Archive for the ‘church’ Category

So, you think you want to be in ministry?

Every year, one topic comes up in the ministry I work in: changes and the future. Granted, they’re teenagers so many of them don’t have much Past to work with yet. But, they spend a huge amount of time worrying about and planning  out their futures during their junior and senior years of high school.  There is no explaining to them that they cannot determine every single thing that’s going to happen for them for the rest of their lives. They believe, completely, that deciding what college or other path they’re going to take after high school is the last and biggest decision of their lives. (really, it’s pretty much the first, big decision they have ever had to make, but hey, they think they’re going to be old when they’re 28, too.)

So, Nick the Geek from the Stuff Christians Like blog came up with this quick, little ministry compatibility test to determine what type of ministry God’s going to call them into…because all youth group kids have to go into vocational ministry, donchaknow. Check it out.

Brownie Brainwashing- the Girls Scout kind, not the chocolate kind

My daughter is nine years old. She the youngest of our tribe, and the only girl. So, we’re doing a few things for the first time although it’s our fourth child.

This year she joined Girl Scouts. The boys didn’t like Boy Scouts. They said it was too much like school. But she seems to enjoy her time there. At least so far-she’s gone three times. And, technically, she’s a Brownie; somehow you have to be a little magical cleaning helper fairy when you’re to young to be an actual Girl Scout. And I have to pause a minute and say that I would really appreciate if she’d turn into a little magical cleaning helper fairy for a day or two!

The second meeting she attended was the Brownie Investiture Ceremony. I was required to attend. I was not happy about it.

I like to make up more telling names for things, so the “Investiture Ceremony” quickly became known at home as The Indoctrination. That name didn’t last long because the next one was so much better: Brownie Brainwashing.

On a Monday night at 6pm, we went to the meeting.  She skipped, I trudged. We went in the room and I was handed a pin and given the instruction to “pin your daughter when it’s time.” I sat down and joked with the Dad sitting next to me about the amount of blood we were supposed to draw and wondered how exactly I was supposed to know it was time. Other parents milled around trying to find seats. Younger siblings kept themselves entertained by annoying their parents. Then the lights dimmed and the Brainwashing commenced.

First the girls entered with battery operated candles unlit. They walked to one of the troop leaders who twisted the candle to the “on” position, then the ten or so girls stood in a line facing their parents. Frankly, after watching the line I completely understood the wisdom of the battery operated candle light. Too many girls would have either been in the local burn unit, or at best been at the local Supercuts. Then the indoctrinees recited a story, moving down the row from one to the next. I think there was a mix-up because we heard the same part of the story four or five times before we moved on. Maybe they just wanted us to be really clear on that section? At any rate, as soon as they finished the story each girl went up, the leader spun them around saying “Twist me turn me show me the elf. I looked in the water and saw myself” at which point our children would look into a mirror on the floor, and, I suppose, turn into some little housecleaning fairy-elf as the story suggested. Each child took a turn at that and, when they looked up from becoming an elf, it was time. For each of the girls, a parent magically appeared to pin them and affirm their newfound elfhood. Surprisingly, no one seemed creeped out by the idea that their child had just willingly turned herself into an elf.

After the pinning, the girls participated in what the leader called a “friendship circle” in which they told eachother one thing that happened during their week. When everyone was done the leader said a few words, then the group squeezed hands and was released into housecleaning fairy land

And after all the girls succumbed, they were rewarded with cake and punch.

And by the end, I was not nearly so skeptical or annoyed.  Let me explain why:

Every Sunday, I go to church. I arrive in a flurry of people sitting down, socializing and joking a little before the lights dim and the service starts. Then a few people file up front to say, sing or do something. Often I’m asked to repeat what they say, sing or do. I listen, sometimes to a story but more often to a sermon. Then, on the forst sunday of the month, I’m offered communion-a ceremony in which I get to participate individually, but among a larger group of people. Then, we sing again and the pastor says a few words. After which we share some coffee and doughnuts.

Sound familiar?

I made a  couple mental notes for myself about it.

One was that this ritual speaks to people-our liturgical service elements weren’t developed only by human ingenuity, but also with spiritual guidance. Unknowingly, the girls scout troop picked up and developed a ceremony out of several offered elements that echoed those same liturgical elements, even down to the order. As far as I know, none of the brownie troop leaders picked up a Sunday bulletin from our church and said, “Hey, here’s a great model for our brownie brainwashing ceremony.” Which qualifies that as a Creepy God Thing to me. There is something in the make up of people, at least those in my corner of the world, that connects with that particular kind of ceremony.

The second was about my own attitude, and, potentially it’s an attitude a few others may share. I don’t feel anything close to warm and fuzzy about institutional religion, but I love my church family. I went to Brownie Brainwashing with a lousy attitude about how institutions manipulate their members. I feel the same way about churches/denominations/religions, even though I’m involved in it. I think a lot of people may fear that same idea of mass manipulation happening in church. I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t happen; it does.

On the other hand, just by holding a lousy attitude toward the brownie thing, I’m seeing something in it that the leaders did not put there. The women responsible for that ceremony were going for a touching, inclusive event that the girls would remember. They made a rite of passage that had the power to create a bond between the members through the memories of a shared experience. They did it with honesty and caring for the girls. I think most local churches are coming from a similar place of honesty and good intentions, but those of us who fear and resent institutional manipulation don’t broaden our minds to accept that what is being offered has intrinsic value that goes beyond human. That the ritual itself, that thing that makes church feel most churchy, is the place where the most treasured parts of what draws a person to a spiritual life reside. We miss out on that because we see only the trappings, or are uncomfortable with the words, or the unfamiliarity. But the people who make up that church aren’t doing it to manipulate people, they’re doing it to create a space for God to connect with us and for us to connect with each other.

I’d like to propose a sensitivity from both inside the church regarding the fears and negativity those who aren’t involved in churches may bring to the table, and from those who have had difficulties embracing the Church to allow for the idea that the people in the church are just people who are trying to make some space for God without harming or dictating to anyone in the process. (and since I’m on both sides, I’m asking more of myself than anyone else)

God’s dreams

Does God dream? Church folks talk about His plans for them, but I can’t remember anyone talking about His dreams. Not for their lives, nor for the world. In fact, I can’t remember anyone ever saying “God dreamed….” or “in God’s dreams”. Why is that?

Presumably, if we dream and we’re made in God’s image, God would have to have a concept of dreams. And, if God can create the world with such enormous variety and intricacy, can’t he dream of it all before that? Or of what it could become after His creation. Did He dream of a relationship with Adam and Eve that they rejected. Can God dream, when He is omniscient? Or does his omniscience negate the possibility of His dreaming?

So, if he dreams and he can dream a life for each of us, do we intuitively know that dream as children? (and how come we translate it as “I want to be a Fireman?”) How do we let God’s dreams for us get crowded out by the world’s messages that our dreams aren’t “good enough”? How can a person hear God when His voice and His dreams are shoved aside by our own weaknesses? What can we do to break the mental chains that stop us from dreaming God’s dreams, and reduce us to the dreams we can only come up with in our own minds? Why would we want to limit ourselves that way? If we see the human dreams as ego-massaging, maybe God’s dreams for us assume that we understand our relationship to Him through Jesus? Then I guess I can see how pitiful we’d have to be to want the power, recognition or whatever else people feel like they need from other people when God is already offering to fulfill all the needs they have. I can’t imagine how we could let ourselves be reduced to the smallness of a human imagination when we have access to the creativity of God.

Do we resent the dreams God has for us? Maybe they’re not as glitzy as the ones we have? If the dreams we have from God look like less but we follow through on them, maybe they will, ultimately, be more fulfilling than the glitzy, Hollywood dreams we think we want when we start out. Why is fame so attractive and obedience not? What will it get us-we crave being known but who can really be sure they are known once they start down a path that’s not true to their soul? It’s just not worth it

Drop the chains and Dream Big.

When is a Frog not a Frog?

The Space trilogy by C.S. Lewis. I’ve read them before; a long time ago and had forgotten how much I like them. I’m through Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I really love Perelandra, but I was talking to a friend who said he prefers Out of the Silent Planet by a longshot over the other two. To each his own, right?

I’m not sure why these books aren’t as popular as some of this others- Not the Chronicles of Narnia because they have that appeal to children, along with adults. These are definitely more adult oriented, but they also combine Christian philosophy within the story. Perelandra in particular is a largely about a faith struggle, so it lends itself to considering the puzzles of living in the shadow of the Fall.

The other writer I’ve enjoyed that has the same manner of writing the argument into a fictitous setting, is Brian McLaren. The difference with his works that are written that way is that the story’s purpose is the philosophical discussion whereas Lewis’ writing is a story that, by it’s nature, has to wrestle with the grander questions. Making assumptions would take away from his story.

Out of the Silent Planet is an action movie. Quick moving, lots of input, lots of characters to draw the readers’ attention. Perelandra is, I’d guess purposely, the opposite. Few characters, lush descriptions, little sense of physical danger excepting one section. There’s a last book (it is a trilogy after all) but I’m not through it yet, so that review will have to wait.

What Lewis really does well, as far as Story goes, is that he understands that the conventional assumptions we make can be challenged in the context of the Story intself. It’s not necessary to pull the questions out of the context, like we usually do in children’s Sunday School classes up through the adults’ sermons and lectures. If the Story has something to say, Lewis seems able to tease it out within the story itself. He doesn’t treat his readers with condescention, as if they are unable to figure out the point; so often we feel like we have to explain the story. If the story is worthwhile, can’t it stand by itself? Why do we feel such a need to dissect it and pull out the innards? Do you remember in High School Biology when you dissected a frog? it was a frog, but then those kids tear it to shreds and, really, if anyone took a look at what was left afterward, how many would know that it had started as a frog? How would our audiences know there was ever a Story there to begin with, if we insist on deconstructing it to prove our point? Sometimes, when you kiss a frog you get a Prince-what if we dissected the wrong frog?

 

things that make you go “hmmm”

“Of note in Barna’s research is that a church’s size and theology seems to be related to its use of technology. Simply put, smaller churches tend to use less tech than larger churches, and theologically liberal churches tend to use less tech than the more theologically conservative. Interesting.” from Ed Setzer.com

yeah, interesting.