Jul 19, 2012

Would You or Your Church Do This? Graceless

In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith tells of how he was asked to speak at a conference on spiritual formation. Many key denominational leaders would be present. He says:

"As I flew to the meeting my excitment increased. I met a dear man at the baggage claim area who drove me to the hotel where our daylong workshop was held. I went into the ballroom with my briefcase in hand, eager to begin teaching. The room was filled with over sixty key leaders from around the United States. If these men can get a passion for this, their whole church could catch a new fire, I thought to myself. One of the leaders of the denomination introduced me, and I stepped to the podium with energy. I shared a funny story, and the room seemed to relax. Then I launched into my main discussion and made the following statement: 'God has offered us many different means of grace--prayer, solitude, silence, the Bible, fasting and many others--in order to deepen our relationship with God, and to develop the character of Christ so that we can live vibrant lives with God and make a difference in our world.'

This was my well-crafted opening. It was also the end of my rapport with this audience. I later learned that they ardently and fervently believe that God has given the church only two means of grace--baptism and Communion. All of the activities I mentioned (prayer, Bible reading, solitude) are not considered means of grace. My tradition (Methodism), and all of the others I had ever spoken to, freely uses that term to describe those activities. But I had never been informed about their position on the issue. All I knew was that the audience was quickly going from concerned to hostile.

I had almost no eye contact within a minute of that opening sentence. Within fifteen minutes I saw heads shaking in disagreement. Thirty minutes into the talk a man actually stood up, turned his chair around, and sat with his back turned to me. He could have actually left the room (three men did that at about the forty-five minute mark), but he wanted to make a public proclamation of his disgust. I had violated a sacred principle; I had unknowningly taken a theological position that was contrary to theirs. I was wrong, in their eyes, about the use of a phrase, and they needed to shame me publicly."

Smith  goes on to say that he took a break and then was asked not continue the conference. He flew home immediately.

Sadly, I know of churches and denominations and people who would do the same.

Jul 12, 2012

Nouwen on Christian Leaders and the Temptation to be Relevant

These are Henri Nouwen's words from his book, In The Name of Jesus. It is a book for Christian leaders.

"Jesus' first tempation was to be relevant, to turn stones into bread . . . . Aren't we priests and ministers called to help people, feed the hungry, and to save those who are starving? Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren't we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of turning stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4) . . . .

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world . . . . And the cry that arises from behind all of this . . . is clearly: "Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anyone who can give me a sense of belonging?

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.

Jul 7, 2012

Do We Leave Casualties?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33


Some of us have suffered tremendously. Others not so much, at least not comparably. But do we ever ask ourselves how much suffering we've caused others? Have we left a trail of casualties littering the landscape behind us as we move forward? Though many speak well of us, are there some who think we are one of the cruelest people in the world, negligent, naive, or else one of the biggest hypocrites?

Biting remarks, lack of sensitivity, failure to seek forgiveness, neglect of those closest to us, an over-arching blindness to our own sins and the ability to point them out in others, are all examples of things that induce suffering.

Life is hard, even for believers. Jesus said that we have trouble in this world. The thing is, for those of us who seek to follow on the heels of Jesus, we need to take care that we are not adding to the trouble. We must overcome evil with good and reconcile with those we hurt--if possible.

May we not add to the evil or trouble already in the world. May we not be stubborn or hard hearted, or as the Exodus says, "stiff-necked." Let us stop blaming others and accept responsiblity for our part in others' suffering.