Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ordinary Attempts

So I recently started reading a blog called Ordinary Attempts. (Full disclosure disclaimer, I've recently started reading over 50 blogs, rather then just a couple, but that is mere trivia.)

Anyway, so an Ordinary Attempt (OA) is basically a really non-standard evangelism. They call it "doable evangelism for ordinary people". Examples include:
  • Praying for people who seem stressed out as you go through your day. (No, they don't need to can "pray behind their backs".)
  • Free attention giveaways -- actively listening to people and having real conversations. (Isn't it sad that we have to treat this as a new idea?)
  • Noticing the people around you as you go about your day -- any maybe even actually thinking about them! (Rather than always thinking about yourself, what you need to get done, etc.)
  • Intentional acts of kindness.
  • etc.

This reminds me of something that Jacob's Porch (the Lutheran Campus Ministry at The Ohio State University) started doing last year. One of the students there formed "a group of people who are interested in reaching out to others without any ulterior motive. What if as a church we gave away free food and purposefully never let them know where we were from so that this would not be a tool to get them to come to join us or be an advertisement, but simply to tell them someone loves them." Based on the emails I've seen, some of their ideas on ways to seek opportunities to radically show God's grace simply through organized chaos for the sake of love rather than an ultimate agenda or residual reward have included:

  • Taking pillows to people in the hospital just because they could use them.
  • Giving out free food without telling people who they are, simply because it's nice to do.
  • Randomly washing cars in their lot. (God's love is free, so is this carwash...)
  • Mobile soup kitchen: setting up a table on a busy sidewalk and handing out soup and sandwiches to those who pass by.

I don't know exactly what they have and haven't done, but I'm intrigued. What if Christians and Christian communities everywhere started doing things merely because they were nice things to do? What if people walked down the street handing out clothing just becuase they realized that they've been blessed with more than they need...more than they can really use? What if every Christian community took the locks off their doors to their facilities, leaving them open to the hungry and homeless...with pantries full of food and sanctuaries full of beds? What if congregants dropped in on the way home from work to lend a listening ear to those who were their...letting them know that they are loved?

When another care cuts us off on the road, what if we prayed for peace for the driver, rather than cursing them and blaring our horns? What if we were courteous to the telemarketers who call us during dinner, praying for God's sustaining presence and spirit to be with them, rather than making a rude retort before slamming the phone receiver back on its hook? What if we, as Chrsitians, really truly prayed for our enemies? Heck, what if we actually even spent more time praying for our friends? What if churches spent more time focusing on the world than on their buildings, furniture, and personal happiness? What if Christians spent more time thinking about others than we spend thinking about ourselves?

What if our understanding of evangelism wasn't 100% focused on "when are we going to tell them about Jesus?" (We already are, in everything we do. See my previous post.) What if we took seriously our vocation as members of the body of Christ? What if today, we started trying to live as the hands and feet that carry on the ministry of healing and listening that Jesus started in the Gospels? What would that world look like?

What if this radical revolution, this modern day reformation, this fire, could be kindled by a single person person or a number of small groups? What if it has already begun?

What am I going to do about it? Am I going to join in the movement, or sit on the sidelines? I certainly don't plan to let other people have all the fun, so what will my contribution look like?

What do you think your contribution will look like?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

We are ALWAYS telling people about God...

I recently heard some people express the following statement:

Helping the homeless and hungry is nice and all, but I really feel my
time is better spent preaching the Gospel.

Think about that for a minute. There are several underlying sentiments inherently expressed within that statement, such as:

  • The lives of the homeless/hungry are worth less than minutes of my time.
  • God doesn't care about homeless and hungry people!
  • Helping the homeless/hungry isn't part of the Gospel.
  • God doesn't call me to help people, just to preach words at them.

However, one of the most prevalent themes in all of scripture is call to care for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden! Furthermore, such activity IS sharing the Gospel. As Christians, we are always conveying messages about who God is. If we ignore the homeless, hungry, and persecuted, then we are making a statement that God doesn't care about them!

Instead, if we care for the oppressed, homeless, and hungry, then we are implicitly stating that God loves and cares for them. It is a Christian imperitive to care for the needy. Look especially Matthew 25:31-46, which states that whatever we do to the least of humankind, we do to Jesus.

Furthermore, when asked to point out the greatest commandment in the Law (Matthew 22:36-40 & Mark 12:28-34), Jesus tells people that all the Law and the Prophets depend from:
  • Loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength;
  • Loving your neightbor as yourself.

Author Scott McKnight has identified this as "The Jesus Creed" -- the mantra by which Jesus lived his life. It is Deuteronomy 6:4-9 + Leviticus 19:18.

For those interested in the WWJD question, or more relevantly: "What is Jesus calling me to do?", it seems that the answer is that if we look to Jesus as a role model, we should place incredible importance on loving God, praying, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, helping the poor and oppressed, showing love to all of humankind and creation as a whole, and answering the questions we are asked. If we do that, isn't evangelism automatic?

It has been said: "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." This has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but evidence suggests it was written well after his death, though it does flow from his theology. Regardless, the point is well made that our actions spread our understanding of God, and I believe that God values the poor and oppressed, and I believe God calls me to love all people.

Furthermore, mere human words are to weak to convey this gospel, it requires action. The only way to spread this gospel is to expend the time, energy, and resources to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for the oppressed.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What's in a name?

I've felt the call to blog for a while. I feel like I have things to say. I don't mean this egotistically. I don't know that people need to hear what I have to say. I'm somewhat skeptical about whether people will care. Really, I just know that I have thoughts rattling around in my skull that I need to express, welling up inside me. I need to express myself.

The reason I didn't begin blogging months ago is silly: I couldn't figure out what to call my blog! I wanted a name that fit. I've settled on "A Musing RevoLutheran". I'm not sure it will stick.

I am a Christian who happens to be part of the Lutheran tradition. It is my heritage: the faith of my parents and grandparents ... the faith I grew up in. My doorway to understanding Jesus -- and what it means to be Christian -- is rooted in this tradition. It is something that I am proud of, but not something I find limiting.

I have come to understand the teachings of Jesus to be revolutionary, and I believe they always will be. It seems that Christianity should always be counter-cultural, rather than blindly accepting the ways of the world as "normal". It seems that scripture is meant to be interpreted contextually, not only through the context of the community in which is was written, but also through the context of the community in which it is read -- the community in which we live today.

You may have heard the old joke: "How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?" The response: "CHANGE?!?" (For the non-Lutherans: this reflects the reluctance to change evident in modern Lutheran congregations.) However, it seems to me that this is contrary to our heritage.

Much of what I need to express relates to theology. It is a hobby, an interest, a passion. It isn't that I feel I have the answers -- far from it! It's more about wrestling with the questions. Jesus challenged the accepted scriptural interpretations of his time. Martin Luther questioned the established understandings of his time. Many others have been part of this great tradition. I believe that God is still speaking, and that we can be part of the conversation by interacting with the combination of scripture, community, and the Spirit.

The term "RevoLutheran" reflects both my roots, which I hope never to sever, and my tendency to be a "creature of change" who is open to thinking about my faith in new ways, and in community including people whose heritage is unlike my own. Many times the new ways probably aren't even new...but rather just ideas from the past that are being dusted off, reexamined, and recycled.

These are my thoughts as I enter the fray … the reforming process of contextualizing communal faith, wrestling with questions, emerging from the box of popular culture, and encouraging others to think critically about the things they take for granted. All are welcome to join me on this journey!