately?)political repentance (label free politics where we have statesmen not just politicians) repentance for our waist lines (and waste lines) and repentance for our consumeristic ways? Should we also take a look at what we think are redemptive practices, including redemptive violence? (I will stop here on that one.)

Maybe we as Christians owe the world and our God a big, "I'm sorry" and some corrective action for the way we have perverted the values of the Kingdom. Is it possible that Christianity needs to do a "180?"

I have been challenged in my soul lately. I am not sure I have completely processed it all.

What do you think?