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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. 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, July 17, 2012

Convergence Christiantiy and the Missional Church, part III

All right. We have some understanding of what I mean by missional church. (The previous two posts below will help remind you.) Now, what about this convergence Christianity? Most of its impulses I really like; its has an unused metaphor that shows great potential; and I have one prayer request as well.

The impulses of Convergence Christianity take seriously those deep principles I see in the missional Church. That "deep appreciation for the world" is at the heart of what Dr. Elnes is calling "Convergence Christianity." What is allowing Christians, God-fearers, and others to bind together is a way of being and living in the world that appreciates it for God's creation that it is. Those, for example, who put aside differences in biblical interpretation, in polity and structure, and in previous generations' animosities often find themselves working together because they appreciate the world. Working to build relationships around people who are abused, taken advantage of, or from places of systemic injustice these convergent Christians make a huge difference in how people live, and in some cases, survive. If you don't appreciate the world, it's tough to get up the energy to do that kind of work.

In order to help people clean water (Have you seen pictures of the Jordan River recently? Anybody could walk across that sludge these days.) you have to appreciate that water can be clean. You respect creatures, not only as a source of food, but also that they make our world beautiful, graceful, and elegant. I have seen a lot of hunters over the past 20 years change why they hunt. Most of us aging hunters have changed from seeing the point of hunting as "killing" to seeing the point of hunting as caring for creation. And it's the younger generation of hunters who are leading the way. Even those hunters, like Ted Nugent, for whom killing is still a visceral experience don't hunt because of that experience. They hunt for a lifestyle (more organic, closer to nature), they hunt for a religious experience (you would be amazed at the number of spiritual references there are in your average hunting magazine), they hunt because they appreciate the world. Conservation organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one of whose founders was a Lutheran pastor, work to make hunting seen as a way to appreciate the world rather than a way to degrade and abuse it. Those kinds of convergences are the future of our life together.

And convergent Christians also display a "deep trust in the power of forgiveness." Frank Schaeffer, one of the founders of the Religious Right in this country 25 years ago now regularly works from a convergent perspective. His repentance for the evils he heaped upon the world through this work as a producer of right-wing propaganda about Christianity comes from a deep trust in forgiveness. Not only that he has repented, but that others, such as Dr. Elnes who despised him at one time, will forgive. The convergent Christians I see all start out with a bit of trepidation, as they know this will not be easy, there are wrongs to apologize for, they are atonements to be made, there are words of healing that must be said. If people who hated each other are ever going to work and believe together about anything, trusting in the power of forgiveness does not seem optional.

Lastly, convergence Christianity holds to the "deep engagement with the stranger." Not everybody is going to be friends, but all strangers can have a place at the table. Maybe--down the road--you become "aquaintances" or something like that, but to engage the stranger is a key to making a difference in the lives of those who are suffering. Relationships are not about dominating a person so that they agree with you or become like you. Relationships are trusting, that even though they are not made of perfect people, they are still a more perfect way to live. My colleague Mark Davis has been taking people from his congregation down to a congregation in El Salvador for years. He notes, that now they have a real relationship. His congregation can even chastise the El Salvadoran congregation if it believes it is not holding up its end of the relationship. Conversely, the folks from El Salvador can do the same with those of Des Moines. (Mark is a teaching elder at Heartland Presbyterian Church in Clive, IA outside of Des Moines.) Mark's congregation has not become El Salvadoran any more than the Salvadorians have become Iowans...but they do have a relationship, they are companions, some are friends, but in the end they are still strangers to each other.But strangers who are engaged.

Holding onto those three principles of the missional church, I can easily see where Convergent Christianity can be a partner in the ministries that I seek to do. There is still more however...I am excited about a metaphor, and a prayer I hope convergence Christianity can live.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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