A Christian Response to a Dialog on Evil

Just need to get this out. It could be considered a rant, but it is more of me really thinking through with as level as my head can get around the orlando shooting, and so many other expressions of evil we’ve seen in our world this year and last year.

The problem of evil is always and will continue to be a reality in this world until a cosmic event like the return of Christ of a meteorite hits. So, when events occur that starkly remind us of the pain and utter heartache that evil thrusts upon us, it makes everyone hyper aware of injustices and the unbalances of joy and grief.

I’ve noticed a few common responses (on social media and in-person):

  1. Anger –

Anger as by-product of pain and frustration is a very normal response. In the good cases it is found with righteous anger, an expression of not being OK with injustice, but seeing healthy ways to express it through love (not cheep love, not cheep grace, but grace and love, none-the-less).

In the unhealthy cases this anger seeps into the selfish self and usually ends in attacks upon those that are different than ourselves, and usually feel, and sound no different than the expression of evil that stirred up all up in the first place. I’ve also seen attacks towards people that have many more similarities than they do differences, but for some reason those few differences are magnified and lifted up well above the similarities.

These attacks come around the issues of gun control, religion, human sexuality, etc… These attacks fueled by an unhealthy anger will only perpetuate the evil. We must stop the mindless responses and think through how and why we respond.

Are our responses grounded in a desire to love others and bring hope, or are they to prove a point or to harm existing or potential future relationships?

  1. Depression –

When confronted with the problem of evil several people become overwhelmed by it. They see the utter shame and pain of it all and it consumes them into depression and anxiety. Then, when they are attacked by others mentioned above that they thought were friends and loved ones…. Those attacks are even more damaging.

For example, the words against “praying” in times of obvious evil. The logic goes, “stop hiding behind your prayer and actually do something” or “its religions that screw up this world, so stop your so called ‘praying’ and get something done” (I hear this from Christians just as much as from non-Christians. The guilt depressed people feel overwhelmed by these events, and then to have others attacking them for saying nothing is pain upon pain. Without a strong intentional community coming around the anxiety and depressed to offer the grace of love and support then evil will prevail, sadly.

Again, do you make responses with other people in mind, or do you allow your frustrations and anger determine how you will heal or hurt your relationships?

  1. Silence –

While in some cases silence is a form of ignoring the problem of evil, I have a feeling most of the time it is simply the immediate response to evil from those that avoid conflict or simply a desire to take the time to intentionally listen before voicing. Of course, if people are using silence as a way of hoping the pain will simply go away, then we need to help them with baby steps on how to put a little more action in their lives to balance out that prayer and contemplative silence.

I can’t help but think that this is the response of introverts. And while it is seemingly not helping the issues immediately, it could be from this kind of calculated response that long term understanding and passionate love through grace can be offered. Obviously, some issues look like they have been occurring for a very long time (gun control and terrorists), but it is usually the responses from those that have really spent time with an issue are the ones I respect and listen to the most. Besides, I’f always seen these issues as the larger problem of evil.

So, what could be possible responses that would emphasize a healthy way of responding to the problem of evil and these curtain opening events that show the realities of pain?

To Christians I say:

Always assume positive intent. Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. Seek to find the prevenient grace and prevenient presence of Christ within all the people you interact with whether they be Christian or not. You are not to make converts, you are to allow disciples to be formed through you providing opportunities for others to experience love and the presence of God. Let them be students of our faith and give them the space to work out if they’d like to choose Christianity as their spiritual major in life. You serve a Crucified God, and nothing within our faith suggests that the problem of evil will not still have consequences on this earth even though it has already been dealt with. Be patient in enduring the pain and evil in this world until the great return, and live lives that are leaning into the truth of hope and love that is found in our Trinity Godhead. Be slow to anger, quick in grace, and look for every opportunity to be love and hope in a hurting world. Make your life filed with prayer AND action, both are necessary acts of living out our faith.

To non-Christians I say:

I love you. I am deep enough in my faith that if you need to yell out your anger towards God or the church, please feel free to yell at me. Do you need a shoulder to cry on or ears to listen? Please know I want and will do everything in my power to be those for you. You can express to me what you would express to God, if God even exists (obviously, I’m a freaking pastor here, so you can assume I’m gonna be a little biased). And, please know not everyone is at a place of peace in the midst of pain and evil (especially Christians). So, you might have to reset your expectations when it comes to talking or dealing with them.

I’m so sorry if the church has hurt you and again, I love you.

I make a vow to you, myself, and “my” God that in all cases I will attempt to make sure my love will take precedence over my anger, frustrations, fears, anxiety, depression, my being offended, and my human tendency to emphasis our differences instead of seeking out the love and grace I believe is within each of us. Please know that I will need you to offer me grace and love in this attempt, because I know I will fail… often.

You should know that I will mention my love for my faith and the hope that it provides me, but I will not attempt to convert you. I will passionately desire for you to know and experience the same hope I have found in my relationship with the Trinity Godhead. Because, in my mind the greatest gift I can offer you or anyone is prayer and relationship. You don’t have to believe in God and you are more than welcome to call me an idiot, ignorant, or even stupid, but please look into my heart intentions and know that me offering hope in this world through relationship and prayer with/for you is one of my perceived greatest gifts I can offer. I am not alone in this matter, so if someone offers to be praying for you or for an specific instance of evil, please look at their hearts before you are fast to point out their ignorance or lack of your perceived reality. I personally might stay silent and not speak of “prayer” for you, because I wouldn’t want to offend you, but I want to respect you and your beliefs/thoughts.

Sadly, there are may other Christians that believe they are supposed to covert you, and I’m so sorry that they do not see the beautiful person you are, but only see you as something to convert. This is not the God that I serve, and in most of those cases, again they simply don’t know any better and they honestly think they are loving you by berating you.

In closing….. I love you. I love you Christians. I love you non-Christians. Thank you for honoring me in reading these words (even if I know most of you skimmed through them all). It’s OK, I get it, I’d probably do the same to your words, when they are this lengthy. But, I still and always will… love you.

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Mainline Shifts towards the next reformation, this time bringing unity…. This is big….Pt. 3

Ok, welcome to part 3 of the Mainline shifts towards the next Reformation of Unity.

If you have not read or desire to remember the previous posts, please go back and read them so you are on the same page, because I will reference the previous posts within this one. (Thank you!)

I feel like I’ve covered the three most important pieces on the needed white board of the R&D Departments of the Mainlines: 1. Redefine Clergy and the roles of Clergy, 2. Redefine Ecclesia (what church looks like and acts like), and today I’d like to discuss the third piece a little bit more in-depth: The redefinition of Theological Education.

Not sure if you know it yet, but the seminaries in the US are hurting. For years they have enjoyed the mainline denomination’s requirement for clergy to have a M.Div. to be considered for ordination. This was a great steady stream of income and support the seminaries needed for them to continue in their current practice. But, the reality of the slow death/decline of the mainlines is starting to affect them.

If a denomination requires a M.Div. and then turns around and tells those that graduated that they are running out of churches that can even financially support a clergy in full-connection, then the number of potential clergy attending seminary and willing to take on that amount of debt for a 96 hour Masters degree will greatly decrease. And then this in turn obviously hurts the seminary. And this is being played out more and more as the decline of the mainlines occurs.

This model is not sustainable, and needs to bring about a change. Now, mainlines could change the requirements of clergy education and that; of course, would shift the base line around, but I personally continue to see a need for educated clergy in this world. But, maybe we could shift the length of time that our theological education occurs? The education could be over the course of 7-10 years while real application of doing ministry is expected. I believe if this could be done in community (in-person or online) that would make for a much more well rounded and applicable education. We would be getting a Master’s degree while also doing our practicum the whole time. Or, in other words, we would be excising the practical nature of a “lab” class the whole time we are reading and taking our “lecture” class. This would look differently in each ministry expression being lived into and those different local expressions of the “lab” are brought back to the education of others for an even deeper education experience.

I know from first hand experience that the classes I took in seminary while I was doing ministry were much better applied and understood when I could apply them the very next day in my ministry setting. I could bring to the class the questions of those I was leading that I did not have an answer to, and not only did it helpmeet own education, but the seminary was proving an education for those I was in ministry among.

Now, I believe that the church growth movement was based upon the attractional model of church [“If you build it (and pour tons of money into marketing), they will come”] seeped into the seminaries, as well. I know of several seminary professors that are adamant about never allowing a theological education completely online because there would be a loss of the the in-person community that is formed and grown by forcing the students to move and develop that community to where the seminary is located. While that is a beautiful expression of the church and theological education, it is also just not a sustainable reality financially, nor a model for a missional church.

So, while several seminaries speak of the Misio Dei(The mission of God), and the fact that God being a sent God is the very nature of our God! They teach that the church should stop playing the church growth game and the church should be just be joining God where ever God is already moving. The church should be going too, and not just sitting or staying in one place or building waiting for the world to come to them.

Well, the seminaries of the world need to live into this missional stance. The seminary will be forced to be missional in their approach to those that need a theological education.

One expression I’ve heard of is the seminary is creating a 96-hour M.Div. model that is broken up into 35-hour segments. These 35 hr segments would each come with a certification from the respected Seminary, and they could all be combined eventually into a M.Div., or used separately as a level of certified education that mainline denominations could accept as a new required piece for clergy and they would be specific for their specific area of ministry.

Buit, here is the kicker…. The seminaries GO TO THE PEOPLE!!! I can not tell you how many church planters are in the middle of a church plant, and when the conversation among the leaders in the mainline denomination turn to ordination, the seminaries then tell them they MUST stop the effective fragile ministry they are doing to go get a M.Div., or even offer an online class, but still be gone for 2-3 weeks at a time to go have some in-person time.

The seminaries now have the opportunity to send out professors (maybe 2-3 at a time) that would have similar teaching areas to fulfill the 35 hr segments in 2-3 week-long intensives (similar to J. Terms or Summer 1-month long classes) co-horts that would be located in the areas (all of the US or world) that the church plants are occurring and supplemented through online education. I could see them doing lot of reading for 2-3 months prior to the in-person cohort meetings. This would provide the communal aspect and not expect the students to leave their current ministries. Plus it would provide a missional model for seminaries to, “go where God is already at work”, instead of assuming God only works in theological education ON THEIR campuses.

I’m sure there are several other ideas around this. I know Fuller Seminary just released a M.Div. completely online, so that is an option now, as well. But, there is still a lot of debt to go with that. If these 35 hour segments would come with an “approved by the accreditation board” certificate, then that would go a long way into the future of theological education. What are your thoughts and ideas? What other seminaries are doing things differently for the sake of their future?

Mainline Shifts towards the next reformation, this time bringing unity…. This is big….Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Reformation of Unity! If you have not read Part 1 please do so first to have a background and basis for the continued thoughts in this current blog post. Thanks, and yes I probably should have split this up into 2 or 3 more parts, but I feel like it needs to be all together. As always, please let me now wha you think.

OK, if we are making the assumption that the current mainline institutions are going to be forced to “evolve” or transform into something that will still be around past the current iteration, then I’d like to propose three potential realities that must be considered (or reconsidered) to come alongside the current institution. I want to reiterate that I’m not proposing something to replace what the current institutions are. That might be an eventuality, but there must be a slow, welcoming of new ideas and new orthopraxy to come alongside our current institutional realities.  The three things I believe that must be on the current whiteboard of the R&D department  of all mainlines are these:

1. A Redefining of Clergy.

2. A Redefining of Eccleisa (Church).

3. A Redefining of Theological Education.

4. The Reformation of Unity.

These three are not the only things that the R&D Department needs to deal with, but I believe these are the most pressing that will lead into a needed refinement of who we are today. I’d like to invite you to go a little deeper with me into each.

A Redefining of Clergy….

I know you will get tired of hearing this, but I want to be abundantly clear that I’m not talking about a replacement of the current clergy roles and definitions (at least not for a few decades). I’m saying we need to make room for another expression of clergy within the mainlines. Maybe it already exists and should be utilized or reimagined to fit into a role that can be a both/and reality of clergy that can be more holistic in our ability to minister to our world. But, whether it is doable in each of the mainline’s polity or not, it needs to be encouraged and utilized.

As stated in the Part 1 blog post, the finances of our current churches in the mainlines are on a trend towards not having enough to pay the clergy the minimum salary. And there is a strong shift among clergy (and I’d argue in the western society) for a desire to bring back the understanding of a neighborhood parish: Not expecting people to come to the church building, but for the church to go into the neighborhoods and stay a long time to truly meet the needs of the local communities and neighborhoods; to help develop authentic community within neighborhoods and subdivisions. (That discussion will come a little later in the redefining of eccleisa /church.) The newer understandings of “Missional” are that it is God’s mission not our own mission, and if God is on Mission (the Missio Dei), then we join God where God is already at work. There seems to be a trend and shift of clergy and/or laity that are desiring to go to places where people ARE instead of expecting people to come to us. Maybe it is a response to the church growth movement (attraction model of ministry) or just a shift in paradigm thinking, but the reality of being the church is having a new voice and calling.

So, if there is a shift of a lack of money to pay clergy, and there is a desire for clergy to stay in one place for a long amount of time to really bring communal transformation into the neighborhoods and subdivisions, then maybe the typical understanding of clergy needs another form of the role of clergy. Now, the United Methodist Church has a few ways already in place to allow for this kind of clergy (see “Local Elder” that we used to have, and even some General Evangelists take on the role). But, we need to start (or continue) to encourage bi-vocational and mono-vocational (workplace) clergy. Let me try to explain.

Bi-vocational clergy have been a much larger trend among church planters as of late. Since churches are taking longer and longer to be planted/created, the money of the mainline institutions is not cutting it, because giving a full salary and ministry support for 3-5 years is not long enough to develop deep authentic relationships and community development when you are going into the mindset of not attractional, but missional (I’m thinking 15-20years is a much better time frame). So, clergy are willing to go get another job to subsidize the costs of ministry and salary. Plus, in my personal experience of church planting from this way of thinking, when I would ask for financial support from those involved in the new community they would not give money to support more structures/institutions, or even my salary. They would ask me, “Well why don’t you go get your own job just like us and then when we all give money, we can know you are giving your money right alongside us? And then when we give money, it would not be just going back into ourselves or our “church”, but it would directly be going to do things that were transforming our neighborhoods and meeting those needs. Our budget would be small amounts of money towards administrative costs and mostly go to ministry.” It was an argument I heard over and over again, and maybe an argument that is hurting our existing churches financially, as well.

So, if we as mainline denominations would allow for and encourage more bi-vocational clergy then they would not be so financially dependent upon structures above them, and they could thrive in the lower structured communities and neighborhoods. Plus, this would help the current realities of the financial struggles of the current institutions. I could see the goal as to helping the clergy to slowly make the shift of being bi-vocational, and possibly a full-time workplace clergy. This shift would help the workplace clergy start to realize that the “business” they own, or are a part of IStheir “church”, and their customers are everyday opportunities to minister to, care for, and love. They could offer community and relationship that is transformative, and can introduce them all into the journey of finding the story of God and the story of us.

I took a voluntary leave of absence after the funding for the church plant I was doing stopped, and I started working for Apple Inc. in one of their retail stores. I was there for three years, and while I was not a pastor in an official capacity, I still performed weddings and funerals (that I received permission to perform) and I ministered to my co-workers and the customers on a daily basis. I was an unofficial pastor of the Apple store, and had I been allowed, I could have started a church among those friends and family. Co-workers stayed at my house when they had no home, I would invite them all to holiday celebrations, etc… It was such a beautiful expression of Ecclesia/Church that I had experienced. It was not necessarily better than our current existing churches, but one that was greatly needed that our current understanding of “church” was not meeting the needs. I believe it was meeting even more effectively through me by my living as a “workplace” clergy.

There is also a current shift of mono-vocational (workplace clergy) clergy that have grasped this and are seeing the power of living into their full calling through these different ways of living out their calling. I have a friend that was a second career clergy, and after getting his D.Miv. decided that he was to go work full-time in his bodyshop and allow the existing missional church to be led through new leadership. Since doing this, his body shop business has grown exponentially. He has a ongoing guest blog post on a large website in that industry that he is influencing other body shops to help them understand the importance of caring about the communities they live in and to give back to them. He understands his business is really a ministry/ecclesia/church. And, he is able to financially give towards the ministry of his local missional church, instead of receive from it. He shares the love of Christ to every employee and customer. All of them are his “parish”. Wesley himself said, “the world is my parish”. On the wall just outside Fr. Richard Rohr’s office is a photo of the universe and it has the words, “My parish” under it. Same idea, just different levels of local passionate involvement.

A Redefining of Eccleisa (Church)…

So, why can’t we create R&D departments that will help fund bi-vocational clergy or workplace clergy, over much longer time periods, until they can make enough money to not be dependent upon the support of the institutions or create new missional self sufficient neighborhood eccleisa? Church planters ask me all the time for advice and my first piece of advice other than creating a rhythm in their personal life of prayer and relationship is to get off of the conference teat as soon as possible. The reason is that most mainlines (due to what Mentioned in Part 1 are more interested in self-preservation, than true long-term effectiveness) Plus, if your desire to to just keep the current institution alive, then you want to create churches that will give back enough money to keep things running as is. But, what if the purpose of the conference was to pour itself into the communities and neighborhoods? I believe they see themselves as desiring to support the local churches, but if the idea of church is changing in the future generations, then the conferences should be helping them realize who they could be and follow their calling of God to go into the neighborhoods.

A phenonominal video describing this way of thinking was posted 2 years ago on Vimeo. Just watch this video and dream of ways for clergy coming out of seminary that think like this, to be allowed to be in ministry in this kind of way. The video is titled, “Place Matters: The Parish Collective on Churches, Places, and Spaces”

So, if that is a new-er way of thinking about ecclesia/church then how can the mainline institutions allow these kinds of ministries to occur and become deeply embedded into neighborhoods, but in a way of forming community that might necessarily look or even act the same way as the typical current churches of today? There will be so many different and unique ways of living into these ways of bringing renewal in communities through relationships. So, no one way of thinking about it, but will it be encouraged to be lived into by the current institutions. There must be different expressions of church in the world we live into today. And this is a needed one that will require a different thinking about clergy, finances, and especially in the UMC the itineracy.

A Redefining of Theological Education…

So, this one will have to be continued. I have many more questions around this than I do potential ways of living out a redefined understanding of theological education in the future expressions of the future reformation.

Should seminaries just require a few more classes and round out their required hours to be 115hrs to include classes around bi-vocational missional engagement? Would it be a separate track of a masters degree? Could we start to see seminaries start to become more local? Cohort models that would be much more specific to the local needs of a geographical area? Should there start to be Lay seminaries that are to train laity to understand and help them realize they could potentially have a greater ability to renew their communities and workplaces as lay ministers? Should this be done out of traditional seminaries or the mainline institutions? I will be talking with a few seminary professors over this issue to possible put in a Part 3.

A Reformation of Unity….

Ok, here is my potential theory of the next Reformation. And again, feel free to go read Phyllis  tickles’ books on the issue and I’m sure there are several more, but she was the first to put the bug of the idea in my head:

The Great EmergenceThe Great Emergence
emersion, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group
(October, 2008)
Buy from: Amazon.com
Buy from: BarnesandNoble.com

and

Emergence ChristianityEmergence Christianity
Buy from: Amazon.com
Buy from: BarnesandNoble.com

Here she is talking about the book above “The Great Emergence”: (remember what she is calling “Emergence” is the beginnings of what she will later call the Age of the Spirit, and she is talking about another Reformation!)

Now, I personally am wondering if this next reformation will bring healing and unity instead of divisions like the previous one caused. I’m wondering if the slow death of the current institutions and mainlines will slowly create these hyper-local communities and bring community renewal, but they will find the need for community beyond denominationally lines. They will live into the Reformation and in growing upon the communal development they have passion for,  it will bring unity among those that are separated. Different flavors will still exist, but they will be much more known for their similarities than their differences. For their desire of community, not too unlike the day of pentecost. Now, I made be crazy and extremely optimistic in this thinking, but I believe it will occur over the next 500-1,000 years. And we are seeing the very start of the growth/birth pains of this next reformation of unity. .

With that said, I still believe the current realities of the institutional churches have an opportunity to empower and encourage these new expressions of church/eccleisa. This will be a slow growth and evolution, but an inevitable one, and we should be creating as many R&D departments within the mainlines to find and create all kinds of different expressions of the future church in our local communities. We should realize that it must be done alongside our current realities! They are not at odds with one another, they are both desperately needed in this time of transition. And, I do think the current mainlines are still healthy enough to be able to encourage, teach, and empower the dreams of the future expressions of church, instead of putting so much of the focus on self-preservation.

————

OK, that is enough to span a few chapters of a book, huh? To several of you this is nothing new, but to a few this might be new thoughts that we need to work through. Again, my desire for this is for this to be used by future expressions of church and clergy, to start the needed conversation for finding a place within our current structures and institutions, to be able to fail often to succeed sooner, and to make sure that (at least in my case) the Wesleyan way of living out our faith does not die with the institution, but flourishes and brings vitality into the world not too much unlike the amazing beautiful history we are founded upon in the time of Wesley, his brother Charles, and probably more importantly their mother Susanna! Blessings. LHM, CHM, LHM.