Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can we avoid the 'Political' ?

Today was a great day. My friend Malone got invited to join the Faith and Order committee of the Rhode Island Council of Churches and they were looking for another Baptist, so he invited me. (thanks pal!) Anyway, I prepared by reviewing the document they were finishing which attempted a theological approach to the 'immigration' issue. This is why I am excited, we get to really dig in and discuss theologically the social issue that face our state and nation.

Today was mostly a 'getting-to-know-you' meeting, but we did begin to discuss the parameters of the next project, which is 'Poverty'. And interesting and in my opinion time limited discussion followed. Part of this discussion lead some members of the committee to express their discomfort with getting too 'political' in terms of offering a theological critique of economic systems which allow or even cause poverty. But can we avoid politics?

Many churches say that they want the pastor to avoid politics, but in my understanding of the gospels, politics is inherent. Many NT scholars including NT Wright and Warren Carter, to just name two, make the point that the divide between political and religious is a modern phenomenon, and not something that Jesus or the gospel writers would have been familiar with. I recently read an essay by a scholar by the name of Clapp who noted that the very word 'gospel' was a term used in the political propaganda of the Roman Empire. The Good News would be proclaimed when the Caesar produced an heir ensuring the continuance of the empire, or when a battle had been won, or another country and people conquered. Mark's very use of the term 'gospel' to name his story about the life of Jesus would have automatically had political overtones to those who heard it read. Or take the phrase many of us pray every sunday liturgically, 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' Kingdom is a political word. The Kingdom of God , as NT Wright explains so often was not the reward after death for the righteous, but a very real, very earthly, very political action on the part of God to free Israel from oppression. When we pray this, we are saying that the politics, the social organization that God has established in 'heaven' would become real on earth. That is political.

I think what concerned some present at the meeting was that we might get political in the sense of Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. That kind of politics I have no interest in. Having said that, I don't think that we can avoid the politics or the social organization of the gospel. It is what we try to establish, teach and pass on to our children, in the church. Everything we do has political implication if by politics we mean, how the life of the people is organized. We have an economy of sharing and generosity, we deal with conflict through dialogue, confession and forgiveness, we speak truthfully and honestly, our 'borders' are open to all who will follow Christ, so we have a very unique way of dealing with strangers and outsiders. This is all political, not in the terms of embracing or supporting political parties or in attempting to have our faith legislated. But we cannot, I think deny, that the way that we organize the life of the people of God is meant to be an example to the wider world and we pray every sunday that we would be an example that would day lead to the coming of God's Kingdom on earth.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

San Miguel School in Providence

This morning I went to visit the San Miguel School in Providence, with two friends. Just have to share how impressed I was with all the young men (grades 5-8) that I met. Two took us on a tour of the school. Then we attended their opening exercises which included a time for prayer and anyone who wanted could share a prayer request, a word of the week (philanthropist) which they spelled, discussed the etymology of and then talked about philanthropists they have heard of. One young man recited a Langston Hughes poem from memory. Announcements were made for various events such as soccer, dance and other extra-curricular activities. THe announcements were made by the students themselves. Then they had a team of young men come up from the soccer team and nominate five other boys for a 'good sportsmenship' award which was given not just for succeeding, but for trying and not giving up. The school focuses on not only scholastic achievement but also peacemaking and character development. I think I shook the hand of every young man there... they just walk up and shake your hand and welcome you and say hello... no one has to remind them or prompt them. amazing!

We are hoping to get ABCORI and a number of local churches to begin to lend financial support so that more young men can attend the school.

Check out their website http://sanmiguelprov.org

I think you'll be impressed. Oh, its private, but the families only have to pay 5% of the tuition, which amounts to about $8,000 a year. Supporting this great school would be a wonderful way to promote peace and fight poverty in our state.

one more bit... they are need of adult mentors for the young men... If you live in RI, think about it, I am...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Worship is Important

So last night I posted on a couple of things, including an article in which worship was described is not the most important thing we do as church or Christians. Here is why I feel that is not true. Aside from the theological reason, Christ is present in worship, I think that regular communal time together is vital to our mission or outreach, because it is in worship that we learn how to be the community. Together through the liturgy, we learn how it is that the church serves the community and creates community in the shape of Christ. We confess our sins in our times of prayer and then pass the peace. This teaches us the basic shape of peace-making, which the world is in need of, both locally and internationally. Confession and prayer teach us how to be honest with one another, so that we are a truthful witness in a world where honesty and authenticity are lacking. We offer tithes and share communion, both of which teach us how to share our lives, our belongings and our wealth. We hear the word of God which shows us where to direct our missional actions, to the poor, the ignored and the 'other'. Baptism shows us how to make a community out of diverse ethnic groups, gender identities and socio-economic backgrounds. Without this foundation of worship, the church is doing nothing but copying other social service agencies which probably do a better job than we do assisting others. Not to mention the fact that the church is equipped to do something that agencies cannot do. We can befriend those we aid. We do not need to keep a professional distance. We, as the body of christ, join with them in suffering and in challenge. Their lives are joined to ours in a way that secular agencies cannot reproduce.

Is the church created only to serve? Service is important and vital. But our service is part of a larger mission, which is to show the world what the Kingdom of God looks like. Perhaps we can only do this in part. Definately we cannot create the Kingdom on our own. But we are not called to create the kingdom, which I think the idea that the church is called to serve and not worship leads too, the fallacious idea that we can create the kingdom (fix the worlds problems) through our actions. we can't do that. We show the world a better way and wait faithfully for Christ to return and recreate the world.

A church that serves without worship exists to serve the world alone. A church that serves and worships exists to serve and follow christ.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Church Attendance Declining; What should we Do?

So, I've been participating in this 'Missional Church' project through ABCUSA National Ministries for the past two years... me and some folks from my church, along with other churches in the state. Two weeks ago we had our last meeting and we started with a discussion of a 'church' in Florida. Well, the question was, is this a church. There were a number of different social events sponsored by an umbrella non-profit. They rented space in a high drug, low income area and offered a number of services, from counseling to theater group productions to bible studies. The question was... is this a 'missional church' or a church at all. I was skeptical. I just don't see calling theater production and stand-up comedy groups church. It may be great for the community, but it just isn't church.

Then I ran across this lovely little article at ethicsdaily.com

Notice, when you read that one of his points is that sunday morning worship is not the most important thing we should be doing.

What does it mean to be church? This is the question that all this 'missional church'
talk has raised for me. On the one hand I'm all for an expanded understanding of church which now includes service in the community. But for me that service is part of the church's evangelism and its witness as well as its discipleship. We feed the hungry because this is where we are told that we will find Jesus. We actively collect money and use it to help others to show the world God's economy as explained in Acts 2. The service or mission is an extension of our worship and not an alternative to worship, or a better use of our time. My point is that we engage in social action and service in unique ways that are rooted in our worship. The practice of communion leads to our unique economic practice. Baptism teaches us how to be hospitable. Without the worship our service will look just like everyone elses... and our service is meant to look like Christ. How will we reflect the image of Christ if we do not make time to experience the presence of Christ in and through worship?