The Glass Darkly

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Email Withdraw Day

One of the places where I teach is experimenting with an "email withdraw day." It's a risk, the superintendent has admitted, but just an experiment . . . with a point.

I love the idea of experimental changes, especially when they confront the norms and habits of daily life and when they remind us that life has not always been this way. Such is the story of email. Email has become the norm of communication these days. It is also an addicting habit to have to check it all day, everyday. And, yes, there was a time when we could live without it. The phone and postal services still do work. People can make time to meet together. Face-to-face communication might be a scary proposition for some who prefer the safety of hiding behind a computer screen!

But the truth is, that, for better or for worse, I do a lot more communicating than I did before email. I was never a great one for using the US postal service and making phone calls. And even though I "talk" to people more through email, I still get behind in keeping up with that level of communication. It's as if, in this world of faster and faster paces, the standards just keep getting higher and higher. Now instead of making a few phone calls a week or writing a few letters a month, I need to write numerous emails a day! And when I don't get back to people "immediately," or within a few days, I feel I need to apologize for the delay in response. We write faster and expect faster results. And sometimes it's that instant gratification or affirmation we crave. We want to know what people thought of our ideas or information as we multi-task on dozens of other things. The one-on-one, face-to-face relating that most people depended on years ago has been replaced by text, screen names, email addresses and passwords. Relationships almost happen within a vacuum.

It does our bodies good once in a while to remember that life was not always this fast paced . . . that with, perhaps, a bit more effort, we can nurture relationships and communication in less intense ways. We forget our human-kindness at times when computer chips and cyberspace interpret and transport our words and thoughts before we even have enough time to fully think or speak them. Withdraw or retreat from such habits and addictions just might be a good thing once in a while. Imagine what would happen if we all took an "email withdraw day."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Walls of Hate and Fear

My heart is breaking once again over the hatred I see in the Christian Church. I have been reading quite a bit of opinion over the recent invitation and un-invitation of Shane Claiborne to Cedarville University. The commentary is shocking and sad, a clear picture of the walls we build to bunker ourselves from each other and things we don't understand or don't want to understand.

Shane Claiborne has chosen a radical form of sharing the Gospel by living in community, called The Simple Way, in the slums of Philadelphia. I have followed his ministry with interest since I have very good friends doing similar ministry in Vancouver and I also worked with people from Servants to Asia's Urban Poor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Critics call this type of ministry as heretical since it does not start with proclamation of the Gospel, just all love-centered. There are even blogs (ironically ones that do not invite comments) that have been devoted to "Shane-bashing," warning Christians of his occult-like practices and "wish to teach false doctrine."

Bloggers all have their right to opinions and each have their own quirks and unique ways of expressing themselves. In fact some of the arguments I see in the blogging-sphere end up skipping the issues for conflicts over personalities and methods of communication. Blogging, however, can provide a forum for healthy discussion of issues. But there are people who would rather not engage the issues or discuss practices or theology; they would rather just attack the person and label them into a box so they can say anything they want and understand as little as they wish. To me this is scandalous and unfair. It is immature and harmful.

Quite honestly, I am sick of the bashing. I am sick of the labels. I am sick of the FEAR and HATRED that we promote when we stoop to such behavior -- attacking fellow Christians who have chosen diverse ways to follow Jesus and make Him known. Why can't we accept that the Spirit may lead each of us to do that in different ways?

I, for one, do not feel arrogant enough to damn another brother or sister to Hell for the ways they follow Christ. Yet I see that very thing happening in blogs that lump men such as Ron Sider, Tony Compolo, Brian McClaren and Jim Wallis together as those who are propagating heresy. Do I agree with all the perspectives of Pat Robertson or James Dobson? Certainly not. But do I think they are going to Hell for the views they propagate? Absolutely not! They, too, are doing good work for the Kingdom. Is there any way we can share our views together as Christians without stooping to name calling and stone-throwing?

I am sick when I read the labels we use as bricks in walls we mortar with hate: left-wing, right-wing, conservatives, radicals, liberals, progressivists, humanists, heretics, emergents, uncompassionates, fundamentalists, post-evangelicals, relativists, etc. . . . and I've heard plenty of denominational labels to divide us too. Rather than look for Christ in the other, we assume He is not there and use labels to prove it. I just wish we would stop it -- it is so childish to live in mortal fear of ideas and faith practices. (thus my picture of Dr. Seuss's book, The Butter Battle). We prove again and again that we have no trust in the Spirit when we allow such behavior to exist in our ranks.

I was shocked to read Pastor Silva at Apprising Ministries, who uses Scripture to warn the Church, "the time we live is not a time for unity; it is a time for division." His site is dedicated to pointing out "heretics" who are infiltrating the Church. Yet, in his, perhaps well-meaning, efforts to use Scripture to boost his ambitions, he defeats the very prayer Jesus prayed in John 17. My heart breaks when I see examples such as his.

Shame on US all! Satan is having a hay-day seeing us Christians bicker and fight. WE are to be the CHURCH together!!! Or did Jesus only pray for certain parts of the Church? I know I cannot spend lots of time on such sadness; it can quickly drag me down. But reading about it reminds me that no matter what conversations we promote or how much understanding we beg, it is only through steadfast prayer that any inroads toward unity can ever be made. When will we ever truly be able to celebrate the resurrection of Christ's broken Body together?

Lord, have mercy on your Church.
Christ, have mercy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Inclusion part 2

I find it interesting that many times when I am pondering a particular idea, I find other people grappling with similar thoughts. I stumbled across some people today discussing the concept of inclusion in the Church. In my last post I was focusing primarily on inclusion in the "working together" sense, but as I read about various controversies in the Church these days, many appear to surround this idea of inclusion.

What kind of people do we allow to be a part of our gathered worshiping communities? Where do we draw the lines? Do we draw ethnic lines? Do we draw socioeconomic lines? Do we draw lines at levels of education? Do we draw "sin" lines? Maybe we should ask ourselves, "are there some types of people we don't trust will be as committed to the Church?" What's more, "Are there some people we don't trust allowing to participate in certain roles because they don't show commitment?"

I guess the root question, as I see it, is similar to the root question I posed in my last post:
Do people have to show commitment before we trust including them or does their commitment grow the more they feel included?

I wonder if the people in the Church who are leery of inclusion tend to forget that life is a journey. Even though we would all agree we don't all become perfect when we confess our words of conversion, somehow when it comes to including seekers or those struggling in their faith, we don't know what to do with them. I wonder if the people who are most leery of inclusion were "cradle Christians," those who hardly noticed their own conversion because they lived a nice Christian life all along. They grew up in a Christian family and have been in the church the longest. So everyone trusts them and others like them. These types of people are "safe" to have around. They don't rock the boat, ask unnecessary questions and they don't wonder about things that everyone just takes for granted. They don't need to be told, "that's just the way things are done around here!" The issues surrounding inclusion and exclusion are hardly seen by the "insiders" but they can be very painful for the "outsiders."

And that is why the debates continue. There are "outsiders" all around us who are crying out for the love that Christ has for them through the Church. The problem is that when people in the Church see these "outcasts," they don't know what to do . . . because the sad truth is that even in the Church, the outsiders often still struggle to feel that love of Christ.

Oh, that we would all would feel the pain of being an outsider. How it would change our hearts toward greater inclusion! My prayer for the Church.

My thanks to Kingdom Grace for this picture.

Inclusion and Change

I've been formulating a reflection paper on one of the books I've been reading lately, Principle-centered Leadership, by Stephen R. Covey, a Morman who writes about his philosophy on how we can create more meaningful relationships and successes in our homes, businesses and organizations. It has been interesting to see how some people in my class immediately wrote him off since he is a Morman and includes spiritual nurture as one of the aspects we need to attend to as leaders and managers. I have worked with many Mormons over the years and so I was not surprised by his incredibly optimistic and idealistic views, but I almost wrote him off too, thinking this was going to be another one of those fluffy or surfacy, "let's just be nice to one another" books. Yes, his tone is extremely positive and convincing, but through it all, I found it substantive, combining many of the pioneering views of Mary Parker Follet and Fisher & Ury's "Getting to YES."

In chapter 21 Covey talks about the difficulties in bringing about changes in people and organizations. People cling to their established views, ways and habits and so a leader needs to attend to attitudes, skill levels, perceptions and established patterns. A topic I've been tossing around and around in my mind lately is the question of inclusion. Do we only include people in special groups or decisions if they demonstrate commitment? Or does commitment become stronger as people feel included?

Covey has this to say, "To make or break a habit takes great commitment, and commitment comes from involvement -- it acts as a catalyst in the change process." He goes on to quote from Harold Geneen's book, Managing, "Most chief executives slip into authoritarian roles without realizing that the process is going on. Subtly, they change [because] it's easier and less time-consuming to be authoritarian." Covey points out that most authoritarian leaders are benevolent. They are very nice to people, but they don't know how to involve people as "human resources," ways that they can contribute and feel valued. Covey adds:

"To manage by the principles of human resources is to leave safe territory. Involvement is a ticket to adventure . . . [one] never knows at the outset what will happen or where he or she will end up. Is the risk worth taking?"

Geneen asserts that one of the "primary, fundamental faults with American management is that over the years it has lost its zest for adventure, for taking a risk, for doing something [new]" I know that people are usually scared of changes. But another thing I have observed is how people are scared of inclusion, broadening the circle of decision-making and responsibility.

The truth is that changes cannot happen well if people are not respectfully included in the process. This chapter helped me better understand the reasons why leaders shy away from inclusion. For some, the unknown and potential failures associated with including people can be huge barriers.
When leaders invite other people to be involved in facilitating change or making things happen, it takes a lot of trust, but it can reap lots of benefits. With greater inclusion often comes greater trust. People are more apt to trust transparent leaders. Not surprisingly there also ends up being greater ownership and understanding for what happens in the organization. Most importantly for the leader, there will be more support within the uncertain times of change.

But the principle of inclusion is just as important for the those included. Including people makes them feel valued. People who feel valued will contribute meaningfully and actually broaden the span of control of a leader. And I tend to believe that people who feel they are making meaningful contributions will increase their level of commitment, therefore circling back to increase the security of the organization as a whole. I see it as a mentoring process. As leaders take risks toward inclusion, people can feel empowered. Empowered people are the greatest asset any home, business or organization can have.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Emerging Bridge-builders

I have been doing some reading lately to understand how Christians who call themselves “emergent” are really any different than me, you or other Christians who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus in living out their faith. I suppose I am rather simple-minded, oblivious and maybe unintentionally arrogant in the sense that I assume that the way I “do Christianity” is the way everyone who is sincerely following the way of Jesus would come to agree it should be done. But then I look back on my journey and consider the diverse perspectives I have encountered and realize my foolishness.

For example, I look at the values and practices outlined by those defined as “in the emergent conversation.” In my own words, this conversation is basically among Christians who see a fragmentation in the Church both in terms of theology and practice. I think they would say it is partly due to our disconnect from the historic roots and unity in our faith and partly from our lack of radical discipleship of Jesus.

In simple terms, those in the emergent conversation look to build bridges between faith traditions and glean from those practices that have proven to be most enriching to the Christian journey in terms of our worship and connectedness to God. They are intentional in opening conversation between those from diverse Christian practice and theology. As far as mission, they would say Christ calls us to actively engage culture and human need as agents of transformation. They are open to various forms and definitions of “church” and “congregation” acknowledging the different ways the Spirit leads groups of Christians to do mission.

I read such ideas and think, “How is that any different than how I have been led to live out my Christianity? How is that different than what I am seeing around me?” But then I look and listen more closely and I realize there are still people who prefer their boundaries and dogma. There are people who don’t mind exclusiveness and cannot see that conversation, inclusiveness and understanding are in any way advancing the Kingdom of God. There are people who don’t understand the radical missional call that Jesus stands for. There are people still stuck in the philosophy of modernity where knowledge and reason and facts and information are most trusted and believed to be the means by which we can change people’s hearts to see Jesus. Theology and Truth need to be black and white; gray is at best scary and at worst heretical.

I read some comments recently from someone who, ironically, includes himself in the emergent conversation, yet criticizes it in ways that are both brilliantly insightful and sadly missing the point at the same time.

“The problems inherent in the church of modernity isn’t it’s dogma, it’s the rigid adherence to strict cultural codes that are unrelated to substanative doctrine. Those in the [emergent] “conversation” make a similar blunder by strictly adhering to the code of cultural revolt.”

In my words, he is blaming Christians for not getting the clear Gospel across to people because either they are “proclaiming” legalism as Gospel or relativism. And in either case, he says that people are going to go to Hell because they never get the message that only through Jesus are you saved.

It is true that there are places where the Church does function on one extreme or the other. But I don’t hear the emergent conversation advocating for relativism or post-modern uncertainty. I think the inherent difference in the two examples he gives is not the “Message,” rather the means by which we "proclaim" it.

For years the Church has depended on a colonial mindset towards mission. We “conquered and convinced.” It happened and still happens through the organized and institutionalized Church. Truth is based on rational, logical proclamation of the Good News: “you are a sinner; you need saved; here is the Way. . .now come to church!”

The “mission” of a post-colonial/post-modern-minded Church is not to distort that same Truth, but rather to disseminate it in a way that does not emphasize the knowledge of the Truth, but the person of the Truth. The mission happens in relationships, incarnationally and in ways that invite rather than proclaim.

Beyond all that, what I really liked about this guy’s quote was his use of the term “cultural revolt.” While I don’t think he was using it affirmatively, I thought, “how appropriate!” For that really is what we are attempting when we try to live counter-culturally as part of the upside-down kingdom, addressing issues within culture and society that affect Creation, human need and the witness of Christ in the world. In the end, that's really what I want to be about.

I'm not a big fan of labels, even though I do use them at times for ease of communication, but I guess I'm seeing a bit more clearly how labels in Christianity get started. The "emergent conversation" is not so much something new, just a label, I'd say, to identify people who are willing to be "bridge builders," something I think the world can always use a few more of.