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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is "Missional" Church?

If they do not challenge me about the term "postmodern" then they challenge me about the term "missional." I can see them even before I finish my opening prayer or introduction. They have questions, they've heard the terms, and they are here to listen to me give them answers. They leave disappointed...anyone who's ever heard me lecture or preach knows I don't give answers...it's kind of "my thing." I embrace questions, ambiguity, and curiosity..."answers" seem to be anathema to all three...so I try not to do answers in theology...(I have two teenage daughters, however, and there's lots of answers in those relationships!)
Within minutes the hands are raised, the question asked, the laptop ready to synchonize the answer...(that never comes...but they don't know that right away...the questioner usually spends a few minutes typing before he or she realizes the only important thing they've noted is to "Get milk" on the way home from class...) It's gotten to the point now where I have started a book on the term "missional." ("Postmodern" is a hopeless cause...Good luck to those who try that one!)
But here's the thing I have about missional...it is so contextual as to be almost unique...("miraculous" in a Humean--from David Hume, the 18th Century British philosopher) so as to be unrepeatable in the science labs of congregations. As I learned from Karl Popper (a 20th Century German who lived in Australia and Britain philosopher---) if you can't verify it, you really can't call it science. Therefore, since so much of the missional church movement is not verifiable outside of its own peculiar context, those of the academy (and those wishing to be academic) will have a tough time with it...since context makes up the pasture in which the mission grows, what happens in Bismarck does not relate necessarily to Sydney, Australia or to Mumbai, India, Crawfordsville, Indiana, USA or even Mandan (which is across the river from Bismarck!)
Basically all this "missional" stuff is a little bit narcisstic in that it looks in the mirror and says "What have we done that no one else can do, even if they want to, because they don't live here?" This provisional and relative nature of missional theology and congregations will not lead to heavily footnoted articles and books...it will lead to blogs with ellipses and lectures...but that won't pass ATS accreditation. One can receive a "doctorate" in missional ministry simply by being an attentive and caring neighbor...and wow does that drive the folks mad back at the school and universities...here's when I knew I wouldn't make a good academic; or, when I knew for sure that I was doing something else with my ministry than what I was in the process of being trained for...
Someone told me once that no one in a "parish" needs Athanasius. His sermons were too hard to understand. I was ticked...(by the way, your googling should be off the charts right now with Hume, Popper,and Athanasius)...Athanasius never preached a sermon to someone who understood how a combustible engine worked (it wouldn't be developed for another 1400 years!)...never preached to a person who ran a telephone, a computer, a vacuum cleaner, or a tractor. So how come people who never did those things could understand his sermons, and my parishioners could not? Was it harder to be a merchant 1400 years ago than today? I don't think so...It was either arrogance or sheer arrogance or laziness on the part of preachers to believe that Athansius was to difficult to understand...Athanasius believed context mattered, not only for us, but for God...that's why God became human...God had a mission in a context...we Christians call it "the Word made flesh..." the world calls it Christmas...now, I ask you, was that too hard? Although to be missional is to be contextual and to be contextual is to be missional...there is a difference (you knew this was coming), and it has to do with the cross on which Jesus died...oh, and Athanasius preached about that too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Death, Violence, the Cross, and Love

As the prophet Ezekiel is exhorting the folks of Israel, he writes of God, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live." Now, if we take that "anyone" to include anything as well, we hit upon the paradox that is life. In order for something to live something must die. Borrowing from its Jewish roots, Christianity hits that paradox straight on...not that the paradox is solved in Christianity, rather, options are opened for living in that paradox.
First, some people and things don't mind death. The paradox loses most of its power as a paradox if death is seen as inevitable, glorious, or the way to win the game. At some point you have to love living and fear death in order for the paradox to have any power in your life, and the way you live. Christianity is for those people...people who don't fear death don't have much need for a God who dies...
So, if you are one of those people who love living and fear dying, Christianity may be the religion for you...and here's the point...are you going to resort to violence in order to love living and fear dying? (Most of us do, my favorite being the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," where it is always about blood because, as a vampire says, "It carries life.") So we inflict violence on others in order to live, or even ourselves in order to die well...and the violence is death magnified, but all death is violent, even if graceful or peaceful...We are awash in "blood violence" these days, as if talking to your enemy is weak, compromise is failure, and only strength, death to enemies, war, and torture allow us to keep breathing...or at least keep the fear of death somewhat submerged...But the cross of Christ does have something to say here...
It says violence is real, but God's love is more real. Violence says "No!" and the cross of Christ says "Yes!" to loving to live. Violence is a part of everything, but the cross reminds us violence is not "the final solution." You see, for Christians the cross is not the end of the story of Jesus Christ, but rather its beginning...loving life without violence, without death, without another cross...As a paradox dying to live and living to die is not meant to be solved, probably not meant to be enjoyed either...maybe endured, maybe fighting against it, maybe loving what you can...maybe trusting a God?...Who once upon a time died to give life...paradoxical as it may be.