Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I Just Bought My First Pair of Skinny Jeans

I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans. It’s true. I’m sort of, well—there is no easy way to say this—kind of skinny. I’m well muscled, as my aunt described me way back (I hang on to that statement hoping its actually true), but well muscled in a skinny sort of way. So the jeans fit and look good. I plan to wear them preaching some time. I share this bit of family reality for one simple reason. Christianity Today recently published a study done by Fuller Theological Seminary. The article was entitled “Put Away the Skinny Jeans.”  “But I just bought mine!!!” I protested. Let me unpack this more.

The article debunks what many in the Christian community have assumed for years—that youth are reached by a relevant service, modern music, hipster dress, a cool place to worship, youthful staff, and coffee. The key issue in reaching youth isn’t any of those things. The article lists several areas that are necessary: (1) They want to be the best possible neighbors within their cities. The churches that were “growing young” were showed high involvement and creativity in their commitment to be good neighbors (2) The goal is the gospel. Other things are good, like racial reconciliation, or social justice. But the ultimate goal is the gospel and engaging people as an expression of the gospel. (3) Key chain leadership, meaning senior leadership is avoiding leadership models that focus on personal charisma and moving towards giving the keys of power over to the younger generation. (4) Focus on youth has little to do with hiring a good youth pastor and giving them domain of a part of the property but is seen in everything from how the budget’s made to programming to planning and community life. In short, younger people are made a priority. They are needed and they feel needed! (5) Finally, older folks willingness to be part of the lives of younger folks including showing up at football games, learning their names, and supporting their endeavors.

The irony of this has to do with the demographic of Moses Lake Alliance Church where I now work as a pastor. It’s made up mostly of the kinds of people who have the biggest impact on the lives of younger people: older people. You read it right! Older folks like me (gasp—did I actually write that) who are just not yet retired (or even sixty) can have a meaningful impact on the lives of younger people by doing several simple things: (1) Caring (2) Releasing authority and responsibility into the hands of those who are ready to have it. (3) and focusing on the gospel instead of other superfluous issues.

The big challenge for any congregation is whether or not they want to do this. What I’d tell people is, “Don’t wait around for the staff to tell you how. Figure out a way to care for younger folks in the community and do it.” They’ll start inviting their friends to church, church activities, groups, and mid-sized events simply because they are cared for, loved, and respected.

A Lament for Another American Tragedy

Another black man was shot and killed by the police. This time it was in Charlotte, NC. The police recovered a handgun at the scene along with an ankle holster. The man was on medication and may not have responded properly to police commands. He was right handed but had something in his left hand which the police claimed was the gun. The investigation is underway. The man’s name is Keith Lamont Scott. He was not just another black man. He was a person. He was married. He had kids. And yes, he had a criminal record. I’ll let you read about the details in the paper.

The issue for me isn’t simply who's right and whose wrong here. That’s not the issue. The issue is that we have this incredible spate of police shootings of black men--regardless of who is right or wrong. The NT Times posted an editorial by an African American professor at Yale who wondered how long he’d live as a black man (can't find the editorial to post here). Just being a black male makes you a suspect these days. I’ve heard all the reasons why. And I think I can honestly say that in many cases, law enforcement is correct to shoot, regardless of a persons skin color. But not in every case!! There seems to be way too much of it these days. Some may say, “Well, if you limit police officers right to use deadly force, there will be fewer police officers going home for dinner after a shift.” That may actually be true. And that wouldn’t be right either.

Now some may say I’m moving towards a liberal view of justice. I don’t think so. I want to move towards God’s view of justice. The political and cultural right and left don’t dictate my views on things. I'm a Christian first, an American citizen second. 

Truthfully, I don’t know what the answer is. But the only thing we can do is what the scripture calls Lament. The Psalms are full of Lament’s where’s God’s people cry out to God for his seeming absence. Ruth Haley Barton, a spiritual formation author, recently noted this on her blog site in response to the some of the tragedies including the killing of police officers in Dallas during a peaceful protest. Here is what she said: 

"The prayer of lament is that unsettling biblical tradition of prayer that includes expressions of complaint, anger, grief, despair, and protest to God. Many of us have never been taught this way of praying and it is often missing in the worship of many congregations…. The prayer of lament is a place to begin as we seek to respond to the sin, the brokenness, and the complexity of our life together as human beings. It is tempting to rush to problem-solving and fixing when the situation is so dire, but I hope we won’t."

"Let us stop, at least for a moment, and lament together. Let us stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters who continue to experience such tragic loss; let us mourn with them the loss of another black male and affirm that black lives matter. Let us grieve for the law enforcement officers who lost their lives while trying to keep the peace. Let us acknowledge complexity, that we don’t have answers, and cry out to God together for the peace and justice that seems to elude us."

Psalm 13 is an example of a prayer if lament. I’ll include it in this post for your reflection. 

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me."

How (Not) to be Secular--A Review

I’m not the first person to say this and I’m pretty sure I got this from someone else. So here goes: the great sin of our age isn’t that God’s dead, but that God’s trivial. He just doesn’t matter. “There is no God” is more than atheistic fiat. It’s the de facto way American culture works. We may give attention to him here and there but frankly, we don’t pay much attention. We give him his due, sort of, kind of, maybe—not really. It affects everything from what we spend our money on, to justice issues, to race relationships, to what we think about in our spare time. He’s just  not really considered.

I recently finished a book entitled How (Not) to be Secular—Reading Charles Taylor, by Jamie Smith. Smith is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. He’s taken Charles Taylor's book A Secular Age, and made it understandable. Don’t think that reading Smith’s a whole lot easier! He’s got a glossary in the  back just to keep the reader informed. It’s not an easy read. But if you want to understand the western culture we live in, that’s the book to read. Smith comes from a distinctly Christian worldview (Smith is a Philosophy Professor at Calvin College) but the goal is to understand culture more than provide an apologetic for the Christian faith. Here are a couple of his main points:

In the modern secular world, we doubt transcendence. As a result, doubt and longing are the cross pressures (how people respond to the lack of transcendence) of the secular world. Pg. 11

What makes our modern secular age is the default assumptions about what is actually believable. Some people call this a plausibility factor. A God whose personally involved in our world just doesn't seem plausible (e.g. I think Leslie Newbigin came up with that idea in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). Pg. 19

There is no goal beyond human flourishing. Pg. 23

Civility becomes the naturalized, secularized sanctification. Pg. 43 

Humanism isn’t something we fell into but an achievement (Taylor makes this very clear and Jamie Smith captures it nicely). Pg. 57

We are buffered and sealed off from enchantment (the sense of God’s presence in the world) which also seals us off from meaning and significance. Consequently we no longer view this world as a “Cosmos” created by God but as a “Universe” that is cavernous, anonymous space. Pg. 64, 69

All of this secularization is rooted in assumptions! There really is no neutrality only “unthoughts” as he calls them (Taylor—and thus Smith in writing about Taylor—begins in the later part of the book to show the inconsistencies of secularism). Pg. 80f

The real consequence of secularism is that you have no reason for meaning, morality, or beauty (he calls this agency, ethics, and aesthetics). These become “cross pressures” on our secular culture which forces us to violate the logical implications of a secular culture devoid of God. Pg. 102

In fact, secularism faces the same dilemma Christianity faces: to attain any sort of moral aspiration requires you repress your ordinary human desires!  Pg. 112

Consequently, there really are moral codes in a secular culture and they focus on political correctness. Pg. 128.

It’s an incredible book. The last chapter Smith entitles “How (not) to be Secular” but does little to clearly actually unpack specifics of what that may look like. The reader has to figure it out on his or her own. But it's a great book, one that I will turn to regularly as I seek to be a good Christian leader in today's culture.