Tag Archives: BIC

Is that Jesus dancing?

There is far too little tribal dancing in the church. That is my critique for the day, so if your train stop is coming up, you can stop reading, you’re good.

It think we may have finally “got it” the other night on Mardi Gras and “did the word”: Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149). We did not have specialists interpreting with dance or waving flags and such (which is fine too); we just got out there and shook it as the common good we are.

We even had a flash mob moment in honor of Ben/Gwyn and Nate/Jen (it even made Gwyneth get teary over Uptown Funk).

Of course we did that! It’s in the Bible!: “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

Jesus has saved us and made us his people. We’re happy. That’s a good enough reason to dance. So if you are getting off the train now, feel free to stop reading. You probably have what you need.

We have good reasons to dance

But I do want to point out that there are some more very good reasons to dance. I’m glad we exercised a few. Yes, people showed up for our party! – and they even danced with nothing lubricating their system but fastnachts and root beer!

Dancing makes trust.

For most of us, it is hard to get out on the dance floor. Ra begged Gwen and me to get out there and get the party rolling, since nobody will dance at a dance for the first half hour. She reminded me of jr. high when I was in dance class and the teacher would taunt us boys to walk across the multipurpose room floor and ask a girl to waltz. Terror.

Being pushed out on the floor was threatening. It reminded me that people love looking at dancers and talking about how they dance. A couple of my dear friends were, indeed, rating the best COH dancers the other night. That’s scary. Some men, in particular, refused to dance all night and stood off to the side like the kids in the Lord’s quote: “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance’” (Luke 7:32).

But when you get out on the floor and realize we are all in this together, heedless of the fear, forgetting the judgment, and despising our shame, it loosens the place in us that trusts God and works trust into our very bodies! And getting out there does wonders for trusting others, too. Dancing with someone is pretty intimate, pretty vulnerable – its trusting someone because you think they love you enough to do so. We need that. Dancing is a trust system and we want to live in one.

Dancing commits us to joy

Very few people can dance with the tribe without a smile on their face. I suppose that’s why the Baptists I worked for were against it. Actually these Baptists were privately pretty fun and happy, but publicly they were straight-laced and sober because they thought that was being holy and they didn’t want anyone to know they were secretly a lot less perfect than they appeared. For quite a few years my dancing instincts were squashed by the Bible lovers who ignored all the dancing in the Bible.

They were like Michal watching David dance when you’d think everyone would want to be as out-of-control holy as David was: “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2. Sam 6). I don’t know, for sure, why Michal despised David, but she sure was not increasing the joy in town that day!

There cannot be too much joy, even when things are bad and people are bad and they don’t deserve to be joyful – or insert any Michal-like judgment you feel here____. The fact is, most of us are not Michals and it makes us happy to see you dance. It probably makes you happier too.

Dancing represents a common good.

One time, a long time ago now, a close-knit church I was in realized that they felt really good whenever someone got married and the whole church got our on the floor at the reception and danced like one big group, partners notwithstanding. A few times they made such a positive impression with their happiness and togetherness that it became the talk of the rest of the guests and the bride and groom were proud of their cool, Christian friends. So we decided to hold a dance for All Saints Day. The one glitch was that the Brethren in Christ also thought dancing was not a holy thing to do. So we asked the bishop to give us a special dispensation. He did not think we would fall into sin, so he dispensed with the policy. Not sure he had the power to do that, but we went ahead.

Jesus dancing
Heimo Christian Haikala, “Christ Dancing on the Sea of Galilee.” Oil on canvas. Source: http://www.heimohaikala.com

In a communal group like the BIC, dancing is a great visual aid. It is an incarnational demonstration of being the visible body doing what Jesus does. At least it represents God’s mindset as Jesus describes it in the story of the lost son. The father says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing (Luke 15).

You could have “heard” our dancing a long way off on Mardi Gras! — stomping, hooting, Cyndi Lauper wailing about girls and fun. It drew quite a few people into our common good. Near the end I was dancing with a group of men who were finally into it. One of them came in mentally worn out and for a while got some relief. He could feel his spirit rise. That’s what Jesus does. We hope to dip people in the music of his body to share some happy resonance.

Everything else we do builds trust, joy and the common good, as well. But I really like it when we dance — even though it is kind of silly for me to dance. We don’t hear about Jesus dancing (I bet he did, though) – but we do hear a lot about people thinking he was silly, and we still hear that directed whenever we act like Him, too. His whole life was kind of out on the dance floor, wasn’t it? — asking people to dance, making people know joy, demonstrating a different way to live. Our Mardi Gras party was a good training.

Acceptance: Fast or furious? Quakers and Puritans keep arguing.

I’ve seen the trailer for Fast and Furious 7 so many times it has taught me lessons. Like this one: Before the big stunt, one of the team mates does not understand what is going on and refuses to drive his car into a parachute jump (not kidding). Vin Diesel has a plan for this acrophobic team mate, since everyone knew he would be too afraid to do this crazy thing. Most of the team is fast at getting out of the plane; this one hold out is furious when they get him out, too. That’s the church. Some people are good at “wild,” some are less so, but we still figure out how to jump from the same plane in our hot cars. Right?

Well, maybe the church is not exactly like that. But our team is a lot like other teams. For instance, the other night at the BW Stakeholders meeting there was a brief interchange between a couple of the good people present. Their back-and-forth was another in a long line of similar conversations stretching back to the beginning of the country, even the beginning of the church! One of us said something like, “The Holy Spirit should run a cell, not some person or program.” Another of us answered back something like, “I just joined a cell that is very structured and I find it comforting.” One was ready to jump and one wondered about the plan.

Prophecy and order

Prophecy vs. order is always the balancing act of the church (I still recommend this book by one of my professors). Some people are always ready to jump — even think jumping is holy. Other people want to know the plan and think jumping all the time leads to destruction. They sometimes don’t like each other.

These days people think being one way or the other is just a matter of one’s “bias” or one’s “personality” or even “preference.” People have generally decided to not decide things in the name of tolerance. But I think there is an important issue that each growing person of faith can and should decide.

  • Is having a consistent order to things (which can quickly become law) numbing my faith?
  • Is having the freedom to follow the Spirit in every circumstance (which can quickly become selfish) undermining the community?
  • Is there really a contest between the individual and the community, between freedom and covenant?

There usually is a contest, but should there be?

I was surprised, for some reason, that we were having that kind of argument at the stakeholders meeting. I should not have been surprised since the church has been sorting out these relationships since the beginning. Especially in the American church, prophecy vs. order has been a constant place for arguing. For instance, at the last General Conference of the BIC I wound up on the outs with some people when I questioned the leadership — their reactions to me were not unusual. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1600s New England, the Puritans had similar reactions when Quakers landed in Boston to preach their radical new faith. The Puritans, who had been so rebellious in England, were now in the place of protecting an order they had built in the new world from someone even further out than they were. Bernard Bailyn describes the two sides very well — you can see how the descendants of the arguers are still with us!

Quakerism had emerged as the ultimate descent from rational, Biblicist, clerical Protestantism into subjective, anticlerical, nonscriptural, millennialism that threatened the basic institutions of civilized life – church, family and social hierarchy—that they were struggling to preserve. [The Quakers] challenged such fundamentals as the sanctity of Scripture, the principles of predestination and original sin, and the propriety of religious “ordinances”: the sacraments, scripted orders of worship, structured preaching, and the formalities of prayer.

quakerAmong the church plantings popping up in the Philly region these days this divide is still being played out. The Presbyterians inherit the role of the Puritans, hang on to over-rational faith and resist women and other people who traditionally don’t have power – especially “enthusiasts” who undermine the Bible with their feelings. On the other hand are Pentecostals who, like the original Quakers, trust their personal experience and bravely attempt to get everyone into their own version of it — all in the name of following the Spirit and applying the Bible.

Isn’t there a middle?

I am aligned with the “Anabaptists,” the kind of Christians who were also kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for being disorderly and just plain wrong. But I try to force myself into the middle, when it comes to prophecy and order, somewhere between Pentecostal and Presbyterian. For one reason, I think every version of Christianity usually has some brilliance to it. We are all one in Christ. But I also have more practical reasons and scriptural reasons, as well.

The Apostle Paul was confronted with this dividing point when he was writing to young churches. In chapters 14 and 15 of Romans he does a brilliant job of forcing himself into the middle by telling everyone to accept one another like Jesus accepts them — not because they are right or have rights, but because of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 9 he charts middle ground by telling everyone to become like everyone for the sake of the mission — not merely because of empathy or tolerance, but because of Jesus. Paul puts himself firmly in the freedom/prophecy/filled-with-the-Spirit camp. But he uses his freedom to firmly protect those who don’t feel it. There is no point in having freedom if one uses it to win a point or to dominate everyone else. Freedom is for love. At this point some people among the BIC might think I eat meat sacrificed Philadelphia idols. That doesn’t mean I need to chew it in their face all the time. We all need to stick together in Jesus. Some people in our cells need enough structure to help them feel safe enough to grow – their cell leader can provide it without writing a new set of commandments for them.

Even when Paul is very frustrated by the people who are turning the Galatians back toward the Jewish law, he is generous: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. …If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”(Galatians 4:14-15). He keeps his eye on the prize, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor 9:19).

The leader of the plane jump probably needs to be “fast.” That will undoubtedly make some team mate “furious” about all this jumping. The leader needs to consider that certain valuable members of the team are not just like him. The point isn’t feeling unfettered or secure; the point is being in love and following Jesus. Some people will always be in love and follow Jesus in a more orderly way, some will be wilder. That’s how it is. Regardless of our differences or even liking one another, we can all be one with Jesus and grow toward having generous hearts. We can recognize who we are and who someone else is — and see all of us in the light of Christ.

Narcissism and Telling Our Stories

My recent studies in psychoanalytic theory confirmed nicely what my first individual therapist, way-back-when, knew as soon as I sat down. At one point he handed me a book and said, “You might want to read this.” It was titled “Narcissism.” I take some small comfort in knowing that I am not alone in having my psychology organized in that way.

Many people say that the United States is a rather narcissistic society (notably Christopher Lasch). So I felt comfortable talking to the men about it when we were on retreat last weekend; we all know something about it, at some level.  Narcissists are often merely seen as people who are into themselves. But, in truth, what they are into is anything but themselves; they are more into the presentation of themselves – they are consumed by maintaining the image that keeps them safe from dealing with their shameful insides, the things they don’t want to touch or know about. They maintain their self-esteem by getting affirmation from outside themselves. So they can often be driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, and escape into a grandiose self-conception, merely using other people as instruments of gratification even while they crave their love and approval. Something is missing. If they ever ponder what is happening in their soul, they probably feel fraudulent and loveless.

narcissism poster childTiger Woods became the poster child for narcissism that developed into an extreme version; some say he has a disorder. It is no suprise that he might have developed this way; the United States seems to be full such people. Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama may have at least one thing in common;  they were trained to be narcissistic. Society sets us all up to need to appear special so we can sell our labor. We have all become products in a package. We are encouraged to be grandiose by constant testing and resume-building. The most susceptible of us end up preoccupied with what we should be and perpetually critical or depressed about what we are. Narcissists are terrified of insufficiency, shame, weakness, or inferiority. That resembles the country’s political debate and foreign policy.

Shame is the big motivator for the narcissist — and shame is hard to look at and harder to overcome. Shame is being seen as bad or wrong.  I understand how it can get a grip on one’s heart. For instance, I recently wrote a blog piece that criticized the way my leaders in the BIC were communicating about the crisis in our leadership. I received a scathing letter from one of the general church leaders and it set off a flood of emotion in me. They were trying to shame me, and it almost caused me to stop telling the truth in order to avoid the feeling. Narcissists have a whole collection of ways they defend against shame and the envy they feel of others who seem not to feel it. Here are a few examples:

  • They devalue. They will scorn or ridicule what they envy, or think  they are unworthy of. Watch an episode of Seinfeld.
  • The other side of devaluing is idealization. They have a grandiose sense of self. They don’t merely compare themselves to others; they compare themselves to the best person in their profession and feel horrible in comparison. They need to go to the best school. They know what the best beer is, or can list the top ten microbreweries in the Philadelphia region. They need to wear the best shoes. They read the magazines that reveal the most rigorous workout to achieve the best abs.
  • They end up perfectionistic, which can result in either thinking they have made it or feeling inherently flawed. They have a tough time being forgivably human. They might attach themselves to an idealized, perfect mentor or mate and gain status by being an appendage. But they might also knock them off their pedestal in fury when they prove to be imperfect.

wounds of narcissismThe men’s retreat was full of wonderful stories about growth and pain and Jesus. I told parts of my story of transformation, as well. I said that my story had a wonderful factor in it. I may see my parents as having “whacked” the best parts of me whenever they surfaced like they were playing whack-a-mole. But in my hole I found Jesus. When I was a teen, and all my narcissistic props got knocked out from under me, I remembered Jesus in the deep hole of my depression.

Telling my story was predictably difficult for me. Our whole society is dedicated to flooding the world with idealized stories that create a reality that devalues authenticity. It is hard to figure out whether one is telling a story that is true or “truthy.” We are trained for inauthenticity by watching “reality” shows that have very little to do with reality. As a result, many of us are hesitant to tell a story about ourselves because the best we can do is not be as inauthentic as someone else. When our church decided to call out 100 stories of transformation this year, I don’t think we realized how hard that might seem to people.

Because of the confusing atmosphere in which we live, we are hestitant to ask people to tell their stories. We are hesitant, so why wouldn’t they be hesitant?

  • We are afraid we might turn them into commodities. The 24-hour news cycle is out filming us all the time to provide feed for their image business. Facebook needs all our images and personal history giving to survive. We don’t want to do that to people.
  • So we are afraid that asking someone to tell a story will be exploitive. We’re like a primitive person somewhere who doesn’t want her picture taken because she thinks the camera will steal her spirit. We don’t want to steal others’ spirits.
  • We are afraid that people will feel like they are selling themselves, providing material for a Christian hype machine. The last thing we want to look like is a hype machine!

We try to do things that are “not-unChristian” to be a Christian. We focus on not doing what we are ashamed of, or what embarrasses us in others, or what we envy in others but think will look cheesy when we do it. So it is hard to tell a story about what Jesus is doing and hard to ask someone to do it.

Nevertheless, I think we need to keep trying to tell our stories. The powers that be would like to shut us up. The men at the retreat went into the night not shutting up last Saturday. I think it made a difference.

  • Storytelling helps us to understand who we are and listening to stories gives the gift of understanding to someone else. Vulnerable dialogue is fundamental to love.
  • Our stories are valuable. Even if we don’t really know what we are talking about right now, God thinks our story is valuable because we are valuable to him. We are the creatures he died for, for whom he made a covenant in blood to give us his life. If we receive that gift we are each a vessel in which the Holy Spirit is carried and from which the glory of God is dispensed in this time.
  • Telling our stories is an act of defiance against the powers that sell stories, who want us to be a mere images of some idealized self that is not a gift of God but just a contract with the economy.

Jesus is made known in the human story that acknowledges God with us and that story is continuing to be told in us.

Understanding, restoration, and resistance are in the storytelling. The dialogue is a process of losing one’s false self and taking on one’s true self in Christ.

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What We Dread Is Not Our End

On Tuesday of Holy Week, while Art was bringing us into the Lord’s teaching on the last days, I was feeling for our denomination, the Brethren in Christ.

The BIC has had a lot of losses. Last year two of our bishops resigned, including the one for our conference. They resigned under protest and then would not tell us what the protest was about. A financial officer also resigned from our General Church Leaders, which made circumstances even more suspicious; this has also gone unexplained, even in the offical explanation. Now the bishop of the Southeast Conference is retiring, which makes one wonder how those Spanish speakers will relate to English speakers without their mediator. Rumor has it that the Canadian Conference is going to separate, mainly because Canadian and U.S. laws make it hard to stick together; that is a loss, too. Our General Conference Secretary will be gone this summer; the Moderator is leaving early next year. Is this the end of the BIC?

Let’s talk about it. The essence of being a human who is not independent of God is communication. God calls us and we respond. God reveals and we see and listen. God is a mutually-intending trinity who is in a dialogue that defines each member as they relate. People and institutions who are made in God’s image have a character that reflects God, in that they speak the truth in love as a core feature of who they are. Conversely, systems that communicate in monologue and avoid dialogue are oppressive and destined for death.

At our recent regional conference, to which I was not able to go, those who represented Circle of Hope came away uniformly aghast. A consultant was hired to give a speech that was so strangely coercive they could not figure out what he was doing. He was calling for courage in suffering and for a willingness to forgive, and he cried three times while he was calling for it! But our delegates could not figure out what he was talking about. We haven’t been told yet what we are suffering or what we should forgive!! There was a whopping fifteen minutes allotted for discussing the major changes that have been going on. Our new bishop and the General Secretary were there and stonewalled the whole process. They apparently had a deal to give no information at all! Someone stood up to ask why our bishop resigned and they received no answer. Someone told me they heard that the practice of denuding the conference landscape of dialogue is mainly a BIC Atlantic Conference habit; other conferences actually confer at their conferences. Our contingent was so visibly distressed at the behavior of the conference leaders that a kind heart decided to take them out to lunch to cheer them up! Is this the end of the BIC?

We’ll see. At the beginning of Lent, Circle of Hope Broad and Washington explored the healing of the man blind from birth. People asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “This happened so that the glory of God would be shown.” That was a good answer, Lord! Thanks! When we ask the question, out of our despair and confusion, “Who caused the blindness of the BIC? Is this the end of the BIC?” We may want to get an answer.  But, ultimately, Jesus is probably going to answer the same way he answered other short-sighted followers in the past: “I don’t need great circumstances to show God’s glory. Don’t get stuck in your interpretation of the present situation.”

He was saying similar things to us during Holy Week. On Tuesday, Art taught us, in Jesus’  stead, that the “end we dread is not our end.” Jesus has opened a new way. We need to watch, not fear. On the night Art was leading us I was thinking about the BIC. We love the BIC and we dread the end our leaders seem to be making of it. Most of us have never experienced such persistent lack of wisdom — or whatever it is that may be happening once we become privy to it. We have surely not experienced asking direct questions to our leaders and discovering that they have a mutual commitment to not trust us with the truth. It is astounding.

If God wants it all to end, it will end. But it is probably just a time to change. It is time to move with what the Spirit is doing next.  It is a time to see God’s glory displayed in another surprising way. I take heart in what happened last week. On Tuesday things looked confusing and dark. Jesus revealed mysterious prophecies. On Sunday He rose from the dead.

I dread the end of the BIC. But what I dread is not my end.

My Week of Seeing Jesus in the Morsels

Lent is coming soon and it will inspire a good fast. That’s good, because I could use one. But until then, I think I am determined to receive whatever I am served at whatever table I am seated to see God revealed. Last week was a feast.

Monday it was linguine, Mexican linguine at Paloma. (I don’t understand them, but it was delicious). My Valentine told me she was going to let the conversation flow wherever it flowed and enjoy it. She gladly wore the bracelet I bought her from the Eyes Gallery, which is always full of Mexican oddities. (Do you detect a south-of-the-border theme?) The blessing was easy to spot in the surprisingly good pasta: many Valentine’s Days and deep, comfortable love. Given where we come from and our native incapabilities, that is no small blessing.

Tuesday it was a quesadilla at ten o’clock after buying a minivan. I have the van sitting in the garage waiting to be driven, waiting for grandchildren to grind chocolate into it, chocolate I probably shouldn’t have given them. The quesadilla asked the question as I impatiently waited for the cheese to melt, “How much are you going to pack into this week?” The voice of Jesus was in the quesadilla.

Wednesday morning it was the granola of brotherhood with the band of cell-leading brothers at Morning Glory. Their partnership seemed like a sudden development. Suddenly everyone loved one another and was committed to the group like it is life-saving. It made my yogurt especially sweet to be with them. In spite of all their professional and family pressures, they want to have a life in Christ that makes a difference.

Wednesday night it was limp pasta at the Gold Standard with my neighbors. We decided to have dinner together rather than just meet for snow shoveling. My one neighbor was ready to tell stories about Vietnam and gang life in North Philly. We were focused on his seventeenth and eighteenth years. They were entertaining years. Jesus was in the entertainment, in seeing people who I don’t normally see just the way they are, in offering understanding, and in waiting for love to do what love does. 

Thursday noon it was spanakopita with the pastors in the Lebanon Farmers Market. (No kidding). I could have had the Kenbrook Camp lunch but we evacuated to visit Jonny’s mother (thus preventing his early demise). She has an Egyptian-food stand in the market and served us what undoubtedly amounted to the entire day’s profits. Delicious. The pastors are deliciously spiritual and committed to one another. The conversation was deliciously spiced with talk about Coptic Christians in the midst of Egyptian upheaval.  Jesus was definitely at the table. Rich fare.

Thursday night it was a horseradish chip at the cell meeting. My cell knows I am repenting of my weird dietary habits this year, but what is a few chips going to hurt? They also know I rarely leave the supermarket without buying something I have never eaten, like horseradish-cheddar potato chips. God was in the being known and still being loved.

Friday it was the family feast for the twins’ birthday — toddlers and babies everywhere, new houses and new developments, faith stories, disappointments, negotiations about how to be a clan. Again, even while washing every dish in the house afterward, it all seemed like a blessing. I am so happy it is all right to come to our table and tell the latest miracle story about how someone bumped into Jesus by bumping into one of us.

Saturday it was overpriced burb food with friends who are worth suffering bad food for. We were shooting for PF Chang’s and ended up at Redstone (don’t bother – but then, I realized I am very spoiled by Philadelphia food). Jesus was especially in the tales of woe that surfaced, and which were received, and which benefited greatly from being told in a place where one is sure to be loved.

Sunday it was a carb-feast with the women of Shalom House and their Guidance Team (I look forward to meeting the men of Shalom House, soon). Jesus was easy to see in the vision of their listening tour, and in the creativity around the table. In the desire to see big things happen, it is often easy to overlook just how big it is to participate in what is happening already!

Then, Sunday night, Josiah made sure I got one of the Tootsie Pops on the snack table. That’s a big deal to me. Papa needs a Pop. Being loved by a child loosens up the hard candy shell around my inner child.

This week, I honestly hope my spiritual food is not accompanied by so many calories. But I am encouraged to consider each morsel as a gift and have a feast of love when the babaganoush and diet cherry Pepsi are passed to me like bread and wine.

Community requires presuming the “WE” doesn’t it?

I had a couple of moments last week when I realized I was acting out of an assumption that was just not warranted. I presumed there was a mutually understood “we” my fellow believer and I lived in — but it just was not there. I am trying to talk more about my assumptions rather than just bump into the reality that they are not shared – and feeling bruised. If you are still alone in the crowd, I hope you will enlighten me.

Image result for alone in a crowd

I have always lived in the church. As a child I somehow got the impression that I ought to be “one of those people.” When I went to college I ended up quite consciously living in community with other believers — by the time I was a senior it was eight guys living in side-by-side apartments holding a Bible study for 70+ people every Monday. By the time I was 26, or so, I was living in an intentional community based on Acts 2 that included up to 20 people at a time for over eight years. As God focused my gifts toward forming and leading congregations, I continued to find my identity as part of a missional community animated by life in Jesus.

So sometimes I can be slow on the uptake or kind of flabbergasted when I meet up with Christians, especially people trying to lead me, who don’t run in the deep ruts of my instincts. For instance:

1) I can torment some of our Cell Leaders and the staff because they don’t really know much about building a team. I forget sometimes that a lot of people just wear themselves out doing jobs for Jesus because no matter how much it is said, they still don’t see themselves as part of a body — they are interchangeable parts of some abstract process. Especially if they can see the “big picture” of what the church is all about, a lot of leaders will feel that the whole job is theirs to complete, alone – so they get overwhelmed pretty fast and expect sympathy. They aren’t on God’s team (the One who does most of the work and has lots of sympathy); and they don’t presume that we’re all in this together — so they proceed to do it all by themselves. It is nice that they own the mission; it is just strange that they think the job belongs to them. They don’t work out of a team, and they don’t think to form one to get things done – they are struggling just to be a part of a “we” at all!

2) I can be a pain because I have a pain when the Brethren in Christ leaders are holding forth. The other day at our Regional Conference, our dear, new bishop got up to introduce the “business” section of the agenda and confused me again with an attitude that has been prevalent among my denominational leaders for quite a while, now. The first thing he started with was a funny/sarcastic/endearing remark, something like, “Now we are going to get to what we are all looking forward to” (wink). We were going to hear the reports about our mutual mission and make any decisions we had to make as the delegates from the churches who make up the conference – the “we” of the Atlantic Region of the BIC. As usual, I and several of the Circle of Hope crew, didn’t really understand why this was supposed to be so boring or distasteful, since inclusion in the process, making mutual decisions and being the “we” of the BIC was the only reason we drove two hours from Philadelphia. The leaders dispensed with the most interesting and dignifying thing we had to do as quickly as possible, and made it pretty plain that causing any dialogue about it was relatively out of order, since no one wanted to do it, anyway. Circle of Hope’s polity is so focused around dialogue, and lots of it, that I was hard-pressed to explain how we think our process is connected to the BIC at all.

3) I can get frustrated and be frustrating when people committed to being the total integers produced by U.S. political and educational philosophy try to relate to me. For instance, I’ve been doing a lot of personal pondering about why sexual morality is so irrelevant to quite a few of my believing friends these days. I think part of it is because their faith has no context. The “drank the kool-aid” of the propagandists who say that sexuality is just about what feels good to us in the moment; it is an impulse that doesn’t even need a relationship, much less is it anyone else’s business in the family or the church. Their faith is purely personal/private/theoretical – it can be aided by “church offerings,” but being the church is not crucial to having it. So all the parts of the New Testament in which leaders are trying to form a group identity and protect it are relegated to second-tier thoughts, if they are entertained at all. Some of my friends are so alone, they ease into a one-to-one “we” by hooking up with strangers while drunk, having a relationship with someone in another state, or relating virtually. Should they cohabit with an unbeliever in the same city, it might be considered progress; if there is love involved, that is deep. They have capabilities I am trying to figure out. I got married; I had children of my own eight years after I left my parents, I stayed married. So sometimes I have to ask people to translate and explain a lot about what they are doing and why.

I hope I am not just damning people because they aren’t like me – the original sin of postmodernity. But I am wondering if I am right enough about Jesus to justify the problems I have and be the problem I am.