Tertullian, Love Feast, and Social Ministry

Excerpt from Tertullian’s 39th Apology

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Tertullian (160-220 AD)

The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.

Much of the context of this quote is on the Love Feast. At the time, the Love Feast (think perhaps “Sacramental Potluck”) was a normal part of Christian worship and some were charging Christians with being wild drunken folk. Tertullian is making the point that the love feast was shared, charitable, chaste, self-controlled and started as well as ended with a prayer. But further, moneys gathered within the church were done to help those in need. The love feast was an act of worship, but it was also an act of charity since the sharing was equal, not based on what one had to give.

The Love Feast was referred to by Paul, by the Didache (by implication), Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and others.

Raised a Baptist, we have a lot of potluck dinners. And many other churches have similar things. Sadly though, we tend to do them with a bit of a chuckle— a bit of pride and embarrassment. But perhaps, we can see it (or make it):

  • An Act of Worship
  • An Act of Charity
  • An Act of Brotherhood

But I hope it would be all three. It has a sacramental role in terms of worship of God. It is an act of giving to and caring for the needy. It is an act to remind ourselves of our spiritual unity in Christ.

 

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Picture Picture!! 6 Cautionary Tales

On mission, or on short-term mission trips, what is the ethics of picture-taking? At its best, it serves as a capturing of key memories of God’s work and important relationships in the field. It also may inspire others , drawing people into the experience through pictures.

On the other hand, pictures can be:

Balloon animals and a smile

Balloon animals and a smile

  • Exploitive/Self-serving
  • Humiliating/denigrating to the recipients of ministry
  • Disruptive
  • Deceptive/Manipulative

The dangers, however,  do not necessarily outweigh the benefits. When I was in the Navy, I was told, “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” This was emphasized to instill in us the importance of writing events down. However, the effect was at best mixed, as some decided that an embarrassing problem “did not happen” if one does not log it in. In missions, to some extent, if there is no picture, it did not happen. And more to the point, if the picture is not put up on social media, it did not happen. Some ministry must be done in secrecy, but some should be shared to inspire others.

As an example, for my wife and I, we have a counseling and chaplain training center. It is unethical to photograph counseling sessions. It is also unethical to photograph chaplains meeting patients in the hospital or inmates in jail. There are a lot of things we do that can be shared via pictures, but a major part of our work cannot be shared. But that is as it should be. (Some groups violate such ethics… but that is for a different post).

In missions, one must know when to photograph, and when (and where) not to photograph. One also needs to understand the story one tells in the composition of images.

Here are a few stories of pictures from least problematic to most problematic.

 1.  Trivial.  We were having a going-away celebration for a ministry partner who was leaving the Philippines to serve God in a distant country. At this celebration an acquaintance of mine asked to borrow my camera to take some pictures. Sure… why not.  Later, when I got the camera back, I had very few usable images. More than half were close-up selfies of the herself alone, or with her boyfriend.  This is trivial, because (a) there were still other pictures taken by others that adequately covered the event, (b) the pictures were not shared on social media, and (c) I know how to use the delete button on my camera.

But it does bring up the issue of motive. Some photograph on mission because they love to look at themselves, not on what God is doing. The pictures may simply be about themselves, or it may be more general but centers on themselves. This may happen once in awhile…but making the pictures always about oneself should not be the addiction. Frankly, however, it is an addiction that we all fall into at times. (I admit that our blogsite has an AWFUL lot of photos of our family, often in ministry situations. I may have to reflect on this.)

Note: I describe this issue as trivial because in my story, the photos were not put on social media. However, too many selfies put up on social media in missions can become more than trivial.  A very funny blog that looks at this phenomena of unhealthy selfies (with unhealthy motives) on mission, go to Barbie Savior or the associated Instagram Page (or the article in Huffington Post.

2.  Less Trvial.  Years ago, my wife and I worked with a team of others doing medical missions throughout the Philippines. It was fun, tiring, and sometime beneficial (and probably sometimes not). Often my wife or I would serve as the team leader. But not always. A friend of ours led about half of them. Early on, one time, our partner who was serving as team leader, said to me, “Bob, come over here and help with the dental work.” They were doing tooth extractions. He wanted me to hold the head of the patient while the dentist was working to extract the tooth. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that. However, after one patient and a couple of photos taken, I was done. Our friend just wanted to take a photo of me helping the dentist in a way that I never do. I also have a photo or two from a medical mission of me sharing the gospel with patients, although due to language inadequacies I very rarely shared the gospel at medical missions.

This is less trivial since there is open deception here. On medical missions, I would often organize the team, order supplies, work out transportation, coordinate with the local host and the like. On site, I would help get things organized, periodically check the stations, collect registration forms, take a few pictures, and make balloon animals. These pictures taken gave a very deceptive picture of what I do.

This can be harmless… but not always. Some “missionaries” have embraced the role of patron– giving money to local workers to do the actual ministry. They then have photo ops to give the suggestion to their supporters that they are, in fact, the ones doing ministry. In a related case, I have heard of missionaries taking pictures of people raising hands, for whatever reason, and then sending off those photos explicitly or implicitly suggesting that the photos show people responding to the gospel message of the missionary. This type of deception is getting more serious.

3.  Moderate Problem.  I have known missionaries who take so many photos of events that it makes local people nervous. I have heard of this particularly with missionaries from a specific country (since it is not my country, I won’t mention which one). Missionaries take so many many pictures that people wondered what was being done with the pictures.

If you are like me, you have seen some missions websites that appear to be primarily fund-raising sites… and they are filled with pictures that are supposed to pull on the heartstrings of those visiting the site. Whether this is good or bad is debatable (some go too far, in my opinion while others provide a genuine service in helping people be inspired and connect with needs).

The TOO MUCH photo thing varies. I had a friend who was a semiprofessional photographer who would join us on medical missions at times. He took LOTS of pictures. On one trip, he took over 700 photos. However, I never heard anyone complain about him. Perhaps it was because he was a fellow Filipino, so ministry recipients did not think that the photos would be used for inappropriate purposes (a good assumption in this particular case, but potentially a bad assumption in others). Or maybe as a semiprofessional photographer, he was good at getting permission and setting people at ease. Not sure in this case.

4.  More Serious Problem. We did a medical mission in the city, ministering primarily to children that work in the public market. We had medical services and dental services. We also did circumcisions. In the Philippines, circumcision is not mandatory, but expected at around 10-13 years old for boys (female circumcision is, thankfully, not practiced here). As such it is a bit of a rite of passage. Early on, we even got in trouble where one or two boys came in to get circumcision without permission from the parent. The desire to reach a new step in manhood overcame their trepidation of the procedure. At this event, we had several tables put together and we had 7 or 8 boys being circumcised simultaneously, with a line of other boys waiting their turn. As this was going on… some other missionaries were taking lots and lots of pictures… even holding the camera  up over the table to get birds-eye view of the proceedings.

Despite the impression one might get from perusing the Internet, MOST people don’t really want their genitals photographed and distributed via social media. It is disrespectful. Despite this, although the mission I just mentioned was the worse, case, I regularly had to filter out photos taken by others of medical mission trips in which pictures were taken of patients who were over-exposed.

Frankly, in this day and age, making such pictures available to the public could possibly constitute child pornography.

A few years back we were working with a group that was doing recovery work in a landslide zone after a major typhoon (Typhoon Pepeng). We were doing crisis care for the response workers. The workers were able to give us some photos of the recovery. One of the pictures included workers digging up a tribal weave blanket that had been covered by a mountain of dirt. That picture seemed appropriate and poignant in what they were doing. There was another picture and at first it took me a bit to figure out what I was seeing. It was a picture of workers digging up a human being that had died in the landslide. One leg had been freed from the dirt when the picture was taken. I did not share that picture. To me to share it would be dishonoring to the dead and his family, as well as exploitive.

5.  Serious Problem. A fellow missionary here was doing a mission outreach in a remote location and so took some ladies and youth from the home church to help in the outreach. Along the way, the missionary decided to stop to take a break, and while on break decided to take a few photos for “local color.” They were stopped by some rice paddies, so the missionary asked some of the ladies and youth to go into the paddy and look as if they are working there. Nothing really wrong with working in the paddies, but these individuals lived in the city, and worked various jobs in the city. Anyway, after everyone got back, concerns were expressed by the ladies about the photos done. Although none of the photos were deeply troubling in and of themselves, the view was that the missionary wanted them to look poor and messy because it “made a better missions photo.”

Earlier I spoke of deception, denigration, and exploitation. In the end, however, the judges are the locals being photographed. If they feel denigrated, then they are denigrated. That should never be the goal. Some people get worried about white middle income kids going to other countries to do STM with people of other nationalities and races. There is the fear that there is denigration going on. Sometimes there is, but not always. Often, everyone loves the opportunity for a photo op, and the thought that they would be on the Web is exciting. The judge of denigration or exploitation is generally the local people… not those who are dealing with personal issues of post-imperialist white guilt. A Nigerian missionary doing mission work among the urban poor in Moldova is just as at risk of exploiting as a White American in Tanzania (and just as likely to be doing good as well).

6.  Big Problem With Great Solution.  One day, many years ago, when we lived in the US, my 7 year old son came out of the living room and found his mom and said to her, “I don’t want to be brown.” His mom, my wife, is Filipina, so would generally be thought of as “brown.” My son and two daughters would be described as Mestizo or Mestiza (racially mixed). My wife asked him what this was about. He had been watching some commercials for agencies that were raising money to help starving children in other countries. Almost invariably, the commercials involved well-known white Americans who visiting places full of undernourished poor “brown” children. My son, was pretty sure from those commercials that he certainly did not want to be brown. For our son and daughters, we eventually moved to the Philippines, and they saw that those commercials gave a very one-sided view of the world.

Happily in more recent years, many of these organizations changed things. After, beyond the seeming racism and paternalism, the images showed the problem as too great for a single person to do anything about. So they changed. More recent commercials would often be more like this:

A young girl, wearing a nice clean, simple dress, hair taken care of, carrying school books with a big smile on her face greets the viewer. The narrator says, “This is Concessa, she comes from a poor family in a village where there are so few opportunities to better herself. But because she has a sponsor, just 3 dollars a day, Concessa is healthy, happy, has access to healthy food, safe water, and a good education. Because someone cared, Concessa has a bright future.”

This commercial does not denigrate. It shows that there is hope. Some, of course, could argue that it is still paternalistic. I can’t argue with that. However, pretty much any act of kindness can be viewed as paternalistic. It is a concern, but should never be used to justify selfishness.

 

Reflections on Power and Powerlessness

Spectrum of Power

I have struggled in my own heart and mind regarding the issue of Power and Powerlessness in the Christian Life and in Ministry. I have heard so many preachers who love to talk about receiving the POWER of God (and Yes, they will emphasize the term completely out of proportion to its value, in my opinion). It does not appear to be in line with the example of Christ who served and ministered in a fairly powerless fashion (at least powerless in terms of classic human power such as economic power, military power, and political power). On the other hand, in some ways, Jesus could be describe as possessing and exhibiting great power. That leaves me challenged on both sides.

Biblical: 

  • Positively. The Bible describes us as possessing and exercising great power. Luke’s version of the Great Commission, for example, notes this, as Jesus says: I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49.
  • Negatively. The Bible also describes the weakness of the faithful, and God appears to connect more with the weak, the powerless, than with those in power. Paul in I Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” The epistle, and the other epistles of Paul seem to make the point that this weakness of those who follow Christ is more than a historical fact, but a state of being. As Ellicott’s commentary notes on this passage, “It has been well remarked, “the ancient Christians were, for the greater part, slaves and persons of humble rank; the whole history of the progress of the Church is in fact a gradual triumph of the unlearned over the learned, of the lowly over the great, until the emperor himself cast his crown at the foot of Christ’s cross” (Olshausen); or, as an English writer puts it, “Christianity with the irresistible might of its weakness shook the world.”

Missiological:

  • Positively.  The gospel of Christ has spread throughout the world borne on the back of political and economic power. A lot of wonderful things, such as hospitals and schools and such, have be built by missionaries coming in and exercising power.
  • Negatively. There has been a backlash to this sort of exercising of power. The connection of missions, on occasion, with colonial imperialism is still remembered by many, even where missionaries sided with the locally oppressed over the colonial oppressors. There have been calls, including by “missionary-receiving nations” to stop sending money. In many places, missionaries have assumed a position of coercive power over locals (even as acts of charity), and can create dependency. Because of this, Vulnerable Missions is becoming popularized. Truthfully, Vulnerable means functioning from a position of powerlessness— but some people are, wrongly I think, disturbed by the term “powerless.” Additionally, power encounter and emphasis on the attainment of power has borne, among other things, the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” a horrible misreading to God and God’s Word.

Cultural:

  • Positively.  Many people classify cultures as fitting into a triangle of social motivators with the vertices of:   Guilt/Forgiveness, Shame/Honor, and Fear/Power. While no culture is at an absolute extreme, most tend to be closer to one vertex over the other two. I live in the Cordillera mountain range in the Philippines. While Shame/Honor is important, the driving motivator for most is Fear/Power. As such, “Power Encounter” is very important and effective as an outreach method. (I am not from a Fear/Power culture. I can intellectually acknowledge this motivation, but emotionally I cannot relate to this motivation). If God works in all cultures and has a message that meets the primary needs of those in all cultures (Forgiveness and Honor for those driven by Guilt and Shame, for examples) then it is reasonable to accept that God’s power revealed is an appropriate answer to the Fear of people.
  • Negatively.  Historically, the answers of the Gospel exist in a state of contradiction. Forgiveness from God exists for Christians who still live in a state of deserving to feel guilty (both before man and God). Honor is given by God to those who still live in a state of shame with respect to the surrounding culture. And the power of God exists while Christians still live culturally in a state of powerlessness. In other words, God’s gift takes away the need, not the condition. God takes away the need to feel guilt although we are not guilt-free. God takes away the reason to feel shame although we may may be still viewed as shameful. God takes away our need for fear, but not necessarily fearful things from our lives. Additionally, while God works within a culture, God also challenges the culture, counter-culturally. Guilt-focused societies may praise the morally perfect, but God points us toward a different goal– sinful but grateful. Shame-focused societies may praise those who are highly esteemed in society, but God challenges this by pointing people to the poor (or poor in spirit), the mournful, the little ones, that which is thought foolish, and the humble as the truly honored before God. Fear-focused societies may praise those who are seen as powerful, having control over situations and people. But again, I think that God challenges this and points people towards Jesus who was a suffering servant, lowly, and humble… A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”

I think that part of the way of bringing this all together is to see power in terms of a spectrum. The spectrum at the top shows this. At one extreme, power is seen in terms of control and coercion. At the other end, it is seen in terms of ability to serve. That full range seems to be Biblical. The Greek word “dunamis” also can mean “Ability.” (Some note the connection between the word “dunamis” and “dynamite,” but the connection was in marketing. Dynamite provides no useful role in understanding the Koine Greek term “dunamis.”) In engineering, power refers to the rate of energy flow. “Energy” flow describes an essentially made up concept (that somehow manages to be useful) referring to the ability to do work. Power, then, is more tied to the ability to accomplish, than to mastery or control.

In the Luke passage, Jesus says to wait until they are clothed in power on high. One may take the “tongues of fire” on their heads as a somewhat literalistic answer to that. On the other hand, it can be seen more in terms of their sudden ability to serve God fearlessly, speaking God’s message in languages they did not know. Either interpretation seems sound, but classic human pictures of power would not be consistent with this event.

Likewise, Hebrews 11 describes doing great and mighty works through faith, yet it, equally, describes people succumbing to abuse and torture fearlessly (and in human terms, powerlessly) with those who accomplished the (“powerfully”) miraculous.

Conclusion

I am still a bit unresolved on this. The Bible says that the Jews seek a sign, while the Greeks seek wisdom. A sign often involves a visual manifestation of power. I don’t think that can be overlooked… it was a cultural need. I relate more with the Greek culture. I seek wisdom (and peace).

However, since power in and of itself is morally neutral, the exercise of power is morally ambiguous, a temptation for great evil as well as the ability to do great good.

Biblically, I believe that power is tied more to ability and servanthood than to mastery, control, and the miraculous. That is not to say that it is fully to the extreme (to the left side). But, when in doubt, Divine power is more tied to what the world sees as powerless. It seems like the church has been strongest when it has embraced its own powerlessness— fearlessly. Christian leadership is to be Servant Leadership… servant leadership not simply as a buzzword, but a lifestyle.

Because of this, the power of God as a concept should be tied to, and perhaps even be subordinate to, our call to be faithful, able, and humble servants of God.

 

Three Rocky Marriages

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Marriage of Religion and State

Karl Marx did not invent the metaphor that religion is the opiate of the people, but he did popularize it. His view seemed to be that religion was a creation of the state to ensure compliance of the populace. I have not studied Marx enough to know fully how he saw this, but one can certain imagine two aspects.

  1. Religion, dealing with, in part, eternal issues and destinies, can encourage those who are suffering and exploited to fail to rise up in opposition to oppressors. They may accept mistreatment, even seeing such abuse as part of being tested by god, God, or gods, prior to glory— or perhaps such submission to evildoers may be seen to be a virtue.
  2. Governments have often gleefully linked themselves to the popular religion. The marriage of State and Religion can be powerful. One controls the body and the now. The other controls the spirit and eternity. If the two work together– they provide a full blanket of control. Such a blanket can be both comforting and stifling.

There are still “Islamic” republics, who intentionally link their religion and government. Most other countries have recognized the stifling nature of such a marriage and have cut formal ties. Of course, informal ties may remain… and in some cases a secularized dis-organized religion (idealogy if you prefer) may be actively supported by the government…. North Korea is a classic case… but most countries utilize the tools of religion even if they claim not to support (or reject) any particular religion. Watch political rallies in the US, and you will see a crazy marriage of American folk Christianity and political symbols into a very uncomfortable, to me at least, state religion of sorts.

There is no good solution, I believe. Humans are religious beings, and they are social beings. I believe we have several millennia of recorded history to support these two points. As such, government (establish of formalized rules for large group social interaction) and religion (organized or disorganized) can never be fully divorced.

But if they are married, it should be a very unhappy marriage. In a previous post I noted that David Tracy mentioned in “Plurality and Ambiguity” that religion is not really a religion unless it challenges the status quo. That is because each religion claims to see something of Ultimate Reality, and that vision compels adherents to reject, at least in part, the flawed cultural setting they are in. When a religion supports the status quo, it is saying that it has nothing more to do than to maintain the existing power structure in society and principles that that same power structure teaches.

When religion supports the status quo (happy in its marriage to the government) rather than challenges it, Marx has a point.

Marriage of Religious and Civil Marriage.

Illustrating the challenge of church/state interaction— Many are familiar with the so-called “gay marriage” issue in the United States. Here in the Philippines we are a bit sheltered from it, although there are some who are seeking it here as well. Strangely, the Philippines appears to be more willing to tolerate homosexuality than the United States, but less willing to affirm it.

Marriage is a strange anomaly, at least at first glance. It is where even very secularized societies tend to bring together government and religion. Pretty much all cultures have marriage in one form or another. Even though people are talking that marriage is disappearing in modern (and post-modern) societies, it is probably more accurate to say that marriage is transforming. There seems to be a pretty universal recognition that sex and procreation are important enough for cultures to have a say in it. Even cultures that seem pretty libertine in many ways, often have surprisingly complex and nuanced mores and taboos. Of course, these may not be as evident, especially during transitional periods.

In the United States, despite being the, perhaps, first secular nation on earth, marriage was always seen as a joint effort between state and religion. Religion establishes the moral/ethical parameters for a culture (or sub-culture) while government establishes civil/legal parameters. In practice these overlap with each other a great deal, and are, in fact, quite dependent on each other. With regards to marriage, religion defined marriage for the state, and took care of most of the rites of marriage. The state provided legal teeth for the rite, and dealt with tracking the paperwork.

What happened in the United States in recent years is the breakdown of that generally unspoken agreement. While some argue that this breakdown is due to the secularization of the US, that is not strictly true. The United States has always been officially secular, although with strong informal ties to its Christian worldview and heritage. What happened was plurality. Multiple religions (major religions, minor religions, organized religions, informal religions, secular “religions” and idealogies) added their voices to the mix due to modernity. They were then given respect through post-modernity. When one talks about the term “marriage” there are many voices now saying what marriage should be. Should it be monogamous heterosexual, polygynous heterosexual, polyandrous heterosexual, conjoint, various versions of homosexual? What about non-sexual relationships… can these be defined under marital laws? Can an animal be viewed, legally, as a person? Can a human “marry” an animal (whether defining a sexual or non-sexual relationship)? Can, for example, dog marriages, an odd little practice of some pet owners, be seen as a marriage in the same sense as marriage between human persons? One can go on and on. If the term “marriage” is disconnected from its cultural and historical anchors, its meaning is defined by those that use it. (Note that this blogpost is, in fact, using the term “marriage” in more than one way.)

As soon as you say YES to one and NO to another, you are saying one group is authoritative and one is not. But each group wants to be authoritative. As David Tracy, again, noted. Modernity leads to plurality of perspectives, and this same plurality leads to ambiguity.

So what is going on right now in the US? I would argue that the issue of what (and who) defines a marriage is quite important. However, the over-the-top reaction of many (on both sides, frankly) comes, in part, from “buyer’s regret” or “marital strife.”

The church has “religious marriage.” The state has “civil marriage.” The church was seduced by the ability to guide the state and get legal support, equating religious marriages with civil marriages. Now the state is no longer going to the church for its definition of marriage. “Religious/Civil marriage” is no longer being guided from the religious side, but the civil side… but the church doesn’t really want to let go of this relationship (“marriage” so to speak). This is not the first time. The state (or in the case of the US… various states) years ago began redefining who can get divorced, and thus get remarried, commonly without much consideration of the church The church generally went along with it.

There are those in the church who seem quite happy to adjust their own definition of marriage to that of the state. In this case, this part of the church may be accepting a subservient role to the state (or societal norms). Is this always wrong? No, it is not always bad. Many churches refused to accept divorce, believing that morality and legality must go hand in hand even when the marital vow has already been viciously violated. The church needed a bit of adjustment in this area. Some religious groups also had issues with interracial marriage, for some odd reason… a little push from the outside was helpful.

The hyper-reaction of some within the church to the “gay marriage” issue is built from after-the-fact regrets. They linked (“married”) religious and civil marriages, and now regret it. But are they willing to divorce them? For those on the other side, is the church willing to challenge the society it is in, or simply bless the cultural mores?

Here in the Philippines we have a different problem but springing from a similar problem. The Catholic Church has considerable sway in some aspects of Philippine governance. Most notably this is true in marriage. Divorce is theoretically not permitted here. They do have something called “annulment” (which really isn’t annulment in the strictest sense, but an expensive and inconvenient divorce), but the vast majority of separations are common-law. This also means that an awful lot of the sexual relationships, even long-term committed relationship, are common-law— because of an ill-advised legal marriage to a faithless or abusive person in the, commonly distant, past. Since the government cannot affirm their relationship in marriage, can the church? Some feel they can, and some feel they cannot.

The church need to work towards having a rocky marriage with the government.

Marriage of Missions and Power

Missions can be linked to the State. Historically, it has gone hand-in-hand with colonizers or imperialists. Is that bad? Maybe. Maybe not. One cannot totally disconnect religion and state because they have overlapping domains. But, drawing from the metaphor in the first part, such a “marriage” should be an unhappy one. Missions in the colonial period was always at its best, when it sided with the local peoples and challenged the colonizers.

Today, the connection between Christian missions and state is (thankfully) much weaker. But there are other marriages with power.

Missions and Denomination. Missions is also at its best when its connection to denomination is “complicated.” Even though many missionaries and mission agencies are described as non-denominational… they commonly work within a religio-cultural structure that has many aspects of denominationalism. Denominations, or at least religious sub-cultures, have their place and form organically, whether or not they are formally organized. But missions is to be, first of all, God’s mission. As such, that takes primacy over supporting the wants and wishes of the denomination. There is a marriage between missions and church or denomination, but it should be a rocky or conflicted marriage.

Another power is money. Missions utilizes money… some forms require a fair bit of money. But missions and missionaries must follow God first, not the money. The marriage of missions and money is necessary, but it should not be a happy marriage.

Selling, Informing, and Teaching This Old Dog a New Trick.

I have had a number of things come up that have reminded me of an area of weakness that I have in ministry.

1.  Our financial support is going down considerably in 2015, and precipitously in 2016. I realized that I don’t really know how to raise support. Our 11 years here in the Philippines have been blessed with a lack of need to raise support. Now that that situation has changed, I realize that I am not really sure what to do

2.  I have put myself up for looking for some jobs… including the classic Web resource, http://www.monster.com. The most positive contacts have been from insurance and “financial management” companies as a “consultant.” I am a bit out of touch with American business (since I stepped away from engineering 11 years ago), but I am pretty sure that the consultant thing is actually Product Sales. Perhaps the fact that I am listed as being a missionary and pastor suggests that I am a people person and good at being convincing. (Or maybe insurance companies target all middle-age job-seekers.In truth, I am more of a nerdy instructor than a people person. I have little ability to persuade… and would be a bit suspicious of people who I could easily persuade.

3. Two members of our Bukal Life Care (www.bukallifecare.org) have started working on marketing of our counseling center because (paraphrasing their words) our group needs it. They recognize my basic lack of skill in this area.

I never saw myself as being bad at promotions. I maintain several websites that show the activities of ourselves, (www.bobandceliamunson.wordpress.com), two ministries we are in (Bukal Life Care, and CPSP-Philippines), and our church here in Baguio. I also do periodic newsletters and more. Since so many Serve without Informing, I felt like I was doing pretty good. But there is a problem.

THERE IS A BASIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INFORMING AND SELLING.(or persuading). Informing is a cognitive process while selling (or persuading) is an emotional process. I really like dealing with the cognitive side of things… I really don’t like to deal with the emotional/volitional side of things.

Yet, support-raising is essentially an emotional process. After all, there are needs everywhere, and many worthy (and unworthy) causes. The decision by a person to choose one worthy cause over another is not typically based on good information, but impassioned marketing that pulls on the heart, without ignoring the head. Perhaps it would be nice if mission support was based on performance and need. But maybe it is nice that reality is more sloppy than that, or first-time missionaries would be hard(er) pressed to get support since they have no track record.

I am not really sure what this realization ultimately will do for me. I don’;t really like salesmen (of any type). Not sure that I desire to gain the skills of a trade that I don’t think much of. However, Titus 2:10 speaks of how we are to DECORATE (or adorn) THE GOSPEL.  This suggests that the sharing of the gospel is more than challenging the mind of the hearer… it is drawing on the heart. Not all that surprising, since few people change their faith due to powerful arguments.

I guess that means that, after all, I really do need to learn a new trick or two.

Reminiscing With Mr. Bean

<I wrote this post back in 2015. At the time we were under stress from some financial changes. One can read some sadness and stress in the post, but some hope as well. I am happy to say that now in 2017 we understand better that God is good. We are surviving… and sometimes even thriving. I still enjoy the post. To quote from Philippine Independence leader Jose Rizal (1861-1896), “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”>

mr_bean_cartoon_teddy_cat_irma_gobb_mrs_wicket_mr_bean

I was changing channels here in Baguio City, Philippines, when I heard a very familiar tune, the theme song of Mr. Bean… the Animated Series. This is a cartoon adaptation of the Mr. Bean character portrayed by (of course) Rowan Atkinson. Unlike the live series, the animated series has a happy tune played, incongruously, in a minor key.

When I hear the song, I am filled with dread. This happens every time, but I generally let it wash over me without a lot of thought. But today is a day when it is worth reflection.

Almost 11 years, I quit my job as a mechanical engineer. We sold our house. Our home church offered to help support, but not enough to meet our needs. We arrived in the Philippines in March 2004, and stayed for 1 week in a palatial hotel room in Manila. We felt out of place in such luxury, even though a relative was paying for it. We moved up to Baguio and stayed in a two room apartment for two weeks with all five of us squeezed into one room. We lived on ramen noodles (particularly instant bulalo). After two weeks, we moved into the seminary. We lived in a tiny space, semi-divided so that our three children could be in one tiny space separated by a sheet from the “living room” where Celia and I slept. During the day that was our tiny living space. For five Americans who lived in a 2000 sqft house on a half-acre lot, this was quite a drop in living standards. So we were living in less than 10% of living space, with 75% drop in pay, without knowing really what we were doing.

Eventually we got a TV. We had no cable and could only pick up a few local channels, most of which, were not really our form of entertainment. One show that we did like to watch that we could get was the cartoon version of Mr. Bean. Our children were young and it was something we could watch as a family. I don’t remember feeling the stress from that period except in a few situations. But when I hear the tune from Mr. Bean, the feeling of stress, depression, and uncertainty returns.

I have decided to reminisce because some of the situations are coming full circle.

  • In 2004, we were massively underfunded, drawing down our savings to survive. In 2015, we will be seriously underfunded again, unless things change. In 2016, most likely, we will have to return to the US because of lack of support.
  • In 2004, we had no cable TV and we are now disconnecting cable as a cost-saving measure.
  • In 2004, we were not sure what we will be doing as missionaries. Even though we know what we now want to do (pastoral counseling center, and seminary teaching), our situation is such that we really don’t know what the future holds.

Those are the somewhat negative side of things… but there is a positive side as well.

  • In 2004, we really had to put our trust in God— a trust that bordered on foolhardiness. So many Asian missionaries dive into missions in (nearly) hopeless situations, acting on faith.  In 2015, we need to put aside our faith in finances, and put it in God.
  • In 2004, we had to be quick to say YES to opportunities to serve. In fact, God brought us into medical missions and other things. It is easy to fall into a rut. Things in 2015 will force us to to get out of our “comfort zone” as well.
  • In 2004, we were new and could probably have benefited from missionary member care support. In 2015, we now provide missionary member care support for missionaries in Southeast Asia. However, the financial situation actually helps us understand the perspective, in some way, the deep financial problems experienced by Asian (especially Filipino) missionaries.

We are doing okay. God is with us… and I guess Mr. Bean is as well.

James and the Giant NGO

James 2:1-7

     1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?  (HCSB)

In church, one should not show favoritism. One should not give special status to those with money… those who can fill the church coffers. I was a member of one church long ago in which the top layperson was also the richest (by far) member. But, in truth, he was a godly man. I was a member of another church (also long ago) where the top layperson was also the richest member. When he did a big moral error… he was allowed to remain in his high position in the church without repercussion. But, in truth, he was a diligent worker in ministry. I was a member of yet another church long ago, where the top layperson in the church was the richest member. But later leadership changes led to his having lesser influence… and he moved to another church to have more influence.

I feel that I have seen enough of this pattern to identify it. There are people of wealth who will seek out a church and use their financial power to encourage the membership to give them special power and influence in the church. I believe doing such is a clear violation of the above passage in James… noting that doing so is based on evil motives. However, the passage arguably draws from Leviticus 19 and verse 15 makes it clear that one should not show favoritism to the poor over the rich either. Both are corrupt behaviors. We treat all classes of people as being equal before God and before the church.

This is difficult when it comes to missions. Years ago, when I was working in Virginia Beach, I had a “grunt job” in one of the largest Christian organizations in the world. One time I was helping out as a server for a gathering of the top 100 donors for this organization. These people were treated like royalty. Is this right or wrong?

When we did medical missions here in the Philippines, we would seek financial donors. Those who were donors were given special honor on the banners and reports, even though they did far less ministerially (usually) than the hosts and the team members. Is this right or wrong?

We set up our organization here, Bukal Life Care. When were were getting ready to put together the Board of Trustees, we were told that we should select rich people and people with power in the community. Actually, we did not follow that advice. We sought people of common heart but of diverse backgrounds. I think that was the right decision. But our group has always been on a “shoestring budget” (American slang for VERY little money). Actually, we would need to borrow shoestrings to be on a shoestring budget.

So what is right? Should mission agencies seek DEEP POCKETS? Should they give the rich prominent roles in their organizations? Should material prosperity be honored over a servants’ faithful attitude of service? (I don’t buy the argument that prosperous people are more godly than nonprosperous people. Both the Bible and observable reality contradict this.)

I do think that many organizations do things wrong… seeking money over godliness. Still, it seems like there is an important and godly place for fundraising. Additionally, receiving money should also mean accepting a certain amount of accountability from those who give. I don’t have the answers. I suppose, truthfully, I hope we stay small enough never to really have to face this issue. Being small, however, won’t necessarily solve this problem. As James noted, the problem comes from selfish, evil motives. All organizations can fall into that trap. Every organization, I believe, must examine its own corporate heart and motives first before addressing money (and vision) issues.