Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Acting for Life

February 5, 2018

Each year there is a massive rally in Washington DC and all around the United States on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country 45 years ago.  And every year, despite thousands and thousands of protestors nationwide, the national press is by and large silent on it.  Certainly far more silent than it was about the Women’s March last year, despite that march having very little cohesive purpose.  And despite presidential and vice-presidential statements of support to pro-lifers, the news media saw fit once again to by and large ignore the event.

One of the typical responses against these marches is to criticize Christians for wanting to force women to have their babies but not wanting to help these women in that process, implying that Christians don’t really care about the women, only about the baby.  Which is somehow less sensitive than caring about the woman by killing the baby.

Riiiiiggghhhtt.

But it struck me that one of the problems with this attack on the Christian response to helping women in pregnancy is that it is increasingly difficult for the Church to do this, and the source of this increasing difficulty is the very State that seems determined to maintain the status quo on abortions.  Adoptions, for instance, are a highly regulated issue it turns out.  This is good in some respects – the potential abuse of women and babies by selling babies to the highest bidder or other such exploitation demands there be some rules on what constitutes a legal adoption.  Other regulations are not helpful – demanding that adoption agencies provide adoption opportunities to any potential couple including same-sex couples – something which violates the faith basis of many Christian organizations and has resulted in actually shutting down Christian (mostly Catholic) adoption agencies that refuse to comply with such regulation.

In other words, adoption is a political issue just as much or more so than abortion.  People who want to criticize Christians for not being helpful to young mothers also want to demand Christians violate their religious beliefs to help young mothers.  Problematic at best.

The other aspect to this critique is that as church participation declines in America in favor of some vague, inactive spirituality (even Christian spirituality), many young women have no church community and are therefore lacking in resources to assist them in dealing not only with their sexual development but with unexpected pregnancy.  I’d like to think that a congregation would try to help a member who found themselves in such a situation, though I’m sure many congregations have been guilty rather of ostracizing and casting out the person.

I pray that Roe v. Wade is overturned.  Sooner rather than later.  I pray that everyone will come to understand that freedom which requires the death of the most vulnerable can hardly be thought of as a freedom.  But discussion also needs to focus on how much State regulation actually prevents Christians from doing what their critics chastise them for not doing.

 

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Good Listening

January 15, 2018

Sunday Evening Happy Hour continues to grow into an eclectic gathering of people.  In addition to 20-something college graduates planning the next phase of their lives we have other people from the community.  One such category is people we know through the home school community.  Another is colleagues and work-mates of the people who have come to call Sunday nights at our house home.

A few weeks ago we had a co-worker of one of our regulars come.   She was surprised that it was mostly people younger than her, and while she seemed a bit awkward about this initially, I was able to sit with her and have an extended discussion that covered a lot of ground about her life.  And last night we had a young woman who works at the local hospital and is pursuing a career as a doctor come after many months of invitations by another of our regulars.  By the end of the night she told her friend I want to come back here every week!  She met some new people, played games around the table with the group that includes our kids, undoubtedly got drawn into some conversations, and of course marveled at the wonder that is our oldest son’s popcorn.  Mostly I hope she found a place where she didn’t need to prove anything, she could just be.

I guess I can understand the appeal.

Over the past two years we’ve also regularly had the international students who live with us participate in these events, and my family is always excited when they do.  Some of course have robust social lives of their own during their stay in our town, but others are on the quieter side and are often home on Sunday nights.  The Japanese girl who lived with us since September was a regular attender.  She got to experience American food and drinks, listened in on a wide-ranging spectrum of conversations and had the opportunity to ask questions as well as share about how things work in her country.  She also witnessed a very emotionally-charged theological discussion, and hopefully got a glimpse of how Christians try to make sense of the Bible in their lives and communities.  Coming from Japan she described herself as a nominal Buddhist, but like many young Japanese we’ve met, she really doesn’t know or understand much about Buddhism beyond the ritual level.  She goes to the temples or shrines on certain occasions, reflexively engages in motions of gratitude, but doesn’t have any real connection to the why of these things.  But as she lived with us and experienced larger community on Sundays, she at least saw that Christians her age are looking for ways to truly connect what they believe with how they live.  Not always perfectly, and certainly not always in harmony, but still searching.

But she’s no longer living with us.  And last night we had a new student with us – a 68-year old woman from Brazil.  She’s never been to the United States before.  Or Europe.  Or even anywhere outside of her home country.  She lives in a small town (8000 people if we understand her correctly) deep in the heart of the country and teaches English there.  Her accent is thick and it requires careful listening to understand her at times.

So in the swirl of people and laughter, eating and music and games, she sat on our couch with my wife, and they talked.  One of our regulars stopped me at one point and pointed.  She’s really good at that! I smiled and nodded.  She meant how my wife could sit and patiently listen and seek to understand and be understood with another person despite significant language and cultural hurdles.

Another regular told my wife later I don’t see how you can do that.  I don’t have the patience for that.  I used to, but I don’t any more.  It’s an honest statement.  While most people would like to believe that they are good listeners who are willing to take the time to successfully hear and be heard, the reality is that most  people aren’t.  It’s hard work.  It takes time.  It can be painstakingly slow progress at times.

But there is also the issue that many people come to conversation primarily for what they can say, and less so for what they might hear.  It’s not as though they have a pre-formulated agenda of topics they want to discuss (although some people definitely do that!).  But once a conversation begins to circle around a particular topic, they organize their thoughts, opinions, experiences, sift through them for the ones they think are most pertinent, and then wait for the first opportunity to insert them into the conversation.  These are not bad or rude people, but I think it’s how we’re culturally formed – particularly these days when we’re used to just shouting out our ideas at random people on bumper stickers, tweets and status updates.  We listen more selectively, and unfortunately I think more shallow-ly.  When we have time or inclination.  And even then we don’t necessarily listen (and are not necessarily required to listen based on the types of pronouncements people make), but scroll through rapidly.  Perhaps looking for something interesting that we can respond to.

These dynamics become clearer when dealing inter-culturally and through language barriers.  If the goal is to say what I want to say, such conversations rapidly lose appeal because the odds of me being able to say what I want to say and have it be understood quickly are pretty slim.  The emphasis is more heavily on the listening component because I can’t assume that I will or have heard the other person correctly.  And then I have to listen again to ensure that they’ve heard and understood me.  I have to study facial expressions and body language to help clue me in, since nobody (regardless of culture!) likes to look foolish or stupid and so we tend to nod our heads as though we understand even when we don’t.

But I think the same dynamics are often at play conversationally with people who speak the same language.  Some people like to talk.  Other people prefer to listen.  Relationship happens when these dynamics balance out, and that can take a long time – months or even years – to happen.  One of our regulars said to me the other day (after attending regularly for the past year or more) I don’t think I’ve ever really talked with you.  I don’t really know you at all.  But I’d like to.  I nodded and smiled.  They’re a talker and I’m a listener.  But given the proper time and space and motivation, our natural bents can be moderated.  Talkers can (and do want to!) listen.  And yes, listeners can (and do want to!) talk.  It might take a long time for those variations in personality to be identified and then consciously altered to accommodate the other, but they can be.  Deeper relationship can form.

But it takes patience on everyone’s part, and part of Christian community’s purpose is to be a place where patience as well as intentionality is modeled.  Where people can see when someone is really good at something, and then recognize that perhaps it’s an area they can work on in their lives, or at least praise and encourage other people in.  Listening is hard for some people.  Just like talking is very hard for me.  But together, each can learn and better appreciate the other and what they have to offer.  That’s part of the heart of Christian community, and an important witness to a world around us.

Advent Lessons

December 12, 2017

Advent.  Adventus.  Coming.

These words are my stock and trade this time of year.  This is the Christian life in general, but in Advent we focus on this reality.  We are a people who are waiting and anticipating  a coming, an arrival, a return.  We all nod in agreement.  We’ve been through this before.  Sometimes for years and years and decades and decades.  This is who we are, yes.  This is what we do, yes.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

But sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – this feels perfunctory to me.

Yes, come Lord Jesus come.  But in the meantime, I have presents to order and bills to juggle during the Christmas season.  I have obligations at work and the additional obligations of social functions and other activities after work.  I have children who want to hang Christmas lights outside and a tree to purchase for inside.  I wait but I forget that I’m waiting because there is so much to be done.  And while the reality of my waiting does impact not just what I do but how I do it, at times the anticipation factor seems very, very muted.

But I’ve learned a lot about waiting this Advent.  More perhaps than ever before.  In the last week and a half our part of the country has been ravaged by fires.  They seemed to erupt all at once, in multiple places throughout the southern and central portion of our state.  Power outages and fast moving flames created an uneasy tension and fear.  How far would the fire spread?  While other fires around the state were quickly contained, the one nearest us raged on, growing to the fifth-largest in state history and threatening multiple communities, including our own.

For the last week and a half I’ve fumed in frustration trying to find reliable and updated information to keep my family informed as well as my congregation.  There have been discussions with my wife and family about what-if scenarios.  Every night and morning I’m scanning multiple sites to try and cobble together a picture of the situation.  I want to ensure that my parishioners and my family are as safe and informed as possible.  It’s easy to get lost in an emergency and panic.

I know what waiting feels like.  Waiting for news updates.  Waiting for reliable information.  Waiting to hear if someone in the affected areas is safe.  Every day is shaped by the reality of wanting to know the best information and make the best choices possible.  Every day is marked by wanting to be prepared.  I don’t know if the fire will come, but I know it might and I want to be ready for it.

Advent.  Adventus.  Coming.

How much I have to learn still about waiting for my Lord.  Craving his Word each day as the guiding power that sustains and centers me, allowing me to make wise decisions and good choices.  How gracious He is in leading and teaching me, calling me day by day always back to his promises and his Word, always waiting for me to remember what I am waiting for.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

Sundays Continue

December 2, 2017

Tomorrow night is uncertain as to what it will hold.  This is typically the case, but moreso tomorrow.

Some of our core group is leaving.  The two young women instrumental in getting out the first invitations over a year and a half ago are both in the process of moving away.  One will leave in just over a week.  The other will likely be gone sometime early next year.  Others have become regulars in the meantime but it’s sad to see our first participants leaving.  It will be interesting to see how dynamics shift.

One of the young men who has been coming more regularly in the past couple of months told us last week that his parents would be visiting town this week, and he planned to come with them as well as his girlfriend, whom we haven’t met yet.  It was a bit of a surprise.  He’s a quiet guy, and he’s been difficult to get a good read on as to why he comes.  So to hear that he’s inviting all these other people in his life is both a bit surprising as well as good to hear.  Apparently it’s something he wants to share with them, and I trust that’s a good thing.

We still have an occasional visitor from the home schooling community, and she has invited another family we don’t know to come.  Who knows when they will actually show up, but Murphy’s Law would dictate it will be tomorrow night in the midst of a swath of other first-timers!  I think there are a few other home-school parents my wife knows that would like to come, particularly this time of year when Christmas and family and traditions begins to stir memories in people.

I have to be patient.  I’d like this to be a time of talking about Big Things, about intersecting theology and daily life, philosophy and culture and all the things that get my intellectual juices percolating.  But I try to tell myself that this will come in time.  Gradually, perhaps.  Or perhaps never.  Perhaps what this will become is “only” what it already is – a place of welcoming and belonging.  A place that people want to show to others, if only briefly and for reasons we may not ever fully have articulated to us.

I suppose that’s OK.  In a culture where we’re taught to fear one another and stepping on toes it’s important to have a place where you know your acceptance isn’t dependent on ideological agreement.  A place where the love of Christ is tangible and palpable before issues of doctrine come in to play.  Because if we can’t love one another, the doctrine’s lose almost all of their power and purpose.

Growing Community

November 10, 2017

This past Sunday’s Happy Hour was considerably less volatile than the previous week.  The young woman who walked out the week before did not come.  I hope that there will be a chance to talk about things soon.

My wife has found a growing curiosity in our home school community about our Sunday evening gathering.  One mother and her son have visited several times over the past few months.  This last Sunday she brought her husband with her as well.  She’s also told another family – a Christian family – about our gathering and they intend to come this Sunday.  The quest for community takes on many shapes and forms.

We’ve also now experienced the first additions to the gathering of potential dating partners.  One of the young men has brought a girl twice now that he has been on at least two dates with.  To me, that’s rather amazing.  I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to bring a potential (or actual) girlfriend with me to a gathering of this sort.  The potential fallout if things didn’t work out would have been intimidating to me.  So we’re glad he feels comfortable enough to bring her.  She’s a very nice young woman who teaches here in town.  My wife and I have both had the chance to talk with her somewhat one-on-one.  It will be interesting to see if things work out between the two of them!

 

Exhausted

October 30, 2017

I am.

The last of our guests left five minutes ago.  As my wife prepares for bed I have to take a second to try and process, but there’s too much.  A wonderful mixture of familiar faces and one new one tonight.  And then a multi-hour discussion that spanned the authority of Scripture, the roles of men and women here and now in a fallen world in Christ, and the pain of feeling marginalized as a woman in a male dominated world.

We covered immense theological and emotional terrain.  Tempers flared.  Tears flowed.  Many stood and listened without actively engaging.  By and large people hung into the discussion, but not everyone could or would.  My prayer at the end of the night, as I articulated to one of our recent regulars, is that Satan not be allowed to drive wedges and discord through theological wrestling.  That the relationships that have been built and the community that has formed over the last year and a half would not simply endure, but strengthen and deepen and thrive.  If we can’t struggle with the Word of God as it applies to our lives here and now, what hope is there for any reality of Christian community?  And if this can’t be a place where people can bare their hearts and know that even when they don’t hear what they want to hear they are still loved, then it doesn’t really have a purpose at all.

I think things will be OK.  For most of us at the very least.  For all of us I pray.  And in the meantime, sleep.

Intergenerational

October 23, 2017

I frequently lament – and testily disagree with – our Church culture (maybe it’s yours too?) that stresses and exalts youth and young people.  It struck me that in some ways it’s like only wanting to talk about Jesus as a baby.  Youth, the future, it’s so beautiful and innocent.  It’s also not very challenging.  It doesn’t demand that you do what it wants, the way it wants.  It demands accommodations, but leaves  us in large part in control of things.

Jesus didn’t stay a baby and it’s interesting we know so little about his youth.  We are led to move beyond the wistful hopefulness of gazing at a helpless baby and impossibly young parents, to being challenged to discipleship by a fully-grown Lord and Savior.  It’s easy to simply focus on Christmas and disregard Lent and Easter.  Many Christians do exactly this, and it’s undoubtedly as ill-fitting and misguided as trying to orient a congregation to lure in young people who will stay and propagate and continue the congregational life.

Last night we had another great Happy Hour.  Several new people in the mix.  A musician from our congregation, laboring to hash out a jazzed-up version of A Mighty Fortress on saxophone with an acoustic guitarist.  A potential love-interest for one of our regulars.  A couple from our congregation who visited once a long time ago but, despite their own work with college-aged people for years – have insisted that they’re “too old” to come and hang out.

I got to have conversation with a couple of the guys.  One talking about his relationship status (or lack thereof).  Another curious about the fascination with Christian community that has driven my wife and I all our lives together.

We have a strange and I suspect unusual dynamic on Sunday nights.  Our house has become home to these dozen or so people.  They don’t worry about knocking or ringing the door bell.  They come right in and know they’re welcome.  They bring their friends, roommates, co-workers, and potential love interests.  They add their gifts of food and beverages to the mix and find their seat at the table to join in the next round of whatever game is being played, or wander out back to talk by candlelight, or find a seat off to the side waiting to see who wanders over for quieter discourse.

While my wife and I are well-acquainted with college and young adult ministry, the last time we were actively involved in it we were a lot closer to their age.  Now we’re not.  We’re more like parents.  But sufficiently different.  Different enough that they feel comfortable to be – at least as I imagine it – themselves.  Who they are right now, with these people, in this stage of life.  They don’t have to adopt or fall back into the familiar roles and rituals of being son or daughter at home.  They’re just Derek or Kenny or Brooke at our house.  They can be the adults they are becoming with adults who don’t have preconceived notions or hopes about who those adults should be.  It’s a different conversational dynamic, a different dynamic of identity.

They often talk about how much they value not just being around my wife and I as people their parent’s age, but how they also enjoy hanging out with our kids as adopted, much younger siblings.  And they also have voiced how they appreciate having others who are even older attending and hanging out.  Gleaning perspectives and insights from those who are much further down the path of life than the rest of us.

I wonder how many opportunities and options there are for this sort of dynamic.  Without the power dynamics inherent at work or school.  Just people of different ages and backgrounds gathering together with the understanding that everyone there wants to be there, and wants good things for themselves and the others.  A place where the peace of God the Holy Spirit in Christ flows underneath us like an underground river that occasional surfaces in song or theological discourse.  Something we all at one level or another float along on or dip our feet and toes into, even though our doctrinal understandings might be more fluid than the Holy Spirit himself.

It reminds my wife and I of L’Abri, which has served as an inspirational lighthouse of sorts as we seek to navigate the sometimes treacherous coastlines of Christian community in various incarnations.  I still draw great insights from reading Francis Shaeffer’s works (book review soon to come).  I don’t know if our following along side his footsteps will ever develop into anything quite so formal as his teaching and lecture sessions, I believe that God the Holy Spirit is at work in our informal Sunday evenings, and pray for the guidance as to where to place our next footsteps, trusting that however that might look, it will continue to advocate for multigenerational interactions that convey the faith and refresh it regularly.  In doing so I pray we faithfully follow from the manger to the cross to the empty tomb to the Day of our Lord’s return!