Very nice article that asks whether the Church (or church) can handle people who doubt. Can it welcome uncertainty. Is it a safe place to form, not just conform.
Month: January 2014
“Portrait of a Minister as a Young Man” or “East Meets West”
I am supposed to preach in church here in Baguio City the first Sunday of February. Thought I would do a reflection on I Timothy 4:12. It reads:
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
I had a few thoughts on this passage. First is the relative unimportance of the word “Young.” The passage could have said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are… well, almost anything. Don’t let anyone look down on you for any reason. Second is the impossibility of the first command. You can’t MAKE anyone NOT look down on you. Clearly, the idea is that one is not to let the fact that people are going to look down on you stop you from doing what is right.
But as I was preparing for my class in cultural anthropology, I realized that one could view the verse as a meeting of East and West.
The “Western” mindset is often described as being highly individualistic ignoring societal norms, while the “Eastern” mindset is often described as being focused on conforming to societal expectations and norms over individual freedom.
Consider I Timothy 4:12. Suppose we split the verse into a “Western” stereotype command, and an “Eastern” stereotype command.
Western: “Let no one look down on you for being young. Don’t worry about being an example… find your own path and let others find theirs.”
For the Western imagery… picture a rock… unyielding and unaffected, independent.
Eastern: “Be an example to other believers in your speech and actions… ensuring that you are guided/affected by those in judgment over you in society.”
For the Eastern imagery… picture clay… changing… moldable, dependent.
Paul in his guidance to Timothy places these images in tension. One is uncaring but caring. One seeks to be a conformer without conforming.
What brings these two together is motive and center.
Motive: Goodness. Goodness prevents one from being made ineffective by others in doing what is good. Seeking others to be good motivates one to be an appropriate example to others by being good.
Center: God. God is the judge of behavior (not others). God is the standard of action and speech around others.
It is kind of a shame that some societies (all societies?) have placed either individual freedom (on one side) or societal conformity (on the other other) in tacit preeminence over goodness and God. I have lived in the East and I have lived in the West. Both have their problems. We need to bring the two together, with proper motive and center.
You Can’t Get There from Here
A really really old joke. Maybe one should not even call it a joke, but maybe it is more of an anecdote.
A salesman is driving through a sparsely inhabited bit of countryside. He comes upon an old farmer standing at the corner of an intersection of two roads completely lacking in directional guidance.
<Typically, the farmer is a New Englander, but since I can neither speak nor type with a convincing New England accent, I will let you pick the region of your choice.>
“Good day, Sir.” said the salesman. “I am trying to find my way to Glimpton. I am afraid I have lost my way. Could you possibly point me in the correct direction.”
The farmer replied. “Hmm… well let me see. Glimpton… a pretty place. You need to go down that way for a spell and then… Wait, no. You need to go this way and… Hmmm. That won’t work. Maybe you should kind of, let’s see now…”
After a bit more of thinking out loud, the farmer comes to the answer, “You can’t get there from here.”
A humorous anecdote loses its humor when it is dissected… but let’s dissect it anyway. The final statement is meant to be mildly humorous for a few reasons.
- There is an assumption by most that any point can be reached from any other point.
- Most would believe that a local should know where local places are (not always a good assumption).
- Many would assume that the farmer would rather say there is no answer than admit that he did not know the answer.
But let’s think about this for a moment. There are a lot of places we “get get to from here.” A few are:
- The past
- The (distant) future
- The center of the earth
- 1 light year from earth (or more).
That’s enough for now.
But in Christian outreach I think that there are other places that we cannot get to from where we are.
Most Christians, I THINK, would agree that we are supposed to share God’s message (the Gospel). Most of these same Christians, I HOPE, would recognize that sharing is not enough… we are to seek a response from the hearers leading to individual and societal transformation. And recognizing that different cultures have different values and ideas, these same Christians, PERHAPS, would see the need to adapt the message other hearers.
I am studying cross-cultural ethics right now. If you look at the previous paragraph, you see three major categories of Ethics (as referred to by David Augsberger).
- We are commanded to share the message (Deontological Ethics).
- Our sharing must be done to increase the likelihood of a positive response (Teleological Ethics)
- Our message must be adapted to the specific cultural understanding of the hearer (Contextual Ethics).
When I was in seminary, I was told that Christian Ethics is Deontological. I don’t see that as the case Biblically. Yes, we are supposed to be guided by God who is our authority. That is deontological. Yet, our behavior is also supposed to be guided by anticipated results and by context. This makes Christian Ethics much more complicated… but rightly so. If your standard is God… an infinite living person… it would be silly to assume that such a standard could be distilled into a list of DOs and DON’Ts.
This problem that Christians have with Ethics pops up with Outreach. I have a lot of Christian friends on FaceBook. God bless them, but they put horrible things on FB (and blogs at times as well). One will put an article that suggests that floods, earthquakes and such are God’s way of telling us to stop being nice to homosexuals. Another one talks about Arab Muslim atrocities to Christians, and asks the question, why are we being nice to these people when they are so horrible to us? Some posts seem to be built on the premise that it is good to legally force non-Christians to act like Christians, while it is bad to legally force Christians to act like other groups. Others are notes about when God is coming back in _____ (pick a year… any year). When God does not return at that time… that prophecy gets dumped and another prophecy with a new year (perhaps old year + 2) comes out. Others respond to horrible personal tragedies with trite statements like “God is in control” and “It is all for the best.” <First of all, who says that a tragedy is necessarily for the best? Maybe it isn’t. And the basic premise of the Bible is that at this moment God is NOT in control… that’s why things are particularly lousy.>
I think there is a disconnect. May I suggest a few things.
1. Putting things on Social Media that insult, denigrate, or negatively stereotype groups of non-Christians, reduces the likelihood that God’s message of love and transformation will be understood and accepted.
2. Utilizing the argument that people do bad things to Christians so Christians should do bad things to them, is a devilish argument— completely unethical by any standard– and certainly should be rejected in total.
3. Topics that interest a wacky little subset of Christianity should be kept out of the broader media. Paul said that one should avoid lawsuits between Christians because it hurts their testimony to non-believers. Maybe that principle should be considered when it comes to the quirks in Christendom. That small subset of Christendom that likes to do “Rapture Roulette” (or fight over holidays, or questions of God’s sovereignty and theodicy) should find ways of keeping such embarrassing stuff out of the broader media. The fact that Jesus specifically gave the message of Revelation to John to share with specific churches should be meditated upon. It wasn’t given for the broader society. It was given to Christians for comfort and warning.
The message of God should be shared… but it should be shared in such a way that it is made appealing (refer to Titus 2:10) contextually and methodologically.
When our goal (destination) is at war with our message and method for getting there, I believe it is true that “we can’t get there from here.”
An ‘Introduction to Missions’ Book… hopefully.
Been trying to write an Introductory book for Christian missions. I suppose I should be working on it right now. I have written some short books before. I did one on medical missions (based on my dissertation)… pretty good, but short. I did one on the use of narrative in missions (a bit rough and speculative but I like it generally). I did a very rough one on wholism in missions (more of a thought notebook than a book). But this one is meant to be a bit more official… hopeful for Seminary Extension students in Southeast Asia. Hopefully, it will go okay.
I am seeking for this Introduction of Missions to be a bit less American in its logic. Missions in the US tends to focus on culture in its taxonomy (E-scale and P-scale designators for what is or is not missions). In the US where mission organizations dominate, not only Christian missions but determining what is Christian missions is built around culture. I really enjoy teaching Cultural Anthropology, but I consider a theological and ministerial tool, rather than a guide for determine what is Missions.
But things are a bit looser in Asia… even more so with Diaspora missions, Bivocational missions, and Short-term missions. Add to that cybermissions, part-time missions, and such and the culture isn’t the best tool for separating missions from other ministries.
With this in mind, I am trying to develop a book on missions that is Church-centered. Church-centered does not mean Church only. I am a Baptist and in Baptist history there has been the tendency to consider the local church as God’s only vehicle for His work. As such, mission organizations and other organizations are considered to be without divine authorization. That is absolutely NOT what I believe.
Rather, I see missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. When the local church sends out a person, family, or team for God’s kingdom outside of itself (for God’s kingdom, not itself), that is Christian missions. Mission agencies may assist local churches in empowering, training, providing logistic support, member care, and accountability… but that role doesn’t change who is the sender.
Hopefully, the book will turn out okay. Shifting missions from being culturally-based to church-based really has a lot of ramifications including:
- Definition of Christian missions
- Definition of missionary
- Understanding of what it means to be “called” or “sent”
And more… Frankly, changing the above three really changes the whole field of study. We will see where it goes.
I decided to link to our ministry’s e-journal (2013 journal). I feel pretty good about it… and it includes some of the work we have done with disaster relief in response to Typhoon Yolanda. I was the editor of it… but perhaps I shouldn’t admit it. There are probably a lot of errors. I really should not be an editor since I hate reading something more than once. Still, for a little pastoral care group in the Philippines, I think it turned out pretty good.
STM: Between Colonialism and Paternalism
One of the wonderful things about studying Missions is that no one really knows what they are doing. Whenever one messes up… one is in good company. This is all too evident in Short-Term Missions.
Unbridled Enthusiasm: Some churches now see the future as the demise of the long-term, cross-cultural missionary. Some of those in this category are the “Just Send Money” folks… where resources flow to local ministers, while keeping foreigners away. (Curiously, they don’t mind local ministers coming to “Christian countries” to be trained… maintaining a toxic inequity… but that is for another day.) Others see the demise of long-term missionaries with its replacement by Short-termers. The inherent limitations of STM for long-term program partnerships and outreaches is actually pretty obvious. The need for bi-cultural individuals to serve as liaison between STMers and local hosts should be evident to most. Add to that the challenges of ethnocentric clashes, “religious tourists,” and economic inefficiencies, and it becomes clear that a strategy built solely around short-term mission is doomed. Even other religions that build much of their missions strategy around STM (or at least MTM) such as LDS still have long term site coordinators.
Unbridled Antipathy. Some go the other way. Some cite the cost. Some cite the lack of training of participants and the ultimate inability of STMers to do long-term work. Additionally, there is the thought of some that feel that STMers do more damage than good. Some see the tendency of Christians using STM as more of a vacation than a mission as a problem.
For the unbridled antipathy, perhaps a a testimony would help.
1. Back in 2003, I joined a team of ten that went to Londrina, Brazil (a beautiful place). We helped build a church there. It was part of a partnership between the Parana Convention of Southern Baptist Churches, and the Baptist General Assembly of Virginia. The partnership was long-term, each helping each other in different ways. The trip helped to inspire me to be involved in missions and eventually led to my family and I going to the Philippines.
2. In 2009/2010, in response to typhoon damage in the Philippines, our mission board sent over Chaplain Charlie Benton. He provided training for our team to do crisis stress defusing. This was a big help, and has moved us forward allowing us to help out with a number of crises in the Philippines. This particular STM mission has made us far more effective in the following years.
These two stories I believe attack the antagonism of those who do not value STM. The first story points out that STM can be of value to the STMer. This cannot be ignored. I grew from the experience and that provides some genuine justification for STM. The second story shows that short-term missions can genuinely help long-term. Additionally, both point out that STM can be a strong aspect of a longer term relationship between Christians in different countries. STM has its value.
But there there are two implied concerns that need to be addressed as well.
A. Fear of Colonialism. A colony is a region that is ruled/owned by outsiders. These outsiders utilize the colony primarily for its own benefit. Related to missions, there is the fear that STMers go to a foreign country and gain from it… with loss for those in the mission field. (Seems to be a bit of Christian “Marxism” here… the presumption that if one group of people gain in an exchange, then the other group must lose.) There can be an aspect of reality to this. However, the fear is a bit misguided. When we have short-termers coming to the Philippines, I have told people in our local church in Baguio that those coming are likely to learn/gain from us more than we will learn/gain from them. I ask the people whether they will embrace their role as trainers of those that come? With at most (perhaps) one exception, the alleged recipients were happy to help those who came to help. Short-term missions should not be parasitic… STMers should not be there to selfishly hurt. But one should not be afraid that the short-term missionaries gain from the experience more than the recipients of the mission.
B. Fear of Paternalism. A more recent fear is that when the “haves” (whoever or whatever they are) help the “have nots” (or “have less”) it could be for the wrong reason and create a toxic relationship. In a sense this is the opposite of the first. One is fear of the “haves” gaining from the “have nots,” while the other is fear of unequal relationships that may demean the recipient.
But if you think about it, the two kind of negate each other. Paternalism creates the presumption that missions recipients have less, while the colonial presumption is that they have more. Bringing the two together shows that it is NOT about haves and have nots, but “HAVE DIFFERENTS.”
However, related to both colonialism and paternalism is the presumption of inequity of power. This is a more realistic concern. However, if we embrace the idea of each having different resources, the inequity of power only really exists is we support such a belief (through stereoptypes, prejudices, and policies).
If Christians around the world edify each other through missions, rather than viewing certain groups has having and others as needing, one does not have to have such fears.