Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How many recessions are there in 2009?

As I read books and blogs, listen to people and podcasts, think about current and future times, watch activities in North America and elsewhere...

I am concluding that the Church in the U.S. is in a recession. God is moving mightily, vastly, and obviously in the Southern Hemisphere and/or the Eastern Hemisphere right now (2000 to present 2009). While there is much talk and desire for God's movement here in the West (e.g. the multitude of new 'movements', 'returns', and organic networks), I would contend that it's not really happening like it did (?) here and is (!) elsewhere. And I'm in-network with many of those working to see it happen.

Personal opinion, I think we are in a "spiritual correction" that is parallel to the financial "corrections" we have seen over the last few years. We built an inflated, less-than-actual 'Christianity' in the West and now it's not working out to be what it claimed. Possible causes, as I see it include:
- New ideas (parallel to new markets)
- 3rd and 4th generation 'Christians' being exposed to other Christians around the world via media(s) (parallel to the idea of 'the informed customer')
- the eventual-but-certain demise of the self-centered version of Christ Followers [pun intended] (parallel to consumer reporting)
- [insert your observation here by using the Comment feature of this blog!]

Recession brings options: push even harder using current methods (or values or competencies or _______) until the recession ends or resources stop, downsize, invest in deeping what is, panic, do something else altogether and wish for better days gone by, get pummeled by market and/or competition and die out.

I would like to suggest that the Church has gotten away from deliberate relationships. We have continued to diminish our deep relationships between fellow Christians so that the Body and Family metaphors of the Bible are now more like social clubs or Facebook groups. We have shrunk our concept of a local church to mirror an affiliation with a political party (increased activity based on periodic activity). We are certainly not known for bringing the Love of God Himself to our neighbors much less the needy (vs. the reputation of the Church the first few hundred years, for example). We encourage a "personal relationship with Jesus" but never get back to Him.

So we throw up 'alternative' movements, we talk about "Change" (a la Obama), we throw money around the world (seriously, how many more times do we have to hear about how easy it would be to end ____ -- for all the money I personally know that people and organizations have 'sent', I still hear little to nothing about change. Perhaps we aren't dealing with the root problems!)... just like our political life. What a waste.

Perhaps it's time to invest deeply, like Singapore Airlines, Amazon, and numerous others who don't talk much during recessions but spend money, time, energy on that which has only long-term payoff (and no immediate payoff - crazy!).

What if we...

  • redid how Children are taught and/or involved in the Real life of God's People
  • created leadership communities inside a local church that include all who are leaders (in particular, young leaders - high school through 90's)
  • invested in mastering/harnessing new mediums of communication so that content isn't bound by the restrictions of one or two
  • chose involvement in 'Spiritual' activity as a way for people to enter into a life with God instead of reserving it for those who have already mastered(?!?) it
  • choose to be not just transparent but outright vulnerable with fellow brothers and sisters, even if it means we might get burned by them - what if we chose to need them
  • saw each other's passions as under our deep, personal care - and left our passions up to their care
  • met and engaged in the lives of our neighbors (the people living within a stone's throw from my quickly closing garage door) -- taking care of those we have direct contact with
    - or co-workers, bosses, subordinates
  • met and engaged our brothers' and sisters' neighbors, too -- taking care of those in direct contact with those we are in direct contact with

What if we saw the Kingdom of God as a slow moving, all-encompasing bacteria that eventually takes over the entire petrie dish leaving self-replicating cells all the while? What if instead of trying to convince others to take huge jumps, we simply brought local humans along on our own journies as God's clay? What if we began to live as if vital-connection to others is equally important as righteous living? What if we stopped being soley pragmatic about the next 50 years and started thinking, "Slow and steady wins the race..." and accomplishes much along the way.

What if we invested deep into people. All people.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is God REALLY loving?

Having recently 'visited' (in person, in dialog, and/or in print) a number of churches over a number of continents, I've been struck by how each one has a tendency to start with God where they (felt) need Him most.

  • the East African church sings of victory and release from oppression
  • the Irish church creates art involving the sea, the reality of death, and the 'thin veil' between the realm of God & angels and humans
  • the U.S. church filled with those recovering from various addictions speaks often of Satan and demons / spiritual warfare, of harsh realities and Spiritual platitudes
  • the various North American churches that speak of God's acts of making our lives better (in Canada, U.S., even parts of Mexico)
  • the Palestinian Christians who pray often for the release from the oppression of the Christian Nation (U.S.), the local Arabs, and the Jews - praying many of the Psalms.
And God seems to be just fine with this - meeting us in our situation (vs. us going to Him in His situation). In my objective (ha) assessment, this seems extremely kind of God Almighty.

I know God can see the ramifications of all decisions, so I'm a bit surprised by His willingness to let us start with ourselves - we seem to have a very hard time moving on from this spot (known as 'you are here')

During a conversation about Galatians 1 Tara and I were having with two other couples, Tara noticed that we all have our favorite picture (metaphor) for God: King, Father, Rock, Lover, and Hypocrite. This got me thinking about how we use 'Biblical' metaphors but often with a localized twist. "King" probably means something different to me (here in the leaderless state of Washington) than to my friends in Saudi Arabia - different still than my friends in Jordon. Different still than our brothers and sisters living in tribal situations in the mountains of South America or the island-tribes of the western Pacific.

And once again, I came across the phrase that makes me puke: "A God of Love ______ [insert what one wants God to be, usually justified by a narrow focus on certain parts of the Bible]."
  • A God of Love wants me to be happy (so that's why I'm leaving my spouse) - heard this in 3 divorces to-date
  • A God of Love wants me to feel loved (used for everything from helping Evangelicals and/or Catholics trying to overcome religious guilt to Oprah's 'religious' advisers condoning homosexuality)
  • A God of Love wants me to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Him (based on how certain words in the Bible are taken to mean what the speaker longs for in most relationships, in general)
  • A God of Love wouldn't... A God of Love would... A God of Love won't... judge, condemn, make me feel bad, keep me from feeling good, leave me oppressed, let me fail financially, etc.
I am not espousing God is not involved / wanting to be involved in our lives. I am not stating God doesn't care - deeply! I am not denying that God is intensely moved by compassion.Ephesians 1, for example, raises in me some doubts about the me-centeredness approach. I appreciate how God comes to me where I am - I think the problem arises when I define God according to my situation alone.

Seems like we have a hard time letting God be bigger than my situation - my survival, sustaining, or benefit is just not the extent of God's greatness and power. Unless life is all about me. Which it is not, no matter what I say!