Tag Archives: Almost Christian

online book group: Almost Christian, chapter 9

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And so we come to the end–or the beginning! This is the place where we have to finally come to grips with all the things we’ve learned over the past 185 pages, and figure out whether we throw in the towel or look for a new way of being. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is either about to win the day or to be tossed out of the church to make its own way in the world. Which will it be?

Dean makes a case for the latter. She says MTD will always be with us because, honestly, it “will outfit us better for success in American society than Christianity will. Those who want to succeed in American life…will find that being theologically bland helps immeasurably. Yet the gospel is very clear: God wants to liberate us from being defined by these circumstances, so that we are free to follow Jesus regardless of the culture we call home.” So–while MTD may help us get along in the world, be successful, and have “the good life,” it doesn’t set us free–only the gospel can do that. Will the church take up the call?

Dean believes the church has the solution, and it lies in re-learning and re-claiming our faith. That starts with knowing God–through the stories of scripture, through looking for God out in the world, and through learning our theological tradition. What have people said about God in the past? What insights might people of other times and places have for us about how God moves in the world, how God empowers us to be a countercultural community, how the body of Christ can be active in a world that’s not so interested in it? We have two thousand years of church history to look to–we are hardly the first people to experience the marginalization of our real faith because something easier and more my-success-oriented has come along. We are hardly the first people in history to be looking for the movement of the Spirit with foggy lenses. The PCUSA Book of Confessions is full of documents written at times like these–times that require a fresh retelling of our faith, an interpretation of our story for our time. Those documents show us what people in the midst of wars, in the face of brutal oppression, and on the eve of genocide have to say about God’s work in the world. Perhaps we can learn something from them.

Perhaps it’s also time to brush up on our own practice of articulating our faith. What do we believe, and how is it played out in our lives? What does my credit card statement, my calendar, my cell phone record, my internet browser history, my attitude say about where my faith lies? How do I bring my statement of faith and my life more in line with each other, and then how do I tell this story–a story of God and the world and the church and me–to others?

As Dean says, “religious formation is not an accident.” We have talked before about how we invest our time, energy, and money into teaching and learning lots of things, but not usually in teaching and learning our faith. How can we be a community that doesn’t just say that we value education, or that we value youth, or that we are constantly learning–how can we actually BE that? I suspect Dean is right in saying that it will begin with our investment–we must spend time, spend money, spend energy, give and grow love. When we invest in our own faith development, we also invest in our children. When we grow our community not just in numbers but in depth of spirit and love and knowledge and service, we also grow our children. When we take our faith seriously–when learning doesn’t stop after confirmation class, when Sunday School isn’t just for children, when faith isn’t just inside the church building, when participating in the community isn’t optional–that’s when young people look at us and learn and, according to the National Study of Youth and Religion, they imitate us and learn through that more than through anything we teach them in 45 minutes on Sunday morning.

So how do we do that? Where has the church gone wrong? We know about the whole MTD thing, we can even understand how it got there, but even thinking about solving this problem gives me a bit of a headache. We know we need to spend more time with scripture, more time in prayer, more time learning about the faith of those who’ve come before…but is there a simple start? Well…usually, the answer would be no! But on page 191 Dean gives us a 2-sentence place to begin. “The earliest followers of Jesus believed in his messianic mission and that God raised him from the dead–and understood themselves to be sent, as Christ was sent, into the world as instruments of divine love. We are the inheritors of this tradition, and there is no escaping the church’s call to participate in the messianic, redemptive purpose of God’s love in Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, whose grace is what makes ministry possible in the first place.”

That’s a big mission. But we have a big God who is more than capable of equipping us for the journey.

I love the statement Dean makes on page 188: “what separates hope from doubt is hope’s ability to stand in the known and look expectantly into the unknown.” May we look expectantly.

online book group: Almost Christian chapter 8

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The quote at the beginning of this chapter really does sum up most of the book, doesn’t it? “It will not happen automatically. It will require intentionality and investment.” Yep. This is true of most things in our lives–we don’t learn a new language, or an instrument, or a sport, or algebra, or how to cook, or how to drive without intentionality and investment. We spend time, energy, and money learning those things and teaching them to our children. Why is the same not true of faith?

Most of this chapter is about mission trips–how they can be, if done extremely well, life changing events for the people who go on the trip. Dean asks us to be honest about the fact that these trips are for us, really–we are the ones who benefit from these experiences. Sure, the people we go to serve may have a new wheelchair ramp or a roof or some free childcare, but they often lose their dignity in the process. In the podcast I linked to last week, where Dean was interviewed about this book, she puts it very starkly, asking us to be honest about the fact that these mission trips are often about mutual using of other people (ie, the people with a need are using us to get the need met, and we are using them to feel good about ourselves and have some kind of service experience) rather than about truly building up the body of Christ and seeing the face of Jesus in people around us. That is often true. I’ve wondered before whether, when we leave a community, anyone ever says “remember those people who came here a few months ago and hung our drywall? I really saw Christ in them, and I loved getting to know those kids from another part of the country, and I learned so much about the meaning of life while they were here.” Because those are the kinds of things we come home and say, right? But is it a mutual relationship, or another example of some of us swooping in to save the day for “the needy”? Or another episode in volun-tourism, where we really go to see what life is like somewhere else and to feel good about ourselves while we do it, but not to make lasting changes to either the “somewhere else” or ourselves? Add in the research that suggests that a really really small percentage of the teens who go on these trips have lasting (ie, more than 5 years) change come out of them, and the research that suggests that sometimes the communities we go to serve are not only no better off, but actually worse off, than when we went there, and we have a recipe to be very very careful about mission trips. They sound wonderful, and they can be. The difficulty is that, much like a trumpet player, there’s no in between–they’re either very very good, or very very bad.

So…Dean suggests that we call these what they are–they are learning trips, opportunities for cross-cultural encounter. They are wonderful times to get out of our own comfort zones, take a step back, and be more reflective about our life and faith and where those intersect with the rest of the world. The work we do is peripheral, really. The time spent connecting God’s story, our story, and the story of others all together is what’s truly valuable about these trips. And often, in order to do that, we need to go to what Dean calls The Edge of the Void. We need to get out of the self-centered place we often inhabit…to be “decentered.” Then we find ourselves in a thin place, where the separation between heaven and earth is narrow and we can KNOW God and ourselves and the world differently. But these thin places can be found in lots of ways–not only traveling to a new location, but also trying a new form of prayer, going to a different part of town, practicing Sabbath in a culture that demands constant attention, visiting immigrants detained at the county jail, teaching ESL, coming to the communion table…the list goes on and on. We can be de-centered, we can enter liminal space, in many ways, and going to a starkly different culture or landscape is only one way.

The most important phrase in the whole chapter is just half a sentence near the beginning: “Mission is not a trip.” Amen. Mission is what God is doing in the world–and that mission needs a church to carry it out. The question is whether what God is doing in the world is building a wheelchair ramp or building relationships with people of different cultures/races/economic status/education/region/experience. How can we participate in God’s mission of tearing down the dividing walls and building up the body of Christ? Sometimes that may involve manual labor. But it can’t JUST involve labor–that puts us at risk of once again serving only ourselves. It’s one thing to do something good and feel good about it, and another thing to get to know someone and to know that God is changing their lives through your own changed life.

The purpose of the gospel is transformation–of people into the body of Christ and ultimately of the world into the kingdom of God. How do we open ourselves to this transformation? How do we offer opportunity for transformation? How do we participate in the transformation of the world? These are big questions–ones that “mission” trips often seek to begin to answer. But ultimately, five days every summer is just the beginning. If we are not participating in God’s vision for the world every day, we are no more part of the mission than if we never went on the trip at all. If we are not reflecting on how God’s story intersects ours, on how the sacred text we read every Sunday affects the world, then we are missing the opportunity God has placed in our midst–the opportunity to be transformed and the opportunity to show one another (of all ages!) the good news of God’s love that can change the world.

So…I guess that’s a call to get to work! Just not in the usual way. 🙂

online book group: Almost Christian, chapter 7

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This chapter may be where the rubber hits the road in this book: Dean says we have to talk about our faith in order to combat Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and in order to pass it on. Just doing things isn’t enough, just “being” isn’t even enough–we have to learn to TALK coherently about what we believe, the God we love, and why we do what we do. And then we have to do that talking to other people, particularly young people.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know very many people who are comfortable doing that.

One of the most common phrases I hear when I ask someone to be a mentor or a youth leader is “but I don’t know what to say!” or “I don’t know enough!” and I’ve even had at least one person respond to my statement that it’s more about sharing your own faith journey than about knowing the answers with the statement “I don’t HAVE a faith journey!” Now, since that’s obviously not true (the person is at church, and is over 50, so…they have SOME kind of faith journey!), the problem is more likely to be putting into words what we know, do, feel, think, and believe. And this is hard work–especially since faith is a combination of all these things, right? Faith is more than just intellectual belief, it involves love/trust/hope/dreams/feelings/thoughts/experiences as well as things we’ve learned and maybe even doctrines the church has taught. How do we put all that stuff into words? Isn’t it easier to just take the “we do/live our faith, we don’t talk about it” approach?

Dean says that it may be easier, but it’s not effective when it comes to passing our faith on, to our own children or to young people in our churches or to people outside our churches. “Since we don’t hear a language of faith, we do not speak one. The “God-talk” we absorb from the surrounding culture is much closer to what homiletician (preaching teacher) Thomas G Long calls “God chatter,” rather than a usable vocabulary of faith.” (p138) In other words, since we don’t have a language of faith, since we don’t have a behind-the-wall vocabulary and conversation, we’re left cobbling together a patchwork of whatever comes to mind, whatever we pick up in various places, and whatever seems to work for the moment. This is not the same as building on a tradition handed down for 2000 years. We want the faith to be ours, and for our time and place, but there’s already a foundation on which to build–we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and in fact when we DO reinvent the wheel, we’re more likely to get something like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (“just be nice, and god wants you to be happy, that’s all really”), Disney stories, or simple American Values than we are to get a robust faith that can carry us through our lives.

In addition, Dean points out, “unless the church offers an alternative behind-the-wall story of God in Jesus Christ, teenagers naturally assume that the self-serving caricatures of Christianity they see offered by the media are accurate–meaning that Christianity has no apparent purpose except to benefit the believer.” (p138) Ouch. But true–many of us have ceded the religious conversation to the media and to the fundamentalist churches with the ear of the media. Rather than offend someone or risk being lumped in with “them,” we’ve decided not to talk about it at all. So the religious conversation in this country is more about whether the President mentioned God in his Thanksgiving youtube video than it is about actually listening TO God and following Jesus.

There’s so much to talk about in this chapter, I could write a blog post much longer than anyone would read. I just want to highlight a couple of other things…

Our faith has always been one of words in addition to action–in Genesis, God spoke the world into being. In John we hear that Jesus is the Word made Flesh–in Greek it says he is the “Logos”–the word, the logic, the language–of God. On Easter morning the first thing that happens is that the women run back from the tomb and tell the others what they have seen AND what they believe about it–they say “I have seen the Lord!” In our own lives, do we ever do the equivalent? Do we tell others what we have seen and what we believe about it? Most of us have had experiences we would say are God’s movement or action in our lives, whether it’s seeing something a new way, a door opening (or closing), a feeling, or an outright intervention. Do we ever tell our own faith stories? And if not, why not? How can we get past ourselves to follow the women who went to the garden that first Easter morning? Or at least to report, perhaps during joys and concerns, where we’ve seen God at work in the past week? Dean puts it well when she says “divine grace is a gift, but not one we get to keep.” (p139) Grace works best when we pass it on.

Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t talk well about what God is doing in our midst is that we’re not actually paying close enough attention to notice. Dean also says that if faith doesn’t get talked about, God/Jesus/Spirit/etc) quickly fade from our awareness, and while of course Christ is still present in our lives even when we’re not paying attention, our ability to recognize God’s work or acknowledge the movement of the Spirit is so lessened that it seems as if we’re on our own (p140). So how can we cultivate our ability to pay attention, how can we hone our senses so we are seeking God and therefore seeing God? Once we’re seeing, we won’t be able to keep ourselves from sharing, and that will help us all as we continue to look! After all, Love cannot be contained–not in a box, not in the Bible, not even in a tomb 2000 years ago. It is constantly going out, looking for the beloved…and that’s us. But hopefully it’s also God–the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we are and everything we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But if we do not see God’s own love at work in the world, how can we reciprocate or pass it on?

One last thing. Dean says “those who have a hard time articulating what they believe about God also seem to have trouble forging a significant connection go God–and those who do not have a language for Christ are unlikely to imagine an identity in Christ.” (p142). And then again Thomas Long: “We don’t just say things we already believe. To the contrary, saying things out loud is part of how we come to believe.”

So…what DO you believe? Not “what to Presbyterians believe” or “what does our church/pastor/person-next-to-me-in-the-pew believe” but what do YOU believe? Take a few minutes to write down your own statement of faith. We ask our confirmands to do this, and it used to be asked of everyone in the Inquirer’s class. We ask people who think they might have a call to ministry to write a statement of faith (before they ever set foot in a seminary!). And it turns out, we should be asking it of ourselves! Remember, this is not a statement for the whole world church, or a statement for all times and places. Your faith may very well shift throughout your life, and the language you use to talk about it most definitely will change. But for right now: December 2011, what do YOU believe? Who is this God? What difference does Jesus make to your life? Where has the Holy Spirit been at work in your life story, and where is the Spirit moving today? Why does church matter? What’s up with the world?

Feel free to share–either a whole statement or tidbits. Feel free to ask questions! There are no wrong answers and no stupid questions. We’re on a quest here–as a community, to love God, to learn about God, and to follow God. And that means talking about God, too.

note: there is a really important conversation in this chapter, beginning on page 144, about how we involve youth in the lives of our congregations. I’m going to put up a post just about that last ten pages of the chapter on Saturday, so check back!

Are you interested in hearing more from Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian? She was interviewed on the podcast “God Complex Radio” last week. Here’s the link (the interview starts about 10 minutes in): http://godcomplexradio.com/ 

online book group: Almost Christian, chapter 6

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In this chapter, Dean begins to get at the heart of the issue. In order to pass on our faith, we have to practice it ourselves.

That’s the whole chapter, in a nutshell.

Research tells us that we overwhelmingly “get what we are”–ie, when we practice our faith and live as though it’s important in our lives, our children do too. When we choose other priorities, our children do too. The idea of the adolescent rebellion is not quite accurate, at least when it comes to religious matters. (and, in terms of generational theory, the adolescent rebellion actually comes much later–when we truly rebel against our parents is when we’re older, especially when we become parents ourselves.) Also, when we program what Dean calls “pseudo-Christian youth activities executed for the sake of good intentions” (ski trips, youth sundays, church sports, performance choirs, etc), we communicate that this is what faith is about…feeling good about ourselves, having fun, and bolstering our “middle class values of achievement, self-expression, and self-determination.” We lose our Christian identity when this is all there is to our faith.

The difficulty, of course, is that most of us think we are not qualified to pass on our faith, because we don’t understand it ourselves. Most of us don’t have theology degrees (and even those of us who do don’t know everything and are often stumped by questions from young people!), so we assume we can’t teach or mentor or model Christian faith. Unfortunately, that has meant that we simply choose not to do it. We outsource faith formation to the Professional Christians and expect our kids to come home from an hour or two a week with faith to sustain them through their lives, or at least their adolescence.

But as Dean points out, “Teenagers’ ability to imitate Christ depends, to a daunting degree, on whether we do.” I don’t think this is just about teenagers–I think it’s about mutual upbuilding of the community. Our ability as individuals to imitate Christ depends a lot on whether the people around us do. The more we seek Christ and Christ-likeness, the more the people around us can and do too.

To answer the common problem of not knowing enough, Dean reminds us that we are not trying to form beliefs about Jesus, we are cultivating trust in Jesus. This is not always the same thing–and she illustrates by telling a story of a famous tightrope walker, who asked a prince if he believed the tightrope walker could cross Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back–the prince said “yes, I believe you can do that.” The tightrope walker’s response was “Will you be that man?” And here belief and trust parted ways, for the prince declined. How often do we do the same about Jesus? We believe all kinds of things about Jesus, but when Jesus asks “will you come, follow me?” then our belief and trust often part ways.

In Deuteronomy, we are called upon to teach the way and words, trust and obedience, of the Lord to the next generation. But we don’t have to make them into something different–everyone is already a beloved child of God, made in the image of God. Our task is to MODEL godliness, to SHOW that we love God, to embody our faith, to delight in the Lord, to talk and to live our trust in God. As an example, Dean points to something we all struggle with–simply reading the Bible. We often believe that the Bible is too difficult to read, or too hard to understand, so we give up before we’ve even started. What does that tell young people? “The issue is not whether young people can read the Bible (they can). The real issue is…well, really, why would they want to? What have they seen in the church that would suggest that the Bible is a source of power and wonder? When have they seen their parents (or other caring and trusted adults) derive life and joy from reading scripture?” (p128)

Dean uses an example I’d never thought about before, but seems so accurate. We often will research things we are already interested in–ie, we hear a song on the radio and we love it, so we look up the band and start to follow their other work, learn their history, follow their tours. We read a novel that mentions a historical event and we find it interesting, so we do a little research until, without even realizing, we’ve become sort of a mini-expert in an obscure historical moment. We visit a place and come home wanting to know more about things that have happened there. We see a beautiful piece of artwork, or hear a beautiful piece of music, and we want to know more about the artist and the art, maybe even dabbling in it (or taking it up!) ourselves. It’s rare that we become interested in or obsessed with something because we researched it for a school or work project…the learning follows the love.

How might that affect the ways we do Christian Education for any age? How can we pass on love–God’s love for us and our love for God–so that people want to learn more, want to follow Jesus more closely, want to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit, want to know God’s word and will and dreams? Until we want those things, they’ll be unlikely to happen. We’ll force people to read the Bible or to pray at the beginning of meetings or classes, but without love, it’s nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (thanks Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, for that audio image!). How can we communicate that love…to young people and to each other? We are not asked, in Deuteronomy or by Jesus, to be theology experts. We are asked to follow, to remember, to love, to dream, and to let those things show–not keep them inside for ourselves. Are we willing to do that, imperfect as we are?

The primary metaphor of this chapter comes from 2 Kings 18-19 and Walter Brueggemann’s interpretation of that section of scripture. It’s an obscure story, in which the Israelites are on the verge of being conquered again. The Assyrian army has surrounded their walled city, and negotiations about the surrender (or not, which would mean a thoroughly unequal battle) are taking place on top of the wall. There are two languages spoken in this story–inside the city, “behind the wall,” the Israelites speak Hebrew, the language of the people of God–the people God has saved and will continue to save, the language of God’s promise, the language of their storied yet somehow Holy history, the language of their prayer. There, behind the wall, in their obscure little language, they encourage each other, they grieve, they pray, they remind each other of the stories and promises–they nurture their faith. Up on the wall, they’re speaking Aramaic, the language of those who dismiss YHWH, with the Assyrian empire. Because they are nurtured by the behind-the-wall conversations, they are able to take part in the on-the-wall conversations with a different perspective. They have a different worldview, a completely different set of assumptions, than the empire outside the walls. They have a different vision to work toward, and that vision comes from those behind-the-wall moments in their alternative and homey language.

Brueggemann and Dean say that we need both languages–that we can’t simply adopt one and ignore the other. However, the on-the-wall language and conversation should not be the dominant one. Instead, our out-in-the-world, cultural conversation must be informed by our behind-the-wall language and conversation. It is behind the wall that we learn that God loves us and what it means to love God. It is behind the wall that we have language for hope, love, faith, accountability, community, authenticity, calling…and that language and worldview should be at the heart of even our on-the-wall conversation. Then we can engage in translation, rather than assimilation. We know there are two conversations to be had here, and two visions of reality–the question is, will we nurture the behind the wall vision enough for it to affect our on-the-wall lives? There’s plenty of empire language and vision to go around–we are immersed in it practically before we are born. As Dean says, “The empire’s language dismisses YHWH, offers tantalizing but ultimately empty promises of salvation, and hands out scripts that the empire expects us to follow. Unless the church cultivates a behind-the-wall conversation that reminds us who we are, who we belong to, why we are here, and where our future hope lies–unless we hand on a tradition that gives cultural tools to help us lay claim to this alternative vision of reality–then the empire’s conversation is the only view of reality we have.” (p114)

So…

How do we cultivate this behind-the-wall conversation? How do we let our love show? Where does our passion lie, and how can we share God’s passion with one another?

Online Book Group: Almost Christian, chapter 5

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This chapter opens with a story that is both heartwarming and reality-checking–how often have we allowed our Christian faith to so transform our understanding of ourselves that we could do something like that? Most of us would be grateful our team had an “easy win” coming up, ready to cheer for our own kids and fundraise with our own concession stands and listen to our own fight song over and over again…and instead the coach asked the parents, classmates, friends, and teachers of his team to cheer for the other team, so they would have someone to support them. To actively work against their own self-interest..and in Texas, high school football isn’t “just a game” so this is important stuff! To then hear that they set an example followed by other schools…wow. I wonder how many of us would do the same? How many of us would even think up the idea, or allow the Spirit the space in our crowded-with-our-own-interests brains and hearts to plant even the seed of the plan? That coach allowed himself to be a vehicle for God’s grace, and that grace spread like a Texas wildfire, bringing hope and love into the lives of kids who rarely experience them.

That is what faith is about.

To be close enough to God that we allow God to form us into Christ’s likeness, to act as Christ would act, to let ourselves be vehicles for the Spirit to spread grace in the world. It’s not about us, however much we want to think it is; it’s about God and what God is doing…are we going to participate, or not? If we do, we’ll likely waste our lives, at least in the world’s eyes. But then again…

“The word “waste” is important.” It appears in that story in Mark 14 where a woman breaks a jar of ointment and anoints Jesus’ feet, and the disciples call it a “waste.” It had already been used a few chapters earlier, “though in that passage the Greek is usually translated as “lose”” “Those who waste their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8.35). Those who waste their lives for Jesus, who squander their talent on the church, who throw away their lives in ministry, will gain it. Following Jesus is a waste. The Bible tells us so.” (p87)

What do you think of that? Is that the kind of faith you have–the kind ready to waste itself for the gospel? If not, how can we help you get there? How can we grow our community of believers into a community of people throwing away their lives in ministry? That’s what following Jesus calls for–a willingness to follow even to ridicule, even to economic/social/cultural “failure,” even to death.

But it’s also a life filled with many things–maybe not physical things, but plenty of intangibles. This is a life of wasteful love, freely given, poured out the way God poured God’s own self out for us. Can we bear this love? This is what we are asked–to know ourselves to be loved, and to pour ourselves out in love for God’s world. This is the ultimate not-about-me moment–when we have to not just say but actually live for others. And this is a faith worth having, worth cultivating, worth sharing, and worth talking about…in other words, the kind of faith we want to pass on to the next generation. Unfortunately, so far what we’ve given them is a faith that’s all about them, and there’s plenty of that to go around so they’re not interested.

One might say that the church in the west has lost its way–we have so separated our institutional and cultural identity from the mission of God, that we now say that “our church does mission” when the reality is that God has a mission and that mission needs a church…not the other way around. We, the body of Christ, participate in what God is doing in the world–that’s our mission. When we are not doing that, we are not a church. It’s a fairly simple connection, actually. The hard part is staying centered on who God is and who God calls us to be rather than on who/what we want ourselves to be.

So how do we do that? By just doing more and more stuff until we drop from exhaustion and a sense that without us people will go hungry and naked and without toys or hope or love? By focusing in on a few big projects? By giving more money or more time or more energy?

What about by spending time focusing on our center instead? It’s so easy to get caught up in all the mission that WE do, we forget to spend time with God asking what GOD is doing. Maybe it’s time for a church-wide prayer vigil, where we all commit to talk to God about this congregation, and to LISTEN for God’s voice, call, and direction. Maybe the problem is not snazzier worship services or better advertising or a cooler Sunday School curriculum or what kind of music we have or who our pastor is or anything like that. Maybe the problem is that we are trying to follow our way rather than asking for God’s way. God has crossed plenty of boundaries before, and asks us to do the same–perhaps the boundary we need to cross right this minute is the one between us and the Holy One. “As the Holy Spirit aligns our lives with the gospel…missional imagination takes root: we begin to view the world as a place where God acts, and to see ourselves as participants in God’s action.” (p97) Without the Spirit, and without our missional imagination, there’s just some stuff to do in a world that appears to have been abandoned by its creator.

The purpose of the church is to carry out God’s mission in the world. That was Christ’s purpose on earth, too–and he spent time in prayer (see yesterday’s Bible study for an example), then heading out into the world. If we are to be (as Martin Luther put it) “little Christs”…if we are the body….if we are God’s people…if we are the Church, then it’s time to put our faith into action. But not just in the way we always think of, getting up and doing something right away–also in the sense of getting to know God, coming to understand Jesus (how else can we follow his way?), being filled up by the Holy Spirit. When we work under our own steam, we’re lost. We’ll flounder, never being as effective as we would like, always one step behind the need, uncoordinated as a toddler learning to walk. As Dean points out, “Maybe we, the church, miss the Holy standing right in front of us because we are too nearsighted to notice that in between faith and doubt, in between God’s call and our response, Jesus waits.” (p103) Or maybe because we jump into that gap with our own solutions when if we’d just hold on one second, we’d see Jesus standing there with the invitation to come and follow a still more excellent way. But if we’re plugged in, connected to God, growing a relationship between us and the Divine and between members of the body, then watch out, world–God’s mission has a church!