Still here…

Sorry for the short-lived discipline at daily posting. As I’m taking on more of my responsibilities at work, including being "on call" all the time and a fluctuating work schedule, I’m feeling a bit off balance and am working to find the new equilibrium I’ll need to be effective in this role while balancing the rest of my life, including those things which are most important- like my faith community, family, etc.
 
So…stay tuned….
 
In the meantime, I’m doing some writing for a friend’s journal that I sort of helped to get started, called the Enclave. Tonight I’ll try to post some excerpts perhaps.

“People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Kirsten and I snuck out and saw V for Vendetta last night. As I am more forgiving than some would-be critics I know (and am habitually loyal), I remain a big fan of the Wachowski brothers and still enjoy the Matrix trilogy taken as a whole. I was very excited to see it, then. Most of the reveiws I read were positive, noting that it was a "smart" movie, though one sarcastically said it would saitisfy all of the political adolescents out there as a "rage against the machine by the machine." Still, I enjoyed it. Set in a 1984-like dystopian future, in the film the United States has been rendered weak by an imperial war gone bad (finally leading to civil war in the U.S.), and Britain has returned to superpower status, though as a totalitarian state led by a politically conservative, religious dictator that came to power and now maintains it by promulgating a culture of fear and offering the masses security in exchange for ever-shrinking liberty (civil and otherwise). This regime is highly secretive and uses the media to spin events in an advantageous light. Sound familiar? The movie goes on to ask questions about the difference between a terrorist and a freedom-fighter and who gets to say which is which. One memorable line was: "Artists use lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover the truth up." Anyway, the film certainly played to my sensibilities and while I might use caution in carrying the allusions too far, I am reminded of the recent comments by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor regarding political attacks on the judiciary in which she noted, "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

“You keep showing up. That’s good.”

My new supervisor’s supervisor asked me yesterday how things were going so far at work. Immediately after asking, she said, "You keep showing up. That’s good." I like that little exchange because I think it encapsulates much of what I’ve learned about life in my 30 years of living it. I think that in many cases just "showing up" is half the battle- as a new Home Coordinator, as a husband and father and a member of a church community, as a son and son-in-law, and especially as a disciple of Jesus. Being present and attending to the moments of my life is vital to being the person God wants me to be, though it is very, very hard, and often my instinct is to do just the opposite- to run away with my pain and no longer risk being hurt again, which means not having real relationships anymore. I’m in just such a situation now. It is one in which I am consistently misunderstood, hurt, and in which there is great potential for very important boundaries to be cast all to hell (as I see it). So, while working to subtly enforce those boundaries (and protect my family in relation to them) I must also swallow my pride, if not my pain, and keep showing up, knowing there is risk in doing so. I must and will do so because my Lord commands it- mostly through his example, and I know that I, as his servant, am no greater than he.

A Glass Darkly…

I learned today a bit more about what I’ve gotten myself into at work. I knew that the home I will soon be responsible for has three developmentally disabled men living there who exhibit very "difficult" behaviors. Today I learned just how difficult some of these behaviors have been, involving staff ER visits, concussions, etc. One client in the home has committed a felony or two, though he wasn’t convicted, as I understand it, because of his disability. So, as I prepare to make the transition into my official duties in the home next week, I do so with a healthy sense of respect for how challenging it will be. Having said that, however, I am also keenly aware of the mystery that each one of us embodies as image-bearers of God, and I trust that the light of that image shines on even in these men I will soon be caring for, however dimly it may do so. Though it may be naive for me to say, I nonetheless will strive mightily to tend that mystery- to nurture that light- and by my example I will likewise teach my staff to do the same. In the meantime, I’ll pay close attention during my "crisis intervention" (restraint) class on Wednesday.

Shhhhh!

Well, here I am again. I really do intend to write daily, though adopting this discipline is challenging, as one might expect. I get so busy; maybe better said, I choose to be so busy that is hard to make the time for this important thing- writing/reflection. There is so much I want to accomplish, and the need to produce, to do, to distract myself from the inner life is so thoroughly entrenched that it seems as much a part of who I am as the need to breathe. The challenge to "simply" be is one that I can not even adequately imagine. Still, I do imagine it, and I wonder what secrets lie hidden in the stillness of my hoped for inactivity. I wonder if what lies there is simply my unadorned, unencumbered self- a self loved unconditionally by Jesus, awash in the grace of God- a self that is ready to be, and to love. In any case, that is the self I hope to become/uncover as I journey more fully into the abundant life Jesus has for me.
 
Of course, I recognize the truth of what I wrote above- that the need to do is so entrenched that it may never be successfully extricated from my core identity, and so I am glad for the season- for Lent. I pray that the mystery of who I am and who I am to be in Jesus will be wrapped up in that of Jesus’ journey to the cross, and that I might be counted worthy of dying with him and rising again to new life. I am glad to take this journey, however haltingly, today, and I pray too for the strength to undertake it again with each new day…until all the days of my life are at an end, and I am ready to begin that part of the journey which days can no longer measure.

Lee/Work/Building the Kingdom

Well, it turns out that what brought Lee back to the ER was a bad case of bronchitis, as I understand it, and she is now home again. The larger and ongoing health issues remain unaddressed at this point, though there are plans to tackle some of it on an outpatient basis. However, given her experience and the way the "system" works, how this will all play out very much remains to be seen.
 
Yesterday I started my new job. I’ll be training for a while, but it felt truly good to be given responsibility and to have meaninful work to do. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and tonight perhaps I’ll try to write more about my experience so far.
 
We continue talking with the folks from Sanctuary, and that is good. We’ll probably be getting together for dinner with the Lead Pastor and his wife soon, which likewise will be good. I must admit though that it’s hard for me to bide my time- to be patient as we go through the process of getting to know one another and discovering how much commonality there is in our vision for what God is doing next, etc. We also are just starting the very important task of building rapport and friendship, and it will take a while for those folks to uncover what I already know, what I’ve already done, etc. I guess I feel a bit like a "po-mo" Church veteran, if that isn’t an oxymoron, having been working in very similar congregations for about a decade now. Still, I am exceedingly glad for this opportunity as well, as it is such a relief to be in contact again with like-minded Christians.

Lee

My sister Lee, who has no health insurance, went home from the county hospital a couple of days ago without being given the vital tests, including a biopsy or two, that she so desperately needs. Since getting home, my Dad reported tonight, she’s been very, very lethargic, almost catatonic, and has been sleeping most of the time. Apparently she also began running a high fever and my 30-year-old niece, Lee’s daughter, took her back to the ER tonight. At last report she had been taken to the "rapid assessment area" and there were about five medical professionals buzzing around her. Of course, my experiences in life have led me to constantly expect and prepare for the worst, and I can’t help but be reminded of all the family health trauma I’ve experienced over the years. So as I listened to my Dad and then immediately afterwards, I found myself in a familiar state of dissociative passive awareness- as if I was witnessing the events of my life from outside myself as an unbiased observer. If nothing else, this clues me into the presence of deep feelings that I’ve been trained to isolate at all costs, and I tremble just knowing that they lurk there in the shadows. Oh- and about the pessimism noted above, that’s far from being the whole story. I work daily to root my identity in being the beloved of Jesus, and as a Jesus-follower I glory in embracing the foolishness of the gospel- the scandalous absurdity of the Christian life, which means that though I expect the worst I also, inasmuch as I am able, choose to live as if the absolute best has already happened, because it has. This is the already/not yet paradox of life "between the times." The kingdom of God is already here because Jesus lived, died, and has been resurrected. Yet it is not yet fully realized (in case you hadn’t noticed), and so as Christians we must live like it’s here though the overwhelming evidence in the world around us often indicates the contrary- like when a dear sister gets real sick.

My philosophy of ministry

The gathering with the folks from Sanctuary was good- very good. Afterwards we went out with the most of them- and Samuel(!) for lunch and begin talking about our respective vision(s) for postmodern ministry and what points of commonality there might be. When we got home, I began writing about our conversation in a follow-up email. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation so far as it has required me to begin to give words in a comprehensive yet succint way to the philosophy of ministry I’ve synthesized from my years in a several postmodern congregations. I share it here, partly because I’ve been encouraged to keep the writing up (thanks Jenell), especially as it relates to following Jesus (thanks Lorinda). By the way, if you happen to be a former professor, pastor, or cell leader of mine and find in my synthesis below echoes of your own thoughts, I hope you’ll be proud of how well you taught me. Here are my thoughts below in red:
 
…As I write this I know that my passion for ministry has much to do with cell groups or "base Christian communities" as they are sometimes known around the world. I do believe that this movement very much emulates the kind of ministry Jesus practiced.  I don’t see cell groups as a part of a church’s ministry. I don’t see them being effective as one among a number of other programs, etc. Quite simply, I think the community and discipleship cell groups provide are the way that we, as the Church, live out our calling to be the Church.

If cell groups are the Church because they are the primary way that we live our life together as Christians, and as Christians of course we know that we are the Church, then inviting folks into the life we’re having together with Jesus starts to look different- revolutionary even. If God really wills that "none should perish" and seeks that his kingdom should grow, then the "relational evangelism" that takes place through cell groups becomes perhaps the primary way that God’s kingdom gains ground. One group I led I promoted this way:

"Did you see ‘City Slickers?’ Do you remember when Curly was talking about the ‘one thing’ that is most important in life? What’s your ‘one thing?’ Join us on Thursday nights at 7:30 to eat some good food, get to know people, and talk about what really matters." I also used the Buechner quote about ‘listening to your life’ that I repeat so often and then followed it by saying: "We try to do lots of ‘listening’ every Thursday as we get to know one another, eat some good food, and often discuss a topic that someone has suggested. We’re Christians, but hopefully not like any you’ve ever met before. So join us, tell us about your ‘one thing,’ and be a part of the grace that happens as we experience life together."

In the groups I’ve led Jesus was the only agenda, and discipleship happened as Christians and non-Christians shared their life together, face-to-face, in real, honest relationships. In part I think "it" is simply about trusting Jesus. If, after all, Jesus is who he claims to be and I risk real relationship with him, then the transformation he’s working in me will simply be contagious and uncontainable. As Jesus lives his life through me, those with whom I risk the vulnerability of real relationship will see that happening and begin to be changed by it too. Cells are a basic, essentail framework for facilitating that transformation in the least threatening way. As the cell grows and the life of the Church keeps happening throughout the week in the cell, worship gatherings become a genuine celebration of this ongoing life and offer another point of connection. As people are inevitably drawn into this life of Jesus embodied in his Church through the cell, it grows until it gets unwieldy, and multiplication is necessary. If I’ve been a good leader, I’ve been discipling someone all along to lead the next group, and he or she will be ready when the time comes, and the process starts all over. Consequently as the number of cells grow, worship celebarations likewise get unwieldy, and new congregations are planted and new leadership is ready to lead these new congregations because discipleship happens throughout the system as gifts are recognized and opportunities are provided to use them.

(During lunch the "question" of homosexuality came up and I was asked about my "stand" on the issue…) If "context is everything," then I think the context for answering that "question" must be a relational one. I pray that God affords me the opportunity to love folks where they’re at- intentionally, through meaninful relationships. As we share our lives in meaningful, intentional ways then, I again will trust Jesus, and most especially his Spirit, as he fulfills his promise to lead us both into "all truth," but I don’t really see what purpose pronouncements serve except to turn away the very "sick" that I am called to love, serve, and lead to the Healer.

As far as the liberal/conservative debates within the church go, honestly I’ve grown quite tired of them and I’d like to think I’m "post" that too. I think the life Jesus calls us to is one which is at once both above and beyond such concerns, and I just don’t see how they’re at all helpful in loving people and building God’s kingdom. Many of these debates have to do with the Bible, and I think much of the Church has lost sight of what the Bible is for. It’s not a science textbook nor is it the author and perfector of my faith. It’s the story of God’s scandalous love affair with his creation, and especially humanity, since time began, through its ending, and beyond. The Bible points to Jesus as the culmination of God’s revelation of God’s self to the world, and it is through the lens of Jesus as that revelation that I read the Bible and for his sake that I accept its truth.

Finally, I believe with all that I am that rules are for relationship. As parents we don’t tell our children not to play in traffic because we like power and arbitrarily controlling people gives us kicks. We tell them not to do so because we understand how their bodies work- how the world works- and we know that playing in traffic can get them killed. Likewise, because God created us, in his wisdom he knows how we and the larger creation work, and the "rules" we have were given in order to faciliate us having right relationships with God, one another, and the world. These "rules" are applicable to the creation just like they are in regard to morality. Gravity is a rule that I must abide by because it helps me to have a relationship with the earth, to be able to move about on it and live my life. Sexual immorality is bad not because some rule says it is, but because it destroys any hope for right relationship with the "other," not to mention with my own body. So, always, the rule isn’t nearly so important as the right relationship it’s meant to bring about, and that’s what I must always focus on.

The spirit-destroying decrees of common sense

We head out soon for our first "discovery gathering" with the folks of Sanctuary. I am very excited and hopeful, eager for this journey with them to begin. I don’t know where it will lead, but the wonder of discovery is part of what has me so keen about it all. At the very least I know that I was created to be part of Christ’s Body, the Church, a co-worker at building the kingdom of God. This need to be part of something larger than myself or my life was woven into my very DNA, and so on levels that I can’t even begin to fully appreciate or understand my whole self longs for this and exults in finding fulfillment for that which I was created for.
 
I’m reminded, then, of a passage from God in Search of Man which contains one of my favorite quotes. Heschel writes:
 
"Man cannot live without acts of exaltation, without moments of trembling and revering, without being transported by grandeur. For weeks and months he may be confined to the routine of sensibe interests, unitl an hour arrives when all his habits burst under the strain. Common sense may sign a decree that life be kept under the lock of average conceptions, but much in our lives is made to be burned up in a holy flame or it will rot in monstrous deeds, in evil thoughts. To satisfy his need for exaltation, man will plunge into rage, wage wars; he will set the city of Rome afire. When superimposes as a yoke, as a dogma, as a fear, religion tends to violate rather than to nurture the spirit of man. Religion must be an altar upon which the fire of the soul may be kindled in holiness."
 
I think I was definitely feeling confined in the way described above, and I am eager to exalt again.