Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I Believe

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying. -Martin Luther

I’ve noticed that as a Christian in this day and age people who are not believers seem to like to tell me what I believe. I had an experience a few weeks ago that I’ve been sitting on and processing for a while now. I knew almost immediately that I would need to write about it but it hasn’t been sitting well with me.

I was at the pub hanging out with a buddy and a girl who worked at a restaurant down the street came in and sat a few seats down. I didn’t much notice as people tend to come and go quite a bit, but she struck up a conversation with the bartender who happened to be a good friend of mine. We talked about geek stuff, sci-fi shows and tattoos and she seemed very pleasant. Strike that, she was very pleasant.

She talked about going back to school and mentioned that she considered Texas A&M. I told her that I had lived in College Station before and jokingly said it would be a great town if it weren’t for all the Aggies. (Don’t get mad Aggies, it’s just a joke, you’re wonderful people… most of the time.) She said it wasn’t the Aggies she was worried about, it was all the Christians.

I chuckled. It’s not unusual to have conversations with non-believers. I have many good friends who aren’t believers, but the way her attitude changed when I told her I worked at a church was disturbing. My position is that if somebody is open to religious conversation or interested in my faith or any faith I’ll gladly have a conversation with them, but I always make sure to be respectful of their place in faith’s journey. Whether it be not believing anything or believing things differently than me, I truly believe that it’s not my place to change their mind, but to live and converse and represent my faith well. This was not her outtake.

She began telling me what I believe. She criticized the weak minded and archaic systems I believed and railed against the oppressive systems that I believe in. She looked at me with genuine pity in her eyes and tried to console me for being such a sucker. It was one of the most insulting moments of my life. Clearly she has had some incredibly negative experiences with the church in the past but why she felt the need to take it out on me was mind boggling.

Now I’m not recounting this story to belittle this woman. I still believe she is a perfectly pleasant person. I tell this story because it has occurred to me that there are so many misrepresentations of what Jesus actually taught. It is my goal to move more in the direction of what Jesus taught and commanded of us rather than to appease Jesus’ followers. I also tell this story because it points out something that I believe Christians everywhere are guilty of. I don’t like being told what I believe. My experiences and the direction my life has taken shaped my beliefs and regardless of what the perception of the church is, my personal beliefs may or may not be in line with that. They certainly are not defined by popular opinion.

Because of this and other similar experiences I think it is time that we as members of the body of Christ decide that we adjust our perspective. This woman looked down on me because that’s how somebody in the church had previously done to her. I think it’s time that we call out all Christians to start treating everybody with the respect we expect to be treated with, the respect I was denied. I have long been anti-conversion. Rather than looking for souls to save, maybe its time we let our lives be the beacon. Strive to be more Christ-like in your actions and let that be the influence for others to convert. Meet people where they are in their faith walk and don’t assume you know what they believe. I’m not saying this will significantly change the world, but I do recall Jesus saying something about treating others the way you would be treated. Maybe this can be one small step in a more peaceful and understanding world.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Small Groups and Intersections

So anybody involved in the modern or postmodern church understands how involved we have become in making small groups central to our activities. At Celebration we say that small groups are central to the core of who we are. Having never been fully involved with a congregation that had small groups I have to admit that I don't know if they are central to the core of how I see the church, but we're going to give it a try. 

Rather than a Bible or sermon study I decided to organize a group based on film study. The flicks I chose aren't necessarily "Christian" movies which would make waves in some congregations I've been involved in before. There will be harsh language, violence, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and a number of other things that aren't considered acceptable in polite Christian circles.

I picked the movies because I think we need to stop pretending that we are not living in the world in which we are. Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Clearly we're told that we aren't to be "of the world" but we are in the world so how do we as 21st century Christians comply with scripture but also avoid a compound lifestyle somewhere in east Texas? 

I believe it is my job as a minister in a postmodern setting to sit at the intersection where the church and the world meet. My interpretation of this passage tells me that I am to be transformed in Christ without succumbing to the pressures of the world. My interpretation of the life I have lived tells me that people outside of the faith aren’t interested in believing in a God that doesn’t understand them where they are in their life. So how do I as a minister introduce the two?

On facebook my minibio says that I am a fan of Jesus and Beer and anyone that partakes in either regularly. That’s true. I’m a believer that beer brings the world together and have had more theological conversations at the pub than I have at any church. These experiences have pointed out to me that I need not be of the world to be a citizen of the world. I can set my sights on Christ while having my feet planted firmly on terra firma. So here I am, a citizen of the world ever changed by my experiences and relationship with a God I can’t understand. I don’t know how I will reconcile the two, but I believe that God isn’t only found in the church. So we will watch controversial movies and I’ll keep you updated on where the Lord shows up. I do believe it will be in surprising and unexpected ways.

Cheers! Mike.
follow me on twitter @MikeCelebrating