The Glass Darkly

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"semper reformanda" - can it really happen?

As we look into a new year, are we truly open to the Word that God may want to speak? . . . the possibilities God may want to reveal? . . . the continued process of change and "reform" God may want to make happen? . . . God's vision for us as God's people here in Lancaster, here in America, here in our part of the global church?

Deep down, my dream for the Church is to see it so integrated within the local community that whole sections of the city or neighborhoods are transformed: that every person who lives there will somehow meet Christ in a personal way; that they will see the Kingdom expressed in grassroots ways; and that the authentic love and care of the Church will influence both the family level and systems level of the community.

There are so many wonderful ministries that have this kind of vision for the community, even here in Lancaster. But each chooses its own mission, its own way/means of reaching toward the goal. When I think of how I, personally, would love to be a part of seeing this kind of vision come to fruition, I'm not feeling called to start another organization or another church. I think in terms of holistic and incarnational living within Christian community.

I would love to see Christian families living in community so that they can both demonstrate to those around them how to live as part of the up-side-down kingdom, and also support one another as partners in this calling. I get excited about the kind of impact that we could have when we make intentional choices to live more simply and more missionally. When Christian families choose to work together at this, it makes it so much easier. Sharing resources, sharing ideas, sharing in efforts of hospitality and outreach are all ways that we can work together to demonstrate our commitment to our calling, but also to actually make it happen!

As I have pondered the possibility of such a mission, however, I get discouraged. I see a lot of talk about being missional, about being a community, about being authentic and making a difference, but I don't see a lot of "bang for the buck," if I may use maybe a misleading analogy. I'm not just trying to say that we need to be looking at the quantity of unbelievers we are leading into the church, but rather, are we being the influence we want to be or think we are or should be? And I'm not insinuating that our quality of witness is necessarily bad either. I'm looking at meaningful impact: are the lives of unbelievers so inundated with the Kingdom that they can't help but be drawn to it!

And when I look at our ability to be this kind of influence, there are tons of barriers! First of all, it appears that we wonder how much is our responsibility and how much is the church's. We seem to think that if we create the right programs or add another addition onto the meeting place that "they will come." Or maybe we think we need to get the right preacher or the right song leader or the right worship service or more children or better audio-visual equipment and "they will come." We work so hard to make our meetings attractive, it sends the message that we think our "church" is the Kingdom, the one Jesus said had to go out into the fields to gather the Harvest. It's funny, we act as though Jesus said, "invite the Harvest to uproot itself and come in." I am convinced that if we continue to look at the institutional church as the catalyst of change in our culture, we are never going to see the Kingdom revealed and transformation happen in society.

And if we do realize that it does take ME, WE, US, to be the hands and feet of Christ, we have an even longer list of barriers. First of all, we are so busy with our work and families, we don't have much time or energy to think about others. Second, we are often loners in this business of outreach. We do what we can and then just throw up our hands and say, "I can't do anymore than that!" Instead of looking at how our brothers and sisters in the global church demonstrate the values of interdependence, cooperation and sacrificial living in their efforts to be community, we prefer our American Christianity that emulates the American values of independence, self-sufficiency, middle-class life-style and secluded-living locations.

It's hard to find people who would be willing to move to live in closer proximity to others in the Christian community or be willing to experiment with sharing resources such as vehicles, equipment, maybe even homes. It's hard to set aside the mentality of working/earning for future financial security and look at how our lifestyle can impact the eternity of the unbelievers who live around us now. It's hard for some people to be brave enough to look at the ways a family can live more simply so they can function on a slimmer income. And even more scary for some would be the conversations about partnership in these endeavors. There are so many possibilities that open up when families plan these kinds of interventions into a community together.

What this kind of mission requires is "semper reformanda," a constant reform of our patterns of thinking, trust in how God will provide for our needs and those around us, openness to working together, and heart for outreach and simple living. Ultimately, it means a total transformation of our spirituality of Christian community. It also means we need to be clear about why we gather together each week and what we are supposed to do when we scatter. Words of mission and purpose are only valuable if they give clear direction to how we can reach our vision. They need to make us so excited about the possibilities that we SEARCH for how God wants to change us and accomplish His will through us.

"Semper reformanda" - can it really happen?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How many bowls of rice?

I finally got to the Asian market last weekend and so made Cambodian food this week when we had some guests over. As usual they were surprised by how much rice my children can down. Ohhhh it felt so good to pile up my plate with tasty Jasmine rice and then pile on the chaa's (stir-fries). Cambodians are right; your belly just feels so much better filled with rice . . . than all the pastas and breads we use in our culture! And of course my children's reaction made me wonder why I don't make Cambodian food more often.

I had gotten into a rut of American quick/easy foods. Cambodian foods can be "easy" too, but I have to reorient my thinking and "buying" patterns back to how I was when we first returned to the U.S. How quickly we adapt to what is around us.

Chinese New Year is just around the corner and then on to Khmer New Year in April. I look forward to finding some special holiday foods in the markets to help remind us of "home" in Asia.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Do we really accept people who are different?

(just click on the box if you want to read it)

"Oh no...not another personality inventory!", I thought as I sat in my last class on supervision. It seems that over the years I have taken more surveys and inventories to analyze my own tendencies and that of others on a team than I can count. Looking at how I handle conflict, what kind of leader I am, what kind of team player I am, what is my personality like, what kind of analyzer I am. And of course I've taken lots of spiritual gifts inventories and even a church planting inventory. By now I should be so enlightened and understand myself so well, yet the truth is I have never been comfortable with who I am and the ways I handle anything! How ironic!

So this past week I was dreading, yet another session on the Myers-Briggs inventory. I just wanted to go home. I have never been good at these tests. I am not a single-minded person and that is one of the reasons I have always struggled to accept myself and to get meaningful results from those annoying surveys. But this past week, to my surprise, my professor was able to shine a bit of different light on the subject that I felt was insightful and helpful.

On this particular survey, you are asked questions to determine how you fit into 4 categories.
1. Extroversion / Introversion
2. Sensing / Intuitive
3. Thinking / Feeling
4. Judging / Perceiving

The first category basically measures where you derive your energy from - being around people or in quiet times by yourself. The others describe more how you interpret life situations and approach problems. In short, the left side describes people who depend more on schedules, facts, logic and analytical processes. They are seen by society as dependable and safe and are good at maintaining what is. The words on the right side are more the people who trust hunches, react more to the feelings of others and care less about time than thinking "outside the box." These people are imaginative, innovative and get excited about change. While we all possess some of each of these characteristics, we tend to score more to one side or the other in each category.

What has always been frustrating to me is that I often score nearly equally in categories 2, 3 and 4. I read the questions and can see myself reacting in different ways depending on the situation. My professor commented, "you probably feel like you are schizophrenic," to which I and a few others in the class said "YES!" Her explanation was both enlightening and reassuring.

Statistics show that between 75% and 85% of Americans tend to score toward the left in categories 2-4. Only about 25% of people tend to be the intuitives and perceivers, the innovators and dreamers. And to top it off, she confirmed what I have believed for a long time, our society often does not encourage people to be innovators and dreamers. In fact we TRAIN people to be otherwise! For these kind of people tend to jump around a lot in ideas, maybe are not good at following directions and are often seen as "out there" somewhere. In schools we teachers tend to crack down on students like that because we say they can't focus, follow directions and pay attention! We teach children the scientific method and linear thought processes like causation and correlation and implication. We train ourselves as professionals to think critically, to analyze to problem solve in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness, all to maintain what is good and maybe improve what is lacking, but usually within the box of the system or situation in which we find ourselves.

So that is why I get into these dilemmas. On my own, I function more to the right. But my life experiences and professional training have taught me to function more on the left. In fact, I realized the other night that I had even come to believe that when I functioned according to my natural tendencies that I was WRONG -- literally -- that I was not good. There are lots of indicators that we, as human beings, unknowingly use to teach one another when someone does something that is annoying or what we perceive as inappropriate. Our natural tendencies in societies and cultures is to teach CONFORMITY, NOT encourage people to be DIFFERENT.

The implications are amazing! In my class we are looking at hiring and teaming practices. Of course we should try to include at least some of those innovators and pushers for change. We should surround ourselves with not only the dependable maintainers, but also those who are willing to add a different voice to the common views.

Additionally, my professor encouraged us to look at our children and students. This had the greatest impact on me! I realized just how much I push for conformity in my children. Too often I'm oblivious to my tactics! As I was once told, my one daughter is definitely marching to the beat of a different drummer. It's pretty obvious she is one of those more to the right. Her teacher has given me ideas of how to challenge her and develop her gifts, and I know that I need to find ways to nuture her and help her build confidence in her abilities and dreams. The last thing I want to do is make her feel bad for being the way she is just because she is different.

So I guess the other night was not "just another one of those sessions" after all. I felt God stepped in to start a healing process in me so that I can be a better parent and teacher. As I learn to accept and understand myself better, I hope I will do a better job of being more accepting of the diverse gifts in my children and students.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More Food for Thought on the Institutional Church

I'm continuing my collection of thoughts on the institutionalized church and the way it affects our ability to be missional and build community. Found some interesting quotes from some interesting people:

"What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism."

-Eugene Peterson


Bill Lollar in response to Peterson's picture of the Church:

"Institutional church = the one man is building for God, usually made of bricks, stones, or wood. Lots of programs and structure. Dependent upon man's resources to operate efficiently.

The Church = the one Christ is building, made up of living stones. Fluid, dynamic, easily reproducible. No buildings necessary (not even a house). Simple structure: brothers and sisters in Christ. Dependent only upon the Holy Spirit's work as relationships grow between believers and those who have yet come to faith.

The whole "tree/bark" analogy seems to miss the point, IMO. There's only one Church and Christ didn't tell us to slap some dead bark (structure) on top of it to make sure it wouldn't get diseased, or dehydrated, or die. Peterson's statement appears to put little confidence in Christ's ability to build, strengthen, and care for His own body, the Church." -end Lollar's comments

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What a funny people we are!

In my last post I spoke of my ruminations about the concept of being missional. As of yesterday, I sensed I just better let the matter drop for a while. I felt a peace about the fact that I don't have all the answers and these things that bug me, well, it just must be me. I argued with myself that being human is quite a complicated matter (granted, not nearly as complicated as it must be to be God! :-) I told myself that I just need to push some things out of my mind and focus on life from day to day. And the truth was, I was not at a place to clearly articulate all the things that were contributing to my quandary.

Leon kindly said he prayed for clarity and strength as I struggled with my questions. Well, I had decided NOT to struggle with them. . .to just let them be. . .to just forget about my ponderings for a while. And an amazing thing happened.

It has been less than 36 hours since I made that decision, and in that time I have had 4 different people approach me to talk about their struggles with dealing with people and relationships within the church. This in addition to 3 other conversations on the same topic in the last week. It has been the strangest thing. I've hardly felt connected with anyone in the last number of months, so to have these similar conversations all in a matter of days made quite an impact on me. It was actually refreshing and helpful to me. I wasn't even able to fully tell them how helpful it was to me.

But I think I am more clear now what I am sensing and it has a lot more to do with human need and our Christian response to it. I still am not able to fully articulate it all, but I have a better sense of what areas I'd like to explore.

What impressed me most in listening to people share their experiences is how we are all alike in more ways than we like to admit. We all want to feel accepted. We want to belong. We want to be able to meaningfully contribute to others. We need each other. And even in the Christian community, we don't know how to do that or be that for one another. Maybe we want to be, or even try to be. But I'm getting the sense that we fail more often than we realize. And the funny thing is that it seems we all have more insecurities about these realities than we are willing to admit.

I'm interested in the reasons why. Why is being community so difficult? And how does it impact our ability as Christians to be missional?

Some thoughts and questions to continue to explore. Thanks, Leon :-)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Missional Choices

The concept of missional choices has been ruminating in my mind since mid-December, and in the last couple weeks my thoughts about it have erupted into a full-blown battle inside me making me even somewhat physically sick. In December I vowed to document my journey of the last 3 months when I temporarily worked full-time teaching in addition to taking my graduate classes and trying to hold things together at home. I came to a number of conclusions in December about my role at this point in my life, but a few more thoughts since then have compounded my frustration about my involvement in the Church and what it really means for me to make missional choices.

I started out realizing that even though my family can work very well as a team in getting most anything done, I was not able to pull my weight of the work as part of the "team" at home when I was working full-time. I also had no time for my own everyday care, thus my physical health was suffering. This logistical realization was simple to solve. I knew that I could not keep up that routine.

But what was more disturbing was that I had little time to put into my "missional" side of life. I'm not even sure I can define that side. But for example, yesterday I was able to visit with one of my neighbors (an atheist) for the first time in a long time -- visiting and "checking-in" on people went out the window when extra work entered. My understanding of being missional is that WE (vs. the "church") are the contact with culture; we are the ones who must make the time to enable those contacts to happen. Working full-time prohibited that.

And not all about working was bad. There were some benefits to that opportunity which my husband and I felt were good at this point in my studies and professional development and even our family. But I was very aware as we debated the pros and cons of my working that we actually had a choice to say that it is easier for us if I stay home. We have the CHOICE. Yes, unlike my friends who cannot make such a choice either because they are single parents or because their income alone cannot support their family. we can make the choice to live on one income. The words of another friend ring in my head, she NEEDS to go back to work soon unless they are going to make lifestyle adjustments that fit one-income. We are able to CHOOSE to live on one income. Thus, the choices that I get as a result of not working are added benefits that working families struggle without. We are truly thankful for these choices.

Which leads me to the battle in my mind the last couple weeks. So I was telling myself that I choose to stay at home so I have more time for the church and a missional lifestyle - but what does that really mean? What am I doing that really makes a difference? This seems to be a recurring battle in me that frustrates me and makes me really question my role in the church.

While part of me loves the process of forming structure and organization, at a deeper level I get frustrated with all the questions of structure and practice when it comes to the institutionalized church because I'd rather SEE and FEEL the Church at an organic level that is more real. Institutionalizing anything depersonalizes it, makes the structure central. My conversations with my neighbors are far more real to me than saying "hi" to distant friends at church on Sunday morning. While I try to make friendships meaningful there, people are busy with their own lives and "missions." It makes me question what the purpose is of the institutionalized church. What really is our purpose? If it is purely for gathering to worship and then scattering to be witnesses, then why spend so much time and energy in structuring the "gathered" part? Let us gather, tell our stories and then go. Quite honestly, trying to be meaningful in too many places is draining.

An organic example of church to me is one that gathers and scatters in the same community, that the vision for outreach and care and love is centered on the people within and without the Church. Human relationships and outreach are limited - we ARE busy people with our families and neighbors and church family and even work. Do we recognize this? Are we able to honestly assess how our scattered obligations impact our ability to be missional. How can we make the Church truly missional, in an organic sense, that makes a visible difference in our community when we are off at church 3, 5 or even 10 miles away?

I'm not saying the Church does not have to be organized somewhere, but I wonder if its function is "missional" or "attractive" in the location where it is institutionalized. I wonder why I pass so many churches on my way to "my church" every Sunday morning. I love the people there and the guiding ethos of our "mission" as well as the denomination. But I fear that in the process I am deceiving myself that my mission is both my church and my community. Is that really possible? How can an institution be a reaching influence in my community? I am a light to my neighbors and lead them to what? Where can they go to meet the Body of Christ I claim to be a part of? Must I lead them across the city to "my" church to find that? Or do I say, "hi, I'm a sister in Christ. . . you can go to that church up the street while I go across the city to mine."

I question if the institutionalized Church is a form of Church that can be truly missional. My practices of worship are not just for me. They equip me for a missional lifestyle among those where I live. But if my church is not where I live, how do I connect my worship and living part of life. This disconnect has been frustrating me. If I'm to make missional choices, what does that mean? How do I continue to connect to the Church at both an institutional level and incarnational level in a way that is integrated, holistic and authentic.

Now I am free once again, home, able to read and study and reflect, both a blessing and a curse. My mind torments me at times as I seek what the Lord has to say on matters of faith and practice. I was studying some writings that used the distinction of missional vs. attractional models of doing church. I found it very interesting. Of course, other insights are always welcome.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy Jan 7th Holiday!

To all my Cambodian friends - Happy Brampel Makara!

Celebrate with us
the 29th anniversary of
the end of the Khmer Rouge Genocide
in Cambodia.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

human response to truth

The human response to Truth or truth, whichever one refers to, is mysterious, indeed. Words of truth, perhaps the reality of the human situation and need, can cause one of several reactions.

At times when we hear something that sounds right, but challenges every understanding of practice or pattern of thinking we know, we wonder, "what do these words mean?" or "are they trustworthy?" We do not immediately disregard the words nor embrace them. Rather we ponder them and do not respond in any way. Eventually we may come to conclusions as to the relevancy of the truth, but we are convincing neither to ourselves nor to others around us as to whether the truth we hear should apply to us or not.

At other times we hear words that make us cringe. Perhaps because we recognize the truth in the words, but we don't want to admit them. We prefer our euphemisms that make truth less cutting, less pointed, more comfortable. Truth, then, becomes distorted to fit our comforts.

And, quite honestly, truth can be painful. There are times we don't want to see the reality that others see in us or in our situation. We'd rather live shrouded in the mist of life, hiding all those things that seem embarrassing. Somehow we convince ourselves that no one will understand our situation. We shrink back from the light that truth sheds.

But of course, we have all heard that truth can also be "freeing." Yes, some people, when they hear words of truth spoken in a situation of frustration or wonder, recognize it somewhere deep in their spirit and respond immediately. They embrace the truth even though there are divergent or strongly held patterns of thinking all around them. They are convinced that believing the truth of a situation and courageously taking steps to follow it can be challenging, but also freeing.

When I consider The Truth, Jesus Himself, people responded in all these same ways to Him. Some stood in wonder, with many questions and delayed conclusions. We don't know where they all ended up. Some adamantly refused to believe The Truth, for Jesus challenged every understood practice and pattern of thinking in that culture (as well as ours today!). Others hid from Jesus, feeling shame but curiosity at the same time. And still others, at the moment Jesus spoke Truth, embraced both His Words and Himself as The Way and The Life they needed.

Do we embrace both Truth and truth that speaks into our current situation? Or do we allow our scepticism or long-held, comfortable patterns of thinking and doing protect us from the truth of our human need? Maybe we believe that our long-held patters of thinking and doing somehow already embody the truth we need, and so we close ourselves off to newer revelations. It is hard for me to imagine life without the continual search for more of truth and Truth. Is it possible to ever grasp it all?

The human response to both truth and Truth is very mysterious, indeed.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cultural Fatigue

My husband told me a funny story he heard about the Mennonites (and related Anabaptists) who serve on his organization's Board. About half of the Board is comprised of Anabaptists from Swiss-German descent. The other half are from ethnic Russian roots. People often comment about the way the Board approaches important discussion and votes. And what is more surprising is how the votes tend to come out.

The generalization in the story was that the Swiss-Germans will discuss in a very quiet and peaceful manner. They express opposing views, but then seem to all q
uiet down and smile a lot -- to the point that you think that they have all come to an agreement. Then the vote happens. Surprisingly the members of the group reveal that they did not all come to agreement and there are still problems and sometimes even hard feelings. But those feelings are never discussed. People will leave and reconvene and still not budge on their convictions. To an outsider, this would be most surprising considering their demeanor through it all.

The Russians, on the other hand, appear to argue and argue, sometimes sounding angry with one another. They express opposing views freely and toss the issues back and forth. Then the vote comes. What an outsider cannot understand is how the Russians will end up voting opposite of how they were arguing in the meeting. Apparently through the argument they had all convinced one another of the benefits of an opposing view and they all changed their minds. To an outsider, this may have gone unnoticed, so the vote results would be surprising.

What is really funny to me is i
magining these combined dynamics going on in a Board meeting where important decisions need to be made and there is limited time to make them. It is truly a miracle that they can work together for so much good! I also laugh because I KNOW and UNDERSTAND these dynamics VERY WELL!!! I have Ukrainian roots (as well as high-German ones) but not Swiss German. I remember very clearly my Ukrainian grandfather encouraging us to discuss issues about all kinds of things. When my grandmother would say "that is enough now!" my grandfather would retort, "no, now we are having a good argument here!" And then I married into a family and culture of Swiss Germans. Moreover, I have worked with Swiss Germans for much of my life and would say that I have tried hard to assimilate to that culture. But every once in a while (or maybe more often than I'm willing to recognize) I slip back into my "Russian" cultural upbringing.

And I fur
ther admit that there have been times I have caused pain - real pain - in a few Swiss Germans who had no idea how to deal with me. When I think of those experiences, I do not laugh, but rather feel remorseful, even though our cultural responses to things are usually not intentional.

But as I reflect on acculturation and assimilation, I realize that this example is one that is just as real to me as it was when I lived in Asia. There are always times when one must be conscious of one's surroundings and the expectations of the group in order to make meaningful and respectful contributions. In one of those situations where I know I offended someone, I remember well, there was another person in the group with similar background as myself, so I slipped into that way of communicating. It was easy and comfortable. . .I forgot myself and the feelings of the others in the group. There have been other examples when I just wanted to express myself as I really was thinking. In cases like that, I can fall back into my "native" patterns.

I call this concept of "slipping back" an example of cultural fatigue, something that hit me a lot in Cambodia, especially in the beginning. The intensity of acculturation or remaining an appropriate part of the "other" culture can sometimes wear a person out. So in times of stress or fatigue, it is easy to slip back. I can honestly say that in those times I can often sense the imbalance, but it's as if I am too tired to figure out how to aright it. And sometimes we can be completely unaware of ourselves.

So does that mean people who acculturate are never themselves? I don't know. I would tend to believe this phenomenon is a real part of the process of becoming bi-cultural. Along with that process needs to come the self-awareness to know it is happening. And sometimes we can laugh about it, and sometimes we just need to say, "I'm sorry."