Lausanne Movement and Missions..

Ok raise your hands if you've heard of the Lausanne Movement?If you have, what's your christian background and where did you learn about it? My guess is the majority of people who've heard of it are either seminarians or from a more liberal/mainline denomination. I know for myself i didn't hear about this movement until i went to seminary. But by my second year of being a Christian i knew all about Urbana. Ironically it was the Lausanne movement that opened the door for mission organizations and conferences like the Urbana and now its barely a blip on the pew-sitters conferences to fund-raise for list.

While I could spend hours on why this conference has decreased in visible influence, i would instead like to interact with a critique C. Rene Padilla had of the conference in South Africa. It was helpfully translated at the Suburban Christian. Dr. Padilla's critiques as a whole are not new. In fact i've heard variations of this theme for some time. But it seems to be ignored by the West or simply not acted upon. Why? Don't get me started ;)

However he makes two critiques that are starting to become an issue. A. The West/North America are ignorant of unreached people groups in their midst. B. The wealth of the West and its dichotomy between evangelism and social justice.

Lets tackle A. This is a very salient critique. I was at Urbana last year and most all the booths concentrated either on missions overseas or on urban/poverty missions. Most everyone was portrayed as the other (read "not middle-class americans"). But here's what Padilla is picking up on, "Missions in American are not viewed as reaching out to unreached people groups, but instead are cast as social justice missions." The question for further pondering and research is "why".

I have a few good guesses. Guess #1 it is generally assumed that everyone who lives here has been exposed in some form or another to Christianity. Which of course raises the question of whether or not they have truly been 'reached'. Guess #2 'Urban Ministry' just sounds sexier than 'Mission to unreached people poor people in the urban ghetto'. Which brings me to Guess #3 White Guilt. Simply put, because white people feel guilty about their wealth and history they are working out that guilt by participating in Urban Ministry. Let me be clear i'm not knocking their work or ministry, because if God's in it, then its valuable. But I do think what Padilla's critique is pointing out, is that our lack of creativity and purposeful ignorance about the situation in our own backyard is hindering/impeding the spread of the gospel and partnership within the body of Christ.

Which brings me to B. Wealth and Dichotomy. Yes there's alot of wealth in the West, but that wealth is starting to fade or be transferred to places like China/India. The problem isn't the wealth but the dichotomy between evangelism and social justice. If we had a better theology of wealth and how to use it best serve God instead of how to preserve your piece of the pie then the current dichotomy would not exist. In order to understand where and why of the dichotomy between evangelism and social justice you have to have a working knowledge of the history of evangelicalism in America, about which most Christians today are completely ignorant. I dont have enough space or time for that, so i'll just recommend some George Marsden for those who really care ;)

However the upshot is that many Americans are unwilling to critically look at their culture and their evangelical theology and see how it continues to entrap people into cycles of poverty and alienate them from the church. In the 70's and 80's political conservatism and theological conservatism became deeply entwined, much to the deficit of both groups. This entanglement has further alienated unreached people groups and drove deeper the wedge between faith and justice.

A further issue is the change in the way missions were funded in the 20th century. With the rise of para-church institutions missionary work became an individual calling and endeavor. With the seal of Holy Spirit approval being ones ability to fundraise their own support. What this has done is left the work of evangelism to the well connected and wealthy. I come from a culture where fundraising is viewed as begging. If i were to visit churches and ask for money, my family would be deeply ashamed. So even though i have much to contribute, there is no opening for me to serve under this model of missions. Yet we cling to this paradigm, even in these hard times.

I didn't go to Lausanne, i'm only just beginning to sort through some of their documents. But until we have another movement that will change the paradigm for missions and theology like the ones the rocked the 20th century, conference like Lausanne will have little impact in the West and other parts of the world.


The essence of memory and heritage...

In the NYTimes today i stumbled across two articles that got me thinking about identity, memory and grace.

The first article i read was about the bulldozing of Beijing's hutongs. It seems that in the rush to modernization and make money, many Chinese cities are razing and replacing their old neighborhoods with sky rises. Which of course is concerning to the people who don't live there and somewhat concerned with those who do. Many of the debates revolve around the preservation of cultural memory and neighborly connections. After all how many of us really know the people who live around us. When was the last time you invited your neighbors over for a bbq. It seems to me that in the US we're good at forming friendships with people we share interests with or similar lifestyles or life-stages with. (parent's groups/facebook/bible-study) but we're not so good anymore at knocking on a neighbor's door and getting to know them. (there are notable exceptions, I'm sure!)

I grew up in a teeny tiny town, and all my neighbors knew me and my extended relatives. This sounds like that these neighbors are small towns within a larger one. These places have literally existed for thousands of years. You did everything with your neighbors, even bathe and shared toilets. But the houses were drafty and hard to keep clean. So yeah, a shiny new apartment is very attractive if you live in those areas! It seems that these residents are faced with a rock and a hard place in terms of choices. They can have a warm, clean place to live, but they lose contact with the way of life and people they have known all their lives. They trade community for modernity and perhaps opportunity.

As i was mulling this over i ran into another article in the Times about the internet its looong digital memory and general lack of privacy. It tells the story about a woman who was kicked out of her program and had to change careers because of a single photo on her myspace profile, from 4 years earlier. The thought occurred to me that we in the west are on the other side of obliterating our communities and physical connections and replacing them with our internet connections. But on the internet there is no context and it appears no willingness to forgive even minor, youthful indiscretions.

But in small towns, sometimes the sins of the fathers, visit the children, entrapping them into that role. I have seen this up close and personal. There were several families in the small town i lived in that were entrapped by encyclical poverty. It seemed as if these kids were branded with failure once they were born and the townspeople would shrug and look the other way. So leaving was a way that many escaped this curse, to create new opportunities. But the internet may ruin even the possibility for reinvention and perhaps continue the polarization of our society.

What does occur to me is that China is in many ways following in our footsteps. That is what is scaring many western tourists, because we are living with the repercussion of our own industrial revolution, with its many unintended consequences in terms of our lives and communities. Which left us, in many ways, ill-equipped to handle the information revolution.

This leads me to a whole series of theological questions that i think we in the current christian community are asking, but afraid to answer. Questions about grace. When do we allow someone to make a clean break? Can we forgive someone even if we are constantly reminded of their past? What role does the church and community play in the west, in our fractured identities and communities. What does this forced integration of identities and selves means for the gospel? I'll be pondering that for a while....


On fathering...

I am not a father, nor will i ever be one. But i have a father and have observed many throughout the years. So here we are at the tail end of father's day. A holiday that has been overshadowed for years by Mother's Day. (Perhaps to compensate for the injustices women have historically suffered?) I can't help but notice that we are living in interesting times for dads!

The New York Times recently ran an article on fatherhood in Sweden which did tempt many of my friends of both sexes to relocate there! Why? Well because in Europe, father's get equal treatment in terms of days off! But at the same time there has been push back from traditionalists who want to go back to the June Cleaver days of pressed undies.

I found myself wondering today about how one knows if they're a good father? What does it mean to be a good father these days? There seems to be a lot of messages and opinions out there on this topic. It seems like we are all wandering around and having to make our own paths. What are your thoughts?


Tarballs of the soul...

What can i say about what's unfolding in the Gulf right now. My heart breaks, my soul groans and reeks? Those seem like trite and overused metaphors for the sticky thick grief that has settled over me while watching this slow moving tragedy unfold.

The hidden currents of greed, corruption, amorality are now made visible with the introduction of the toxic sludge. We can fly over and see them swirling below, killing everything they come into contact with. Those who are untouched by the oil are touched by shame and frustration.

This oil is a visible reminder that humanity is a destructive creation. Our destructiveness is kept in check by boundaries given by God and ourselves.

And yet, out of destruction there is hope that great good can be done. With a little help, perhaps our oil-soaked robes will be made clean yet...

Let us all pray for those who are affected by the Gulf Tragedy and let us find work together to find solutions that will clean our waters and restore us to a more humane way of living on this earth and with each other...


arizona, tea partiers, primaries... what's a christian to think?

The news these days is hard to watch. There's alot of talking heads and interviews with angry peoples across the nation. Alot of signs, fear and frustration out there. I'm almost afraid to turn on my newsfeeds and NPR!

Unfortunately most christian's blog post or engagement with what's going on in the States goes like this:

*Insert Bible Verses to justify current political/cultural position here and argue passionately for your position*

I find myself wondering "when did American Christendom become so balkanized?" Oh wait, i know the answer... the 20th century. When the fundamentalists/modernist swore each other into eternal damnation. While i would love to get all academic-y here, i dont have the brain power or the footnote space. So a few summary sentences. In the late 19th and most of the 20th century there was an epic war among christians over just who Jesus was and who had the truth. Tree's, Ink and tons of Hot Air were spewed arguing over who was right and who had the corner on biblical hermeneutics. It was a very creative, but a very polarizing time to be a christian in the mainline. Many of our newer denominations were started during this time. Also a number of our Para-church organizations came out of this turbulence. Christianity Today has nicely compiled a reading list for those who want to delve deeper.

While i have a lot of frustration with the current climate of political debate and discussion in the States right now. I find myself seeing echoes of the debates and imbroglios that roiled evangelicalism in the century prior. While i kept hoping for people to burn themselves out, instead i think this is one of the few cases where the church was ahead of the curve. The purity tests, reluctance to dialogue and find a middle ground are all reminiscent of some of the battles that were fought among conservative believers. In fact for those who have studied american church history its not a surprise that its conservative christian politicians who are leading the resistance/naysayers to any policy change or law they do not agree with.

I find myself wondering if perhaps the fundamentalist/modernist wars were a battleground practice for the current flare up in American politics....


Something that's been bothering me...

While i've been out of commission in terms of blogging i've been reading alot. Its about all that i've had the energy for this past many months...

After two editorials in the NYtimes one by Roger Cohen and one by David Brooks crystallized what had been bothering about the whole debate and the general dialogue on health care and government. David Brooks says it best "Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it."


Atonement, that's whats been bothering me. There are several different understandings of atonement and what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but one thing that is the same throughout is that all agree that humans are essentially evil/sin-filled walking sacks who are born that way and destined to die that way. Yes i know i've drastically simplified the theology, but this is a blog post, not a paper or academic abstract.

Here's what's been bothering me is that given the human propensity towards evil, it is obvious that we need safeguards in place to protect the weak and the defenseless. In addition without a sense of the common good or community, humanity has a dreadful proclivity towards selfishness and Darwinian self reliance. While if you're not a christian, or claim to be a bible thumper, you can be as selfish as you want to be.

But its been the movement of Tea Party idealogy into conservative Christianity that has really got me bothered. Where is the biblical basis of small govt and taking care of yourself and only yourself? Where is the biblical basis of not sharing the burden of living with those in your community.

And finally for the last time, politics and theology are not separate spheres. They inform one another, you faith/theology/worldview inform your politics and if you claim to be a bible believing christian, then you have no business attending the Tea Party or similar movements that preach self-reliance and individual liberty. Sorry, there's no scriptural basis for those ideologies.