Prodigal Christianity: Review

Prodigal Christianity: Review

“As we will show throughout this book, emergent and neo-reformed run on the same ‘operating system’. Although each has promised us a third way beyond the conservative-liberal theological wars, they nonetheless keep us trapped within a bygone cultural consensus of … Continue reading

Darkness before the Dawn

I has been dark for some time now. I have my belt of tools for the darkness and carry them with me: Mourning, fasting, prayer. But the night continues and I grow weary. I know that I stand in the darkness, but I am not born of it. I will not own it but I can feel it seeping into my skin even as I resist. It is difficult to believe the truth while I’m surrounded by the lies. It is hope that keeps me fighting. It is all I know to do.

Francis Scott Key wrote the star spangled banner while the American soldiers fought off the siege of the British fleet. It is the uncertainty of relief that makes the soldier’s endurance heroic. The night was dark for them as well. Dark and weary. It is not the danger that undermines their courage it is the weariness. It is the continual barrage that calls them to fight at their finest. Fight until there is no fight left. Fight either until they die or until the dawn. The fate of an entire nation held onto victory through the desperate, weather beaten fingers of a few men willing to last the night.

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My fingers are weather beaten indeed and still I grasp, though my goal is not so clear. My enemy not so defined. It is the endurance, not the action that wearies me. The night is long. And it grows darker still. How tempting it must have been for those soldiers to compromise. In the lulls between barrages of canon fire and rain, how alluring sleep would feel then! How the quiet could be mistaken for victory and the battle lost for an early finish!

The opportunity for distraction from the fight was plenty for them, just as it is for me now. There is no shortage of distractions calling me to comfort instead of rest. “Indulge the pain, indulge the weariness and then you’ll find rest”. But it is not so. On the night the soldiers fought for Ft. McHenry they slept with one eye open. And so it is in the night: We rest for the purpose of the fight, not for the purpose of comfort. The night—the deep darkness at the peak of the battle—was not made for comfort or ease for those who choose to fight. If it were, there would be no fight—there would be no conflict…no purpose.

Fight this darkness I must. Fight it, or stand in it refusing to be dissuaded from the task at hand. Though other places, other fights less dark than mine, are open to me I must stand here. Stand here now or run away forever. I am born of the light and I was not born to run away from the darkness. Even though it gets darker and thicker, the lies seem truer; I will wait.

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It is not the sound of canons or storms that the soldiers turned their ears to. It was the voice of their commander, barking above the fight. It is when the fighting is the most intense that his words are the most important. It was difficult for the soldiers to hear his voice. Was it the fear? The weather beaten minds of exhausted men? Maybe the sheer impossibility of the task overwhelmed them. Did they panic like I panic? I need to hear him speaking to me, speaking to how I need to change. No one knew that darkness could be so loud.

Only when the dawn came could Francis Scott Key look out over the harbor in Baltimore and see the flag still waving proudly, signaling the defeat of the British. The American soldier’s had victory over the night. When the fight was raging, in the darkest hours, they didn’t have the assurance of victory. In the night they only had the depth of the darkness and the hope of the dawn soon coming.

It feels as though it is getting darker. I don’t know how long this night will last. I must prepare to endure it until the very end.  I have no other choice. I’m sure the soldiers felt that way too before the end. I will do now what they must have done then. I will take hope. Dawn will come. The extent of the darkness is proof of it. Because the night always seems darkest before the dawn.

Sex and Money: Creating a culture of Giving

The Sex Taboo         images

I grew up in the kind of church where you don’t talk about sex. It wasn’t ever the elephant in the room either. It’s like no one in my church had sex. They must have all adopted their children because as far as anyone was concerned they had all, as Christians, matured out of having sex. The first hint I had of it was in youth group when they made sure to lay down the law’s concerning appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Clichéd sayings like ‘boys are blue, girls are pink—don’t make purple’ were thrown out as clever ways of talking about sex without actually talking about sex. It was well understood that sex was bad and that it was private, and the stigma and the shame is stilled carried with us today. We don’t want to talk about it.

I think that’s something I’m getting used to in Missional Community living. How open they are of talking about sex. In some ways I think they go too far. In the midst of trying to appear cool, and hip (‘cause we’re open like that) they lose the ultimate value of what sex is. However, I definitely appreciate the open candid conversations (even if a little flippant and juvenile) over the absolute silence and avoidance like that of the old church culture. That is what is so awesome about being in community. Leaders can create a culture where the difficult subjects to talk about can be talked about. We live on mission with one another, why be ashamed of what we all know is going on? Why not just get it out in the open and experience real community through intimacy? Great!

The Money Taboo

This is why the topic of money is so interesting to me. It doesn’t seem very difficult for leaders to establish a culture where people can talk openly about sex (the huge taboo topic of the old church). But when it comes to talking openly about money, how people spend it, that they should be tithing, etc…it is much more difficult to bring it to the table of the community to discuss and exhort. Instead it’s talked about (much like sex was) in back rooms and private meetings. It’s almost like people don’t have money…they don’t have problems with it, they don’t want help with it, they don’t have any to give. Money doesn’t exist in the missional communities of God.

It is not hard for me to recall the stereotyped televangelist who promised that God would make me rich if I was obedient and made him rich. And I think as leaders in the missional movement we want to avoid that image as much as possible. We see the waste of the traditional and more consumerist churches and want to stray away from it—as far away as we can, even to the point of avoiding it altogether. Members of the missional community are happy to let us avoid it too. Burnt out from televangelists and churches that mismanage money, they feel that what they give in time and other resources (food, rides, leadership) exempts them from having to give their money too.  And what about those pesky pastors who are leading the missional community but not working like the rest of us? If they want a salary to pay for their time and investment they should get a real job, instead of expecting the community to provide for them.  (so there!)

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            Leaders, uncertain how to respond, choose to keep silent rather than push the issue for fear of appearing greedy. Money should be no object in the Kingdom of God right? The problem, of course, is that it is an object. It is a tool, and if used improperly it hinders the growth of the kingdom and the believer. Leaders, then, ought to be the frame workers of this debate, inviting others into not just a culture of mission but also a culture of giving. So why is it hard for us, as leaders, to do that?

The shame and stigma around doing things for money remains. People who do things for money seem insincere or greedy in their relationships. Pastors who are asking to get support from their congregations are grouped into the greedy televangelist stereotype. They just want to serve the kingdom for money! Money management can also be a point of insecurity for the independent visionary type drawn by the missional community movement. It feels shameful to come asking for money—especially if we perceive people unwilling to give it. We’d rather just ‘grit and bare it’ than face being judged by others according to the stigma surrounding asking people for tithes or support.

The result is that when people have a need they won’t talk about it. And when no one tithes, it’s not our business to ask why. And thus money has become what sex was ten or twenty years ago: A topic instilling shame, defensiveness, and awkwardness for any who dare broach the topic in their communities. It almost seems more productive to just leave it out altogether out of fear.

As leader we need to change the narrative of our communities to be not just about serving the vision, but giving towards the vision as well. Yes we need their participation but we also need their money. The message of missional living is to become a disciple of Christ, that means to serve the community but it also means to give to the community. This means as we invite people into discipleship they should also be invited into giving (monetarily). We don’t force, there is no dues, just vision and an expressed need.

The discomfort of that sentiment is the entirety of the stigma, shame, and lies that we have adopted in our church culture coming to the surface.  The next few posts will address what I see are the main lies in an attempt to open the floor for honest reflection and discussion both on and offline.