Routine change

During our hike on Sunday A asked if we could do this every Sunday. Our kids really like going to church, and that is the main reason that we continue to do so regularly. If we ask them who is in their classes, they only really know the kids that they also go to school with. They do not remember much from the Sunday school, except for the silly songs that they heard sung in a Barney voice. What they really get out of it is the routine, and the chance to see Grandparents. So when A asked if we could make it a routine to go hiking on Sundays, my initial thought was “Sure, that would be great!” Now, several days later, I am still not sure about the place of church attendance in our family. If we continue to go, and we feel that it is not actually a spiritual experience, but our kids are led to believe that this is what it means to be Christian, there will come a time when we will have to explain to them why we don’t mind if they keep going, but we are just going to go for a walk. If we decide not to go, and instead decide to do something else, we will be spending more casual-active time with our kids and have good conversations, but they will not get the standard Sunday school education. I know the bias is obvious. So I guess the debate in my head is more about which is more valuable for my kids to have as a basis for their ideas about living out faith.

It might be pretty clear that we do not have tons of strong relationships at church, otherwise there would be a greater pull. We are actually feeling rather displaced (out of place?) and are realizing that we are still the most “at home” when we are not, or when we are with others who are not “at home”. So in this city, where most every one has lived their entire lives within 50 miles of here, we often feel like strangers in a strange land. When we meet folks who are not from here, especially if they are not from the US, we feel comfortable. In the end it gives us an itch. An itch to keep moving, and to feel at home in the change of scenery. We fight it, but there is still something in us that does not want to fight, but just go.

worship growth

Corporate/group worship is an odd thing. If I recall correctly (which I will not claim to do), in the Bible it was usually done within a context of a shared experience. After the flood, when God performed some miracle, when the early church met secretly, and that type of thing. We do it as part of a routine, not necessarily because we have experienced God first-hand. I think that group prayer is similar, only more awkward. I have a hard time talking to more than one person at a time, so talking to someone who already knows my heart in ways I cannot express, in front of mostly strangers, or even in front of family, is somehow less than open, and more speechy than heart-to-heart talking. You know you are being listened to and that is difficult to just ignore. I feel the same way when someone is standing next to me while I am having a conversation with someone else. I cannot really express myself because of this observer off to the right, who is listening, but since I am not talking to them, I am not reading their responses to see if they understand. I could just not care, but I do.

Growth as a sign of health. Understandable, living things grow when they are thriving. What about organizations? Sure, I think it is true there too. But here is the tough part: what kind of growth? Not all growth is healthy in nature, take mutations, tumors, and cancer for instance. So, in a church, some type of growth is good, yes? What type of growth? I suppose it depends on how you want to measure health.

Measure is the crucial word. We want to measure things, and reason tells us that you cannot claim any objective knowledge about something unless you can measure it. In a church, what does healthy mean? I would think our primary concern would be for healthy relationships with God and each-other. How do we set about measuring that? Here is the rub: you can’t.

Think about it, if someone asked you to measure the health of your marriage, how would you do that? You could measure in years, but that only tells you one thing: endurance. You could measure in how many gifts/fights, but that says nothing about the actual growth, only how volatile it has been. You could come up with a survey, but that is only measuring your perceived relational health at that point in time, and is subject to the wording of the survey, and the last week or so of the relationship. If you combine all those things, you might be able to extrapolate some scale of evidence of relational health, but that is the closest you can get, and it still does not quite tell you anything. Yes, measurable results, and a desire to obtain them, has reduced my spiritual health to numbers. So, if the health of the church cannot really be measured objectively, how do we know if it is healthy? Hmm… good question.

Let’s try a more subjective approach. Are the people in the church known for their love for one another? Are there tales of the ways that those people have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and cared for orphans and widows? This to me would speak of a healthy church, even if it consisted of 20 senior citizens with blue and magenta hair that like organ music and have been meeting in the same building for 50 years. It would not be a dead church. To contrast, a church that grows from 180 people to 1000 in 10 years, but is only known for their music, their new age building, and shocking promotions; is that really growth? All those new-comers to the faith, that find Jesus, but never take Him out past the church doors, do they count toward health? Sure, there are great programs for the kids, and musicians that do wacky stuff, but how would you measure healthy growth there? Offerings? Weekly attendance? What do those have to do with the way we relate to God or each-other?

In the end it comes down to pleasing God. I have heard that phrase all my life, but not until I was a husband did I really understand it. I see how much B wants me to be pleased with her, and I realize that the way her desire to please me makes me feel, is probably similar to how God feels when we desire to please him. I want to protect her, and provide for her every desire. I want her soul to flourish. So far, that type of feeling, and my own desire to please God, has not been able to understand the purpose of church. There are parallels; I want B to expand her influence because I know she is a good woman, and I want her to influence others to also strive to do good. I am sure God desires the same from us. But what is this institution of the church?

Feel free to comment, but if you have something debatable to say, just email me direct.

Provocation #7

Teach me, Lord, that the fight of faith is not a fight with doubt, thought against thought, but a fight for character. Enable me to see that human vanity consists in having to understand. Save me from the vanity of not being willing to obey like a child, and of wanting to be like a grown man who has to understand. Help me to realize that he who will not obey when he cannot understand does not, in any essential sense, obey you at all. Make me a believer, a “character man,” who, unreservedly obedient, sees it as necessary for his character’s sake that he must not always understand. Make me willing to believe even when I cannot understand.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Provocation #5

Every once in a while, EZ will ask a question that just cannot be answered. I feel the same way when trying to “explain” my faith. I cannot. Anything I offer as explanation seems to reduce, or dilute it. I can offer a history of those who have also found this faith, I can point to explanations that others have written, but I can not offer any more than my experience, which words still seem to dim.

All the objections to Christianity — what are they, after all, to the person who in truth is conscious of being a sinner and who has experienced belief in the forgiveness of sins and in this faith is saved form his sin? One conceivable objection might be: Yes, but is it not still possible for you to be saved in some other way? But how can one reply to this? One cannot. It is just like a person in love. If someone were to say: Yes, but you could perhaps have fallen in love with another — then he must answer: To this I cannot reply, for I know only one thing, that this is my beloved. As soon as the person who is in love tries to reply to this objection, he is by that very fact not a believer.

Provocation #4

I think that there are many people, from all sorts of backgrounds, that are finding themselves at the tail end of the process given below. That is where I find myself.

The law of existence: First life, then theory. Then, as a rule, there comes still a third: an attempt to create life with the aid of theory, or the delusion of having the same life by means of the theory. This is the conclusion, the parody, and then the process ends — and then there must be new life again.

Take Christianity, for example. It came in as life, sheer daring that risked everything for the faith. The change began when Christianity came to be regarded as doctrine. This is the theory; it was about that which was lived. But there still existed some vitality, and therefore at times life-and-death disputes were carried on over “doctrine” and doctrinal formulations. Nevertheless doctrine became more and more the distinctive mark of being a Christian. Everything then became objective. This is Christianity’s theory. Then followed a period in which the intention was to produce life by means of the theory; this is the period of the system, the parody. Now this process has ended. Christianity must begin anew as life.

Provocation #3

Recently I have had more than passing thoughts about the importance (or lack thereof) of doctrine to living the life of a Christian. The tomes of theology do not seem to bring me any closer to acting on charity, compassion, mercy, justice, or love. If it is less important to pass on in-depth theology than to model the life of Christ, what then is the role of preaching to Christians? Why do Christians sit and listen to it every week?

Christ did not establish any doctrine; he acted. He did not teach that there was redemption, he redeemed. Christ’s relationship to God, nature, and the human situation was conditioned by his activity. Everything else is to be regarded only as introduction.

Provocation #1

I have been reading Provocations – spiritual writings of Kierkegaard off and on for the last 6 months (warning, PDF download). It really is provocative, and I cannot read too much at a time. The goal of much of his writing is to incite the reader to choose, and to force the reader into self-examination. This makes it a book that cannot easily be read straight through.

Kierkegaard was famous for his “Attack on Christendom” and as such, is often dismissed by modern Christians as a “non-Christian”. He is also sometimes called the father of Existentialism, although he would burn with anger if he were alive to hear it. Kierkegaarg’s central passion was to “make people aware of what is essentially Christian.” His aim was to provoke the individual to become a true individual. He did not think much of intellectual enlightenment, and rather sought to evoke inward change.

He lived in a “Christian” country, where the Church leaders were wealthy, owned land, and held political clout. People were born into church, and church was just a part of life. Everyone went to church, but it did not necessitate a change in behavior. Kierkegaard reacted to a culture that studied, lectured on, and talked about God and the Christian life, yet did not seem to imitate Christ. It is in this that I find resonance.

So I will begin posting a quote from the book, and maybe a little bit of response. Here is the first:

This is Christianity: Let a person begin seriously to realize his need for Christ. Let him literally give all his fortune to the poor, literally love his neighbor, and so forth, and he will soon learn to need Christ. Christianity is a suit that at first glance seems attractive enough, but as soon as you actually put it on — then you must have Christ’s help in order to live in it.

Who says?

I have had a link to Confessions of a Christian Agnostic up on the links list (used to be under friends we don’t know), but I have never referenced it directly. I do so now. But before that, I will bring your attention to the other links up there: SoMA Review, Bad Christian,and Orion. These are all publications of a sort that reject the form of church and Christianity that spatters our world and culture today. Of the four, Christian Agnostic is the most encouraging, and the least feisty. In a way, that means it is the best for me. I can read it every day without getting all worked up. It is a calendar of little essays (I really cannot stand the term devotional) that brings one back to the basics of faith by questioning the things we have accepted as part of our faith. It is a good daily reminder of what this whole thing is about. By “whole thing” I mean life, not church or Christianity. Orion on the other hand, tends to get me a little riled, and makes me want to jump to action, which is usually a good thing, but sometimes just frustrating. Here are a few of that type of article: What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation and The War on Common Sense.

These sites appeal to me because I question the foundations (walls, towers, keep, dungeons) of church. I find myself questioning everything. Some questions are the usual “Why do we worship like this?” type, while others are a little more pointed like “Why is spiritual leader an occupation?”, “Is theology important to faith?”, “Why can’t someone ‘become’ a Christian without praying?”, and “Can someone be a Christian without knowing what a Christian is?”

I love the people, it is the shadows on the wall that I doubt. I have seen so many different shadows on that wall, but nothing quite lives up to real life spirituality hinted at by Jesus, and sometimes felt in nature. I don’t just want to escape to reality, I want everyone to join me there. Anyone willing?

Credit for the words that fit my questions goes to this piece from Simon Cozens

Role reversal

After having my shoes off since around April, I am now putting them on the other feet. I am heading up missions at our church and I am charged with writing policy. I am somewhat of a skeptic, and policy always has a nasty ring to it. Those that I looked up seem to have a goal of objectivity, and aim to make missions a structured program, manned by elected committee members and approved by the Board. Very democratic, and stuffy.

Many of you out there have either experienced missions, or have participated in policy creation. Is there a way that policy can be written that is flexible, uses ad hoc groups of people to get the man work done, and is focused on enabling people to do what needs to be done? Is there a precedent for a living policy that can be easily changed by the people who perform the actions that are guided by the policy? I want people to feel more empowered than constrained, and I want it to be easy to use resources to help others quickly. Agile would be the word.

Provocation #23

Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important – precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actu- ally involved with God – for this one single human being is enough.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard