Posts Tagged ‘questions’

The Kingdom of Swaziland (Part 3)

July 14th, 2009 1 comment

This is the third post in a series on the decision Beth and I have made concerning a long-term move to Africa.  In the first post I detailed how the process started and in the second post I walked through the specifics of the nation we are strongly considering: Swaziland.  This post will cover the whys and whats.

Most people are considerate enough to assume we have a reason for going there, so the most frequent question has been “What will you do there?”  In fact, in one conversation I had with an Embassy employee, I was told after explaining our plans that “No one just comes to Swaziland.”  Well, we are hoping that is hyperbole.

The most honest answer to the question of what will we do is quite simply “we don’t know yet.”  It isn’t that we are planning on moving our family 9000 miles away with no plan, but instead, we don’t want to rush our decisions.  We don’t want to align with an organization without first knowing the impact (positive or negative) they are having.  We don’t want to commit to helping with AIDS victims if we would be better suited to work in the educational system.  We don’t want to live in Manzini if we would be a better fit in the eastern plains.  (you get the picture).  So right now we are being very intention about our research.  We are getting to know the groups currently there, and what opportunities may be there for us.  We are speaking with both Americans and Swazi citizens about the needs and resources.  We are investigating job opportunities in the public, private, government and non-governmental sectors.  We are looking at faith-based and secular openings.  Here are a few things we may consider:

  • I may apply for work at the University of Swaziland teaching Theology and Religion at the University of Swaziland.
  • Beth may try to work in the Ministry of Education to put her special education training to work.
  • We both may work in an orphanage working with orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC).
  • We may work with an NGO doing AIDS prevention and education.
  • I may work in the private sector doing web development while Beth volunteers in the community.
  • We may join the Peace Corp.
  • We may work as “missionaries” with any number of faith based groups in the country.
  • We may figure out these are not the opportunities / needs of the country and do something like sugar cane harvesting… who knows!

I realize that does not answer the “what” question, but I hope you understand our motives.  I fear too many people decide what needs to be done without ever stepping foot in the country or assessing the impact of their decisions.  That is why we are planning a trip there next summer to serve as the capstone of our state-side research.

Now, let me comment a bit on the why of our decision.  The most straight-forward answer is this: we want to experience life outside the United States in a setting that forces us to reexamine our lives.  (so yes, you could say our motivation is primarily selfish).  Despite the fact Beth and I have spent the last 2-3 years trying to simplify our lives and work towards making the world a better place, it is so easy to get caught in the rat race of life and forget there are things larger than us.  As Rob Bell as put it, “one of the greatest dangers of life is assuming our world is the world!”  Put another way, it is easy to get caught up in things that don’t matter when most of the world is struggling to survive.  (Let us not forget every day 30,000 children die of hunger of preventable diseases, while Americans alone throw away 25% of our edible food.)

I was reminded of this tonight while watching Schindler’s list.  At the end of the movie, after the war has ended and the Jews have been freed, everyone there is greatful for the fact that Schindler has saved over 1,000 Jews and he can only weep and wonder about how much more he could have done.  He breaks down when he realizes the gold pin he is wearing could have been used to save one additional life, or his car could have saved 10 more.  He says “why did I keep the car…”

Here is the clip:

We have realized that the questions we ask, and the issues we care about are directly related to our surroundings.  Our goal is not to go somewhere to “fix” things, but rather to be in a place where we are concerned with the things of more significance than what we eat or what we will wear.

The experiencing of living in a country life Swaziland is more than just something Beth and I want to go through.  We want Mikayla’s formative years to occur in a society where the day to day struggles are litterally a matter of life and death, yet where community is something much deeper than who you hang out with when you are not holed up in a comfy suburban home with 1000 channels, a maid and a wardrobe of clothes you never where because they are out of style.

Will it be tough?  I am sure it will be.  Will we miss our friends and family?  Absolutely?  Will we regret it, or encounter problems beyond what we expected? Perhaps.  But, do we feel this is something we must do?  Without doubt.

As for a finish… we are looking at returning in 2019 or 2020.  That would be the year Mikayla would start Middle school. Our rationale is this: we want her to get the best education possible so she can do whatever she wants with her life.  At the same time, we want to return to the US, because we feel this nation has the resources — both financial and individual — to change the course of the world.

As you can tell, we still have a lot to figure out, but I am excited about the direction we are heading.

To wrap things up, I want to give you a few blog links of people who are in Swaziland:

See Also:

Kingdom of Swaziland Part I – Decision to Move

Kingdom of Swaziland Part II – Background on the country

What is your driving question?

June 27th, 2009 No comments

I participate in a book study at Broadway UMC.  Right now we are working through a called Simply Christian by NT Wright (who happens to be one of the scholars I most look up to).

This past week the topic was supposed to be the Character of God and the story of Israel.  It surprised no one when we got a bit off subject and began talking about “souls” and what the main point of Christianity was.  When it comes to the soul I am a monist with reservations and thus don’t believe in a soul as traditionally defined — I reject the dualism of the whole proposition; I find thinking of the body as something separate from the soul leads to an unhealthy anthropology as we either see the flesh (and therefore the world) as bad or inconsequential.

That was a bombshell for some.  However it led to a good discussion on the philosophical development of the idea of the soul.  For the most part, writers in the Old Testament did not conceive of a soul.  Where the word does appear (nephish) it is referring more generally to “the self.”  Furthermore, the concept of an afterlife is virtually non-existent until the post-exilic age.  By the time of the second temple and the ministry of Jesus, the soul and the afterlife were firmly developed in Religious discussion.

So, that leads one to wonder, “What caused this change?”  Well the answer is relatively simply.  In the patriarchal (Abraham-Moses) era through the Monarchy (David, Solomon, and then all those chaps whose names you skim over when reading), the people of God saw all their needs fulfilled in YHWH in their day to day life (granted they did not always act like it).  They had YHWH’s presence with them; they had been given the promised land; and their identity was firmly established. There was no need to ask questions about what happens when you die because they saw fulfillment in their current situation.  For them, the primary question was “What does it look like to be the people of God.”  The answer to that is simple and contained in the promise to Abraham: “You will be blessed so that you can cause the blessing of all nations.”  From there, the laws and customs evolved to help flesh that out.

Things change once exile comes.  After the sins of the divided kingdoms, YHWH turns to the Assyrians and the Babylonians to be his instrument of judgment.  Simply put, Israel was not living up to their calling and the Presence, Land and Identity were stripped of them.  Before YHWH dwelt in their temple, now they were captives and YHWH presence seemed so distant.  They lamented: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…  How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  Their daily lives did not exhibit the hope they once had.

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

Carving depicting Assyrian Exile (you can tell by the pointy hat).

At this point, hopefully you are connecting the dots.  The concept of a soul and of the afterlife developed because the people of Israel had lost their identity and primary calling.  It no longer made sense to envision God’s will being played out in their day to day lives.  Their hope instead had to lie in the “by-and-by.”

The early Jews were driven by the question: What does it mean in this day to be the people of God?  This included issues of identity, blessing and duty.  For exilic and post-exilic Jews, the question evolved: What will it mean to be the people of God?

It is interesting these questions still dominate today.  To oversimplify, liberals/emergents tend to ask the first question while evangelicals/fundementalists ask the second question.  It is easy to find ourselves in one camp or the other.  One may say, “I am better because I realize the presence of God here and now” and the other may “I am better because I care about things that eternal.”

Of course the correct answer is that both questions are valid and equally important.  We must understand what it means to be the people of God in this world, and live in eager expectation and preparation for the world that is to come.  Without doubt, the ministry of Jesus brought together these questions and he provided the ultimate answer for each in these: He lived the perfect life of reconciliation and restoration, while providing mediation and direction for the life to come.

The real power is actually not found in asking these questions side by side or together.  Rather, I am convinced we should simplify our question back to original roots:  What does it mean to be the people of God.  This question involves Identity, lifestyle (holiness) and hope.  It is rooted in an understanding that we are blessed in order to cause the blessing of all the nations.  Christians must first understand themselves as the people of God and with that identity they can begin to ask “How should the people of God live in this present world” all-the-while experiencing the hope and reassurance of the world that is to come.

There were a thousand tangents I wanted to take with this post (community vs. idividual understanding of Christianity; Hebrew parsing of Abraham’s calling; heaven, hell, sheol, souls and nephish, etc.) but for now I will be content not making my primary question revolve around my present actions or my future destination, but rather about my identity and implications it brings.

Pondering the Question

Pondering the Question

More thoughts on questions

July 6th, 2007 No comments

The modern church has dedicated itself to finding and offering answers when at times I think the question as a whole needs to be revised, or added to.  To overly compartmentalize: Baptists are asking “how is a person saved” [or at times, simply “how do I keep from going to hell”].  Mega churches are asking “How do we reach the most people” [or at times, simply “how can we get more people in our doors”].  Traditional liberals are asking “How can we be agents of social change” [or at times, “how can we make everyone feel good about themselves”].

***obviously I am being a bit simplistic and perhaps a tad cynical, but you get the point***

The problem is that Methodists (and mainline churches in general) aren’t really sure what question to ask.  All of the above questions have merit, but none of them seem to ring entirely true.  So then, what question(s) should we be asking?  I tend to think a good way to determine that is to look at Jesus.  Throughout his life he gave a few examples of “mission statements” which really point to the questions he was asking.  For example:  “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” -or- “I have come to seek and save the lost” -or- “to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  If you put all that together, I think Jesus was asking “How do I bring about the Kingdom of God?

So what happens when our churches start asking this as the primary question?  I think all of the above get answered!  We begin to understand the gospel as something holistic that keeps in tension salvation for the here and now as well as salvation for eternity.  I think it inseparably links discipleship with the ministry of reconciliation.  I think it moves us from an individual understanding of Christianity and salvation into a communal understanding of it.  It also forces us to be an centrifugal church: the dominate force is out from the center.  The only time Jesus asked people to come to him was to a.) minister to them or b.) help him minister to others.

The look and feel and atmosphere of our churches is a direct reflection of the questions they are primarily asking.  There has been tons of research into systems theory and the bulk of it tells us that systems always produce what they were designed to produce.  The problem is they are not always designed like we think they are.

The future of your church and my church, and honestly most of Methodism, is going to be determined by how we understand the role of the church.  I love the question that Rob Bell poses:  If your church were removed from your neighborhood, would anyone besides members notice?  Wow, how is that for convicting.  What is also illustrates is that besides the need to revise our questions, we must also revise our metrics – those things by which we measure the success of the church.

At many churches the numbers we look at are Sunday worship, offering, conversions, and attendance at various other programs.  Don’t get me wrong, those are important because it does show the breadth of our reach, but tell me, does it really measure how well we are bringing about the Kingdom?  The shift to postmodern thinking focuses more on qualitative data than quantitative data.  That is frustrating to those of us entrenched in modernity; however, I can’t help but believe it leads to a better understanding of the impact of a church.  Brian McLaren talks about the need to count conversations rather than conversions.  I think that too is a bit simplistic, but it really forces us to look at things differently.

I believe the church will thrive when it is released from confines of Sunday-centrism.  My wife and I are investigating some intentional community options with other couples (similar to Simple Way in Philly and Communality in Lexington).  Where we stand now, I feel called to go here because I believe it is where I can best minister to the community.  Obviously not everyone can take the step of selling their home to live in a neighborhood with the expressed desire to change “the forgotten places of the Empire” (12 Marks of new monasticism language).  However, I hope that our churches can allow this to be a part of their ministry.  That is what I am struggling with now.  I am ready to sell everything I have to be with the poor and marginalized, I just hope that I can do that because I am Christian connected to the Methodist church rather than in spite of the fact.

We all have lots of questions to ask and I am afraid it is going to lead us to some uncomfortable places.  I however have come to the place where I can no longer go about church as usual.

Let me know your thoughts.


Categories: Faith, Thoughts Tags: ,

What Questions are you asking?

June 17th, 2007 No comments

I had the opportunity to present at a session of the Kentucky Annual Conference of Methodism this past week. During one of our lunch break out sessions, I was a part of a conversation on “Emerging Ministries.” With our denomination in its fourth decade (!!) of decline, people are worried about the future and the near complete lack of 20-30 year olds shows there is reason for concern.

So what is the answer? I will submit to you this: We need to be less concerned about the answers until we start asking the right questions. That is where I believe the emerging church holds promise: not with answers, but with questions.

If church ask the question “How do we get 20 and 30 somethings into our doors?” I believe we will fail miserable. Instead, we should inquire “What questions are these new generations asking?” This generation is no longer primarily asking “How do I get to heaven when I die?” or “What church is best for me?” Instead, we find a generation who is asking things like:question.jpg

  • What does salvation look like here on earth?
  • How can we experience holistic worship and restoration?
  • What does it mean to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come?’
  • Where can I find authentic community?

These questions are more than just a shift in focus, they are a shift in thinking. This postmodern generation now thinks narratively in a non-lineal fashion and approaches issues holistically. Spiritual restoration cannot happen apart from physical and emotional restoration.

To say these things is not to deny the importance of other’s questions. I am convinced that disagreements in the church are less about different answers once we realize the questions we each are asking.

Categories: Faith, Thoughts Tags: