Archive for July, 2007

Walking with the Palmers

Posted: July 29, 2007 in family, giving

My wife and I — well really, just my wife — are putting together a team for Houston’s Race for the Cure. The event is October 6, 2007 and benefits the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The Komen Foundation funds breast cancer research and education. You can click here, if you would like to join us or support us as walkers/stroller pushers.

Here’s what Rochelle writes about walking the walk:

“I walk because one in eight women will be stricken with breast cancer in her lifetime… I walk because I am a woman, and therefore, I am at risk…I walk in memory of my grandmother who died because of this disease…I walk in honor of my mother, who is beating it…I walk for justice for underprivileged and minority women who lack resources for early detection…I walk in confidence because I believe in prevention…I walk in hope for my two daughters, that in their lifetime, they will see a cure…I walk today because there is no guarantee I will walk tomorrow…I walk with purpose because I will not take matters of health sitting down. Walk with me…as a community, we will make a difference!”

Our team name is “Walk This Way”. (Isaiah:30.21)

The Other – Part 2

Posted: July 20, 2007 in Everything, missional, theology

For much of my life I understood the Eucharist, the Lord’s supper, simply in terms of reflection upon Christs’ acts on my behalf. This was wrapped in an imagination that placed my personal status before God as the primary goal of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. While my personal status is important to both me and God, there are more ways to imagine Communion that might help us better engage the irreducible Other.

Luke 24 recounts an Easter evening encounter in which Jesus meets and walks with two men on the road to Emmaus. As they walk and talk, the men discuss the death of Jesus and the recent happenings in Jerusalem. As Jesus questions them, Cleopas responds, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (Ironically, Jesus is the only one who truly knows what has taken place.)

Later in the evening, as the three men were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then, Luke tells us, the men’s eyes were opened and they recognized him. This, I think, has much to tell us about the Other and the stranger in our midst.

Here the church is met on the road by a stranger who opens the scriptures to them and is revealed as the risen Lord. This revelation, however, does not happen on the road, it happens when the stranger is invited to join them at table. Not only is the stranger invited to stay with them and join them at table; he is permitted to break the bread and bless it.

This is a much different imagination than those who want to wrap Christianity around them like a Teflon blanket of protection against the people that are “not like us.”

Could it be that the resurrected Christ is inviting us to welcome, embrace and trust the stranger?

Could it be that by resisting the Other and the stranger we are in fact missing Jesus Himself?

Could it be that Jesus, the God-man Himself, comes to Earth as a stranger and a foreigner to our territory, and is calling us to openness to the stranger because He is the stranger?

In the stranger and the Other is Jesus Himself!

The Other – Part 1

Posted: July 17, 2007 in books, missional

I am proud to have gone to college at a university that sought diversity. They weren’t always good at it, they didn’t always reach their goals, but it was important to me that people of influence there were leaning toward greater participation from all kinds of people, even if we still struggle to understand all the reasons why diversity is preferred over homogeneity.

At any rate, it’s come to my attention that not all Christian universities are like the one I attended. Not all want diversity. And indeed as the church in America finds itself with fewer adherents leaving Christian universities with fewer potential “Christian” students, some schools have apparently decided to circle the wagons and insulate rather than seek diversity.

For two summers now, a representative from one of the colleges associated with my non-denomination has come to Houston and used this recruiting pitch to Jr. high and High school students: “When you come to our school (which shall go nameless, but it’s not the one in Oregon, California, Nebraska, Texas or Tennessee) you will be at a place where people believe what you believe, look like you look, act the way you act, and are just like you. 95% of the people will be just like you.” In fact, last summer this recruiter said that at their school you don’t have to worry about hearing people speak “Brazilian.”

This is a true statement!

At his school you won’t hear anyone speaking Brazilian.

And at Abilene Christian, where I attended, you won’t hear anyone speaking Brazilian either. As a matter of fact, at none of our schools will you hear anyone speaking Brazilian because Brazilian is NOT a language!

To be fair, maybe he’s not good at speaking “American.”

But I’m worried less about the woeful education this recruiter received at his school and more about the product being offered to our kids. It is clear that as more of us our beginning to think, plan and pray about a fuller engagement with our community and world there are some whose strategy is to disengage and flee.

Can you say “White Flight” class?

Plus, has this recruiter ever thought about how his comments, which were spoken to a majority white audience, may have been interpreted by a growing number of kids in the room who are not white? Is there a place for them at your school?

On a grander scale, the big question for Christians is, “What is the place for the Other in our communities?” I think the biblical story explains that the place for the Other is IN our community.

One of my favorite professors at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is David Jensen who wrote a wonderful book entitled, “In the Company of Others,” writes: “Difference is real, and one task of all persons on this planet, whether religious or not, is to live in ways that promote peace and well-being of each irreducible Other. To refuse this encounter is a cowardly retreat that ignores the complexity of creation and the invitation of my neighbor.” He continues: “Other stands at the center of our most distinctive affirmation–proclaiming Jesus as the Christ–and that faithfulness to this confession turns our attention outward, allowing us to be captivated by the beauty and detail of all persons of difference.”

Words, I think, at least one recruiter somewhere might want to think about.

The Wedding of the Century

Posted: July 11, 2007 in family

If you’ve been checking this blog hoping to see what I was thinking, writing and leaving unedited, you’ve likely been disappointed that I have not posted in a while. The reason: Last week, my wife, two daughters and I flew cross-country to my brother’s wedding on 07/07/07. I dutifully and gratefully served as a groomsmen and my oldest daughter played the role of the emotionally fragile and feet-happy flower girl!

My brother Richard, 36, married a nice young woman named Stephanie, 34, last Saturday. They were one of the 38,000 couples that opted for lucky number 7. Interestingly, Richard and Stephanie have known each other since high school. We were all in youth group together. They weren’t high school sweethearts though. At the time, Stephanie was dating a guy in my grade and my brother was off at David Lipscomb University. I’m not sure how the two connected years later, but they did and now they wed.

Truthfully, I’ve always loved my brother, but only in the last 10 years have come to like him. Because we were so different, I frequently interpreted his actions as foolish and silly and he always thought I was too serious, self-righteous and arrogant — which was probably true. When Richard left for college I was happy, no longer would he be home to bother me and play loud music while I was trying to sleep.

I was certain I wouldn’t miss him, and at the time, I was right.

I didn’t miss him.

I’m typically not the kind of person that misses people. I most certainly wasn’t that kind of person back then.

Fortunately, with age and a little maturity I have come to appreciate his gifts and his love for people. Richard has a likeableness and an ease with all kinds of people that makes him a great salesman and serves him well as he deal with his customers — skills that are not as abundant in his younger brother.  At the same time, the years have shown me how similar we are. I’ve realized that we were shaped by the same events and did our best to respond to those events in positive and affirming ways.

This newfound closeness is apparent to me this week as he is on his honeymoon and out-of-touch. You see, over the past few years, my brother and I have unintentionally formed a habit: We talk every morning on the phone.

This week we haven’t been able to talk each morning.

I’ve noticed his absence in my life and the absence of messages left on my cell phone.

This week, for the first time in my life, I miss my brother!

I am a believer is missional ecclesiology. For me, the issues and imagination of those talking, thinking and intentionally moving in missional ways, while not new, is exciting and necessary for the church as we enter into this evermore post-modern, post-Christian world. One question has been rattling in my head though, and interestingly Scot McKnight has been discussing it some over at his blog, Jesus Creed, and the question is this: Can a church be a missional church without using the word “missional”?

My hunch is that it  can be missional since folks throughout history have had missional imagination without the benefit of the word. Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., and some very good people scattered throughout all the churches I’ve ever been a part of were missional without knowing the term or caring to know it.

So here are some of my reflections about the benefits and deficits of using the word missional in existing churches. (Please note that some of these reflections piggy-back on one another.)

Benefits:

1. Missional keeps first things first. It helps churches know that for many of them the core of the gospel (missio dei) has not been their primary purpose. It gives them language to express a different imagination. This is particularly helpful for frustrated folks who want to get the church out of the pew.

2. Words matter. Various terms help use express specific things and may help churches vision missionality as something other than a new program or a new way of doing old things.

3. New words can have the hope of new connotations. Words like “evangelism” and “social action,” which are not nearly the whole of missional ecclesiology, but are often the result of missionality, have become offensive terms to some, both inside and outside the church. People have preconceived and often negative connotations that the term “missional” does not YET have.

4. The word missional leans toward mission. Missional hints to us that our ecclesial imagination should focus on “mission” which is better than “prosperity,” “favor,” and a lot of other theologically and intellectually bankrupt, yet popular, ways of viewing church.

Deficits.

1. People don’t like new sounding things. In fact, they don’t like them so much that when you present something that sounds new, they spend a lot of time discussing why it’s NOT new. You can spend so much time discussing whether something is new that you never get about dealing with reality and the big picture questions.

2.  Words and definitions give opponents fodder for criticism. When something becomes defined, it’s opponents can spend a lot of time seeking out ways to deconstruct and dismantle its validity. Then its proponents have to spend more time explaining and less time doing.You might notice that some academic missionl proponents seem to spend an equal amount of time defining and un-defining “missional”.

3. Adults only learn what they need to know. They don’t want to learn any new ways of being, just what effect is it going to have on them. Plus, people who are desirous of a “goods and services” church don’t want to hear a lot of missional talk, but will respond when they begin to see lives changed by missional living. (Granted some of this will be negative as a church begins to focus on the least and the lost, some people will say, “We don’t want to be involved with “those” people.”)

4. New words sound like new programs. We need to realize that when we speak about a new missional imagination for the church, it sounds to some as if the old imagination was wrong. Some will take that to mean that their ecclesial experience was bad or wrong, and people resent being made to feel that way. After a lifetime of being in community with a group of people, serving one another, and sacrificing for the church, it’s an awful pill to swallow when some old academic or young emergent or church planter comes along and says, “Now, were doing this.”

That’s just my take!

?whY Phone?

Posted: July 2, 2007 in Apple computers, consumerism, covet, iPhone

Besides thinking that $500 is too much to pay for a phone and besides the fact that $60 is a hefty price per month, there is another reason why I can’t but an iPhone. After church yesterday one of our students caught a ride home with our children’s minister. As the two rode, the student, knowing that I’m an Apple nut, asked, “Do you think Sean will get an iPhone?” Melanie, our children’s and worship minister answered, “If he did, I could never listen to him preach again, because that’s the one thing that he is always preaching against.”

Well, there you have it! Though my heart wants to tote the newest Apple must-have item, all of my sermons and talk about consumerism and the American culture of lust and excess have blown up in my face. Alas, if I buy an iPhone, I lose the “cred” that I cannot buy.

I have to make a confession: At the same moment these two were having the conversation about me and the iPhone, I was in fact at the Apple store looking at the iPhone! I watched a movie trailer on it — it looked great; I listened to music — it sounded awesome; I made a phone call — my wife never picked up; and I looked up this blog — it was hard to read, but the blog content was excellent! All in all, the phone is very, very cool, but not a necessity if, like me, you have a laptop that is almost always with you. Plus, I was taken with the fact that the Apple store had plenty in stock still, kinda makes you wonder why so many folks camped out so long to spend so much money.

And this is where my commentary of consumerism does click in.

How much stuff do we need? The human condition and experience tell me that somewhere today there is someone who is deeply in debt already showing off his new $500 phone to his coworkers. There’s some person out there who already had a phone and a way to take pictures and a way to get on the net and so forth, who now has a new $500 way to do the same things that they could do already.

And at the same time, 1 billion people in the world live on $1/day and 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water. Yet, knowing that, I, along with many others, find myself desirous of something that doesn’t do anything that we couldn’t do before, but only does it in a sleeker, cooler looking way. What’s up with us?

I get that in the American culture, things like internet access, e-mail, sms test messaging, mobile communicating, etc… are needed, even a necessity for some; but it seems that so many of us don’t think twice about buying and buying even if we don’t have a genuine need.

As children of God, we are called more to create than to consume. Maybe that’s something we should give some thought to. That’s just my take!