Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood “For 100 won, my daughter I sell” Heavy medallion of sorrow A cardboard around her neck she had hung Next to her young daughter Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood
A deaf-mute the mother She gazed down at the ground, just ignoring The curses the people all threw As they glared At the mother who sold Her motherhood, her own flesh and blood Her tears dried up Though her daughter, upon learning Her mother would perish of a deadly disease Had buried her face in the mother’s long skirt And bellowed, and cried But the mother stood still And her lips only quivered Unable she was to give thanks to the soldier Who slipped a hundred won into her hand As he uttered “It is your motherhood, And not the daughter I’m buying She took the money, and ran A mother she was, And the 100 won she had taken She spent on a loaf of wheat bread Toward her daughter she ran As fast as she could And pressed the bread on the child’s lips “Forgive me, my child” In the midst of the market she stood And she wailed.
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,” (Psalm 18:25)
It doesn’t take long to be around the Korean people to learn that they are a faithful people. They work very hard, they work long hours, they strive for an excellence in all things that can even at times put strain on family reltionships when expectations aren’t met. But they are a resilient people, they keep at it. Being in an active warzone the sirens at times go off for military exercises, the jets may fly overhead, the attack helicopters may hover, but they remain faithful to the life before them.
I am surrounded here with doctorate students and doctorate/advisor staff. Each has taken up a task to pursue a research question that lives and breathes in their hearts. It is a quandry on how to finish and write a dissertation, it is not for the faint of heart. As our doctorate mentor, Dr. Jason Clark, often says, “if it was easy, everyone would have one”. It is a task and a pursuit that tries you, it tests your character, it will reveal if your faith is ‘just the wrapper’ or if it is all the way through you. These are the kinds of disciplines in life that I think one should embrace. Attempt something bigger than who you are. Try something you can’t do easily and see what faithfulness is required.
When you aren’t getting results, will you keep going just because? When you are faced with a wall, will you figure a way to scale it? When your quandry is expansive, will you have the humility to ask for help? When you feel vulnerable, will you allow yourself to feel vulnerable and reach just a bit deeper than you thought possible?
Faithfulness isn’t easy, but it is noble. Our Western culture generally is horrid at it, you won’t find guidance there. Our culture teaches the quick way, the easy purchase, the microwaved meal, we know very little of the kind of hardships that require a forbearing faithfulness. (Certainly there are individual stories, I’m speaking of American culture as a whole)
The best of education is in the journey, not the results. It isn’t about a degree or a grade, call me a purist, but it’s about the pursuit of the betterment of who you are. It’s about doing something really, really hard because in it you acquire skills and character that serve the real callings on your life. For me that involves the kind of spiritual communities that announce hope and offer freedom to ALL those who find themselves in need and brokenness and want to pursue the God who brought them into being within the context of a safe and caring community. (that’s all 😉 ) I think about it when I wake in the morning, and I wonder about it when I go to bed at night. I’m not done yet.
I, with my cohortmates, are being tested in our faithfulness. That’s not a bad thing, in fact, it’s quite good. Time will tell, but I pray in the end, we find ourselves faithful.
Well, I’m back on adventure. My last doctorate cohort advance trip to Seoul, Korea after last years trip to Africa and 2 years ago in Europe. Time has flown by and I fully recognize that when I get home I have a pressure filled Fall to finish my dissertation. I chose this doctorate program because it wasn’t like the others. Traditional DMins tend to be about looking back and rehashing what has already been done. GFU DMin in leadership and global perspectives has thrusted me into a reflection of future praxis utilizing social media and international contextualized learning experiences. I am most looking forward to this final experience with my cohort mates. We have journeyed far together and I’ve learned so much from and through them. I don’t know what this time in Korea will hold for us or me, but I do know that I’m back on adventure. I’m a big believer that experience is the best educator. Peace!
“Are you not entertained? . . . Are you not entertained? . . . Is this not why you are here?” (– the character ‘Maximus’ in the movie ‘Gladiator‘)
Is this what contextualization in the American church has come to? Our culture is built upon the entitlements of being constantly entertained and the enemy of the consumer appetite is to be ‘bored’. Do we design our programs, our services, our sacraments, our traditions, the activities of our ministries under the flag of making sure the people are entertained and keeping their interest. Is the youth pastor emotionally mature or do we prefer funny? Is the worship leader a discipler of others, or do we prefer someone who is only exciting and attractive? Are we interested in going against culture in terms of values counter to the Kingdom of God, or in our search for relevance and the ‘cool’ factor, do we end up with something more indicative of Corporate America than the spiritual community of the Scriptures?
This scene from “Gladiator” immediately came to mind when I was reading Simon Chan’s chapter in Christian Movements in Southeast Asia: A Theological Exploration entitled “Folk Christianity and Primal Spirituality: Prospects for Theological Development”. He is raising the issue in the context of the growth of Asian Christianity as to what is a proper contextualization of the Gospel in a given culture and what ends up becoming syncretized to the point it is no longer the Christian Gospel. This is such an urgent and crucial question for the Church around the world as globalization has brought all of the world’s cultures into contact with one another. Chan calls Folk Christianity as the “contextualisation of the gospel in primal religious contexts.” (1) He looks specifically at the relationship between Pentecostalism and the native spiritualities in Asia. Is the Christian Pentecostalism more Asian than it is Christian? This is a deep anthropological question.
Chan defines proper ‘contextualisation’ as “the attempt to bring the gospel message to a context in a manner that is relevant to that context“. (5) And further, “It may happen that in the process of contextualising the gospel, the contextualiser finds the need to borrow terms and ideas from the context but these terms are always reinterpreted in accordance with gospel norms.” (5) The Gospel can take on the clothing and vocabulary of the host culture but yet there is still something primal to the truth of Christianity that remains universal and is not to be co-opted within the narratives of the host culture. This is an issue that missiologists have been wrestling with for ages.
On the other hand, Chan states that when the work of contextualisation goes so far as to be co-opted by it’s host culture, then it leads to syncretism which is not Chrstianity at all. “Syncretisim, in contrast, involves appropriating substantial material contents from the context in order to bridge the gap between gospel and context. The result of syncretism is that instead of the gospel challenging culture, it becomes a part of culture.” (5) Therefore, as a matter for discernment, our job is to locate the irreducible elements in the gospel that do not change in any culture or in any time in history. Fundamentally, what are the marks of a Church?
Chan’s irreducible point is to a high Christology, an unapologetic focus on the person of Jesus Christ and his exclusive claims to himself. Chan says that the person of Christ is “‘transcendentally determinate’ and cannot be reduced to abstract principles.” (6) Within Asian Christianity that is unique from the American context is the treatment of ancestors in terms of worshipping, paying homage and/or teachings of reincarnation that are antithetical to the Christian Scriptures and the narratives within.
Chan does well to locate the movement of the ‘prosperity’ gospel within the captialist story of Euro-Amercian Christianity that has taken such a stronghold in the Asian cultures. Chan doesn’t find this form of Pentecostalism to be a part of the ‘irreducible elements’ of Christianity but rather a sympton of Western consumer culture where it’s all about the pleasure of the indidividual. “Can we trust their reconstruction and deconstruction of the Christian faith, especially the kind seen in feminism, egalitarianism, individualism, anti-patriarchy and anti-supernaturalism?” (14) He is arguing for Asian theologians to start with the universals of Scripture and Christian tradition and then contextualise to their context, not borrow the contextualisations from other cultures.
So, to the American context these are the questions I’m asking: As in the day of Rome, are we just offering bread and circuses, a morality within the mythology of the American Dream? Are we more about entertainment than spiritual transformation? Are we asking the big questions of how change happens? Are we detaching ourselves from credal beliefs and detraditioning the American church in hopes for being relevant?
Frankly, are we more American than we are Christian?
This is something I wrote/blogged on July 1, 2003. Just came upon it and realized I still wrestle with all the same issues as do many of the leaders around me in my networks. I’m trying to learn a lesson apparently I haven’t learned over the past 10 years. But I’m listening . . . I guess to myself.
“Had lunch today with another missional community leader, Dave and we talked together of our frustration with having seminary degrees that don’t help us get jobs in the real world and in being mediators between the emerging church expression and the one we were trained in, get finances from and have some accountability towards. We wondered out loud about the politics of it all, personal compromises and the desperate need to be the pastors we long to be but also provide for our families, cuz no one else will. Through all of that we came to a different conclusion than the one we were planning on. It is simply, “quit whining!” The Kingdom is now. Yes, we don’t know our future completely and we don’t know what tommorrow will be, but in the now the Kingdom is happening and we are missing it. We are at times despairing, wrapped in fear, lost in the transition and all during that, God is providing for all our needs. And we complain cuz we want security.
It struck us that Jesus maintained his joy because he lived in the “now”. As we strategize after goals and expectations that will never be met, the Kingdom goes unnoticed around us. Each opportunity to connect with my wife, each opportunity to enjoy my kids, each opportunity to dwell richly in my community of friends gets sucked dry cuz I’m worried about tommorrow. The Kingdom is here and we are still looking for the consumation of all things. We rob ourselves of joy, peace and contentment cuz we are focused on the future and God is now!
Oh, that I would stop my striving and running and achieving and building and rescuing the urgent. That I would learn to have joy on the ride. Love the ride. Live for the ride. Some ride the ups and downs of the roller coaster (life) only being in fear of the next turn, or wondering when it will end, or hanging on for dear life with their eyes closed. I need to learn how to enjoy the thrill of right now! Lick it up, dwell richly in now.
I have a book on my desk that I’ve only skimmed written by a Budhist called “The Power of Now”. Why are the Budhists kicking our arses in this area of peace, joy and contentment? We evangelicals run the machine known as church. A ferocious appetite for more consumer goods. When leaders burn out, replace them. But keep striving, keep turning the crank, keep doing the same inhuman activity over and over again and believing that this time its really different, this time we will find the magic pill that solves all our problems.
The Kingdom is now, don’t miss it. Its the secret to joy, peace and contentment. I’m leaving now, to go sit and be with my wife, right now. Thank you Abba for the joy of now. “
Finding this today, I am quite literally preaching to myself . . . again.
For my elective reading this summer, I delved into “Brothers Karamazov” by the great Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’ve have always heard from friends what an epic reading this work was so I thought I would give it a try. it is largely considered one of the greatest novels in all of history. My challenge is that I hardly ever read fiction, it’s just a genre I typically don’g ‘get’ or enjoy. I admitt, this was a challenging read for me given that fact but I did find the character of Alyosha Karamazov to be tremendously compelling.
Alyosha was the sanity around the chaos of his 2 brothers and eccentric father. He saught a life in the monastery to serve the God he held fast belief in the midst of tumultuous affairs all around him. He was a redemptive character that was the best of humanity, and he called that out in those around him. He truly was a light amidst the darkness of the period Russian landscape. He somehow kept true to the monastic cell that was his life serving others even after he left the monastery in order to pursue his calling and work in the real world.
The day his great mentor and Abbot of the monastery died, as a part of his final breath, he gave these words: “At the end of life, will we thirst to love?” What a captive statement for the purpose of our spiritual direction this side of the veil. When it comes down to it, are our lives about a death to all things that are not of love within us? The theme of great love and it’s antithetical cousin of lust is a constant contrast throughout the epic tale of this tortured and aristocratic family. The pursuit of this grand quality of pure love is what Alyosha was about, from his unconditional love to his swindling brothers and father, to his service to the children of town and the least of these. Dostoevsky said it well: “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” Love is the chief end of our Created intent. We have the daily choices of our spiritual direction, do we choose love or do we choose the lusts of our flesh. “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” Within the narrative, there are many examples of love and not love, of betrayal and of undying loyalty. That is the battle, that is our choice, what do we choose?
“Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” (Dostoevsky) This is the tone of what I walked away from the book with, a desire to love more, more completely. To seek the love that is inherent with this Creation even in the midst of darkness and to embody it. To find the monastic cell of my service in the world of chaos and brokenness and yet choose to love.
At the end of life, might I be like Alyosha Karamazov, will I thirst to love?