Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quote That Explains SOOOO Much

"The teaching that we are fundamentally sinners leads to failure. I believe that most Christians have little understanding of their identity in Christ, which results in a great deal of frustration and superficial Christian living."--James Bryan Smith

I've always said that if I were going to write a book that helped teenagers grow in their faith, a major section would be on identity in Christ. Followed soon by the exchanged life and a firm understanding on Law & Grace.

Nice to have that belief underscored on occasion.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Permission To Speak Freely

I read the book Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art On Fear, Confession, and Grace by Anne Jackson. I really enjoyed it, largely because it is a mix of essays by the author and art that was submitted to her.

Why were people submitting art to her, you ask?

On her blog in May 2008 she asked a simple question:
"What is one thing you can't say in church?

The long and short of it is that the blog entry went viral and people anonymously submitted all sorts of personal stories and such and an on-line community supported each other. And, she wrote a book. Got a contract and made a few dollars for writing, I suppose. And, I'll be honest. I've secretly wished that would happen to me.

Anyway, here's a sample of why I enjoyed the book:
"Over and over again I hear people talk about how they left the church so they wouldn't be judged for their basic humanity.

Most of us choose to live in one of these extremes: conformity or escaping. Few can find peace living in the tension of both. Those of us who do wonder if we're too idealistic to believe a faith community can be a hospital where our wounds are welcome can be healed. The true sanctuary cna be found both within the walls of the church and outside as well.

A Scottish minister once told me, "If you can't be an idealist in a church, then something is extremely wrong."

At the risk of sounding overly idealistic, I'd like to say that for those of us who believe the church should be one of the safest and most grace-giving places a person can experience here on earth, it's time to reclaim what our faith stands for.

It's time for us to politely but passionately disagree with those who make church a 'safe' place by removing all the messiness.

It's time for us to put all we have out in the open--not for the sake of faux humility of self-deprecating exploitation or attention, but for recognizing the things the Cross stands for and left for us: ultimate love and undiscriminating grace."

Now, long-time readers of The Diner are aware that I often tire of writers always focusing on the negatives of what a church should be helping with. All too often in life-together, there are celebrations like when our children marry and we rejoice together, or laughing together like crazy on a mission trip or enjoying graduation of a friend who has been working hard to get that degree or whatever else is enjoyable in this world. But I'm not sure those types of books sell.

However, Anne's story has a lot in it that is messy. Very, very messy. And I'm thankful she wrote about it...and the work of God in her life. It's pretty cool to see the beauty of the transformation...even if it's still kinda messy.

So, grab the book. It's a good, thought provoking read. But what I really would love for you to do is go to the book's website Permission To Speak Freely and check out the art work. Very, very cool. And you can link from there to the Facebook page with even more comments about "things you can't say in church." And on the Facebook page for the book there's a slideshow which has even more art. Very, very cool.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Hipster Doofus?

Excellent article in this month's Christianity Today by Brett McCracken entitled "Hipster Faith." I'd recommend you all who are interested in the current trends in Christian circles stop down and read.

But two things in the article are worth commenting on...

The first is that in a special section they talk about movements in American Christian circles in the past and the good and bad things that stuck around after the movements left. Like The Jesus Movement went from 1965 to 1972 and gave us improved Christian music and a "Christian Counterculture" but left us with 4 decades of "worship wars."

What's interesting is that they said the Emergent Church movement lived from 1997 and DIED in 2009. You were so young, EC. We hardly knew ye. Anyway, it said the good that they gave us was a "healthy skepticism of overdependence on propositional truth claims." Said the bad they gave us was lots of propositions about truth. Nice.

So, many of us who got tired of the discussion are glad to know that it's been given the last rites...even if they did give us several notices of ways the church could do a better job of serving the younger generation.

Anyway, it says the next movement is the Hipster Church. And here's a quote from McCracken that gives you a good flavor of what the article is about:
"As a result [of the Church's desire to be contemporary, relevant and current], evangelicalism in the '90s had a firmly established youth culture, built on the infrastructure of a lucrative Christian retail industry and commercial subculture. Huge Christian rock festivals, Lord's Gym t-shirts, WWJD bracelets, Left Behind, and so forth. It was big business. It was corporate. It was schlocky kitsch. And it was begging to be rebelled against.

Enter the age of the Christian hipster. As the 90s gave way to the 2000s, young evangelicals reared in the ostentatious Je$us subculture to rebel. They sought a more intellectual faith, one that didn't reject outright the culture, ideas, and art of the secular world. In typical hipster fashon, they rejected the corporate mentality of the purpose-driven megachurch and McMansion evangelicalism, and longer for a simpler, back-to-basics faith that was more about serving the poor than serving Starbucks in the church vestibule."

The article goes on to discuss how they favor "centuries old hymns against contemporary praise choruses" and pay attention to "social justice, environmentalism, and the arts." They also "appreciate the detail and artistry of creative, well-crafted films, music, books, and woodwork. They take the arts seriously and recognize their crucial part in human flourishing." They also enjoy "re-discovering ancient liturgy and hymns."

There are some things the author sets forth that I'm not sure I agree with...but I'd encourage you to check out the article and contribute to the conversation here. Very interesting stuff.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Weighing In On "Being Fed"

On Friday, my friend Mike reposted a blog entry that our mutual friend James posted in June on his blog.

Mikey said, " These are great insights from a good friend and shine a bright light on our need for maturity." They do, indeed.

I won't quibble with the main points James makes, either. The gist of it is that James had been hearing some Christians leaving one church or another and using the phrase, "I just wasn't being fed" to explain their move to another local body. James rightly points out the importance of defining what is meant by the phrase...because that is paramount to the discussion. He also points out that maturity should be the goal, that growing will involve more than sitting in a church service once a week, and hints that there is some responsibility on the learner to make decisions that will help the individual grow in their faith in Christ. His article is good food for thought and I'd encourage you to read it for yourselves.

So, now that I'm three degrees removed from the discussion, the mental gears have been turning for a few days and I'd like to sort of share where my mind went as I read my friends' posts--

--and note that they come from the position of a teacher, not the position of learner.

There are numerous examples of Jesus saying things like, "He who ears to hear, let him hear." Or asking the disciples such things as "What about you, are you leaving, too?" Or "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." All these put a responsibility on the hearer of the message to make choices to follow, or respond in some way, or make a decision when times get tough in the growth process. In fact, I've taught my Sunday School class these very things in the last two weeks.

One thing I noticed in many of those situations is that the learner evaluates the teacher's "right to platform." In other words, they have the right to ask how it is that a carpenter they saw grow up in the community has the right to say He came down from heaven. They have the right to question his educational background. They even had the gall to ask if He was demon possessed. There's no question the hearers were evaluating the life of the teacher to see if it validated the message He was teaching.

And, so should people in the suburbs of the USA. If their small group leader is a phony, or if the guy in the pulpit has shady business dealings, or if the elders don't measure up to the standards of 1 Timothy and Titus, well, you get the idea. So, when someone wants to grow, they have the right to evaluate the people they choose to submit to in their learning process. If it doesn't measure up, who can blame them for moving on?

They also have the right to take a look at the content of the message the leader is giving. Scripture is full of admonitions for those who do have a platform...

Like in 2 Timothy 2:15, where those in leadership are to be an accurate handler of the Word of God. The implication is that here is an accurate way to handle the Word of God, as well as an inaccurate way. There's much to say about this...but the leadership should be clear on such things as doctrine and philosophy regarding how they will teach the living of the spiritual life. Usually, with denominations, this is pretty easy to do. I mean, there is a reason denominations exist and people who believe the same way need to worship together in unity (yes, I'm saying that denominations actually cause unity in the Body). So, it's incumbent o the church leadership to clarify a position and once that's done, the learner should choose to join a church that aligns with what they believe.

As a teacher, I feel a responsibility to give my students the best food. I mean, when Jesus was forgiving Peter in John 21 he used the phrase, "Feed My Sheep" and "Shepherd My Lambs." If you love Me, Peter, you will. I want my students to know the Truth of the Word. I want to handle it accurately. I want to be a good communicator both through life and doctrine and Truth. I want them to know that I love Him. I want them to know that I love them. I want them to know that I'll do my best to get them to water, to food, to rest in green pastures, that I'll try to protect them from the predators that are out to kill them, that if one gets lost I'll do whatever I can to bring them back to safety, that I'll use the crook or stick if need be to help them keep moving. All that stuff.

And if I'm not doing that stuff to their satisfaction...well, I'm kind of okay if they move to another good church in our area (and there are many) to a shepherd that does do those things (and there are many) and meets whatever expectation they have. In the last 2 decades I've learned that I'm not everybody's cup of tea when it comes to discipleship or teaching or whatever else somebody's looking for in a youth pastor.

So, I see both sides of it. It can be very selfish of a person to say "I'm not being fed" as they head out the door of a local church and into another church's doors. I have no doubt that this happens a lot.

But I also see that if I am not feeding His sheep...with the MEAT of His Word and the Living Water He provides...

or if I'm not shepherding His lambs with true love...

or if I'm not following Him (re-read the end of John 21, man)...

...and if that's what they mean when folks say, "I'm not being fed,"

...well, I can't blame them for making other choices.