Monday, December 29, 2008

"You never know what's comin' for you."

During Christmas vacation, one of our favorite family traditions is to head out to a movie theater and watch one of the new releases. For those who did the same, you likely know by the above heading which one the Booram family enjoyed—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Rather than explain the premise of the movie and spoil it for you, I'll simply mention that this line was spoken first by Queenie, Benjamin’s “adoptive” mother, and subsequently repeated several times throughout the movie. Queenie urged Benjamin to be prepared for what life brings; not to fight it, or resent it, but respond with acceptance and openness—a philosophy that she exemplified.

The movie has a fanciful and curious story line, great character development, and brilliant acting. I highly recommend it, though be prepared for a nearly three hour stay in your seat! What I’m musing about today is this idea that you never know what’s coming for you.

Queenie warned that there is some force beyond us that can and will sweep us up in its foment, whether we want it to or not. We are in a position to respond and cooperate, whatever that means, with the momentum this force generates. Not that we are helpless or passive, non-agents in our destiny. But we swim in a current of life that sometimes swirls us around and delivers us somewhere we weren’t expecting.

Now, allow me to make a leap....into a book I finished last night. (If this begins to read like a book review, it unapologetically is!) It is called The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. The sub-title reads, “How Christianity is Changing and Why.” If you get the sense, as I do, that a momentum of change is building within Western Christianity, “that something is coming for us,” you are right.

According to Tickle,

“As a phenomenon, the Great Emergence has been slipping up on us for decades in very much the same way spring slips up on us week by week every year. Though it may have sent us a thousand harbingers of its approach, we are still surprised to wake up one balmy morning to a busy, chirping world that, a mere twenty-four hours before, had been a gray and silent one.”

Tickle goes on to explain, with helpful clarity and profound insight, that every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold “a giant rummage sale.” And we are in the midst of one of those times, a time of monumental change when something comes for us and we don’t know exactly what that something is.

As I interface with a broad spectrum of Christians, I observe a variety of reactions to this “emerging” Christianity. Some seem oblivious, content with their faith context, and unconcerned with the gathering storm. Others are battening down the hatches, vehemently committed to protecting themselves from the onslaught of the storm, convinced it is a tsunami of destruction. Others are indifferent, so far gone in their cynicism and disillusionment that if the storm hits and wipes us clean of any vestige of the institutional church, that would be just fine.

Others, like me, are mostly hopeful. Reading The Great Emergence has helped me frame our current history within a backdrop of five hundred year cycles of reformation. Tickle explains that each period of upheaval has resulted in three things: a new and more robust form of Christianity; a reconstituted previous form of Christianity that becomes more vital; and the spread of Christian faith and practice. That is good reason for hope.

For the last decade of my life, I have had the sense that “something was coming" for those of us who follow Christ and find community within the church. Whatever it is, I don’t think it can be stopped or avoided. Some interject this phenomenon is a consequence of our neglect of God, national moral decline or disregard for the Bible. I, on the other hand, think that God is up to something—that He is in this thing that is coming.

Whatever you think about the great emergence, please become educated about the history of the church and what's coming for us today. This book will help explain how Christianity is changing and why.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"You can’t think your way to a new way of living. You have to live your way to a new way of thinking.” Dr. David Schnarch

I live a lot in my head. When a problem arises, I expend a lot of mental energy pummeling it for insight, solutions, and meaning. When I feel the disconnect with lived reality and my ideal, I go into my head to resolve the tension. All this energy to think my way into a better place suggests that I believe, like many, that changing the way I think will change the way I live.

According to Dr. David Schnarch, not so. In his book Passionate Marriage, he exposes this often-held belief that we can change our lives by changing the way we think about our lives. Isn’t that what the Proverb says? “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” Or as a mentor used to say, “Right thinking is a pre-requisite to right living.” That all sounds so….well, “right”!

Schnark’s words have haunted me for a few days now. Probably because I am such a reflective, introspective person and wonder if that’s my problem. (See, there I go again, thinking my way through life in order to improve the way I live!) Most of my teachers, especially Christian teachers, suggest and model this way of transformation. But is that a modern convention rather than truth? After all, Jesus said "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need" (Matthew 6:33).

What intrigues me about Schnark's statement is the idea that change, or a new way of living, comes from moving toward life, leaning into life with all of one’s being—not just one’s “head.” As we do, life will teach us what is true and that will change how we think and see our relationships, the world, and ourselves!

I wonder what that would look like for me related to my biggest personal challenge right now: being anxious about my future. (I will be unemployed at the end of January—for those who are wondering.) I have tried to master living in the present and not fretting. To be anxious for nothing. To not worry about tomorrow because today has enough trouble of its own. I’ve tried to remember the lilies of the field. Yada, yada, yada. By “thinking” these thoughts, I am no less anxious or able to abide in trust that God will take care of me.

So, how do I live my way to a new way of thinking? Interestingly, as I ponder that question, my experience tells me that I am least anxious when I am knocking on doors, trying to do everything in my power to discover the next step in my vocational future. When I generate new possibilities through networking, I feel more hopeful. When I initiate and move toward life, God’s Presence seems more palpable. Even if a potential job doesn’t work out, I am assured that there are opportunities out there.

So, if I take my cue from living my way to a new way of thinking, I would say that my anxiety is soothed through taking actions that are within my power to take, not merely trying to think "less anxious" thoughts. Living my way to a new way of thinking has, in fact, proved its point.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

“It’s Time for Our Reality to Catch Up with Our Poetry”

Just days after Obama was elected, I was watching the news when former Indiana Congressman, Andy Jacobs, was interviewed. I don’t recall why he was, but I do remember observing his strong emotions as he described waiting for the election returns and wondering if his personal dream of seeing an African American as President would be realized.

At one point, Jacobs named the source of his inspiration when he referred to the Declaration of Independence. He recited the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Then he said with unabashed conviction, “It’s time for our reality to catch up with our poetry!”

That statement separated itself from all the other comments Jacobs made. It hung suspended by itself, containing a weight and significance I couldn’t ignore. I immediately transposed this thought to experiences in my life when the gap between reality and poetry was too far adrift. One experience pressed forward, its nerve struck by the truth of Jacob’s remark.

Most of my life, I have been involved in vocational Christian ministry in environments where women are excluded from certain roles and types of ministry within the church. As a woman, I have heard the poetry of women being valued and regarded for their contributions—being considered equals to men. But reality often displayed a different truth.

For example, I remember one Sunday morning, sitting in a service where a group was being commissioned for a short-term mission’s trip. The senior pastor introduced the team and then asked all the elders to come forward to lay hands on them and pray for them. I watched as the scene unfolded: a handful of men, and only men, mounted the platform with stately importance.

While the pastor prayed, I kept my eyes open and took in the drama as all male elders gathered around the team, their eyes closed, their faces composed of somber seriousness. They placed their hands on the shoulders of the harbingers—suggesting a transmission of kingly power and authority. I asked God, “Why?” “Why are only men invited to participate in this pastoral act?” The event spoke volumes to me. The subliminal message was clear. Men have a spiritual authority that women don’t have.

The poetry was getting old and beginning to sound sentimental. My heart ached for more than lyrical rhymes. The lines of verse were beautiful and noble, right and hopeful. And those who recited them assumed that I would be satisfied with listening to the poem. But what they failed to realize is that poetry awakens the heart. Mine wanted more than pretty language. I wanted the lines to become piercing, prophetic, and convicting. I wanted reality to catch up with the poetry.

Certainly, all of our lives, including mine, are riddled with gaps: places where what we say and what we do have an embarrassingly large space between them. I admit that I can be satisfied with hearing or speaking poetry but not allowing it to get under my skin and raise my ire toward action. I like the way it sounds but am too lazy and indifferent to work its truth into life.

So, right now, I am letting this statement sit on me so that I feel it's weight. I am praying to see and address the gaps between poetry and reality in my world.