Category Archives: unlearning

ENDING POVERTY: Step 3 Sharing what is beyond sufficiency

Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!

We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!

Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 2 It is about us all learning to desire what is sufficient.

Between us and sufficiency is the word “Enough.” There is no such thing as enough – it is always a little more than what we have – so as long as we keep chasing it we never get to what really satisfies us. God promises to provide what we need, to which we say, “yes” and wink because we don’t really believe it. When we hear God say “what you need” we hear “what we want” and are secretly afraid that it won’t be “enough.”

We need to learn to desire that which is sufficient. Clearly we haven’t been good teachers or models of it for one another. We need to ask God for some direction on this.  The promise of it is that if God can quiet our drive for what we don’t have, then we may discover peace with what we do have. That in itself would be a very good thing. But it also allows us to take the next step.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 1 It’s not about everyone having more.

Prologue: Jacob’s Well, the church I serve, has  been working it’s way through a worship season called JustStart> (developed by a collaborative of people and agencies) and it has helped us learn a lot about being the church, not just having a church. I’ve been learning a lot too. The next entries are a way for me to put some of what has emerged as particularly compelling to me out for others to read, comment on, challenge, borrow, whatever.  Thanks for reading.

Poverty doesn’t end by everyone Having MORE.

When we say that the poor need more, what we tend to think is that they should have something closer to what we have. Can’t work. Thomas Friedman, in his book  Hot, Flat and Crowded, discusses a unit of measure first developed by Tom Burke,  called the ‘Americum.” It is any group of 350 million people with an average income greater than $15,000 and a growing penchant for consuming. It is an America. There are now approximately 2 Americums in the world. One in North America, and the other in Europe with some help from spots in Asia and South America. But by 2030, with economic growth and the development of a middle class around the world, Friedman tells us there will 8 or 9. The problem is that this planet doesn’t have enough resources to support that much consumption.

If the world is going to level off, it isn’t going to be at the energy intense, hyper-consumption mode we have here in the U.S. And besides the resource impossibility, if we stop and think about it we also know that it isn’t our ‘ stuff’ that fulfills our lives anyway.

This is Step 1 because it is an illusion we all just have to get over: we aren’t going to save this world by helping them become wealthy in the fashion of the west.

What is ironic is that while the earth isn’t nearly big enough for us all to share in the American dream, it is more than big enough for us all to share  in God’s dream for us. It’s time to look elsewhere for what will satisfy our and everyone else’s needs.

When you just couldn’t make it happen

I got an email from a friend who told me about a project that she had been working on. She was a little disappointed. She and others had high hopes, but it wasn’t panning out so great. To quote her,

“I’m doing my best, but it’s a big job … and I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Not for lack of trying … or dedication. It’s just a lot.”

I know her. She’s great, talented, hardworking. I believe her. I don’t think she should be so disappointed, though. We tend to think about the things we do as isolated successes or failures while most of the time they are neither. They are parts of a journey of which we know neither the true beginning nor ending. We see a little way ahead and behind us and understand our world and lives from it. God looks and works a long, long, long way further before, beyond and within what we experience.

I suppose it is impossible for us to turn off our instinct to size up and evaluate, but in truth we ought to restrain ourselves so we can be open to the journey too vast and cosmic for us to measure. We need to trust that what we do, fail to do, mess up, excel at – all of it – is something God can and will use. This is where confidence comes from: not from our ability to ‘get it done,’ but from God’s determination to make the really important stuff happen anyway.

More on Churches and Buildings

Some great comments on the last post have generated more thoughts.

Laurie, you DO make sense. Church buildings are an UnLearning issue. It is hard, and we are truly at a loss of how to operate and relate to THE church when the building isn’t there.

Monica, thanks for your thoughts too. First, this posting is meant to be an extreme statement to get us thinking, not a final and complete declaration. I would point back to Laurie’s comments though. Thinking outside the building, outside this church-box, is a hard adjustment. There are good uses and purposes of a building, but I’d challenge us to be more creative in how we meet those space needs.

Do we need to own buildings to house our presence? Can we rent, share, multi-use facilities? Cooperate with other, even non-church, organizations? There are many examples of this already. Unfortunately it is not the norm, and it is often perceived as a sign of weakness that a church borrows, rents or shares space.

Buildings tend to isolate us and separate the many Bodies of Christ from one another. We each need the ministry going on in our church. Ultimately I like the idea that we learn to head to people rather than a place when we have needs. After all, people, not places, will be how God acts sooner or later.

And face it, if I really want to go to a quiet place to meditate, I probably wouldn’t head to the kind of place we would be able to afford to do it, but would go to God’s great sanctuary out-of-doors, or to the Basilica, or maybe on the sidewalk outside our local police precinct, or the emergency entrance of HCMC anyway…

Lots of stuff to think about. Let’s be creative.

May churches build people always, and buildings when we must.

Olympic Protests or National Accountability?

Olympic Torch Protest in Paris

The protests over the Olympics have really gotten my attention.  My very first reaction was why would people mess with this wonderful tradition of the Olympics and the carrying of the torch.  I mean, what could be better than that?  But that isn’t the point, is it…  People aren’t protesting the Olympics, but they feel compelled to speak against the host country.  They are saying ‘something is rotten in Denmark’ (or China, in this case) and we can’t just say, “Rah Rah Olympics” when the host is oppressing a nation (Tibet, again, in this case).

Now I’ve no intention to comment on human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China.  But I find the idea that the world (i.e. citizens of other countries a long, long way away from them, and with little or no say in that country) feel it is within their rights, responsibilities, even duty to hold China accountable.  I realize expatriated Tibetans, who are very involved with the situation are doing a lot of the protesting, but their support comes from their new countries of residence.

One of the unhelpful responses is for us westerners to point our fingers at China and say, “Ha, teaches you right.  You are doing bad things and the world is unhappy with you.”  We are tempted to do that because China has us all scared silly with their growing muscle in the economic, research, population, manufacturing, etc worlds.  You name it, after being in the lead so long we don’t know what to do with the fact that we see a much bigger vehicle approaching quickly in our rearview mirror.

The fact is that the world is shrinking.  While the world is getting more and more sophisticated and urban anonymity is more and more available to us, we are also getting closer and closer to each other.  We have a million ways, and a million watchdogs helping us look over each others’ shoulders.  And so our noses are in each others’ business.  Rightly or wrongly… doesn’t matter.  We are doing it.

Here is the other fact, lest we be smug Americans (this could also be written for Europeans, Australians, Japanese, whoever… but I’ll let them speak for themselves).  If the Olympics were to be held in the U.S. the torch bearing would be going no more smoothly.  Can you think of any nation whose citizens wouldn’t be stopping the torch and saying, “Out of Iraq!”  or “You’re not our policeman!” or “Clean up your industry before you tell others to do it!” or “Free the detainees in Guantanamo!” or “Restore Civil Rights in your country!”

Again, I’m not endorsing those critiques (although I do have my opinions; you have to buy me a beer, not just read my blog to get those), but I am saying that the same accountability the ‘world’ is leveling at China would also be leveled against us.  And we’d have to face it.  Here’s what we can have control over… actually two things:

1. Is it a good thing?  Is this just entitled judgmentalism on a global scale?  Or is it a global conscience learning how to flex its muscle? I’d venture a guess that it is a little bit of both and that such attempts are probably the only way the global community will learn to be mature with its new found power.  Besides, its going to happen, might as well get the adolescent acne stage going so it can be over with.

2. Are we going to seek to be ‘above scrutiny’ or not?  Is there, at least some, truth in the charges coming from all quarters that we can learn from? Again, I’ll venture a guess and say, “yes.”

Are there some early sounds of the kingdom of God in these groans of childbirth?  Hmmm…

UnLearn Religion… again

A few more thoughts from Sunday at Jacob’s Well:

“The greatest UnLearner of all time is God.  Face it,  God had a problem.  God created us with so much hope and promise and it wasn’t panning out.  We turned away and kept walking.  So God decided that to learn how to truly be what God wanted to be for us, God would need to unlearn what it meant to be God.  We call that unlearning event, ‘Jesus.’  And it was hard.  It is always hard when we leave the competence of what we know how to do – even if it wasn’t working – and we have to learn a new way.  It was about 30 years of the toughest unlearning and relearning that could be imagined, so that God could come out of that experience and provide 3 years of the greatest leadership that this world will ever see.  It changed the world forever.

If God had to UnLearn being God to offer the true relationship God sought to have with us, who are we to think we don’t have to UnLearn what it means for us to be followers of Jesus?”

– – – – –

“Why do we need to UnLearn?  To be ready for a world that has seen too much, gotten too big and too interconnected to swallow ‘Christianity’s’ certainties – which are really an illusion of knowledge, a disguise of ignorance, a refusal to unlearn and relearn – so that we can touch humanity as God wants us to.”

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Both of the quotes above from my message on Sunday (they are approximate, I don’t use a script) are inspired (and maybe partly created?) by Ron Heifetz of the Harvard/Kennedy School of Govt.  I heard him speak at a Leadership Network event in Dallas some years ago.  He, along with Jim Collins, Neil Cole and others really drove the unlearning concept home.  I heard him speak again at the Carlson School (part of the U of M) last week which made me pull out my old notes.  Good stuff.  Smart man.

UnLearn Religion

UnLearn

At Jacob’s Well we are focusing on UnLearning these days.  (Earlier blog on unlearning)  And since we are a church we need to start at  home,  so it was  UnLearn Religion.  God wants us to  UnLearn it so we can ReLearn Relationship.

I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices.  I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.    Hosea 6.6 (TEV)

Something that spoke ‘convictingly’ (is that a word?) to me that I shared was this simple distinction between religion and relationship, between being a Christian and following Jesus.  It is this,

“Being a follower of Jesus means that you give up deciding where you will apply Jesus to your life, and instead discover where Jesus wants to take you.”

That is a scary concept that I hope to get good at!

Beyond the Crazy and the Anti

Scary Jesus (Picture by Ryan Kelly, printed in the City Pages.)

Boy, people who think God matters and are willing to cast aside the mindsets that are so deeply set, like the twin ruts a tractor leaves on a muddy road, sure have a big job ahead of them. But before I get into that I say welcome back to any readers… it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted here… My only excuse, and my least favorite, is being too busy. Everyday brings great stuff to me that I want to blog on… and the month passes by.

Back to the tire ruts.

The Twin Cities free distribution newspaper City Pages has a cover story in their most recent issue (March 5, 2008) called “Jesus Weekend: When teens encounter Christ, all hell breaks loose,” by Matt Snyders.  It is no surprise that an edgy, urban newspaper geared towards the young professionals would be willing to be looking for a potshot or two about religion.  What this article represents is the antagonism towards organized religion that most of the younger generations (can I say most people under 60?!?)  That is the one tire rut.

The other is what they are reacting to.  The conservative, save your soul attitude that is so prevalent in Christian circles.  The article is about a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend retreat.

As a new church that is trying to re-invent church to be authentic to what Jesus said and did, and to who people truly are today, I don’t want to fall into either of these well worn ruts.  In fact I would hope to help people out of each.  Can we represent a reason for people to climb out of their cynicism of what it means to be a community that seeks to follow Jesus?  Can we help people escape easy answers, formulaic ways of being recognizably ‘Christian’ or ‘saved’ in order to live the messy and lifelong pursuit of knowing and reflecting God?  I think so.  But the ruts are so deep, that it is hard to let people know we aren’t in one or the other, or to keep people from insisting that if we aren’t in their rut, then we are automatically in the other one.

I don’t want to just be in between the ruts, I want to leave them behind.  UnLearn them.  Rise beyond them.

Let me give credit to those I’m reacting to… Matt Snyder did a good job in his article. He was willing to experience it all and didn’t take sniper shots from the safety of his office.  He also was willing to acknowledge the good that came from the weekend.  His last paragraph, if nothing else, concedes this.  And his skepticism is well-founded.

TEC is also the means of good people intending to do good things.  They are taking time, energy and money to deal with a generation of young people who, in so many ways, have lost their rudders.  They do some good work and are not the only ones who aren’t perfect.  Until we have replaced their efforts it is hardly fair for us to say they shouldn’t be doing what they feel is right.  No one is forced to go (except perhaps someone sent by a consenting parent.)

That said, let us find ways to live out this calling where God matters with relevance and honesty.

Punishment from God – part 1

Question marks

People give me great theological questions quite regularly, I suppose because I am a pastor and they assume I have some kind of answer.  Which I do, quite often… but I’d prefer to call them responses rather than answers.  Answers put an issue to rest and finish the inquiry.  Most of the really good and deep questions don’t work that way.  And I don’t know “The Answer” in that sense.  Hopefully some of my knowledge, experience and reflection can point towards something illuminating, but as I like to say, it is probably towards ‘a better question,’ not ‘the answer.’

The question this time was ‘Who goes to hell, and what could be so horrible that God would do that to someone?’ 

First,  I’ve noticed that whenever I get into these big quandaries about God and faith that just don’t seem to be so un-understandable I usually find I’m asking the wrong question.  It’s no surprise that we get no answer or the wrong answer when we ask the wrong question.  The problem here is that we are so trained to ask this question.  “Who’s in and who’s out?”  Undoubtedly the Bible encourages this type of thinking in places.  Jesus’ story of the separation of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25.31ff) is an example of this.  But there are other messages.

One of those is the Gospel Message of unconditional love and acceptance, of a God giving his life in Jesus as a sacrifice paying for our sinfulness precisely so we wouldn’t have to.

Another is the redefinition of obedience that God points to already in the Old Testament (Hebrew scripture), Jeremiah 31.31-34 for instance, and that Jesus seals.  That is the notion that putting ourselves right (translate as ‘righteousness’) doesn’t come from following rules or doing the ritual right, but from an authentic relationship with God.  That is the theme of our worship service the week after Easter (March 30) when we kick off our UnLearn series with “UnLearn Religion.”

My studied and experienced sense of God is that while God is all about discerning what is better from what isn’t as good, it is for the purpose of calling out what if best, not to catch us at the worst.  What I mean is that God isn’t out to get us.  Find our flaws and trip us up.  It doesn’t take God to do that; we can do it for ourselves and each other easily enough.  We are imperfect, unworthy and undeserving at a pretty obvious level.  Stalin’s secret police leader is famous for saying, “Show me the man, and I will show you the crime.”  God, the creator of all things who declared them good is about finding, uncovering, redeeming and reclaiming that which is good and noble and usable within us and our world for the building of the kingdom.  God is about saving, not condemning. 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.17)

The real question, the better question… I think it is something like this…

What is it worth to me to seek to know and follow God and live the way I am taught?

What is the cost to live trusting things that shall pass away, allowing the separation between God’s will and my reality to grow wider and wider?

The affirmation that I would add is this…

The more I learn and experience about God the more amazed I am.  And what amazes me is how good God is; graciously, unselfishly, extravagantly loving.  And if I could add to those superlatives, it would be that God does it with mind-boggling variety.  It is not one size fits all.  It is so creative that we often miss it.

So, who goes to hell and what could be so terrible as to deserve eternal punishment?  There are those who will give you the lists.  I’d rather not argue with them, but ask, “What will God’s love accomplish next, and how can I open myself to that love and show it to others?”  The former, to me, is a human question.  The latter, a Jesus question.  Let’s surround our lives with Jesus questions!

This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”  1 John 4.10 (The Message)