Monday, February 27, 2006

Frequently Avoided Questions

Today’s extract is again from chapter 5 of Frequently Avoided Questions – an uncensored dialogue on faith, by Chuck Smith Jr and Matt Whitlock. The book was published by BakerBooks, 2005 – 252 pp – $29.95

Mike Yaconelli died too soon. For more than thirty years I have known of his ministry, yet I was unprepared for the gentle wisdom and reassurance I found in his book Messy Spirituality, released the year before he died. His book hit a nerve with new-school believers (a quick search on the Internet for blog sites where his book is discussed will reveal not only its popularity but the strong resopnse of young people who fully identify with its theme.) We love Mike’s book because he describes Christian faith in a way that is true to our experience.

In Messy Spirituality, Yaconelli tells stories about himself, others, and his church that sound familiar. People who love God, yet sin; people who take two steps forward in Christ, then slide three steps backward; people who swear, yet demonstrate incredible generosity. Messy Spirituality is unstructured, unpredictable, unstable, like the real life most people know. The Christian experience Yaconelli talks about is transparent regarding its struggles, honest its failures, carried forward by God’s infinite grace, and totally impossible to manage.

I also love Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life and have a deep respect for Rick as a Christian leader and trainer. However, I agree with Justin Baeder who on his blog said, ‘I really think its message is pretty good; it’s just that the packaging is not well-suited to the emerging generations…This book was written to get Boomer churchgoers to do more than warm pews; it’s not an evangelistic tract for 20-somethings.’ Here is the difference between old school and new school in regard to spiritual growth. Old school continually simplifies the process, breaking it down into stages, whereas new school sees the process as a complex whole, beyond sorting. Yes, some things you can control, but the demand for continual grace (on God’s part) and faith (on ours) is extremely high.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Mission Mover Part II

The second approach to the spiritual life worked best in the pre-modern, largely illiterate, pagan world of the past…and works best today in the postmodern, image-based, pagan world of the present. This is the world of story, mentoring relationship, irrational experience, and risk-taking entrepreneurship. This approach assumes that people start the spiritual life with non-rational, passionate experiences of the Holy. These experiences may be joyous and/or fearful, and they alter both identity and lifestyle. That these alterations are for the good may in fact only be revealed at a later time. This experience of radical humility drives people to thoughtful reflection in order to sort out the meaning and implication of that confusion of agape and eros that has changed their lives. The compassion that follows completes the process of being swept away by the Holy, as people focus love beyond themselves. In the course of compassion, they meet the incognito Christ among the public again and encounter the Holy.

This unending cycle of experience-thoughtfulness-compassion is the alternate expression of the spiritual life that has lingered at the margins of Christendom and is now once again coming into its own.

Which cycle is a truer description of your spiritual life? Forgive me the history lesson. Let’s make this personal. If you want to assess the authenticity of your calling in Christian ministry, then you must see that calling as emerging from your true spiritual life and not just as a vocational choice.

I know you. We have had a long association. Although you are ‘modern’ enough to be swayed by the bias to higher education, in fact your spiritual life has never depended on it. [After years of confusion and mismanagement of your life] the more you surrendered to God, the more you thought about your destiny; and the more you thought about the fulfilment of life, the more you recognised that fulfilment in loving people beyond yourself and even more than yourself.

Ultimately, your compassionate immersion into the life and well-being of others led you to encounter God all over again. Whether it hurt you or helped you, it swept you off balance and precipitated humility that at times felt more like humiliation. There was no ‘reflection’ here, no intellectual pondering. Instead you felt that original sense of awe all over again. The experience of the Holy left you speechless, helpless and, what is more, thoughtless. Ideas just ran out, like a paved road vanishing into the primordial jungle. Then the brooding thoughtfulness began to kick in, and the compassion, and the cycle repeated itself.

In other words, the core of your spiritual life has been the gospel, not theology. Certainly, you valued expert advice and professional coaching to help you live that spiritual life. My point is that it did not replace that spiritual life. Don’t let your bias for modernity divert you from the spiritual life that you have.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mission Mover

Today’s extract is again from chapter 2 of Mission Mover – beyond education for church leadership, by Thomas G Bandy. The book was published by Abingdon Press, 2004

Amid all the competing Christian ‘theologies’ available in the world, there are but two approaches to the spiritual life. There is the ‘modern’ approach and the ‘pre-or postmodern’ approach.

The ‘modern’ approach assumes that people start their spiritual journey by doing ‘reflection,’ and that this will lead to such perceptive understanding that they will feel ‘compassion,’ and that this loving sentiment will in turn result in ‘action.’ Action will raise questions that an individual has never asked before, and send them back into ‘reflection.’ This unending circle of reflection-compassion-action has been the dominant spiritual method of Christianity since Constantine institutionalised the church. It accelerated after the invention of the printing press, was embedded in European Protestantism, and became refined through the Age of Enligtenment to be uncritically assumed by North American Christendom.
If only people would really read and study the Bible, they would
understand the true nature of sin. They would have compassion on themselves and
others, and take action to convert the world. In the course of that crusade,
they will undoubtedly ask new questions and return to the Bible for answers.

If only people would raise their consciousness and study demographic
realities about race, gender, and the economy, they would understand the true
nature of oppression. They would have compassion on themselves and others, and
take action to reform society. In the course of that crusade, they will
undoubtedly ask new questions and seek experts for the answers.

This is why literacy guilds are so aggressive and higher education so popular. It is not simply that education will bring career success. It is the deeper, hidden assumption that education is the door to the spiritual life.

It is this perception of the spiritual life that fires seminaries to ‘train theologians’ and denominations to ‘train professionals.’ They really do believe in the spiritual life, and that the door into it is thoughtful reflection. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way in a pagan world.

See more about Thomas Bandy by clicking here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Dodging Angels on Saturday

From chapter 4 of Dodging Angels on Saturday, by Graeme Garrett.
Published by the Australian Theological Forum in hand with Charles Sturt University, 2005

There is a French philosopher called Gabriel Marcel. He had some fascinating things to say on the difference between big ‘M’ mystery and little ‘m’ mystery as I have called it. Marcel preferred to use the word ‘problem’ for the sorts of mysteries I’ve described with small ‘m’ – stories, flights, lost keys, scientific puzzles and so on. ‘A problem,’ says Marcel, ‘is something which one runs up against, which bars the way. It is before me in its entirety. A mystery, however, is something in which I find myself involved, whose essence therefore, is not to be completely before me.’ A problem (my small ‘m’ mystery) blocks the way. I can’t find the car keys and I have to get to work. It’s urgent that I solve it or trouble will follow. I can’t figure out who the murderer is in the thriller I’m reading, so I am keen to get on with it to find out. We wonder what the other side of the moon is like. So we work to devise a space rocket with appropriate detection equipment on board and send it off in orbit around the moon to find out.

A problem is something that sits there in front of your nose and begs you to find the solution. But Mystery is different. It has this in common with the problem. You don’t know the answer to it. You haven’t ‘solved’ it as we say. But there the similarity ends. A genuine problem has a possible answer which in principle we can ‘find’ even if for the moment we haven’t found it. It might be extremely hard to find. It might take building a rocket to go to the other side of the moon. But it is there to be discovered and by us. Mystery by contrast isn’t ‘in front of us like a void to be filled out. As Marcel puts it, ‘I find myself involved’ with a genuine Mystery. Of course I can be very involved with the problem of finding the car keys, or writing a brief for the barrister, or making sure the auto cue is working for the news read, in the sense that the effort involved to achieve these things is important to me.

But that’s not the sort of involvement that Marcel has in mind. He means that my whole being, myself, as a human person is caught up in and even made possible by the reality he calls Mystery. This reality, the Mystery, isn’t something which I might decided to be interested in, or then again I might not. Rather Mystery is that ‘something’ out of which my whole life, lock, stock and barrel, emerges in the first place. I can be interested (or not) in a problem like the brief or the auto cue because I am already a going concern as a human being. I am a thinking, feeling, deciding person. Btu what is it that enables me to be that? Eventually I might hunt out the conditions under which the car keys become visible. But how can I make visible the conditions that provide for me to be me? Or in your cases, for you to be Catherine and you to be Jane in your respective and unique individualities?

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Daily Writer on holiday....

The Daily Writer has been on holiday....enjoying sunshine and beautiful scenery in Wanaka, New Zealand.

Responding to Challenging Behaviour

Jo and Nigel Pimlott

Many groups debate the best environments to engage with young people. Whether the choice is the church hall, a local community centre, out in the streets through detached work or in a school, different environments are likely to produce different behaviour from the young people. Changing environments can be one way of addressing behaviour issues, either through moving venue or by creating a different ‘feel’ to the venue through the use of d├ęcor, posters, furniture, lighting, layout and the like. A sense of ownership can be engendered her by involving young people in decisions and processes of design and decoration. Many visitors to the centre we work in are surprised by the lack of vandalism to the youth drop in interior, but we put this down to the fact that young people were involved in choosing colours, furniture layout and the painting and decorating of the venue.

It is worth mentioning that sometimes things go wrong because the enemy seeks to disrupt and cause problems. It is beyond the scope of this booklet to explore this fully, but the spiritual aspect of problems, whether reflected in an individual, group or project, cannot be underestimated. A prayerful approach to every aspect to every aspect of the work is essential. We have seen significant changes in behaviour occur through targeted prayer and it may be worth seeking to recruit specific prayer backing for groups or individuals where there are consistent ongoing problems. Most churches have numerous people within them who would not engage with face-to-face youth work, but are happy to pray regularly if given the appropriate information and feedback. A prayerful approach helps us to maintain a godly attitude to those who may be causing us significant stress in a particular context. It is important to remember that we are not primarily struggling against ‘flesh and blood’ but seeking to see the kingdom of God advance in our area. Whatever our theology on spiritual warfare, time spent considering a prayer strategy for the work will not be wasted.

From chapter 4 of Responding to Challenging Behaviour, published by Grove 2005

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Why a Suffering World Makes Sense

Chris Tiegreen

Mercy requires an object. It can’t be an object that is perfect, because if it were perfect, there would be no need for mercy. No, it requires an object that is fallen, depraved, suffering and in pain. The mercy of God simply cannot be seen without that. This amazing side of God, this dimension of his personality, could have remained hidden, of course, but that would have been a tragedy of a different sort, much worse in the eternal scheme of things. We lament the condition of our world as a horribly tragic condition, and it is. But have we ever considered that the absence of evil would also have lamentable consequences? So many aspects of the character of God – the ones we praise him most highly for, in fact – are aspects that are invisible without a foil. The question was not whether the tragedy of evil could be avoided. The question was which tragedy to avoid – the tragedy of pain or the tragedy of the substantially hidden God. God chose to accept the former. There’s a high cost to revelation. If he is to be revealed in his mercy, there must be evil. The backdrop of imperfection had to be raised.

That’s why suffering in this world means something. It sets up a very real stage on which God is demonstrated. As we have discussed, it is not logically possible to have an unfallen world and a thoroughly revealed God. So the sacred drama has some awful ugly elements. It must.

But the promise of our pain is just as surely embedded in Scripture as the reason for it is. This promise is clearly demonstrated in the parable of the prodigal son: we who return to the Father in humility and repentance will be welcomed and thrown a party that will more than make up for our generally self-inflicted suffering. Something in the whole rebellion-and-return process will enhance our relationship with the Father. We will see him in ways we’ve never seen him before, and so will others – the servants, the big brothers, and the readers of the story in the distant future. The parable of the prodigal son is backed by the truth of the redemption story and its God-honouring themes. It gives us a glimpse into the whole plan. It shows us the God who runs with open arms.

From chapter 5 of Why a Suffering World Makes Sense, published by BakerBooks 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Indelible Ink

Walter Wangerin

When books work well, it isn’t just that we memorise them and then, by our will and our personal wisdom, shape our lives to follow them. Rather, when books work for us, we begin to walk beside the mind that created the book. That mind may be so much wiser than ours, but we walk beside it until soon we are walking like that one.

The question becomes, Who is going to teach you both how to interpret the world around you, to see it in small, and to come to a true understanding of it, organising the context in which you live?
A child enters the world and really doesn’t make sense of it but lives in sort of a senselessness of existence. The kid first begins to know her little house and her parents, and they become the whole world to that child. You pull a child apart from that house and that well-ordered nicely-constructed, beloved family, and the kid is lost – literally lost. As the child gets older, it becomes the child’s business to read the events and the details of the universe in such a way that she puts them together so that they make sense.

So the question becomes, Who are you going to allow to become your ‘heaper into heaps’ and your ‘piler into piles [as the old Sanskrit meaning of the word ‘poet’ has it]? Who will shape the world that you enter into and dwell in? Are you going to allow football to do that, so all the world is seen in a contest? Are you going to allow simpleminded understandings – like the cartoons, newspapers or the government – do that for you? Or are you going to enter into the sweet complexity of minds, this living treasure of singers and writers who embrace more details with greater richness of beauty, deeper understanding of what is truly evil, what is good and what is the precession of human experience? You want the minds of those who have created whole cultures of insight. The more complexly we see the world, the more capable we are of admitting many people into that world – people who are not like us. Books open our eyes to the complex truths that simple, mindless stories simply have no names for. So why not pick the best?

I don’t mind the people who read romances, but that’s formula fiction. It repeats the same world over and over again, and it’s a profoundly limited world. And every one of the people who loves romantic fiction has a mind better than the world that it shapes. We call that escapism. Gerard Manley Hopkins offers his poetry as inscapism – to escape into things, truly, not escape from them.

That’s the influence of great books; they teach us how to see the world that is.

From chapter 19 of Indelible Ink – 22 international Christian writers discuss the books that shape their faith, published by CWR 2005