Archives For August 2011

Don’t Just Sit There

August 26, 2011 — 1 Comment
In just a few days I will board a plane any make my way from America's Pacific Northwest to East Africa's equatorial region. For nearly two weeks, my doctoral cohort and I will study under African pastors and scholars. Together we will explore what God is doing in the Global South and how the rapid and widespread growth of Christianity there will literally change the face declining Western Christianity. 

Our time will be split between Nairobi, Kenya and Me'kele, Ethiopia. Both of these countries have been in the news recently, as the region is trying to deal with a famine that is displacing hundreds of thousands of people each day. Droughts are environmental crises, but famines like the one that is sweeping through Somalia is the result of political failure. 

In his book, Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, author and fellow D.Min cohort mate Tom Davis writes, "a pandemic isn't merely a function of mathematics, of statistics. It is the accumulation of millions of little stories" (Kindle location 408). Whether famine or HIV/AIDS, to which Tom was referring, such protracted pandemics are often the result of good people doing nothing. That is what Tom is challenging in his book. The apathy of good people.

As American Evangelicalism continues its numerical decline, all that needs to happen to ensure the eventual death of the church in America is for good people to do nothing. In our cohort reading this summer it has become plainly evident that unless and until church leaders in America look beyond Western Christianity, the bleak future of the Christian landscape will remain unchanged. 

According to Davis, change starts with incarnation. There are many gospels begging to be incarnated, but "the only gospel worth living is the one that incarnates love" (loc. 54). Too often it is the gospel of cultural commodification that is incarnated in the lives of American Christians. The antidote may lay in mobilization. Instead of turning inward and trying to re-imagine what a post-Christian church looks like (as many emergent folk are prone to do), we instead need to turn outward (and Southward) in our quest to find faithful ways of embodying a gospel of love.

Davis does a great job challenging Christians to act, not just think. That is key. As the landscape of global Christianity continues to change and to take on a more Southern flavor, Christians in America (and especially pastors) need to act. Reading about and understanding what is happening in one's own zip code won't be enough. Nor will it suffice to simply become aware of what is going on in the Global South. Churches will have to change in order to survive, and that change will either be led into by visionary leaders or else thrust upon them by the growing numbers of Southern Christians making their new homes in the US each year.

So, what will you do?

I grew up in the cradle of American Evangelicalism: suburban Atlanta.
As a white, upper-middle-class American male in a Southern Baptist
church, my upbringing typifies all of the privilege and power that
Soong-Chan Rah points to, in his The Next Evangelicalism, as the
source of the Western, white captivity of the church. Like most of my
peers, I took my experience as normative. I didn’t see anything wrong
with growing up where I did, when I did, like I did. I certainly did
not look at my culture’s theology and ecclesiology as something
oppressive or as that which was holding other expressions of the
Christian faith captive. Continue Reading…

Stripping

August 3, 2011 — Leave a comment

(This post originally appeared on my blog about running, but I wanted to cross post it here as well.)

So, I went out for an easy run yesterday. Nice leisurely, jog pace. It was much needed after an overwhelming day at work. Actually, this post is less about the run itself and more about what I was processing on the run. That’s one of the things I enjoy about running (and why I run without silly earbuds). I don’t engage in deep processing every time I run. Most of the time, I just try to enjoy the activity of running. But when I do need to let my mind work on some things, running is a wonderful activity for that.

My job is quite different from anything I’ve done vocationally before. Still in the early months, I’m finding that at least once a week I get overwhelmed by the differences. Up until a few months ago, my jobs were in ministry and largely relational. Now I build course sites and manage social media for a doctoral program. While I possessed all the raw ability to perform the job before I was hired, actually employing those skills in a way that is productive and contributes to the success and mission of the various programs is proving harder than I anticipated. 

Sure, there is a learning curve or ramp-up period or whatever you’d like to call it. My supervisor (who is also a subscriber to this blog – hi LK!) expects that it may take up to a full year before I really feel like I have a handle on the rhythms inherent in the workflow. I’m fortunate to have some grace there. That being said, I still have some frustrating days where I feel like I’m all thumbs. I had one of those days yesterday.

As I was running, I kept thinking back to that book Isolation I mentioned in a recent post. The author writes about a process she calls “stripping,” during which someone in isolation is stripped of their vocationally-grounded identity. I didn’t think there was much left to strip, to tell you the truth. A lot of that was done during my exit from my last job in March.

What I found though, as my shoes beat out a rhythm on the pavement, is that even in these last few months I’ve been trying to form my identity around my new job. I pick up new things pretty easily. I understand what is required of me in this job and am confident I possess the skills and tools necessary to do it well. So when I have days where I feel like I’m not doing it well, it feels like a blow to my ego. 

The stripping process is intended to get you down to the core of who you are so that God can root you in Him, for that’s where a follower of Christ really finds his or her identity. It is the only antidote to ministry-centered identity. And maybe that’s just the point. Instead of defining myself and finding my value in what I do, I need to finally learn who I am.