Torn

August 9, 2007 at 11:05 pm (Education, Ministry)

I feel as though I am a person torn in two. I feared that it would come to this, and yet I have hoped all along that somehow I would find a way to reconcile my two passions within me, to even bring them to harmonize with each other. But it seems that it is not to be quite yet a perfect duet.

I face a terrible decision that I know really isn’t a decision at all because of the path I have already chosen to follow at this juncture in my life, and I feel as though the other part of me has been placed on a back burner set on warm. It isn’t a nice feeling at all, but I know if I deviated from my path even a little, that wouldn’t be a nice feeling either, and I would regret it ultimately.

I am a person torn in two. On one hand, I am following this adventure of education – I am driven by some unearthly desire to learn more about the Hebrew Bible and anything that will help me understand it better. On the other, I find myself back in ministry, serving with my husband, getting to know a new group of teenagers, and I’m remembering my calling and love for the church, specifically, young people.

Why do these things seem so incompatible? In the end, I don’t think they are – or I would be reconsidering my life’s path. I have blogged on this before, long ago. I am seeking education in the hopes of being able to pass it on, not merely for my own personal benefit – because I have a passion for the church – and I do believe it will benefit my ministry there, on the way, and ultimately. However, in the meanwhile, education is hard work, and time consuming – and there is only so much time in a day, in a week. If I have to take Akkadian on Wednesday nights, then that means no Wednesday night youth group at church, for me. It pains me greatly, but it would pain me if I chose not to take Akkadian as well. I know that to some extent I’m putting youth ministry in the box of one event, but I also realistically know that that is when the majority of students will come, and when I would hang out and continue to develop relationships with them. I will not be cut off entirely, but for a semester at least, I will be somewhat more a stranger to many of the students, and I cut off that night of support to my husband.

Some might criticize me for that, and were it not for the unfailing encouragement and support of my husband to continue in the path of education, and that I absolutely must take Akkadian, and any other class that may interfere at some other point, or stay home to do homework and study if I must – I might falter. I am, after all, a person torn in two, and I dislike – no – I despise having to diminish a part of me for a season in order to develop the other, even if only a little. Finding a proper balance will be a challenge, and I worry I am not up to the task, and I struggle to keep perspective, and to remember I can’t see God’s.

But, I look forward to a day when both sides of me will each have their own different melodies, yes, but will be able to sing in beautiful harmony with each other as a single song, to the glory of God.

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None/All of the Above

July 4, 2007 at 3:38 pm (Church, Evangelicalism™, Ministry)

I just finished reading a post by iMonk, and I agree with the basic premise. I, too, feel that churches entrenched in what I would call Evangelicalism™ have lost sight of what is important. They’ve been focused on drawing people in with external issues – music, appearances, programs – ultimately things that don’t matter to the faith. While many have been successful in “church growth,” in harping on these issues as important, we have taught our children that having their “needs” and “desires” met is important for them to be able to “worship” properly. We’ve also taught new Christians who have come in initially because of these things the same thing. Not a good foundation.

In the same way, I am sure that there are those who would call themselves “emerging” and change the way they do their weekly worship gatherings for pretty much the same reasons. In the name of cultural context, candles are lit, stained glass windows are put up, the lights are dimmed, prayer stations, all sorts of things, wonderful things that resonate with lots of people in the way they “prefer” to worship, but lets be honest – ultimately empty and meaningless without Jesus Christ at the center.

At the same time, there are churches who are so bent on being “Baptist,” or sending people to hell, or never moving the pulpit, or decrying the children if they run in the church building, or would give you a dirty look if you wore a pair of jeans to church, that the chances of reaching their community is slim to none, because the love flowing in that church could fill a thimble. There is fault all around.

So yes, I agree with iMonk’s basic premise. All around, there is a loss of the gospel in the name of “cultural context” or perhaps in the name of keeping the cultural context of the church, and this is tragic. However, I am concerned with the old adage, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you read down through some of the comments on iMonk’s post, there is one that he refers to in the update, Pastor Scott Dontanville, which I took note of. Reading further down, there is another commenter who brings up my thoughts, jeremy bouma.

While I don’t pretend to know what Pastor Scott’s situation was (it could very well have been situation #2 above), sometimes I feel as though it’s an either/or. Either you are culturally relevant, perhaps what some call “emerging,” or you’re solid biblically and have the gospel. What’s the deal?

Why can’t you have a church where people can wear jeans, have pink hair and tattoos, and still have the gospel? Why can’t you have a church with a coffee bar and still have the gospel? Why can’t you have a church with candles and still have the gospel? Why is it an either/or? Why do we limit ourselves to an A) or B)? What question has only A) or B)? There are at least C) none of the above, and D) all of the above. This isn’t true or false. This is the body of Christ, unique, and diverse enough to warrant more than A) and B).

I think I know what the answer is, perhaps, and I’ll venture to say. It’s because it’s more than the loss of the gospel in our churches. It’s because we’ve lost the Church itself. We’ve lost not only the message of Christ, we’ve lost what the Church is. We don’t even know how to do church anymore. We don’t even know why we’re here. That’s evident because even as we think we’ve lost the gospel, we think that somehow the gospel is related to going back to a more traditional way of worship. Unbelievable.

We’re here to love God, and love others. Jesus Christ and his message is at the center of all that we do. We’re CHRISTians. But why do we gather? Why do we even bother having churches? I don’t think we know.

The reason situations 1, 2, and 3 are so miserable is because it’s not about us, it’s about God, and other people. We’ve taught people it’s about us, and thus we expect it to be about us. That’s just American. That’s another problem altogether, and a side trail. But you know what? You can be “pomo.” You can sing hymns. You can do whatever you want. Do you love God? Are you loving people? That might lead you to externally do some stuff a certain way, as you try to missionally live in the world and reach people. But if that “stuff” ever leads us to stop talking about Jesus, then we might as well give up. If that “stuff” ever leads us to stop loving our Christian brothers and sisters for our preferences, we might as well give up.

But the “stuff” is not evil. The “stuff” is not what causes us to lose the gospel or become sanitized. Don’t criticize the “stuff” because genuine people have lost sight in its glitter. Hymns and suits and organs are “stuff” just as much as the candles and prayer stations, just a difference kind of stuff. Let’s not get petty – or perhaps prideful in the ability to “remain pure” in the cultural tide of modern “stuff.”

It’s simple: we’ve forgotten how to be the Church. We’ve forgotten what our own faith means. We have to rethink the Church in order to reclaim the message of Christ – or maybe we should start our rethinking with reclaiming the message – that his body on earth proclaims. Only then will we truly be effective in the world around us.

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To Swear, or not to Swear

June 9, 2007 at 2:15 pm (Church, Ministry, Theology and the Bible)

An interesting read over at TallSkinnyKiwi on using offensive language.

Pay close attention to the 3 categories of historically offensive language: Premodern, modern, and postmodern.

Calvin is always bugging me about swearing, because I’m a prude who can remember using the “sh” word and the “f” word (as we used to call them in elementary school) once each in my entire life. I guess by TSK’s categories these would fall under modern offensive language, “harsher” forms of bodily or sexual functions. What can I say, my parents trained me well and I see no reason to start saying words I’ve never said before now just because I can.

On the other hand, I’m come to realize as an adult that words are just words and mean different things in different cultures. However, we should also give thought to the idea that offensive language changes with the times, and certain words just don’t hold the same offensive weight that they used to, while other words have moved into that category. What is it, after all, that makes a word a “swear word”? It’s offensive to people. There are certain words that TSK brought up that I would never consider using that my grandma may have without a second thought when she was little. I’m caught in somewhat of an intergenerational taboo because I was raised by a) Christian parents who are b) very modern and yet c) I also grew up in an increasingly postmodern world where other words were ingrained in me by the school system and the media to be wrong, as well to some extent by my parents who were smart enough to accept the changing society around them as they aged.

What this means is growing up, all three categories were off-limits, though the third less than others. The third became more off limits as I aged and became increasingly more a part of society myself, and the first two less off limits as I realized that they really weren’t offensive to quite as many people.

Still, while I may let loose the occasional idiom of “a snowball’s chance in hell,” just because I think it’s aptly descriptive of a situation, I felt the blog post was thoughtful in that as Christians, the most important thing to remember when it comes to words: is their offensive and hurtful power. The old saying may go, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but we all know that it’s entirely false. We could use no “swear” words whatsoever, and yet deeply hurt someone, or we could drop a now benign word that our peer wouldn’t think twice about, but still offend a grey hair we’re in a conversation with. We say all things in love, never speak any word out of malice, spite, or hatred, sensitive to showing the love of Christ to all, ready to adapt to the situation at hand, giving up our verbage preferences temporarily if necessary.

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The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen

May 20, 2007 at 10:11 am (Books, Evangelicalism™, Ministry)

This little book is short, inexpensive, but worth the read. Originally published in 1972, Nouwen was obviously writing in a slightly removed culture and to a different generation, but there were plenty of what I would deem timeless truths to be gleaned from the 100 pages of my 1979 edition.

If I rewrote the book today, I would probably use some different terminology and catch-phrases, but his emphasis on true compassion, authentic community, and especially ministering to people from our own woundedness are just as applicable today as they were in the 70’s. Growing up I know my husband as a PK often heard repeated this idea that ministers somehow needed to hide their pain from their congregations to be able to minister to them. This theory is still perpetuated today in Evangelicalism™. Nouwen blows this idea out of the water, and in fact states just the opposite.

Though I think he was aiming his book toward the audience of “the minister,” the principles will resonate with anyone seeking to “minister” to people.

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Thoughts on Compassion

May 12, 2007 at 1:15 pm (Books, Church, Ministry)

A striking quote from The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen:

Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that men feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty that the world knows all too well is also rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same. For a compassionate man nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.

What would happen if we had this mindset?

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