Friday, June 15, 2007

Learning from Charlie

Last weekend my family adopted a dog from the county pound. Charlie is a beautiful lab mutt, with perhaps a dash of Retriever or Aussie. He is settling in nicely with our family and is proving to be a wonderful dog. But Charlie has one very strong trait – fear. The pound was such a traumatic place for him that he refused to leave his kennel voluntarily. While he warmed up to us right away, he continued to tremble with fear at each new thing. He had to be coaxed into the car, into the house, out of the house, and into any other room besides the living room. He cowers when we pass other people or dogs on the sidewalk. We don’t know his history, but there’s a very good chance that our sweet Charlie has experienced some abuse. And even though he’s safe and loved and in a caring home now, it is going to take a long time to get over those fears and learned behaviors. He might never fully get over them.

I have to admit that I really identify with Charlie. The most painful experiences of my past have left me with deep, irrational fears that lurk in places too deep to root out easily. I keep a pretty good poker face most of the time, but inside I cower and cringe and tremble on a regular basis. There are times when I want to hide my head in the pillow the way Charlie hides his face in my lap. I know that I’m safe, that I’m loved, and that I’m home. But some fears stubbornly remain.

I don’t think I’m unique in this experience. We are all formed by our past – especially by the events of our childhoods. If our trust was violated at a young age by neglect, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, or death, it can shape the very way we understand the world and all that we come to expect of it. If later events reinforce those fears (and sometimes our fearful behavior can help create repetition of those experiences), healing and freedom are even harder to come by. Often we take our fears into our relationship with God – the place where we are in fact completely safe and completely loved. Like Charlie with his new family, we cringe and cower and duck away from the loving and gentle hand of God that reaches out to care for us.

So how do we heal? Just as Charlie is noticeably more at ease after just a few days with us, I think that healing begins when we open ourselves to relationships that are loving and safe – both with others and with God. When we have experiences that dis-prove our fears, trust begins to grow there. Sometimes though, we need more than this. We need a transformation that is a healing gift of God’s grace. I think this comes to each person differently, as we journey with God. I've experienced that beautiful grace before, and as I pet Charlie's soft head I am filled with hope for all of us who are in need of God's healing care.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

GUEST POST: Not Another Starbucks...A Church by Josh Clark

I was recently viewing a website - I'm a Graphic designer by day, M.Div student by night - and I came across a church plant website that was planning on starting in September. It had that "emerging" feel (whatever that is) and so I read a bit closer. They are planning on meeting in a movie theater on Sunday mornings. The web site begins with the question, "When did church become so boring?" Interesting, I thought. It then made the suggestion that few of us like being bored, and that church has become fundamentally boring and that's why people don't want to go to it. This got my wheels turning some more.
There is a perception in the world of Evangenerica (Karlene's made up term) that in order for the Church to succeed and the Gospel to win, then the bearer of the Gospel - that is, the Evangel, and as a body, the Church - must become 'relevant' to society. Oftentimes "relevance" becomes synonymous with "entertaining." What can we do to get more butts in the seats? We get caught in conversation about whether the music is loud enough, or the lights bright enough. Or even, do we have the right glam? American evangelism has become a lot like remodeling a McDonald's. Generally, after about 10 years someone notices that the plastic seat covers are out of style, so they put together a committee of people to implement remodeling in all of their stores just in time to see the styles change once more. There are two problems here: (1) the remodel always comes too late, and (2) even with the remodel they're still serving the same crappy food!
So, we start meeting in movie theaters instead of Churches (or 'Worship Centers' as they've come to be called). We wear street clothes, and serve Starbucks, while playing Rock 'n Roll through our $100,000 sound systems. We start throwing a swear word or two into our daily vocabulary just to fit in (yeah, we're rebels). Yet, relevance should, and does, mean more than simply being more entertaining than we used to be. Church is about more than keeping people from boredom.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is about music style. What I am saying is that the relevance of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It does not live in church models, or music, or mochas. The hope and message of Jesus Christ is the food which we find nourishment and life sustainment on. Yet oftentimes we minimize it in order to be more in tune with culture. I believe that Jesus' message is relevant as read in the gospels. With a world suffering from poverty and war; striking disparity between rich and poor; homelessness, abuse, addiction, brokenness the counter-cultural message of Jesus teaches us a better way to live our lives. It is in Jesus' counter-cultural message that the Church will find relevance in a hurting and broken world. Jesus' message of love, even to the point of laying his life down for the one's he called friends, is more relevant than we can possibly imagine. We must triumph Christ's love boldly, being unashamed of his message of peace, love, compassion, and grace once more. This is our only hope in a world that already has a enough Starbucks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

French Fries and the Tension Between Freedom and Responsibility in Community

The other day we went out with some friends for ice cream. I ordered a sundae with hot fudge and caramel, my husband and daughter each ordered a blizzard. And two of our friends got a large order of hot fries with their ice cream. I wasn’t really hungry, but the entire time we were there the sight and smell of those fries was distracting me. It was all I could do to keep from ordering some for myself even though they were the last thing I needed.

I tell this story to preface some thoughts that have been stirring in my head about the place of alcohol in Christian community. Like many people I know, I was raised in the ‘all drinking is SIN’ branch of the faith and, also like many people I know, have rejected that stance for its un-biblical and un-reasonable position. Among those who condemn all drinking, I will staunchly argue against their position. But I’m feeling uneasy about a growing trend that I’ve observed in the emerging church at large, but also among my own friends – emerging or not. When shots of Jager were offered at a gathering among Christian friends recently, it really gave me pause to think. There’s just a lot of drinking going on these days, and I’m not always sure how to feel about it – especially because I am related to quite a few addicts and people with genetic predispositions for addiction, including my own daughter. I also hope that the church we are preparing to plant will be equipped for ministry among people dealing with addiction. A fellow student at my seminary has told of seeing young adults he knows developing alcoholism after becoming Christians as a result of sitting around talking about God with the beers flowing among Christian friends.

And so I am conflicted about the role and place of alcohol within the church. The power of distraction that those French fries had over me the other evening is nothing by comparison to someone struggling with sobriety in a social setting where people are drinking. Can a community that accepts a lot of social drinking be a safe place for people in recovery? I’m sure most would say that they would refrain from drinking around someone they knew to be a recovering alcoholic. But what about those among us who are addicts in denial? And what about those among us who are addicts in the making? Until we are already trapped, we all tend to carry around a sense of personal immunity to addiction. But for many people, addictions wait to manifest themselves until mid-life and it’s not easy to predict who may be susceptible.

So there is this great tension between personal freedom and social responsibility in community. I don’t know how to resolve this tension. I will not make this black-and-white when it is a gradient issue. But I think we need to be talking about this and wrestling with it, rather than running with our freedom to drink down a road with an unknown destination. Your thoughts?