Saturday, February 28, 2009

Be Unconventional?

You are not going to believe this. A couple of posts back, I told you about a fortune cookie I got just a week or so before Valentine's Day. With my affinity for Chinese food, I get a few.

Last week, after a grueling few days, I had dinner with some friends. We went to a Chinese buffet. It was paradise.

At the end, the traditional, check and fortune cookies came out on the weird plastic thing restaurants use for those sorts of things. Again, I had a pretty interesting fortune cookie. It read, "Be unconventional, even visionary." For one who has lived an unconventional organizational life, this fit me to a tea. In fact, the next day, at a conference on visioning which I was helping to facilitate, I shared the quote. Chuckles went up all over the room from those who have known me.

In recent months, I have really struggled with the unconventional nature I have and where I fit in the Kingdom. Many of my good friends are pretty conservative people. I tend to lean a bit left of center. Lots of my colleagues are very cut and dry when it comes to matters of Church. I tend to analyze, theologize and do just about every other kind of "ize" which you can name.

I wonder sometimes, if being unconventional is a matter of pride or a calling. I had this discussion with someone a few months ago who said, "All you guys want (speaking of those of us who are in the more liberal, unconventional stream) want is to have it your way." My reply was, "No I think that all we want is an acknowledgement that we exist and that we might have a good idea." I have to admit, maybe we do want to be in control sometimes. It has become a matter of prayer for me.

The matter at hand really is simple. The church in its purest form to me, is unconventional when it is at its best. Think about it. People who believe that grace and mercy are better than war are the Church. People who sacrifice comfort and prestige, who do not seek title, are the Church. People who see a garbage heap in Cairo, Egypt, where kids pick through trash to find food for their existence, as chapel for ministry, are the Church. People who simply serve, even the people considered by society as the worst, not expecting anything in return, are the Church. The people who find pleasure in giving away wealth and keeping only the bare essentials for themselves, are the Church. People who pray that God will bless the WHOLE WORLD, not just the USA are the Church. People who see management by objective, as worldly, not just a goal to be shot for so that we can put a notch in our Evangelical belts, are the Church.

I could go on longer. I think you get the picture. The question is, "Is the Church, my church, your church unconventional, even visionary?" Or are we just ordinary and slipping further into irrelevance in the West as people don't see us as any different than anyone else?

I am frightened that the Church has become conventional. I am concerned that even worse than that, the unconventional places of ministry are not recognized for what they are, the Church.

So are we going to be conformists or unconventional, not just for the sake of being unconventional, but because Jesus modeled it for us?

What do you think?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Contrarian or Confident?

I have been labeled many things. I carry a title in our movement. I am an officer. I am a father and a husband. I am a pastor and a friend. I have also been known to be called a malcontent and whiner. I have also been labeled as a contrarian. In other words I question everything.

I must admit that I kept my contrarian nature under the surface for years. I had questions about faith swirling around in my head. I had questions about our movement simmering that I thought were disrespectful to ask. I probably, in my younger years, would have been disrespectful in my asking.

I now ask hard questions. I have a feeling and have heard that my asking sometimes puts people on edge. They begin to wonder if I am just disgruntled, middle-aged man. I do confess there has become, at times, a deep frustration with practices and people. I need to assure the readers here that I LOVE CHRIST, I LOVE CHRISTIANITY (in its purest form), I LOVE THE BODY OF CHRIST and I LOVE THE MISSION OF OUR MOVEMENT.

As one who has been in the family of Christ from birth, I have seen the best and worst. I have seen how we can, in the name of dividing "business from personal life" (how ridiculous is that statement, because all business comes from personal relationships) make decisions and implement them in a ways that are less than scriptural. I have also seen tough decisions that needed to be made handed down in the harshest ways. There have been times when I have seen the crazy uncle in the family of Christ act out by alienating a young child in a worship service by screaming at him, to behave. These are often the only words that the kid hears from the adult. Then there are the pet sins of my evangelical branch of the family, which have become the objects of our war cry.

Reading all this, you would think I am just a person who just contrary in my spirit. In some ways, I am. It is because I hope for better. I want a pure loving, peace-making, caring church that does not work by management by objective. I want to see an inclusive, gracious, questioning church that wrestles with our slavery to systematic theology (I do believe that theological systems are good, but need to be examined and reviewed as the hermeneutic and context changes.) I want us to hold Christians accountable and become less judgemental of those who are not part of our family.

I think there is a movement afoot. I think there is hope. I am confident. I believe there is a better day coming. I believe, with Doug Pagitt in his book, "A Christianity Worth Believing" that contrarians are people who are hopeful. They just are people who run contrary to what we have swallowed over the years and believe there is something better. The Church can do better and I believe will, as we continue to question why and how. I say this as long as we do not allow the questions to freeze us in place.

Armies require us to be in step. I agree with Paul when he writes in Galatians 5 "If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." That does not necessarily mean we need to be in lock step with each other, in practice or theology. The Spirit calls us in different ways to accomplish the same mission. What cannot be accepted is the status quo and a thought that returning to the past, by adding more rules will get us where we need to be. There need to be standards in the Church, but they need to be flexible and progressive.

I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the Church can once again become nimble. I believe we can become significant in the West. I am not sure that we are. I believe the Spirit can bring this about, if freedom is given to the members of the family to question and move forward as they believe the Spirit leads.

OK, I know I have rambled a bit. I know I might have sounded contrarian. My questions for today are pretty practical. Is being contrarian beneficial or unproductive for the Church? Is a confident person also contrarian? Can we be the change we need to have? Can we be confident that the church will continue to grow into what God wants us to be?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

To Love and Be Loved?

I read this bit of wisdom in a fortune cookie this past week. "To love and be loved are the greatest blessings" I thought that it was very appropriate for Valentine's Day. Moreover, it was important for all of life.

I have been desiring more and more deep friendships (see the previous blog). I believe God made us for deep relationship with Him and others. What I see though, more and more, is that we really have very little comprehension of what love really is.

I love pizza. I love the Cleveland Cavs. I love my friends. I love my wife. The problem is with all of these examples, love is not really perfect. (Even as much as I love Janet) I have come to realize in the church and in friendships in general, we practice cordiality and we practice friendliness, we rarely practice love.

If we really loved, we would sacrifice for each other. If we really loved, we would be intimately concerned about each other's lives, likes, families and inner souls. Instead, we often just have warm feelings for each other. Real love is very unselfish and self-sacrificing (read Phil. 2).

I tell people, especially my kids (biological and those by proxy) that I love them. I have many people say they love me too. I wonder how many I have blessed by REALLY loving them. Love really means laying down your agenda and wants for the ones you really love.

I wonder if we will really ever get to the point where we will really bless each other with our love.

Do you see real love in the church? Do you see the church spreading love? Do you really feel blessed and are you sharing blessing? Do you have deep relationships with others?

Is this really possible?

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I admit it. I am an addict. I am addicted to Facebook. I have been a member of the social networking site for quite some time, but in recent days, I have really become active on the site.

Over the last several months I have had opportunity to reconnect with people I have not had much contact with for years. I have had many of my friends tell me that they have reconnected with people long lost from their past as well.

My wife claims that I would spend all day long every day on this network. I do this because I am amazed at the number of people who have an interest in each others' lives. Many people are an open book, well sort of, through their status update. You can tell they are sick, happy, sad or angry. Yet, you are always wondering if what you read is true.

In recent days, I have been trying to read my friends. I must be honest. I have allowed many of my good friendships over the years to evaporate. I really have struggled with a couple of friendships in particular over the last couple of months, that I really have missed.

It is tough to stay connected for many reasons. Whether it is disagreement or just a hiding of our true feelings, most of us tend to not be very open. Maybe it is a lack of trust. I think that vulnerability is the key to all of this.

I find that in the church. For whatever reason, we tend to be individualists with acquaintances and not real friends. This is sad. For it seems that when there is rich community, there is real revival that takes place in the church.

I am not sure why we tend to be so guarded. Maybe it is pride. Maybe it is insecurity. All I know that for a myriad of reasons we just don't seem to build community or stay connected in the soul of each other.

I believe that is what the church needs and we as individuals need to do. We need to make deep friendships and deep community work.

Why is that we don't? Why is it that we just don't connect? Why don't we let ourselves be vulnerable with people who are supposed to love us?

I am wanting to make deep friendships work. As always I want to know, what do you think?