Unending Culture Shock

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In our time we have been uprooted from our former homeland, adrift in a mobile and changing society. We are lonely in crowds who seem not to care, pushed to and from by machines to serve and be served, until we too become mechanical and act like machines. We meet the other persons as strangers, but mostly by external contacts passing by or bouncing away as if we were rubber balls.  We… do not know the inner life of other persons, and so we give attention mainly to the external appearances. Estranged from them or used by them, we are empty within ourselves, lost souls for whom no one seems to care. The need has never been so urgent for someone to care. How can a pastor care for his people in such a world?

Paul E. Johnson (“Christian Advocate” entitled “Where We Are Now In Pastoral Care” 23 SEP 1965, page 7).

I used this quote in my two pastoral care blogsites (www.bukallifecare.org, and www.cpspp.orgwww.cpspp.org)

But I would like to look at it from a missiological standpoint as well. The quote sounds a lot like what missionaries go through in terms of culture shock. They are uprooted from their homeland, and become strangers in a strange land. They struggle to fit in but often feel a lonely disconnectedness, unable (at first anyway) to connect with others beyond a superficial level, and feeling like they are tossed around by forces beyond their ability to control or even understand.

But this article wasn’t written about missionaries. It was written about all of us. Because we live in a globalizing (while simultaneously particularizing) culture undergoing rapid, and still accelerating change, we all feel a certain amount of disconnection. This disconnection we don’t always notice because it has become the background base of our reality… a barely noticed incessant neuroticizing hum.

Sometimes, I enjoy visiting my old home in upstate New York. That area has changed so little over the last few decades. It gives me a sense of connection with my past. But in the last couple times that I have been there (in 2012 and 2013) I have felt a certain disquieting feeling as I have noticed the slow build-up of changes that make the place start to feel just a bit “foreign.” This is so unlike my other homes over the years in Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and now in Baguio City (Philippines). In these places, change is rapid and seeing the place after a few years (or even a few months) almost is like seeing a new place.

Johnson suggests the transitory nature of our lives leads to superficiality. Church should be a place of rich and deep interconnection, but it commonly isn’t. We tend towards the reality described by Lily Tomlin “We are all in this together alone.

Perhaps we need the findings of cross-cultural experiences in missionaries applied to all of us, since many (most?) of us are undergoing an unending, chronic, culture shock– a perpetual dehumanizing cultural uprooting.

 

10 VBS Ideas to Infuse Strategic Thinking Into Your Church – The Malphurs Group : The Malphurs Group

As a kid, I have very few memories more vivid than of spending a week in Vacation Bible School. I would attend two weeks: one at my church and one at my best friend’s church. I remember the week at my friend’s church the most because it was different. As a part of their VBS,… Read More

Source: 10 VBS Ideas to Infuse Strategic Thinking Into Your Church – The Malphurs Group : The Malphurs Group

Too Valuable To… Forget

Here is a quote from Missionary Member Care: An Introduction, by Ronald Kotesky. It can be downloaded HERE. It draws heavily from Ruth Tucker and Leslie Andrews article “Historical Notes on Missionary Care” (In “Member Care: Counting The Cost”)

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James Hudson Taylor
  • David Brainerd. Born in Connecticut and missionary to Native Americans living in New Jersey in the 18th century, David Brainerd suffered from loneliness and depression. He wrote, “I live in the most lonely melancholy desert…My soul was weary of my life. I longed for death, beyond measure,” (He chose to work alone rather than with a veteran missionary couple with whom he had been assigned).

  • Dorothy and Felix Carey. Born in England and missionary to people in India near the end of the 18th century, Dorothy and Felix were the wife and son of William Carey, often called the “Father of Modern Missions.” As noted in Chapter one, Dorothy was severely mentally ill and Felix turned his back on God after serving briefly as a missionary (No help from the agency in England, William tried to help on site.).

  • J. Hudson Taylor. Born in England and 19th century missionary to China, J. Hudson Taylor at age 37, after 20 years of missionary service said, “Hope itself had almost died out.” He had such intense internal conflict that he agonized that “every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of failure and sin oppressed me.” He sank to such despair that he had “the awful temptation even to end his own life.” “Maria, his wife, stood between Hudson and suicide” (J. C. Pollock, 1962, Hudson Taylor and Maria, New York, McGraw-Hill, p. 195-196)

  • Adoniram Judson. When his wife and daughter died, 19th century American missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson’s grieving process turned into a mental disorder. Reclusive, he dug a grave in the jungle where he remained—filling his mind with thoughts of death. He said, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.” (Fellow missionaries cared for him.).

  • Mary Livingstone. When she and their children could not keep up with him, David Livingstone, 19th century Scottish missionary to Africa, sent them back to England. There Mary found cheap lodging for herself and the children, but was so distressed that she turned to alcohol. When David returned five years later he had no time for his family. (Even though Mary and the children were right there, their agency did nothing for them.).

These sounds rather depressing, and perhaps even more so since they involve some of the great early Protestant missionaries. It might be argued that these individuals were weak.  And no doubt that is true, to a certain extent. Everyone is weak. Frailty is a core quality of our humanity. This is part of the reason God created us as social rather than isolated beings, and why Christ established the church with two major descriptions of Body and Assembly.

The fact that they were frail, then is no surprise. In fact, I get very nervous of those who suggest that faithfulness to God leads to the absence of problems. Not only does that not jibe very well with the Biblical record but it often leads to prescriptions that won’t address the problem. The problems listed above did not just happen. They were created through a failure to evaluate and support missionaries and missionary families.

I will be teaching Missionary Member Care this coming semester at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. I look forward to it. But I also enjoy reading the victories and struggles of those who have gone before us. There is much to learn in both of these aspects. They are definitely too valuable to forget.

 

Seeking Napoleon in the Church

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Two quotes from Aldous Huxley:

“So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons,  Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise to make them miserable.”

“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”

(Confession moment: I am not really a dog person– I prefer cats because they are more relaxed in their loyalty.  To much loyalty is not necessarily a good thing.)

It appears to me that there has long been a battle between those who love autocracy and those who hate it. Yet that is too simple. It is probably more accurate to say that there are those:

  • Seeking to maintain power518jkm77zil-_sy344_bo1204203200_
  • Seeking to tear down power structures to distribute power
  • Seeking to tear down structures to replace with other structures that are more favorable for their own quest for power
  • Seeking peace by ducking the conflicts as much as possible.

Huxley’s quotes above suggest that the development of oppressive power structures comes from people’s fascination with or lust for power.

I got thinking on this when I saw a book in the bookstore here in Baguio City, Philippines. It is “Embracing Shared Ministry” by Joseph Hellerman. I went back a few weeks later and found that it was already purchased by someone else (here in the Philippines, finding a good theology book available is a rare thing.) Curiously, a friend of mine had bought it and when he went back to his home country, he gave it to me. Nice!!   Hellerman’s basic argument is that the early church was meant to be counter-cultural. Greco-Roman culture promoted centralization of power and fascination with warlords and emperors. The early church, correctly, rebelled against this. Hellerman suggested this is especially evident in Paul’s Epistle to the Church of Philippi.

I think a lot of Evangelical Churches have become a bit too cozy with power. In the recent elections, a lot of pastors I know are supporting (both here in the Philippines, as well as the United States) individuals that are powerbrokers while being pretty unpalatable ethically. Perhaps they see these individuals as the best choices (embracing the “lesser evil” ethical model). But the focus seems to be on their perceived ability to wield power and affect change over whether they have the will to affect change righteously (either  in method or in goal). Despite the collapse of so many “Super-Christians,” especially from mega-churches or TV ministries, there seems to still be a fascination with “powerful” Christians, and many still embrace a Triumphalistic form of Christianity.

Such beliefs are often not well stated or even acknowledged, but sneak in via exegesis and theological arguments. This includes movements that argue that Christian submission is unilateral rather than mutual in church– more in common with the five relationships in Confucianism than the Bible.

Consider SOME Biblical commentators take on Paul. I have read the argument put forward that Paul must have been right for not allowing John Mark to join the 2nd missionary journey… because he was Paul (Luke recorded Paul’s actions, rather than Barnabas’ after all). The same argument has been used to argue that Paul was correct to (1) go against church guidance in traveling to Jerusalem— landing in jail for several relatively ineffectual years, and (2) confront Peter about eating arrangements (although both Paul and Peter appeared to choose arrangements that were missiologically justifiable). In some or all of these cases, it is possible that Paul was correct— but if he was correct, it was NOT because he was Paul. It was not that he was an apostle. It was not that he wrote 12 epistles in the New Testament (2nd only to Luke by volume). Fame makes people famous, not correct. Even being given authority by God or Church does not make individuals correct. People, even important people, are wrong an awful lot in the Bible.

One of the odd things (I am speaking now as a Baptist missionary) I have seen in Baptist cirrcles is the strong support among Baptist leaders for the concept of the “Senior Pastor.” Baptist apologists will argue against many church practices– sprinkling, infant baptism, hierarchal denominationalism, credalism, and such– based on Biblical arguments and the practices of the early church. Baptists challenge the formal priestly office as an invention centuries after the early church. Baptist also correctly challenge the hierarchal offices above the local churches in some denominations (often misusing early titles of “bishop” and “apostle”). But when it comes to the issue of local church leadership, the apologists reverse and begin seeking to justify the historical practice in the Baptist church, rather than drawing from the primitive church. Now, it may not be wrong to have a single “chief elder” in the church, but there certainly is nothing uniquely right about it. This may or may not be an example of sloppy exegesis, but it appears to me to be most certainly evidence that people in power like to find ways to get God to support their hold on power, and accumulation of more power.

Hellerman’s book supports a shared elder governance apparently, as an early church structure. He utilizes the Epistle to the Philippans to support this. Does he succeed? I think he does to some extent. It is not a slam dunk. The New Testament is frustratingly vague on church governance. Curiously, this vagueness may support Hellerman’s point. If power and hierarchy mattered, it probably would have been emphasized in Scripture. Additionally, people with power tend to talk a lot about power. So the little discussion of power roles in the church may suggest their relative absence. Certainly when we get to the writings of Ignatius (Theophorus) a few decades later, one does find a church leader of wants to talk a lot about power roles in the church. Hellerman would, I believe, see in Ignatius’ writings the Hellenization of Christianity— a process both good (contexuatlizaiton) and bad (syncretism).

You will note, this is not a review of the book. I wrote more of a review later. But it is a topic we all should wrestle with.

Talking Talking Talking Behind Bars

Expatiate:  (1) to write or talk too much; enlarge (on).  (2) to roam without restraint; wander at will.  (The World Book Dictionary)24159-one-of-the-most-sincere-forms-of-respect-is-actually-listening

Exspatiari means “to wander from a course” and, in the figurative sense, “to digress.” But when English speakers began using “expatiate” in 1538, we took “wander” as simply “to move about freely.” In a similar digression from the original Latin, we began using “expatiate” in a figurative sense of “to speak at length.”  (Merriam-Webster)

Our group yesterday doing some training with Prison Fellowship International (Philippines) in Jail Ministry. We (our group, Bukal Life Care) train chaplains, so we have done jail ministry before, but our strength is more in hospitals and community. So, we wanted to talk to experts before returning to this specific ministry.

We were told that at one of the jails (one that we hope to join PFI-P in) has numerous religious groups that come in. Several evangelical Christian groups go there. The Roman Catholics go there. The Jehovah’s Witness go there. The Muslims go there. The Iglesia ni Cristo (a local somewhat Christian-ish religion) goes there. For all of those groups, there method is pretty simple. Go in there for their allotted time and preach preach preach.

Our friend estimated (not sure if he worked this out precisely) that at that jail, the inmates get about 3 hours of religious preaching a day.

I don’t know about you, but if that is accurate, this certainly counts as CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. Add to that that each are preaching often very different messages. From the standpoint of each individual group, they may see it as speaking to the inmates simply a couple of hours a month, or maybe once a week.

…. But consider the position of the inmate. Religious people come in and talk and talk and talk to them. Their messages are supposed to come from God… but the messages are all different. Day after day after day. Expatiation is about talking too much and having talks that wander or are disconnected. From the inmate position, that is exactly what they are getting.

A better suggestion is not simply to talk, but to listen. Inmates need healing and demonstration of God’s love, not cognitive arguments to cancel out the cognitive arguments of the person who preached earlier in the day. They also don’t need demagoguery to cancel out the demagogues they heard before or will hear after. Inmates need to be heard and the conversation should be driven from their felt needs (with of course one eye on what they, additionally, really need). They need dialogue, not simply excessive and inconsistent monologue

A good article on the power of listening is given by Tim Eyre. It can be read HERE

Read it yourself, but he mentions certain things you tell people when you listen to them:

  • You value other people and their opinion.
  • You value other people’s time. (Being trapped in jail is no justification for disrespecting their time)
  • You are an intelligent and thoughtful person able to hear and consider multiple points of view. (We all need to learn from each other.)
  • You have important things to say. (The more you talk, the more you devalue what you say. If you say less, the less you say will have more import.)
  • You are mature and professional. (Children, politicians, and (often) preachers like to talk without listening. Inmates don’t need that)

Besides if you listen, you are more likely to be listened to anyway. That may not be the most righteous motive… but it still is relevant… if you have a message you want heard.

 

 

 

 

 

The Safest Place?

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Many of you may have seen the news about Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols. They were American missionaries killed in Jamaica within the last few hours.  An article on this is HERE. I never met either of them, but Harold was a friend of a friend. It is a pretty early article. Hopefully, by the time you read this, you will be able to find an updated article with motive, suspects, and perhaps some modicum of justice.

Of course, they are not alone. Two years before my family and I arrived in the Philippines Martin Burnham died due to a kidnapping for ransom activity of a semi-religious gang. A year before we arrived Bill Hyde, mentor of a minister friend of mine, was killed by a bomb set by a similar group.  I teach students here who, in some cases, are from countries where mistreatment of Christian workers is tolerated, and occasionally supported, by regional officials. An acquaintance of mine this last weekend was showing me a picture of a friend and fellow worker who was recovering from having throat slashed by an individual driven by religious animosity. This man survived the attack by biting the hand of his attacker.

Of course, this is a drop in the bucket. Our former church in the States has just finished hosting a “Voice of the Martyrs” conference. We weren’t there, living presently 9000 miles away. That organization tracks the religious killings, tortures, and such perpetrated against Christians. The numbers are disturbing… but should they be surprising?

What does one do with this information. For some, it is to hide. For others it is to share and sensationalize these activities so as to engender more hate. FB is full of such painfully misguided reports.

For me, I am not sure how to respond. I serve in a relatively safe place, although no place is ultimately safe this side of heaven. But it gets me thinking about one of the great “bumper sticker” lies in Christianity. I would not be surprised if you have heard this one a few times:

THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE IS IN THE CENTER OF GOD’S WILL

There really is no obvious truth to this. One could make it correct by saying something like, “The BEST place to be is in the center of God’s will” but that really changes the message. Perhaps one could mean “safest” in some eternal other-worldly sense, but that seems abusive to the term  (An example, one of many, of such deceptive misuse is in a CBN devotional “The Safest Place to Be.” Of course, CBN is never a place for solid theological insight.)

Being in God’s will (though I am not so sure God’s will has a “center”) doesn’t necessarily guarantee persecution or danger, but it should certainly be anticipated. Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith” lists those who lived according to God’s will. It is an inspiring and sobering description of great victories, and horrible ends.

We pray for our own family, and for friends in ministry, especially those in dangerous places due to dangerous people.Yes we pray that God will keep them safe. I hope you do the same.

But the Good Shepherd leads His faithful followers to green pastures and still waters via the valley of the shadow of death. Sadly, the risks are, for many, far more than mere shadows.

Evangelism or “Elevator Pitch”? — Jackson Wu

What’s the distinction between evangelism and an elevator pitch? If you look at how we actually do evangelism, can you see a real difference in practice? Is it true most methods of evangelism are little more than elevator pitches? Do you recoil at the suggestion? Most people I know would object. Why? Elevator pitches are typically associated with…

via Evangelism or “Elevator Pitch”? — Jackson Wu