Archive for June, 2007

women’s role

I’ve never really “gotten” the whole “women’s role” conversation. I mean, I understand why some want to have it, but it seems to me like a classic case of majoring in minors. Of straining gnats. Of making the Pauline epistles the “new Pentateuch.”

So far this summer, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time hanging out with the single moms and their kids from our neighborhood. We met them walking Damon, and we’ve begun to sit down and let the kids play with our dog, talk to the moms, throw around a ball, and just get to know these women. Last night, our doorbell rang and it was one of the moms with her two young children (she’s fighting for custody of her other 4) with a half-loaf of homemade banana bread for us. Because she mothers two young children (3 and 2, I believe), she can’t work — so she bakes and sells loaves of banana bread. (!) She wanted us to try it right then.

One thing I’ve noticed is that these are phenomenal women with far more strength than we’ll likely ever have. Their stories are heartbreaking. Our banana bread friend lived with her kids in a shelter before a townhouse in our neighborhood opened up. Chrissy’s going to court with her to watch her two young’ns while she takes care of some custody beaurocracy.

Back to the “women’s role” subject. Glancing through the comments of the recent discussion over at PreacherMike, a couple of things come to mind. First, how disconnected our “issues” are from the lives of real people, such as the single moms club in our neighborhood. Can you imagine what these fortuitous women would think if, when they are assimilated into the family of God, they are promptly told, “Oh, by the way — keep your mouth shut when we come together.” They’d tell you where you can put your epistles. The “women’s role” discussions (far too often a monologue) also remind me how much we have to gain from listening to these women’s stories, sharing in their sufferings and joys, and rejoicing with their accounts of the ways in which God is transforming their lives. Single moms who have been through hell have every bit as much to contribute to this family as any seminary-trained male, and it is our loss when we stifle these voices.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

… speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4: 15-16)

church reform

“If Christianity is to become aware of what it is, we must abandon the pastoral church which takes care of people, which is the usual form of the Western church. Instead, we have to call to life a Christian community church. Either we set about this church reform by ourselves, or it will be forced on us by the loss of church members.”

Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life (p. 96)

HT

———-

Had to share this meal story from Sunday night:

We joined a household of Christians for dinner and fellowship on Sunday. This household of young women have a specific calling to reach Muslims in Greater Boston (I hope to blog about them at length in the future), and they host a meal at their home EVERY NIGHT and invite people they meet during the day, specifically for the purpose of incarnating Jesus through hospitality. (two are students at the local community college, and the other is studying massage therapy)

Sunday, one of the girls went to a local Middle Eastern deli to pick up a few things from dinner, and she was asked by the Muslim manager (named Muhammed) about the event for which she was preparing.  She said, “We’re having a huge dinner at our house … wanna come?”  She gave him a number where he could call if he wanted to come. As we were finishing up the prayer before the meal, one of the girls got a call from Muhammed, saying he was on his way over with “some meat” and bread. He said he’d be over in 10 minutes, which in African time meant an hour later. When Muhammed — who hails from Algeria — finally got there, he had a pan full of lamb and several loaves of bread. We had already eaten, but we did what you do when a Muslim offers you food: you eat again.

Dessert (besides the incredibly delicious Bosnian bread and fruit we enjoyed) was a wonderful conversation about Muhammed’s Muslim faith, not an uncommon chat to have with most Muslims. In fact, I’m told that most Muslims expect religious conversations to occur, unlike many Westerners, who get all bent out of shape.  He enthusiastically told us about how many similarities exist between Islam and Christianity, and many of the Christians present were able to tack on a few of the notable differences (mainly, that Jesus is God, not just a prophet). It was cordial all around, and yet another example of how food can truly be a catalyst for kingdom activity.

exiles at the table

Some of our best “church” has happened around a table.

Michael Frost has a great chapter in his book Exiles called “Exiles at the Table,” in which he describes how food and drink — and specifically time spent by Christ-followers with not-yet-Christians in “third places” (like restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, etc) — has always been a catalyst for kingdom activity. (he talks about the dining habits of Joseph, Daniel, and Paul and what they can teach us about the role food can play in the kingdom. He doesn’t even get into the eating habits of Christ, however, who is probably the very best example we have of mealtime “mission.”)

Here’s an excerpt that I think is worth reading, then discussing:

The problem … is the fact that many Christians don’t actually go to third places. In fact … for many Christians, the church is their third place. All their leisure time is spent at church meetings or gatherings, belonging to church-based committees and occasionally socializing with their church friends. While not-yet-Christians are connecting over take-out Thai or whipping up a Moroccan couscous dish or barbecuing Atlantic salmon steaks, Christians are out several nights a week at church services, small groups, and leadership committee meetings. They have no time to engage meaningfully in third places, so the kind of excitin missionary table fellowship that Paul practiced is lost to them. Even when we do invite non-Christians to our table, often it’s on our terms. We invite them to our church breakfasts or our evangelistic dinners or our potluck suppers. When it’s on our terms, the guest rarely fully relaxes.

Exiles have freed themselves from the busyness of church activity precisely so that they can share food with their friends, neighbors, and work colleagues in a more mutual fashion. A meal should be an equalizing experience. It should be a time when people share in the truest sense of the word. Only when a guest feels welcome, honored, and safe will he or she open up to the host. The exile will be as equally concerned about creating such safe, welcoming spaces as about entering into such spaces created by non-Christians. And that means freeing our social calendars and enjoying the company of people who don’t share our faith. We should cook the freshest, healthiest fare, complementing it with great wine, supporting small businesses and family farms. Our menus should reflect our concern to avoid products made in countries that lack fair labor laws or produced or stored in ecologically unsafe ways. The exile’s table should be a place of justice, generosity, laughter, safety, and conviviality. Serve up something delicious, and then just watch the conversation flow and trust God to stick his nose in somewhere. (p167-168)

Describe a mealtime experience when God has “stuck his nose in.”

(here are another couple of posts I’ve written on “table”: 1, 2)

saturday event

Sometimes I think we as Christians believe an activity or organization isn’t legit unless it has a Jesus sticker slapped on it, unless it has some scriptures in its mission statement. I think this is partly because of Christians’ tendency to create a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular.” In other words, God is in some things, but absent from others.

This is often evident when Christians attempt to connect in some way to a perceived need in their community. Youth in the neighborhood need mentoring and direction. Women and men live on the streets without a permanent place to call home. A local waterfront or park is in need of a cleanup. The first reaction by many believers is to create a Christian mentoring … homeless outreach … or environmental group.

June 2007 Fun 050.jpgBut in many of our cities and towns, the organizations and groups who have thought the deepest and longest about many of the issues we care about may not be rooted in any religion. This speaks to the disconnect between many Christian churches and the realities of our world, but also the work that many seemingly “non-religious” people have done toward the troubling issues of our world.

We definitely experienced this when we moved to Boston. Living in a community of largely lower class immigrant families, where many youth feel like they don’t have a chance to succeed, we were tempted to strike out on our own in an effort to connect with our neighborhood and somehow make an impact for God’s kingdom.

But it didn’t take very long to see that there were those in our community who had been pondering the social issues we saw for many, many years. One organization responded to the heightening youth-on-youth violence of the late ’80s by establishing a space for these kids and teens to come together to learn and participate in the performing arts. Another organization responded to the youth struggles, as well as an environmental justice problem in our community, by forming a youth-led group to act and advocate as a team on behalf of a local waterfront.

It didn’t take very long for us to realize that the logical solution to our desire to connect and contribute to our community was to join in with what people were already doing, not start some “Christian copy” of a tried-and-true local original.
June 2007 Fun 048.jpg

Saturday underscored this for us. On Saturday, we celebrated with many of our neighbors at an all-day event we’ve been helping to plan over the last several months. We joined a team of young adults (including Matt & Pam, who connected us to this group) and teens from East Boston and Chelsea, the town just to the north, to plan a day of fun — with music, boating, food, crafts, a parade, games, a 5K race, and various exhibits — along the creek that connects the communities. The event raised money and awareness of several of the environmental hazards that threaten the beauty and usefulness of the wonderful stretch of water, which could and should have much more human access and use than it currently does. More than anything, though, the event (and planning, especially) was a chance to get to know some amazing young people who truly care about each other and their city, and a chance to bring two amazing neighborhoods together for some “fun in the sun.”

It was an overwhelming success. I was the co-organizer of the 5K race, which drew almost 100 runners, and Chrissy organized about 40 volunteers for the event (which may have drawn as many as 2,000 people throughout the day).
What have we learned? Well, we learned that there are wonderful communities already in existence to which we can connect, and with whom we can partner to find solutions to the problems we see. We know, of course, that the ultimate solution to any earthly problem is the transformative power of Jesus, and that the kingdom of God can “break into” our world through more than just para-church organizations. It is our hope that God will use us to this end as we partner with — not separate ourselves from — those others in our neighborhood who desire peace and not war, beauty and not destruction.

Could it be that in our attempts to separate ourselves from the “good works” of the world, the church misses wonderful opportunities to connect to what God is doing through groups of people we may have never imagined could be used?

I wouldn’t put it past Jehovah to do such a thing.

June 2007 Fun 054.jpg

(I helped lead environmental boat tours of the creek we were celebrating on Saturday … what a perfect day!)

—————-

The sponsoring organization of the event was kind enough to give us a space in its community garden, a plot of land that provides some local urban youth (ourselves included) a project to tend, along with some healthy vegetables and herbs. The top shot is of the entire garden (our plot goes from where Chrissy is standing to around where the fence is in the back), and Chrissy is watering the sunflowers in the next photo down. The bottom two show a mural that the kids painted on an adjoining brick wall: “Community Strength.” It’s a beautiful thing when beauty springs up from the hard concrete of the city.

June 2007 Fun 023.jpg June 2007 Fun 018.jpg

June 2007 Fun 022.jpgJune 2007 Fun 027.jpg

My friend, who is in the process of leaving a church he’s attended for 8 1/2 years, made this comment in a conversation Tuesday:

The biggest problem to me with that [church] model is that it keeps it’s members busy doing things to attract other people, and in the end the people doing all the work are destracted from doing what God want us to do the most: love him and others. This is my take from being on a worship team for 8 years. In the end I spend a lot of time doing things for the team, but never really came away challanged to follow Jesus more (except through worship) or love other people.

——————–

I began our REVOLUTIONARY Café last night by reading this great piece by my great friend Miller, and it is definitely worth a read. I think it puts into perspective some of the language that has popped up repeatedly in recent years regarding Christian discipleship. It’s probably why Shane Claiborne calls himself an “ordinary radical.” (but, as Miller points out, he probably doesn’t do an adequate job of describing the day-in-day-out, often un-glamorous nature of the “revolution”). Do read.

amazing piece by Agent B

If you don’t subscribe to the free monthly e-zine “Next-Wave,” why the heck not? Some of it I could take or leave, and some of it is gold. And now I have a new reason to open up that monthly e-mail: Agent B. Yes, my friend from the “Fair Mother City” is writing for Next-Wave now, and doing a bang-up job at that. This piece in particular struck my fancy, because it describes fairly accurately where C and I find myself at this point on the journey. Please read it with an open heart and mind, knowing that the Agent and Agent Wife are two of the more Christ-seeking people I’ve ever been around. Enjoy!

What I learned from being Kicked Out of Church, by Agent B

Disclaimer &emdash; The following is in no way, shape, or form a “rant”. This is not a soap box whining of some anonymous guy who was kicked out of the church system, and thus feels called to rally the multitudes hurt by the church system and sing in unison “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”. That would be a cool song to sing with a group of angry people, though. But honestly, being kicked out of The Happy Days Community Church four years ago (and thus becoming unemployed as their “benevolence director”) was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. My spiritual journey and relationship with the CEO of the universe has grown exponentially…
I, like anyone else in the “churchless faith” realm, had no plan to one day live out a spiritual existence outside a local church congregation. It just sort of evolved. Or if you’re a church pastor…de-evolved, since pastor’s seem to be the only critics of this path. Some background info…

Agent Wife and I are convinced that the CEO of the universe has commissioned the two of us and our children to walk with the poor. “Walk with”, meaning befriending, joining, ministering to AND being ministered by the poverty culture wherever we live. We have learned to do this by blending into the culture as best we can. By learning their language, customs, issues, and etc. By the way, poverty really is a culture as opposed to a situation involving simply “lack of money”. The best reference on this subject is Ruby Payne’s “A Framework For Understanding Poverty”.

For the first three years of this commission, we served as staff ministers at the Happy Days Community Church. They had a local outreach to the poor called “the izzy group” that gave away groceries, clothing, showers, shelter, cafe lunch, and just a listening ear to the poor. We tried to be friends with the poor and erase that invisible “us vs. them” boundary that exists between the middle class and poverty class. That wasn’t always achieved, but we learned more about the plight of the poor than we ever imagined.

Over the three years at the izzy group, my wife and I found ourselves slowly getting deeper and deeper immersed within the poverty culture. And therefore, by some sort of natural scientific displacement theory, we gravitated farther and farther away from the church culture. I guess the poverty and church cultures repel each other. We somehow couldn’t do both. At least not real well. Following the CEO outside of the institutional church seemed like the next, natural step. But I wasn’t brave enough to do that on my own.

Church no longer made sense. Church is freaking weird. No wonder our poor friends never wanted to be a part of it. It’s not their culture. I don’t even know if it’s the CEO’s culture. I don’t know anything anymore.

Through various church related political ordeals and through our lack of enthusiasm for church function attendance, the entire izzy group ministry was kicked out from the church. Over time, the izzy group could not survive financially. And coincidentally, Agent Wife and I found ourselves in the midst of an active neighborhood ministry of sorts that sort of evolved when we moved in four years ago.

Who would have known that being kicked out of church would become one of the best things to happen in my life. I credit the CEO for initiating this adventure as I never would have been brave enough to pull away from that tit myself: an excellent facility with industrial kitchen and showers, visual prestige in the city, various resources, and of course…a pay check.

The following are just a few of the many things the CEO continues to open my eyes about being outside the social club apparatus of church:

1) Friends

Jesus tells us in John 15 that a friend is someone willing to lay his life down for another. And also, that friends know each others garbage.

I accidentally discovered that the multitude of friends I had at my old church was slightly superficial in light of John 15. Once upon a time, I could have called any number of the 400 plus families on the church phone directory when I was in trouble or needed a sitter for 30 minutes or whatever. But when I was no longer in attendance, those friends weren’t around. Well, actually, I wasn’t around. But it seemed like attendance is what cultivated friendship

My neighborhood is, for the most part, my gathering. Or ecclesia. When we’re in need, they are always there for us. And visa versa. And we all hang out even when no one is needy. I’ve never had closer friends ever.

2) There’s no YOU in TEAM

One of the many things that was assumed about me from my former church was that I was not a team player.

To which I’m still thinking, “yeah…and who the hell wants to be that?”

I mean, seriously: teams are in and of themselves. They do not look out for others outside their team. I’m not much up on sports. But somehow I would bet that the starting pitcher for the Cardinals (whoever he is) doesn’t give a flying rip about the right fielder of the Astros (whoever that is).

And why? Because Baseball is not about Baseball as a whole. It’s about the team. Who wins and who loses.

I’ve watched our poor next-door neighbors The Sanfords bring in a homeless 17 year-old girl who became friends with their daughter. This girl was abandoned in our city by her mother who drove off and left her. She wasn’t originally part of our neighborhood until the Sanfords let her be an honorary member of their family.

When the 17 year-old decided to leave and do her own thing, nobody hung on to her. Instead, they wished her well and welcomed her back anytime.

I would challenge churches to do the same. Don’t hold on to your members so tight that the life gets squeezed out of them. When it’s time for someone to go, let go! And bless them.

3) Jesus never preached on tithing

Despite what I was taught at church, Jesus never once promoted tithing. From what I read in The Book, tithing was as old testament as old school. Jesus taught to give your all and sell all of our possessions and give to the poor.

What does that look like or mean? Am I supposed to sell everything, give the money away and live in the dirt and starve? Or maybe don’t hold on to anything forever? Be generous always? I don’t know.

These same neighbors of mine, The Sanfords, hold on to nothing for long. They make ends meet by hosting garage sales like every other week. One day their house is filled with furniture and stuff and the next week it’s all gone. Then they find some free or super cheap stuff and start all over. Or better yet…they give stuff away to their poor friends (including me).

The Sanfords barely have eighth grade educations, but I think they may be on to something in regards to “sell all you have and give…”. I mean…EVERYTHING of theirs is for sale or given away. All the time.

4) Faith: Concrete or Abstract?

Somehow, living without a steady (or ANY) income on and off for the last four years has really been a boot camp of faith of sorts. I like to have my ducks in a row. But I’ve had to take notes from my neighbors, and thus live one day at a time.

It can be scary and frustrating to not be in control of something like when I can go buy new shoes or whatever. But the CEO says he knows our needs. And he’s always delivered right when there was true need.

Fresh manna might get old sometimes, but hey. It’s fresh.

You’re probably now wondering where this guy blogs. Well, the link’s been in the blogroll all along, but here it is again for all you latecomers: The Agent B Files.

REVOLUTIONARY Cafe

On Wednesday, a diverse group of 11 believers from around Boston — Charlestown, Quincy, East Boston, and Dorchester — convened for the first “REVOLUTIONARY Cafe.” Taylor W and I dreamed some time ago about organizing a series of occasions this summer for Christ-followers to assemble around the person of Christ. Not church planting … or missions … but Jesus. After all, I believe our missiology (theory of missions) and ecclesiology (theory of church) necessarily flows from a healthy Christology, or how we view and live with Jesus Christ.

revolutionary_sm.pngWe’re gathering around the challenging materials written by Ben Cheek called REVOLUTIONARY. “Revolutionary” is, unfortunately, becoming a buzz word of sorts in Christian circles today, but I can support a series of chapters describing Jesus as such, because that’s precisely what he was. Here’s a description of the series from Ben’s site, rurevolutionary.com:

What would it be like to live a life like Jesus? How would it feel to be launched out on his mission in the world? What did he know that made his life so world-changing — that even now the effects of his work are felt my billions of people?

REVOLUTIONARY is a series of studies about a lifestyle of service that flows organically from relationship and imitation of Jesus of Nazareth. In twelve booklets it follows the life of Christ, gleaning wisdom from his activities and encouraging the reader to apply each thing learned. This book intends to be both theological and practical, offering God-revealing insights and suggestions on pragmatics.

So here’s how it works: We read the chapters during the week, then come together on Wednesday night at a food court near Boston Common to discuss them. There are a total of 8 “books” in the series, and we’ve asked people to commit to attending the majority of the meetings. The format we use is called World Cafe, a method of meeting that allows all to share, utilize their creativity, and tackle what WC calls “questions that matter.” (If you are a part of meetings of any kind, be it youth groups, corporate, Bible Studies, or whatever, I would STRONGLY suggest taking a look at the WC method.)

Chapter 1 is about our call as Christians, concluding that God continually calls his children to deeper lives in Him. There exist various “spiritual Egypts,” Ben writes, in which we can become comfortable and complacent (America, the church..), and out of which God may be calling us. Ben describes three stages of Christian spirituality — seeker, servant and son — the deepest of which sees our faith not for what we can learn about God (seeker) or do for God (servant), but who we are in God (Son). The chapter concludes by recognizing three elements of the Christian life that further shape our identity in Christ: prayer, action, and praise. “The pray-act-praise cycle of praying, then acting, then praising God, is essential to living sonship,” Ben writes.

We are using these materials — along with the gospels — simply as a centerpiece for coming together and studying Christ. We won’t all agree with everything we read, but I believe that through the process of coming together in humility, chewing on this stuff together for the summer, praying and laughing together, we will find ourselves in a new and beautiful place with our Creator — as Sons and Daughters.