Wherever you are, be all there.

“Wherever you are, be all there”

So as I was on the ICE high-speed train from Brussels, Belgium to Frankfurt, Germany to catch the next leg of our journey, I found some contraband hidden in my backpack from the family.  On the front of the handmade card was my favorite family photo and the phrase written so beautifully from my wife:  “Wherever you are, be all there.”  Traveling at 180 mph., this is a lot to take in. 

Being a part of GFU DMin GML1 means that I am investing into a program that is committed to contextual learning.  The pedagogical philosophy of learning that is convinced that experiencing is a far greater nuance than just reading and writing.  To learn of African Christianity, we have to see it, smell it, taste it . . . draw it in deeply.  The histories can be read, the reflections can be written, but it’s truth must be experienced in the ‘now’ of being there.  For far too long, we have reduced our academies of learning to the perusal of linear information and the mathematics of credit acquisition.   For that, you can earn a degree.  Education is an entirely different outcome, it often comes from the discipline of “wherever you are, be all there.”  My cohort-mates are all presently in some form of transit to Kenya to begin our next learning advance.  When we arrive, it is not our physical presence that will dictate our experience, but the posture of our souls to ‘be all there.’

Many people ask me what I want to achieve with the earning of this doctoral degree.  Why do I need to spend so much money, time and energy for this degree?  Will I get a new/better job?  Will there be something of capital earned on the other end of capital invested?  What line of rationale can I give them so that experiences can “make sense”? 

What if my answer is non-sensical?  What if adventure, experience and living is it’s own educational outcome?  What if all the learnings that matter in life cannot be categorized in a grade report?  Is it okay that I don’t know the answers to why in the end, but just live in the place of the journey I am in now?  I want to be in a place of wonder, the Kingdom life is not always about assurance of conclusions.  That’s why they call it faith, right?

I am type A, I am prone to anxious thoughts, I overdo things, I hype-analyze etc. etc.  I am a thinker and a hard worker, but I am more than that.  The letters from my kids in this package included a large note from them that said:  “Make sure you don’t forget to have FUN!”  These kids know their Dad.  They want me to engage my heart and not just my mind.  And what do I want to pass onto them about what learning is about?  I want them to know its an adventure of discovery and not a degree.  I want them to thirst for the answers to their questions but be enthralled just as much in the process of the inquiry.  I don’t want them to ever walk out in the night under a starry sky whether it be in Ohio, Britain, Belgium or the far land of Ethiopia, and not just get struck with the wonder of it all.  That wherever you are, be all there and enjoy it to the fullest. 

Within each of us is a place in our heart waiting to shine light.  It’s the place of passion, wonder, imagination, play, creativity and joy.  The adult world of reason and conclusions seeks to stifle the light from that place.  I think I want to take the wisdom from my family and walk down that corridor and into the light of these new experiences.  That wherever I am, I want to be all there.  I dont know what to expect, but that’s half the fun.

peace,

Chris

Do what’s doable, it may be all you’re going to do anyways

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Reading our cohort colleague’s book, “Red Letters:  Living a Faith that Bleeds” is another eye-opening account of the reality of suffering in places around the world, in particular the continent of Africa.  As our cohort for the George Fox University Doctorate of Ministry program in Global Missional Leadership prepares to leave for Africa within a week for our next advance, this book helps us set some more context for the things we will see and experience.  Tom takes the reader on a spiritual journey, “learning to live a faith that is so real, it makes you bleed Jesus.”  (28)

Globalization with the impact of the West on Africa has opened up the stories of greed for resources, lack of proper drinking water, famine and genocide to the watching world.  But no issue is seemingly as disheartening and oppressive than the pandemic of HIV/AIDS that Davis outlines.  The spread of the HIV virus through poor practicies and a lack of education/awareness (sometimes stipulated through superstition) is no longer a problem, no longer a tragedy, no longer an epidemic . . . it is now a pandemic.  Unspeakable death and suffering.  The statistics and the human reality are very difficult to read and process.  Entired communities wiped out with a single sickness.  It threatens to continue to wipe entire generations.   It makes Hope seem such a distant idea.  Davis writes this reflection from an African girl named “Happiness” orphaned due to losing her parents from HIV:

This Christmas, I will not be getting a gift from my mama or papa.  They are so silent in the grave.  Before they went away, I was sure of Christmas gifts and three meals in a day, new clothes, repsect, and love.  Today, I am just another statistic.  They call us African orphans, orphaned as a result of AIDS.

Death is a criminal.  Whether it comes through a road accident or a sickness, it is a robber.  To us in Kenya, we will never forgive death for taking away our parents and loved ones.

Davis suggests there are at least 2 reasons why we don’t act on the information given, simply put it makes us uncomfortable.  We have discomfort with 1) interuption and 2) fear.  Davis confronts us in the West living in a consumer culture where the American dream is about pleasure and security, not interupton and fear.  But if claim to be followers of Jesus and desire his Way, we cannot sit idly by in our consumer lives, they must be mortified for the sake of the Christ in the world.  This is not a popular teaching, but taking up our cross has never been easy or comforting.

What can we do, Davis outlines a doable plan he calls Five for 50:  (155)

  • Give 5 minutes a day to pray for those suffering from HIV/AIDS
  • Give 5 hours a week to fast for those suffering from HIV/AIDS
  • Give 5 dollars a month to the Five for 50 fund to support worthy causes
  • Give 5 days a year to travel overseas to help alleviate poverty and suffering
  • Give 5 people an opportunity to join you on your jouney

In my spiritual community, we tend to follow the theme of “ordinary” in context to our Chrisitanity and the things we can do.  Our very name is “Ordinary Community”.  One of our mantras we often say taken from an old friend of mine, Jim Henderson, that says: “if ordinary people can’t get it done using ordinary means, ordinarily it won’t get done.”  This may sound like a pragmatist kind of Christianity, and perhaps it does carry that tone.  But within the western church, we tend to over-simplify, over-dramatize and over-state our flowery words and look over the details of actually getting something done.  At some point you have to stop talking and do something.  Start somewhere, start small, start with something doable.  There are dreamers and there are doers, perhaps we need a touch of both.  Start with where you are, not with where you aren’t.  There is already poverty around you, both physical and spiritual.  What can you do about it?  Africa has overwhelming needs, but you can probably do something.  You can probably give something, you can probably make yourself more aware, you can probably not buy something you don’t need here in the capitalist west so that you can push resources to the needs of the global south.  The Red letters of Jesus were not just meant to be preached and be found guilty in, they are meant to transform us to do something with our lives. 

Another phrase I stole from Jim Henderson is “do what’s doable, it may be all you’re going to do anyways.”  Too pragmatic?  Perhaps, but at least your doing something. 

The Next Evangelicalism?

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Reading through Soong-Chan Rah’sThe Next Evangelicalism” , it paints a hope for a future of Evangelicalism that is not what it once was and still is.  Rah is hoping that Evangelicalism can free itself from ‘Western Cultural Captivity‘ that continues much of the same and does not adequately address a diverse future. 

Here is a sketch of what Rah is asserting we need a movement away from:

  1. Individualism“The individualistic philosophy that has shaped Western society, and consequently shaped the American church, reduces Christian faith to a personal, private and individual faith.”   (30)  We have built churches, services and programs to make individuals happy.  Rah points out that the strength of western individualism is the powerful idea that God’s love and grace is to be received by the individual and it can also lead to a kind of ‘growing up’ as the individual develops.  However, hyper-individualism treats our faith life like a narcissist.  It’s all about us and how we feel, we lose the contextual reality that most of the New Testament was written to communities, not individuals. 
  2. Consumerism -“American Christianity has acquiesced to the materialistic values of American society and is no longer distinguishable in its values and norms from the excessive materialism of American society.”  (51)  Rah points to the kinds of spaces that the American church can often be found in, movie theaters and malls.  Both examples of consumer spaces to engage and entertain the senses, not fundamentally about discipleship or communal identity.  They are spaces where individuals are in the same space together and at the same time, but not interacting within community.  What it takes to attract a church attender (consumer entertainment/marketing) is the very thing it will require to keep them because there is always another church to shop at for its goods and services.  “North American Christianity has difficulty understanding and living out the gospel because the church has become all too captive to a consumerist mindset that focuses attention on meeting needs, on personal growth, and on personal choice.”  (62)
  3. Racisim -Rah makes a profound statement that race is actually a “product of Western social history”.  (67)  That ethnic identity is not historically nor biblically seen as common skin color, but rather of shared culture, story and territorial decent.  He traces the distinction of race via skin color as a means of whites desire to have power over and enslave blacks.  Ethnicity and culture is important, but the category of race based on skin color is a systemic evil meant to perpetuate dehumanization.  The future of America and Evangelicalism is not a white one, it is racially and culturally diverse.  Rah suggests that great healing can be done with a kind of public confession of sin in the area of white racism in order to properly and healthily move towards a diverse future where all voices can be heard and submitted to at the table.  To this sentiment I quite agree.

What has defined Evangelicalism that won’t be a part of the future?

  1. Church growth theory and Mega church – this is largely individualistic, mechanistic and consumer driven.  The focus on bigger, better, richer are not the healthy values of church in every context. 
  2. The Emergent Church – it’s largely white, suburban and intellectual.  “If the experience of the middle-class, white Christian becomes the experience by which other experiences are measured or becomes the experience that is placed front and center of the movement, then wwe have once again capitulated to the white captivity of the American church.”  (115)  What’s emerging is still largely white in the Emergent conversation.  The emerging church where Christianity is growing reported by Rah is in Africa, Asia and Latin America and not the middle-class suburbs of America.
  3. Cultural Imperialism – globalization is really Americanization, one more powerful culture imposing its culture on less powerful ones.  This exportation has created the ‘norm’ to be what is done in America, replacing indigenous ideas and traditions.  Rah implores the reader to see each culture as created in the image of God and be allowed to express itself at the table.

The West has a theology and a worldview of abundance.  God is to be celebrated for the work that is done, it is a theoogy of the Resurrection.  The emerging theology of migrant groupings of people is one of scarcity, where dependence upon God for sustenance is the daily reality.  This is a theology of the Cross.  (153) 

So how does this transition happen?  How do we move away from the captivity of the western church and to a more diverse and free Evangelicalism?  Rah suggests:  “In order to break that captivity, there needs to be an intentional relinquishing of power and privelege.”  (161)   This is where I didn’t find his thesis as helpful.  I can’t think of a single instance in history where this was done successfully.  Rather, when a tradition/power/movement runs it course and no longer is relevant or can give life, it dies.  It can be a natural and progressive death, or it can be a painful and lamenting death.  I agree completely with Rah’s assertions about the future and so I would say let the present paradigms of Evangelical and western power die their death and be ready to lead in a new future. 

Systems this large with this many embedded norms are not going to be given over in an instance. At some point there will be a ‘tipping point’ moment that will topple the cards and in my opinion, that tipping point will be economic.  The western consumer lifestyle entitlements are on their way to dieing a painful death.  There are no financial margins for the correction that is yet coming globally.  The consumer Christianity we are accustomed to will not be sustainable.  Buildings will be foreclosed on, ministerial vocation may not always be an option, the sub-culture industry of Christendom will dry up and it will challenge American Chrisitan identity.  Couple this with the increase of exponential religious pluralism where to be American is not synonmous with being Christian and its a recipe for lament.  Will we lament that God has abandoned us?  Or could we then turn to the Latin American/African/Asian church for leadershp in the new way?  They are people who have learned how to be Christian amongst pluralism, they know what it means to be without, they know how to worship with a theology of suffering.  The next Evangelicalism will be needed, will we listen or will we grieve our losses? 

I’m here to listen to leaders like Rah.  I’m male, white, middle-class, educated and suburban.  I believe in community, I believe in a diverse future and I believe the answers to American Evangelicalism are mostly outside our borders and in history.  We need to look away and in our past for a way forward.

Fear and Pain

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Read this today on this blog

“Riots are about power, and they are about catharsis. They are not about poor parenting, or youth services being cut, or any of the other snap explanations that media pundits have been trotting out: structural inequalities, as a friend of mine remarked today, are not solved by a few pool tables. People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night. And now people have lost their homes, and the country is tearing itself apart.”

Couple this with the dramatic sell off of the US stock market and the economic global unrest and you have a recipe for fear and pain.  When the consumer dream dies, what will it look like?   After we are done blaming, pointing fingers, lashing out against races/classes/parties/establishments, what will we do?  Will we find a stable center to build from or will we deconstruct to unproductive nihlism?  I pray for peace and work towards peace, but I’m afraid this is more than just a blip on the screen, it’s our new reality.  Unrest, fear and pain.  Where will our healing be found?  Are there any carriers of the medicine already planted amongst us?  My rebellion is yet for hope and life.

 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  (Rev. 22:1-2)

peace,Marshall