The Glass Darkly

Friday, October 26, 2007


Hope is in the dew of the morning
When the day is just beginning

Hope is in the fawn's legs shaking
Soon strength enough to start leaping

Hope comforts us when we feel pain
Maybe tomorrow will be free from rain

Hope can urge us and inspire us
In our quest for new horizons

Hopefulness within our strife
Reveals the faith we hold in life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shedding Exoskeletons

Leon's comments on my last post got me thinking about the structures of the church and how they help or hinder the growth of the Church. I decided to post my response here since I added a lot more thoughts to my original post:

Leon, thank you for your comments -- actually not an unexpected argument to my thoughts. As I mentioned, on one hand, I have used your same argument to myself for many years. And while love is certainly important to me, these thoughts were not birthed out of some form of nostalgia for the good ol' days of love, love, love.

I've been mulling this over and over in my mind for some time now - actually since you posted your comment - and I've been trying to organize my thoughts on the matter. I'm not sure I've gotten a firm handle on them yet, but I submit a few more ideas. Conrad Kanagy's message on Sunday and Brian's recent thoughts have contributed some vocabulary I've been seeking.

First, however, I wish to briefly comment on your metaphors (acknowledging the limitations of metaphors). There is something interesting about your second set of metaphors . . . something I want to think about more. Your first set are the structures which hold us up from within -- endoskeletons if you will. Then you mention some which are held together by an external framework (ie river bank, coffee mug). Biologically speaking, endoskeletons and exoskeletons function in very different ways. I could draw all kinds of parallels
to the types of internal and external structures that promote or signal healthy growth and support in the Church. But there are certainly negative parallels too.

As you have said, structure and order has its place, however, I think what I am questioning more i
s to what end is that structure and order aimed? If it is to meet our own needs or for our own personal comfort, I am wary. I have learned to be very suspicious of myself when I start to feel comfortable. First of all I start doing and thinking in ways which inadvertently attempt to preserve that comfort -- comfort is a tremendous form of positive reinforcement.

Comfort is not a bad thing when we are talking about a child in need of security, but when it comes to being bearers of the Gospel, Jesus taught and preached just the opposite. There is nothing safe or comfortable about living without a home ("if they do not accept you, just wipe the dust from your shoes and move on" Lk 10), without a family ("who is my mother?" Matt. 12:48)

There is something appropriately descriptive about the term "resident aliens." What did Jesus mean when he said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it again in 3 days? What does it mean that the Temple was no longer this permanent fixture and place? What does it mean that the Church is to be organic, not bricks and mortar? Conrad mentioned our reluctance as middle-class Christians to be mobile. I am not totally opposed to structure (I love getting groups to organize themselves and develop vision and teamwork, etc.!) but I can't help but ask the question, "to what end is the structure?"

So we look at Life Groups, for example - what is our missional purpose in them? What are the guiding questions framing our church building project? As often happens, David Shenk's voice echoes in my ears from his sharing at our church's 75th anniversary, "what an opportunity we have here at Sunnyside -- so close to the city and housing projects!" And I think, is there a Life Group located in the city? Am I actively inviting my neighbors? Why do I pass three other Mennonite churches on my way to Sunnyside every

Part of my role on some Sundays is to prepare sections of the worship service. My preparation is very meaningful for me, but I often worry about whether the structure will be acceptable or comfortable for everyone. I worry that people will go home "getting" what they expected or wanted from the service. We prepare and form structure for decency and order, but to what end? Comfortable worship? Equipping of the Body for missional life? -- yes. But I can't help but ask further questions. Somehow deep inside I'm feeling guilty or convicted. Not sure exactly about what. But there is something deeply disturbing about what Conrad shared -- we are so entrenched in the middle, we don't know how to be Church to the margins.

Do our structures contribute or support this dynamic? And what type of structures are they? Endoskeletons support growth that occurs around them. Exoskeletons crack and break apart when growth wants to happen. So I guess I'm wondering are there exoskeletons that need to be shed so that growth can occur or emerge in the Church?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Incarnationally or Organizationally?

My ponder for the week: can we truly live incarnationally when we are organizationally-bound?

Funny to think about it since in my work I have been a big promoter of "organizational development." In Cambodia my job was to help grassroots movements organize themselves better so they could function more effectively and efficiently in the vision/mission they felt called to. While I was convincing on the the outside that this is what these groups needed and this was what Cambodia needed, inside I had my doubts. There is something precious, vivacious and dynamic about grassroots level movements that often dies off if forced to conform to organized systems . . . the systems consume too much energy. Depending on the amount of energy the group has to expend, systemizing small movements could actually mean their death. My question deep down was, "how important are indicators of effectiveness and efficiency?" and ultimately, is "organizationalization" really "development."

Systemizing a grassroots movement could prolong eventual death, because donors love organizational development and will fund grassroots projects as long as they can meet organizational expectations. The sad thing is that the grassroots groups I worked with believed that finding a good donor would sustain their work. Money was the solution to all problems.

The truth was that their verve and vision is what would sustain them. Their energy and commitment is what made the difference in the lives of people they touched. I suspect that in most cases, the most sustainable "development" came from people living within grassroots communities who maybe didn't even have an office, but worked out of their homes and looked for local resources to support their projects or outreach. This form of community-based initiatives can be more holistic because it is less likely to be confined by funding schemes or hierarchical bureaucracy.

So I wonder what role organization has played in the Church. Have we become so over-organized that we are not able to live out our missional call? Are we able to live incarnationally in grassroots ways when we need to expend so much energy to mobilize and sustain large groups of people in congregations. And what happens to our witness when we need to constantly attend to maintenance issues?

The incarnational life of Jesus had so much time for the one-on-one, left such a small ecological footprint on the Earth, lived from day to day without a planner and an organizational flowchart and a budget and yet made such a transformational impact in the society where he lived. His disciples lived and worked with a simple job description of "follow me" and even broke the rules of the Pharisees. They sat with people, broke bread with people . . . and all kinds of people! For the most part, they had time and resources and energy for that calling. What an example!

We talk about New Testament living . . . what would it really be like to live in the New Testament Christian Church. How much organization and money and energy did it take to maintain corporate gatherings? What impact would have been lost had the church skipped the grassroots-level movement. What would be the impact if more of the time and energy we expend on maintaining our buildings and systems and budgets would be freed up for just sitting and drinking tea with those around us. We could sure buy a lot of tea for the cost of a day's worth of maintaining our Church system. Indicators of "mission accomplished" may look different too. Living incarnationally takes a different mind-set. I wonder how much our culture prohibits this kind of living, and at the same time, could really benefit from it.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Evangelical Christians

There is nothing that gets me more riled up than listening to SRN News in the morning. It's one of those things that makes me want to sit and write ten posts, one for each news point, when I really have more important things I should be doing. Today I jotted down some recent newslines which triggered irritation. For a news company that talks a lot about Christian values, it sure is biased and presumptuous in "proclaiming" what Christians believe or want to hear. I admit I don't have all the quotes word-for-word, but I tried to capture the basic reports:

1. There is nothing that will mobilize evangelical Christians more than standing against the election of Hillary Clinton. I thought of this juxtaposed against the recent railings from Christians against Iranian President Ahmadinejad. We say Iran is an evil place because of its suppression of women, yet Iran has had two women for Vice-President and the US has had . . . how many? The Christian hatred I hear voiced against women like Hillary Clinton or Katie Couric, CBS news anchor, reveal to me a deep-seeded mistrust of women . . . women who break the stereotypes, women who stand up for issues, women who are willing to use their leadership gifts to make a difference. I have heard Christians label Hillary as evil -- more evil than any man running for President, I wonder? I even heard someone imply Hillary should not be respected since she is obviously not submissive to her husband. What??? I wonder what President Ahmadinejad thinks of Christians who condemn him so much in this area of suppression of women? America doesn't want women in politics - yet we allow them flashing half-clad bodies on the front covers of the tabloids at all check-out counters. In what ways is that empowering women? What a Christian nation we are.

2. Tragic -- more and more Evangelical Christians are "straying" from the Republican party (85%-45% drop).
You would think that we would worry more about how many are "straying" from the Church! When do we equate the Republican party with the "fold," our Christian home? Can one be Christian and support Democratic policies? Hmmm. . . .

3. We proudly announce that Evangelical Christians have contributed $10 million toward the repairs and rebuilding of bomb shelters in Israel. Wow! Is that something to be proud of? So evangelical Christians are supporting the Middle East conflict. Instead of money toward peace efforts, we support bomb shelters, acknowledging and expecting more war. No faith that peace is possible. It confirms what I heard a Christian say once, "why worry so much about the Middle East conflict? It started in Bible times and it says there will always be emnity there . . . " So evangelical Christians subscribe to the hopeless state of our Earth . . . we'd rather sit in our bunkers than work for transformation that Christ claimed is now possible through His Church?

Hmmm . . . it all makes me wonder if I really want to be labeled an Evangelical Christian.

How Blatant!

My husband and a couple others were standing by the side of the road the other day waiting for the bus. A guy drives by in his pick-up truck and bellows, "Get a job!!!" Hmmm . . . I can't help but grumble . . . Does that not reveal a deep-seeded attitude in our culture????

The truth is my husband has a job. In fact he was standing with two others from his job who have been helping to promote the Christian value of caring for God's creation by curbing their consumption of carbon-based fuels. Many of the workers at my husband's office have been intentionally riding the bus or carpooling to and from work each day both to make a statement for Creation Care, but also to stand against the injustices of funding cuts for public transportation, the life-line for many low-income families who can't afford a car and are trying to keep a job!

Some might say, what difference does what my husband and his friends do really make in the scheme of things. I guess that is one way of looking at it; that attitude will certainly lead to NOTHING being done. But to not try SOMETHING is like condoning the sin of omission . . . movements for a better society need to start with individuals willing to try something.

Another truth and irony of American culture is that while we all have taken advantage of this "land of opportunity," we have created a land of unequal access to economic stability. I have said it before, we are a "pull YOURSELF up by your bootstraps" society. Dependence is weakness and weakness is scorned. We think that since our immigrant ancestors had to WORK for everything they got, we should not help those who are needy now. THEY should work for their economic status too! No help, no government hand-outs, no welfare - they need to WORK FOR IT!

How Christian of us. In our pride of where we've come, we ignore the fact that our wealthy life-styles make it hard for the lower economic levels to find access to jobs, fair wages and affordable goods. Our nation's government struggles between appeasing the controling middle class and the needs of the lower class. We want the government to be "for the middle-class and by the middle-class" instead of for ALL the people.

And as I've also lamented before, we equate independence with being good and Christian. I hear Christians imply that depending on government funding is bad . . . why? . . . because we don't want our tax money going to people who don't want to work for it! Funny how I just don't see that in New Testament.

And getting back to the bus system . . . I heard a Christian complain that he thought it was a crime that when Governor Ed Rendell would not sign off on the budget until some funding for public transportation was reinstated, that Red Rose Transit Authority suddenly had all kinds of work requests put in, quickly spending a good amount the money that was finally alloted to them. Now why was that a crime? I think the crime was that we all could care less about the needs of the lower working class who need the bus to get to work! Paying for
insurance, gas, license upkeep, maintenance and repairs . . . . How can we expect that everyone can drive an SUV to work? And then, from a Creation Care point of view, why should we?