Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting through "the Wall" - Confession

So, how do we get through "the wall"? I guess the amazing thing to me is that, in spite of being exposed to missional thinking now for several years, and in spite of having job description that calls on me to lead 5000 parishioners into missional lifestyles, I am facing that I am not through the wall myself. I find myself clinging to certain comforts. I am confused about where outside the safe confines of the church I should get involved, since there are so many choices - which is the right one? Will it really matter? Is it the best use of my energy? I love the ideas, but in my inertia I find myself wanting to read just one more book, go to just one more website, study the universe of missionality just a little longer. . . all of which perpetuate my entrapment in the comfort of the way it is.

So, how do we get the wall? By confessing to God and to others that we're not there. The word for "confession" in Greek is homologeia, which means "the same words." I am agreeing with God, using the same words as He does, about my condition. Just admitting that there IS a wall changes things. Admitting that it's not about all of "them", and that it's first and foremost about "me," that's a good start.

I once heard it said that you can't really help your neighbor to get the irritating speck out of their eye until you get the stinking log out of your own.

That's where I'm headed. Stay with me.

U2 Part 2

A few additional thoughts about what I see in U2 that calls me out to a missional lifestyle. . .

They major on mystery. You seldom know immediately what they're talking about. Their lyrics are like Jesus going up to the Feast of Tabernacles cryptically (in krypto, in Greek), John 7:10. It often takes months before the light bulb goes on, and you realize, for example, that The End of the World is sung by Judas to Jesus at the Last Supper, just before he betrays him. Or it requires someone actually telling you what you couldn't see. Their work is apocalytic - the exact word in Greek which means "unveiling." It is no coincidence that they do this in a postmoderm realm that craves mystery, and despises anyone coming as if they have all the answers.

They distanced themselves long ago from the Christian "ghetto." That is, in 1981, as they prepared to cut their second album, they almost split up because of the pressure their home church was putting on them to concentrate on doing Christian music, which would primarily minister to Christians. In the end, they decided to play on a bigger stage, that of the whole world. In focusing on all of humanity's needs over just those of Christians, they became "the mission of God" in ways that most Christians have refused to, caught up in the safety of the walls of church buildings. In some ways, it is one of the biggest examples of being missional in our entire era.

They did and do this where the world is comfortable, on their turf, and where the Church has not been comfortable - in this case, in the realm of rock music.

They did and do this creatively. Do you hear many other groups doing "covers" of U2 songs? Not many. Because U2 has a unique sound, one that is very hard to reproduce. And a lot of their music is hard to sing, as a result, because even if you can remember the words (which are purposefully obtuse at times - try singing Vertigo's verses without the words in front of you), they sound hollow without the U2music playing in the background. Creativity attracts.

They enjoy what they're doing. Maybe that's what millions of dollars will do for you, but I suspect that it hasn't been about the money for a long time now. Their faces tell a story. They're having a lot of fun on stage. They're happy. They love the people who are in front of them. They give to their fans. It's magnetic.

Their concerts are participatory. In spite of long sections of many of their songs which are hard to memorize and sing, they have choruses that extract participation, and they encourage it. You can't go to one of their concerts and NOT scream out, "EL-E-VA-TION" as Bono holds his microphone out towards you! Or stand singing "How long to sing this song" for 15, 20, 30 minutes after the group has left the stage! They invite you and me in, to do it with them.

And finally, they have a message of hope and love. It is actually the message of the love of God for the whole world, including the physical creation but focusing on the crown of creation, human beings. It is a message that, if you listen carefully, cannot be divested from the Jesus story, as Bono tells it. It is his grace, his mercy, his sacrifice, his undying love that saturates their music even more now than in the early days.

The big question to me is "what can WE do, in these same ways, translated into our corners of the world?"

Susan and I will soon travel with our daughter Sarah to Haiti, asking God if that's part of our "corner". If so, I'm thinking all of these U2 ways may have something to teach us in how we go about interfacing here in the U.S. about what we see and experience there.

I'll let you know.

In the meantime I'd love to hear what you're doing. Or thinking.

Monday, October 26, 2009

U2 and The Wall

Just got home from a road trip of a lifetime. From Colorado Springs, through Montrose, CO, to Las Vegas. With a best friend and an old friend and two new friends in a station wagon, across the astonishing Utah desert to sin city. And there to fulfill a "bucket list" dream, to see U2 in concert.

It was stunning, emotional, moving, happy, beloved, and filled with the presence of God. I can't wait to tell you about it.

But right now, I'm thinking about "the wall" that separates most of us in the American Church from the full-out life that God has called us to live, and from contributing wholeheartedly to the glory of a restored creation. And what I saw in U2 that gives me hope and inspiration about how to get through the wall.

You see, the four guys in U2 seem to have blasted a way through the wall a long time ago. Maybe that's because they come from part of the world where the post-Christian reality set in a long time ago, and Christ-followers in such places have to figure out how to live subversively, sometimes cryptically, posing the right (hard) questions that sow seeds in people about faith and Jesus and truth and what really matters. We find people like U2 in Australia and New Zealand, and all across Europe in little bands, pockets of creativity, and thinking communities. They have so much to teach us, because they got there a long time before us.

But now it's our turn, as our culture makes the big sweeping turn into the postmodern, post-Christian, and post-denominational world, marginalizing the Church, writing us off as irrelevant, and moving steadily into an amoral reality.

So, just what was U2 "selling" in Las Vegas on Friday night? For one thing, Bono makes himself vulnerable to this increasingly secularized world by inviting us to watch him in conversation with God, to even listen in (in songs and in posture and in words spoken out to God in the midst of the concert), and to join him. Even if one doesn't believe. He is believing what he believes and he does what a believer does and he leaves it out there for others to "come and see." But he does it ON THEIR TURF. He makes the quiet invitation respectfully. Bono doesn't bully. He doesn't even try that hard to persuade. He simply bears witness. He throws a big party and invites anyone to come who will, and he points.

And by simply communing with God in a concert, Bono gives people hope that there really is Someone listening. He penetrates defences, I think, and calls out that deep down wonderment and longing that there is Someone who cares.

But hand in hand with that, the band leads with active, hands-on deeds kind of faith. You know, the Biblical kind: the "faith without works is dead" kind. The "I'll show you my faith by how I live" kind. Deeds are about the only way to win a hearing these days. And whether it's God's heart for those in extreme poverty, or for the President of the U.S., or for those unjustly jailed, or those desperately in need of HIV drugs to fight against the disease in Africa, U2 is in the fray and inviting you and me to get on board with it. And believe me, that calls forth a huge amount of trust "capital" in the world we're living in.

If I really want to get through the wall, I think it means actually risking out in the world as part of my therapy, part of the breakthrough. Waiting until I am free won't work. Working on the world's turf is the only way to get free.

That's what I think. I hate fads. i hate celebrity worship. I HATE the herd mentality. But I think U2 is on a pilgrimage that I am late in joining. And I think they have a lot to teach me. That's where I'm going, and I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 5, 2009

So, What's "The Wall"?

What's the "wall"?

What are Christians bouncing off of, that keeps them from being Kingdom of God believers, all out for Jesus and believing that their lives don't belong to them anymore but to the One who bought them with a price?

What is confining Christ followers to a comfort-focused, "me" centered, "I just need one more Bible study before I'm ready" mentality?

What is it that keeps Christians, in the U.S. at least, staying within what can only be called the Christian ghetto, while too often the world shrivels and dies and chokes and suffocates untouched by the Gospel?

In his magnificent book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton describes the wall as the experience of being asleep to God's heart for a world filled with injustice. We are "absorbed with our own inner life, wrestling with our own dreams and traumas. . .busy with life, preoccupied with ministry, absorbed with what is personal, local, immediate. . .liv[ing] quite contentedly inside the bubble of my middle-class American life." (p.15)

Michael Frost talks about our being mesmerized by the prevailing culture (Exiles:Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, p.53). This is seen in various ways. The insistence on privitization of faith matters permeates the very air we breathe in this culture, leading us to cocoon ourselves within the physical, social, and emotional safety of what we call "church." The marginalization of the church is becoming a reality, with the message being regularly communicated that the church is irrelevant. It is all too easy for Christians to simply withdraw from the traumatic shift that this represents.

Edwin Friedeman, a Jewish rabbi, revealed the same reality through a different lens. He spoke of the surrounding emotional climate as something that could only be broken through by the clear self-differentiation of leaders. One needs the capacity, he said, "to separate myself from the surrounding emotional climate so we can break through the barriers that are keeping everyone from going the other way." (A Failure of Nerve, p. 33). The wall, he says, is an emotional reality.

I would add that the wall is consumerism-fed. The omnipresent cultural phenomenon we call consumerism blows like a mighty wind, such that we are like flies - without the ability to fly in its face, at best we hug whatever is stable, to keep from being blown away. And just the exposure to this unstoppable force has not filled us with revulsion but rather resignation at best and passionate embrace at worst. The wall is built by human hearts in love with "what I want": comfort, happiness, my way, experiences I want, relationships I want, being a "success," having money, whatever. And it is personal choice that has replaced the Lordship of Jesus. No wonder there's a wall.

Oh, yeh, there's a wall, all right. And not many Christ followers here in the states are getting through it or over it these days.

But consider this: this could be the most awesome adventure of our times.

"Adventures are funny things. They offer dark, uncertain times, forks in the road and choices between comfort and peril. And in such times, heroes can be made or undone."

Wayne Thomas Batson, The Rise of Wyrm Lord.