Correlation in Missions Theology

I wrote an article in my new website, “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.” The article is titled “Correlation of Theology and Pastoral Care in Community.”

Correlation of Theology and Pastoral Care in Community

Please read it, but the premise applies directly to Missions Theology as a reflective process. Missions Theology is iterative correlating missions experience with theological reflection.

Missions experience is linked to community. That is, it is grounded in real world ministerial experience.

Theological reflection is grounded in reflection on that experience, but draws in three other things:

  • One’s relationship with God
  • One’s readings in terms of Scripture, as well as theology and missiology within one’s own faith.
  • Community. One can reflect alone, but solid reflection needs others to challenge and encourage. We need a support system of reflection.

Adventures in Pastoral Theology

I have decided to create a new blog titled “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.” I have noticed that my posts on Munson Missions Musings have become more and more tied to pastoral theology, pastoral care, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, theological reflection, and the like. Therefore, to avoid the website becoming les and less on missions, I have divided the site.

For awhile, I will probably be putting some of my better PC articles from this site or our Bukal Life Care website. I will gradually start adding new content.

Here is the website:  https://adventures-in-pastoral-theology.org/

Ending Well

We are all going to die.

And that is okay. Oh, I know you might say that Jesus is returning any day and will take the redeemed meeting with them that had not “slept” in the clouds. Statistically speaking, however, history is decidedly on the side of “it is appointed unto man once to die” for your fate and mine. And nothing is wrong with that. If we are comforted that Christ will come… why would it be any less comforting that we are a couple of heartbeats away from eternity?

But that seems to be the thing about being human. Death bothers us. Maybe it shouldn’t… but it does. It does a lot. It does so much that many Christian leaders fail to plan for their death. Erik Erikson notes that near the end of life one must deal with integrity versus despair— struggling with the impending threat of non-being. In ministry, people can struggle with this or more  confusedly, act as if one will never die and not train up a replacement.

I recall a former pastor who claimed to be referencing Jerry Fallwell when he expressed the belief that organizations rise and fall by their leaders. Within the context of his point, the pastor was actually saying that one should hardly bother to train up a replacement because things are going to fail anyway once that visionary leader is gone. I can’t help but think that was simply a justification of laziness and hubris, rather than doubts about his mortality. Curiously, Jerry Fallwell died, and our former pastor was pushed out of the church… without such collapse. Go figure.

But organizations and groups die as well. So do churches. So do websites. Times change and structures that were important at one time lose their purpose for being.

I am mentioning this because I am considering bringing this blog to the end.

Why? Am I nearing death?  It is certainly possible, but I have no reason to assume that.   But I am changing. For much of my time in the Philippines, my focus has been on Missions. It is my topic and passion. However, starting in 2009, I became administrator of a counseling center… and then registrar of a chaplaincy certifier. And then an instructor in a number of pastoral care topics. I find that much of my research in recent years has been in terms of pastoral care topics. My missions research has been growing stale. And those areas that I have been continuing to take seriously have been those areas of missions that overlap with other fields. These include:

  • Contextual Theology (Missions Contextualization and Systematic Theology)
  • Missionary Member Care (Missions and Pastoral Care)
  • Interreligious Dialogue (Missions and Pastoral Counseling)

Additionally, I have been doing more in terms of Pastoral Theology (Pastoral Care and Practical Theology) and the somewhat related topic of Theological Reflection.

As such, I find less and less new to say on missions that I have not already shared in my over 1000 previous posts.

So does that mean that this is my last post. Probably not. But I will probably start a new blog that is more in the area of my newer focuses. 

Should I stop now completely? I am getting more views per day on average than I have ever gotten in my 8.5 years of doing this blog. It seems like that would be ending well. End with strength and transition.

But I understand the other side. One doesn’t want to let go. Like many ministry leaders… it feels strange to give up on one’s pet work or project. It always seems worthwhile to keep things going past their usefulness.

Maybe this blog will not end well…. just slowly peter out. Or maybe I will get a new fire in my belly and have more things to say.

Time will tell.

Three Dimensions of Despair

DESPAIR

I was reading a dissertation I happen to like (“Pastoral Variables In Psychotherapy:
Aa Instrument For Assessment” by David C. Stancil), I found some research he had done on the issue of despair and the related issue of hopelessness.  I want to hit on a few things from that work.

Stancil refers to Irving Yalom who describes how despair relates to three temporal dimensions (past, present, and future).

Despair affecting the Past:     Isolation

Despair affecting the Present:     Meaninglessness

Despair affecting the Future:      Death

Despair relates to the Past in terms of Isolation. The following is a quote from Stancil’s dissertation on Isolation:

Yalom suggested that, even from birth, “our existence begins with a solitary, lonely cry, anxiously awaiting a response,” a cry which is far deeper than that of a startle response or of hunger. This cry is one of isolation, which is met by what Yalom calls the silence of “cosmic indifference.” Human isolation, which begins at birth and remains a constant companion throughout life, has the three-fold qualities of being interpersonal (loneliness), intrapersonal (dissociation), and transpersonal (existential). This isolation is the same as that lamented by Sartre and Camus, and has the same result: meaninglessness.  <Dissertation. Chapter 3, page 12>

Despair relates to the Present in terms of Meaninglessness. We cannot survive without some form of meaning. It seems (quite literally perhaps) to be “part of our DNA.” We need purpose and meaning in our lives. We want to know “Why am I here?” The answer that “I am an accident that converts complex organic substances into other complex organic substances in a Universe headed inexhorably toward thermal death” is not very satisfying, to say the least. We thirst for something more.

Despair relates to the Future in terms of Death. Of course, death is our allotted future— every one of us. However, in a state of despair, death moves into the present and haunts and posons the mind. Death is the ultimate fear— non-existence? the void? the great unknown? Death levels the playing field bringing king and slave together… and making anything that we do potentially seem futile. It may be quite healthy to recognize our own mortality. But in despair, death compounds isolation and meaninglessness. Quoting Lily Tomlin, “We are all in this alone.” But death seems to bring us to that ultimate meaningless isolation from all that could bring purpose and connection.

Considering these aspects of Despair, in Christian ministry/missions we need to deal, at the very least, with all of these dimensions.

  1.  Death. In missions, this is the one that we deal with most directly.  Salvation is often presented (marketed?) in terms of freedom from death. It is a “get out of jail” free card from ultimate destruction. This is a very important aspect for addressing despair. But do Christians who have assurance of salvation still struggle with despair? Absolutely. So we need to consider the other two.
  2. Meaninglessness. Salvation must be more than simply a victory over death. It must also give meaning. It should do more than suggest that “we as Christians have a purpose.” It should go further to “I have a reason for which I have been created, and in fulfiling that reason, given by God, I have meaning.” If meaning is grounded in God, then part of purpose in ministry is to connect people to God in terms of this purpose and pilgrimmage.  But can Christians recognize victory over death, and have a sense of purpose, still feel despair? I believe so. There is one more dimension.
  3. Isolation. Salvation must always be tied to relationship. Part of that relationship is with God. We can now consider God as our (very good) Father, Christ as our loving shepherd, and the Spirit as our Comforter.  But God created us as a social species. We need human connections as well. The church is meant to be a family, augmenting the biological family. It is meant to create a community of faith that also has purpose as a group and as individual members within the group.

I would argue that any presentation of Christian salvation that focuses only on Death (or perhaps Death and Suffering) is woefully sub-Biblical.

I think it would be worthwhile to also list Pastoral Theologian Andrew Lester‟s Characteristics and Dynamics of Hope and Hopelessness. These provide another way to look at Despair (or hopelessness) and how the Christian message must address these different aspects. <One could also add Jones’ Theological Worlds as giving guidance on five dimensions that must be addressed, but I will not address this here.

HOPE                                        HOPELESSNESS
Future Oriented         Past Oriented or Present Bound
Realistic                                         Unrealistic
Possibilities                               Impossibilities
Communal/Relational        Isolationist/Separatist
Personal Power                 Helplessness/Powerlessness
Positive God-Images              Negative God Image

(Stancil’s Dissertation, Chapter 3, page 7.)

If you want to read this dissertation, it is available online.

http://www.dcstancil.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Complete_Dissertation.139183700.pdf

Jephthah

Some would talk and some wouldn’t. Mr. James, however, would always have something to say. As I did my rounds, I knocked discreetly before entering.

“I didn’t do it!” he stated emphatically as soon as both of my feet were inside the door. “They think I did it. But I would NEVER do it.

By Vincent van Gogh – https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/d0378V1962, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18416421

 

The old man was sitting in the lone chair in his almost barren room, facing away from the window and towards the door that I entered. As always he was somewhat disheveled, but with still with an air of authority to him. He reminded me of a man I worked for in the military— arrogant and pitiable at the same time. I wanted to help him. I always wanted to help him.

“Do what?” I asked, even though I knew exactly what ‘it’ is.

“They think I did it. But I know the law… maybe better than anyone else. Promise or no promise… evil is evil. You know that, right Chaplain?”

“Yes, evil is evil,” I agreed. “But I am more interested in how you are doing.”

“They weren’t there. They wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know either. But you think you do, don’t you?”

I agreed with him that I didn’t know. I know what others had told me, nothing more.

“You got that right. You think you do. I know you think you do—- but you don’t know anything….” His voice trailed off at the end. Then he buried his face in his hands and ignored me.

Awkward silence would follow. Or at least it did when I first started working there. But I soon understood that I was being dismissed. This was our ritual. The pattern varied only in the smallest of details. I wanted to think that this ritual was a comfort and a help for him. I doubted it however.

“Well it was nice talking to you Mr. James,” I said. How many times before had I said those exact words? “You know I am available if you need someone to talk to.”

He ignored me as always. So I stepped out and closed the door behind me.

Great Urban Centers

Four Waves

I have suggested before the idea that the three wave model of Protestant Mission history is inadequate. There was a Pioneer trickle of missions from quite early (perhaps 1520 is a bit too early). Out of that trickle came the great waves. Each characteristic wave had its proto-pioneers— in terms of translation, bivocational ministry, mission agency development and more. But each wave would peter out… not because of failure, but because of success.

Coastland Wave was started with the creation of viable mission structures that could maintain missionary presence in seaports. It petered out as coastlands in most places were essentially “reached.

Inland Wave was started (theoretically at least) with “faith-based missions” that was spurred on by improved overland transportation. It petered out as large geographically unreached areas faded away except in pockets that were driven more by cultural boundaries than limits in transportation.

The People Group Wave was started with a focus on languages and unreached people groups. Large unreached people groups are going down, and stats of thousands of UPGs seem a bit arbitrary. That doesn’t mean they are gone by any means. But there are trends that make these groups less critical each year. One well-known chart shows the People Group Wave continuing until Christ returns. In the past, I complained about this because it seems highly presumptive. It is also a bit lazy to assume that one doesn’t need to do any more strategy… major strategy changes at least… because Jesus must be coming soon. Now, I would say that present trends support the thought that it was presumptive.

It seems to me that the People Group Wave is in decline due to:

  • Globalization and Multiculturalism and improvements in communication
  • Human migration patterns
  • Urbanization
  • Growth of “mega-cities”

These come together to suggest that the greatest need for missionaries is in multicultural urban communities where the gospel does exist but is not presented or demonstrated in a manner that appears relevant. The gospel is lost in the cacophany.

It is starting to be the time when we have to focus less on Unreached People Groups and more on Underreached Great Urban Centers (GUCs, or perhaps UGUCs if you prefer).

I Think We Are Confused

Okay… at times I people say things that are strange. Nothing wrong with that. I say strange things at times. But some things really confuse me… and I think that my confusion stems from the presumption on my part that others are NOT confused. So here are a couple of things

  1.  People will talk to me something like this.  “Wow… I was walking around ________ and I saw Muslims there. They are growing!!” Well, Islam is growing. Actually, so are many other religions… and secular ideologies. At the moment, Islam is the fastest numerical grower among explicitly religious entities. However, in the United States and the Philippines (where the people I speak to live) this is not situation at all. What they are experiencing is mobility. People move around more now that transporation is becoming relatively cheaper and job opportuninities and political struggles drive migration. We see this here in Baguio City, Philippines. I live on the campus of a Baptist seminary. However, within a short walk of where I live is an Islamic mosque, a Sikh Temple, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a Bahai Center, a Brahman meditation center, a Christian Science reading room and church, a Mormon church, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and more. While many of these are driven partly by missionary fervor, much of their existence is owed to migration. For the world religions, this is especially true.  Around 1 out of 5 humans on earth are self-identified Muslims. So if the worldwide stats were true everywhere, 1 out of 5 people we would see walking down the street here would be Muslims. What is NOT surprising is that there are so many Muslims (or Hindus, Buddhists, or more) in Baguio City,. What is surprising is that there are so few. Migration is likely to continue (xenophobic nationalism notwithstanding) so the important thing as Christians is to figure out how to deal with people of other faiths as neighbors. Of course, it should not be that complicated. Jesus already told us how we are to treat neighbors.
  2. I have had so many people express shock and anger that Christians are being persecuted. In some cases that persecution being noted is true persecution.  “True persecution” in my view involves physical abuse or death, outlawing Christianity or Christian practices of private individuals. For many, however, persecution includes taking away preferential treatment. Others seem to mix Christian beliefs with secular political ideologies so that challenging such ideologies is seen as attacking Christian beliefs. Instead of fighting about what is legitimate persecution and what is not, I would rather avoid that mess and simply note that Jesus said that we are to expect persecution if we are following Jesus. It is understandable to be angry about persecution. Some people truly suffer for their beliefs. But after the anger… what do you do about it. Do you feed the anger? How do you treat those who are persecutors? Curiously, Jesus answered that one as well.