Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Scary Place Indeed

When I was in college there was this old cemetery in a neighboring community which was legendary as one of the scariest places to visit in all of that part of Oklahoma. So being as I am, I ventured forth one evening with some friends to check out this place.  I was convinced that a cemetery really could not be that scary.  My personal history, theology, everything told me there was nothing to fear in a cemetery. By the end of the night I was proven very wrong.

You see what was so unique and frightening about this place were all the religious images throughout the location.  In fact, there was an old gothic church which stood guard at the entrance of the place.  The cemetery itself had many old broken down buildings, one of which was an old crematorium.  I have to tell you there is something really unnerving about a building where bodies were burned to ash, particularly after dark!

My resolve and rational mind were overwhelmed that night.  It seemed at every turn there was something else that was terrifying, largely because I didn't understand why such icons and statuary could provide comfort and peace in such a place - I was certainly not at peace in the presence of a life size crucifix holding sway at the entrance of the infant plot in the cemetery.

For the last several years I have been trying to get in touch with the huge cultural shift taking place all around me.  In some ways I feel like I went to sleep in one world - a world familiar and known, only to awake to a foreign world.  A  world where not only did I not understand the language I didn't understand anything about what I was seeing.  And I am supposed to  lead fellow believers to engage, speak to and win this culture - a culture to which I was and still am blind.

I had a conversation with a friend who was encouraging me about our work at The Harbor Community Church.  He told me it was great to see a particular individual worshipping with us.  My response was more telling than I realized at the time.  I said, "I thought I understand why some people didn't like CHURCH, but now I am learning that it is not dislike as much as it is fear."

FEAR of church?  Yes!  Not just fear of the unknown traditions and habits: when to stand, sit, sing 400 year old songs with rhythmns that are completely unfamiliar, give money, etc., etc.  A deeper fear, a nightmarish fear.  The fear of rejection. 
  • Rejection from 'good people'.  To those of us on the inside of CHURCH we are ignorant of how intimidating we are.  We look good, we act good, we dress good, we seem to have everything together. To those on the outside looking in we are intimidating, foreign, and unapproachable.
  • Rejection from a 'holy God'.   The darkest fear however is of God himself.  You see we are all created in his image.  There is something within all of us that tells us he is real and sometimes our brokenness creates the nightmare that he is to be avoided at all costs. 
Do people fear CHURCH? Absolutely!  Lately, God has put me in the midst of a growing group of people who fear everything about CHURCH and GOD.  Some of those people grew up in church and have been active in church all their lives, but they realize now that much of their religious expression has been driven by fear - fear of other believers and, yes, a fear of God.

As a spiritual leader and fellow pilgrim it is time that I find a way to communicate, serve, and love to alleviate peoples fears.  Thus, we need to step outside of our traditions, ego, architecture and return to our neighborhoods, our schools, places of business and learn how to proclaim the Gospel in this foreign land - the land in which we live!

It won't be easy, but assuming they must learn our ways, our customs, our secret handshakes is the epitome of spiritual pride and arrogance.  Jesus has called us to be servants to the least of these not religious gatekeepers who dole out acceptance by the dropper full.

Maybe if we learned to relate and care - to invest and immerse ourselves in their world, maybe the world of Jesus will not be as scary as the world of CHURCH has become!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Freedom, Really!?

While I am a bit young to actually be considered a Hippie, (no,really it's true) I grew up with 3 older sibilings who were deeply rooted in the philosophy, culture, and shall we say habits of Hippie-dom (I just made that word up). I remember the ongoing discussions around our dinner table between my siblings and my parents. The theme always centered around the desire for, the perceived right to, and virtually anything else related to the concept of freedom - especially personal freedoms. I often wonder if any of us realize how freeing it actually was to have parents who let us discuss and debate freedom? (Hey Jean, Jo and Keith, we all had it pretty good didn't we!?)

FREEDOM- the Founding Father's fought with pen and sword for it, classroom professors have championed it, a generation dreamed of it, but what exactly is freedom? It seems that throughout most of history the ideal of freedom has related almost exclusively to the individualistic persuit of being free - freedom to do what we wanted, be who we wanted to be, live as we wanted to live, have what we wanted to have. If I'm right, it seems that this definition of freedom is really selfish. We use a lot of first person personal pronouns when we talk about freedom.

If any generation should be enjoying the fruits of our labors for freedom it should be ours. After all, we now live in country where anyone can vote. We can marry or enter a civil union with whomever we want, live with whomever we want, and we have the financial freedom to pretty much get into as much debt as multiple generations before us. But it is interesting to note that inspite of our pursuit of personal freedoms, we are the generation that seems the most - well sad. We have all the toys, credentials, opportunities and pleasures one could imagine. Yet, we are unhappy to our core. Broken relationships follow in our wake. We've graduated from pot and qualudes to Pristiq, Niaspan, and Viagra - still looking for the ever elusive moment of happiness emotionally, physically and sexually.

Is this all there is after a 50 year experiment searching for freedom? I hope not! In fact, I'm sure that there is more. My heart tells me there is more, the sunset in the evening tells me there is more, the Blue birds that my wife dotes over sing a song that tells me there is more, and Jesus promises me there is more.

Jesus said, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (Jn 8:36) and he went on to add, "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8:32). So, freedom can be found in Jesus. In fact, it has been my experience and the experience of untold numbers that Jesus is the only way to freedom. The kind of freedom that is not just about me. The kind of freedom that empowers my living to be less selfish, more generous, open, loving and even sacrifical towards others.

Looking for freedom? Good, it's a worthy pursuit. Frustrated that your pursuit as to this point been fruitless and harmful? Man, do I understand that. Try the freedom that Christ promises. It is different- He is different!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oh, Okay!

After a great deal of arm twisting I am finally joining the ongoing conversation in the blogsphere.  If this is like many other adventures, I may be showing up as the roadies are loading the equipment for the next show.  Anyone remember earth shoes, Polo cologne, and your high school graduation tastle hanging from the rearview mirror - yep that was me.

It seems like my life has been a series of seemingly random discussions - even when I'm the only one participating - about all things sublime and profane. So, if you've got nothing better to do, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and come play!