Tag Archives: morality

Is it OK to use my work resources for the church or is that stealing?

Several people came up to Jesus and asked him questions: “Who is my neighbor?” for instance, and “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus pointed the first man toward overcoming the hatred between Jews and Samaritans! He pointed the other toward selling all he had and giving the money to the poor! I think many people quickly decided to stop asking him questions! Maybe you don’t dare, either — not really, at least.

I think the vast majority of people who stopped asking would be like American Christians, at least a lot of them, who still won’t care for their neighbors (especially if they don’t share their “identity”) and certainly would not even consider impoverishing themselves to care for “the poor” as a class of people. How many times have I heard, with a laugh, “Be careful what you ask God, you might get an answer!”

So why do we keep asking so many questions?

We keep bravely asking because we have the freedom to do so. That is, we have freedom to ask any question we want if we live in the “tier one” of Paul’s thinking, as our new nomenclature identified last year. We exercise our freedom in Christ when we ask whatever question we want and do not fear what we will hear in reply. What can happen to us, now that Christ has set us free?

When the question in the title was asked on our Leadership Team Survey, I don’t think it came from such freedom. I don’t know, because it was anonymous, but I don’t think so. I think It probably came from “tier two” thinking where things are a bit murkier than the confident faith of tier one. That’s OK. Probably the majority of us are working toward forming a container that is settled enough to receive the content the Spirit of God wants to pour into it. It takes a lot of development to resonate with revelation. That development  includes asking some questions that might result in answers that reorient our entire lives!

We also keep asking questions because we have no idea what we are doing much of the time. We need help figuring out how to be alive, much more how to be alive in the Spirit! There are no “dumb” questions. The word “dumb” developed into meaning “stupid,” you know. It started with “mute” or “unable to speak” and, by extension “disabled.” Maybe dumb should really mean “unable to ask a question!” We try to accept every tiny question we or someone has because we know we are all seeking and developing. What’s more, we know God became tiny and humble in order to hear and bear all our questions and to assure us anything that confuses or troubles us will always be heard and carried.

So what is the answer to the question?

As with most questions, there were a lot of answers our team explored last week. And even though this question seems like a simple one, just like the questions people thought Jesus would simply answer, the question set off some lively, instructive dialogue at our Leadership Team meeting.

The simple answer is: If you employer thinks using company supplies for personal uses is stealing, then yes, it is stealing. Ask her for some paper for personal use and see what she says. If he gives you reason to think he doesn’t mind, then no, it is not stealing. The general implication is that things belonging to other people are used for the purposes they design. But another implication would be that you would not know their designs unless you ask them.

This answer breaks down a bit, however, when it comes to intangible resources, like time or thoughts, which are the things we mainly sell to our employers these days. It would not be surprising that an employer acted as a slave-owner who behaves as if they own you, not just the paper supplies. They would never say this, of course, but they might behave as if they own all our time and resources. The partner in the law firm is in St. Lucia, but you are supposed to work 80 hours a week to do what is assigned. You are otherwise booked, but you must come into work if called. Some employers might fire you if you call your sick mother on company time.

This sense of ownership might extend to what we think! If you violate the political or religious sensibilities of some employers, they might fire you, even though that’s illegal in many cases. So some people might be afraid to use their money for things other than what their employer desires (or for anything a prospective employer might desire in a new employee). Even if an employer actually assumes people need to care for other people than company employees during the work day, you might not even ask if you could do it and just wait until the end of the workday to care because you assume the principle is: the employer owns my time and thoughts during work hours (and maybe all the time!).

Does paying you entitle the employer to police your time and thoughts as if your personhood were part of the resources they have? Are you stealing if you make a phone call? Write an email? Take a break for a church, school or community meeting? Call in sick because you are sick of not being at the retreat day the church has planned outside your two-week vacation allotment?

I think the tangibles are easy. Don’t take manila folders unless you ask. But the intangibles are not. I am very “liberal” about the intangibles, since I expect you will do your job with excellence and, at the same time not become “slaves of men” (as Paul says). So your employer is going to get more than their money’s worth, and you are going to be free. Serving a master so Jesus is glorified is a strategy only a free person can apply.

Moral questions are a good place to start

One reason I thought this was a good question for our Leadership Team dialogue is that it is a moral question. Morals are concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character. We are regularly (as in every week, at least) faced with someone’s moral issues around Circle of Hope. People have been known to leave the church because of them. The questions Jesus was asked were deeply moral questions from moral people brave enough to ask them. Most beginners are confronted with questions like them all day, if they are actually growing into true selves. We need to ask them.

But let’s be honest. Moral questions are not the ultimate questions. Jesus was regularly accused of being immoral, himself, and was killed for being a lawbreaker, wasn’t he? So there is something to think about when we ask moral questions seeking to get things right. Nevertheless we will ask them, because how we have sex, how we eat, how we share, how we talk, how we raise children, how we think and so behave are all moral issues. If we don’t leap at them to satisfy our own curiosity, someone else will probably leap for us (just watch Fox vs. MSNBC).

Unfortunately, I think most believers are probably more comfortable with questioning how we use work resources than they are asking how the Spirit is leading regardless of how our enslavers dominate us. But we have to start somewhere!  Let’s keep asking, and hope someone who is farther along the way is around to help us hear the answers. Thank God, the resurrected Lord is around and our questions often lead us directly to a deeper relationship with him.

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Redux #4 — It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #4

In the fall of of 2013 I tried to help people consider how they make decisions about what is right. With the companion piece, I pointed out how broad the Bible is compared to the cultural assumptions that masquerade as normal.

While I was waiting for baby Hannah to arrive the other day I read a book. (The labor took much longer than I expected! )  It was such a good book that I can’t resist applying a few of its more applicable thoughts to what we are going through right now.

We live in a weird culture and it has influenced us so much that our Christianity is weird. But our church is the brave antidote to that, unless we make it weird.

we-arent-world
Pesky sociologists deconstructing again.

Jonathan Haidt,  a UPenn alum, wrote a well-received book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It is not a Christian book, even though he gets a lot more sympathetic to Christians by the time he is finished with his huge study on why people react the ways they do when it comes to politics.

He realized that his blue-state sensibilities were actually rather WEIRD. By that he means: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. As far as assessing how humans work, in general, WEIRD people are statistical outliers in the world today and certainly are out of the mainstream of history. USonians are even WEIRDer than Europeans.  Haidt says that “several peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the word ‘I am…,’ Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).“

Continue reading Redux #4 — It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

The Difference between Acceptance and Agreement

What I want is what I have always wanted: to live in a community of trusted partners and to act for redemption in every way we can think to act.

  • I hope we can be Bible-lovers — like many so-called “conservatives,”
  • I hope we can be welcoming and justice-seeking — like many so-called “liberals.”

I hope we will never stop calling people to follow Jesus as their Lord and to discern the movement of the Spirit for their direction. And I hope we will never stop trying to create an environment in which people can come to Christ in different ways, at different paces and according to their ability. I want Circle of Hope to be a safe place to explore and express God’s grace where truth does not kill and love does not lie.

Orientation is a starting point not our end point

I think that spirit makes Circle of Hope welcoming, not just to people naming various sexual identities, but also to people of various political convictions and spiritual backgrounds. We don’t believe that people need to change their ordinary orientation, sexual or otherwise, in order to follow Jesus. Instead, we invite everyone to change their spiritual orientation toward God and their fellow human beings. When people adopt that orientation, they submit their humanness, in all its wonder and flaws, to God as revealed in the way of Jesus. That reorientation makes all the difference.

The New Testament repeatedly says, we are all wonderful image-bearers of God as far as the Lord is concerned because of Jesus, no matter how the world defines each of us. We can rest assured that God knows, as well as we do, that we bear that image in imperfect, broken, and often hurtful ways. But our ongoing relationship with Jesus as Lord and our movement toward expressing our true selves is much more important than our imperfect behavior. Hoping to keep us moving and not stuck in condemnation, I think Circle of Hope has been doing a good job to embrace and challenge people in all the broken and glorious conditions they come to us just like we accept God’s embrace.

non acceptance: Liberal-vs-Conservative-SimpsonsEven with that urge to embrace people as they are, it is almost impossible not to compare and contrast one another. But, the truth is, when it comes to “us” and “them,” there is no “them.” There is only “us.” We are all beautiful and precious people valued by God. We are also broken people, to one degree or another, needing the healing of the Holy Spirit and the experience of authentic community to live as Jesus calls us to live. To be human is, among other things, to be in some wonderful and weird way, dysfunctional. We are all broken people, as well as glorious people (Romans 3:23-24).

We need to get to “us” not just define “me”

As a result of our brokenness, we are prone to conflict and usually scared to death of “them.” I encourage Christians who invest too much time in defining their opponents to apply the difference between acceptance and agreement. When we confuse acceptance and agreement we do not love as we should.

In our Cell Plan we note that it’s a common mistake for people to assume that they should not accept someone fully until they have repented and changed. Some Christians think that a person is not evangelized until they behave properly! Some believers think they are condoning sin if they disagree with someone’s choices  but, at the same time, respect, honor, and accept them — even though the Bible calls us to be that generous! (see Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:15-16). If we applied acceptance and agreement as two different concepts, we might stop withholding acceptance as a form of disagreement and learn to better love those outside our boundaries of agreement.

Christ-followers ought to declare their love through their actions. Many Christians have the well-earned reputation of putting a lot of energy into their messages of disapproval — that’s their main activity! But disapproval is not the Lord’s main activity or His message! I hope people get the impression among Circle of Hope that, “We love you just like Jesus does.” For instance, we have been talking a lot about the protection of sexual minorities this week. I think it is an “of course” that people oriented toward Jesus and toward serving others would be among the first to look out for the human rights of any oppressed group, always showing them the utmost respect as image-bearers of God. The first time I ever got in “trouble” for moderating the Dialogue List was when I confronted a person who was sounding “anti-gay.” He was honing a message of disapproval and he wanted affirmation for it. I respected him, but I had to do my job, as pastor, to keep the community knit together in love, so I confronted him.

We want to be that unique Kingdom society within our secular culture that blesses those with whom we do not agree and who may not agree with us. Within that context of active, energetically-demonstrated love, we may then also make our differences clear. If we are loving as radically as we are given to love, this should only make the love we offer all the more meaningful and transformative. I don’t think I, or Circle of Hope, have always loved in transformative ways — but we mostly have! Even so, I am sorry for all the times people felt judgment, not love. People will outgrow us, get sick of us, or never understand us, but I always hope they never leave us because they bounced off our indifference or rejection.

We can’t make others accept before they agree. It takes faith.

I don’t think we are prone to judgment, but people feel judged nonetheless. It might be because they also need to learn the lesson we need to apply: the difference between acceptance and agreement. For instance, how someone sees sexual morality is the strange new litmus test for mutuality these days. Many people have liked us Christians but hated our morality. They have even felt “set up” when we were nice and then we did not agree with them; they felt welcomed to speak their minds and then felt betrayed when they were asked to listen. When it comes to unbelievers, in particular, they probably should restrain themselves from demanding that Jesus-followers sign up for the latest versions of the world’s philosophy, just like they don’t think Christians should tell them how to live. I felt like the church was demanding and a bit uncaring this week, too; so I also know something about how hard it can be to turn around and stay with love when I don’t feel the love coming my way. I still want to invite people into that process of staying with love in honor of Jesus, however.

I hope I am not wrong, but I think people can form mutually respectful friendships without demanding absolute agreement on all issues (most marriages seem to work this way!). There is a difference between acceptance and agreement. If there is acceptance, then any necessary agreement can be formed. Mutually respectful diversity, in the end, provides us with the most opportunity for growing, loving, and learning. What’s more, it allows Jesus to heal our wounds and make us one, just as the Healer and the Father are one, which is much more satisfying than anything the-powers-that-be promise.

Six foundations for being good: let’s stand on all of them

Christians often conform to the prevailing norms of society and find something in the Bible to justify their morality. Nevertheless the Bible survives. It continues to offer a broad sense of what is good and teaches tried-and-true ways to live as a good person. Last week I was telling you about Jonathan Haidt and his book The Righteous Mind.  In it he follows his own journey out of being WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) and discovers that there are six foundations for morality, not just the one that Americans are mainly using right now to make all their new laws about protecting rights. I was happy to see a social scientist “discovering” truths that were in the Bible all along. I think the Bible has always been as broad as Haidt wishes we are all were.

One reason Jesus-followers need to keep talking about how all this arguing about morality is going to work out is that pretty soon some new morality minion is likely to denounce one of us in the street for our lack of conformity to the narrow sense of being good that is being legislated — we’ll be sent to some Maoist-like camp for re-education! Yes, that sounds hysterical, but I heard a TED talk the other day in which the speaker told us how he is using his career to create peer group pressure to conform to things “not just because they are legal, but because they are right.” He was teaching guys to correct the nonconforming speech of their bar pals and to police their behavior while sharing a beer. I agreed with his ends, actually. But the means scare me – especially when they are not monitored by God.  (God is strictly left out of the new morality).

1. The care/harm foundation

foundations on the moral spectrumThe main morality Haidt thinks is dominating the landscape these days is what he calls the care/harm foundation. We are supposed to care. We are not supposed to harm. Like I said last week, this is basic to Christianity: Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Feel a lot of compassion here.

The problem is that there are more foundational ways people see what is good and act on it. The care/harm foundation is the basis for protecting “human rights” and it is fundamental to our ethics codes, but that is not all that people, and God, care about. So as I briefly move through Haidt’s six foundations that he “discovered” on his journey away from the WEIRD focus on one foundation, let’s be as broad as the Bible.

2) The fairness/cheating foundation.

We should be fair and be treated fairly. We should not cheat or be cheated.  Honestly, feel a lot of anger here. It is a righteous anger that goes for justice and a rage about how untrustworthy people are. Watch Cheaters. People care about fidelity. We hate machines that don’t work and that steal our money.  The Occupy movement was mainly a fight about fairness.

In Isaiah 59 the prophet calls for a return to this foundation: Your lips have spoken falsely,/ and your tongue mutters wicked things./ No one calls for justice;/ no one pleads a case with integrity./ They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;/ they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.

3) The loyalty/betrayal foundation.

We should commit and stick with our commitments. Our loyalty should be rewarded, not betrayed.  Feel group pride here and rage against traitors. This is the foundation of patriotism and painting yourself green for an Eagles games. This motivates bosses who have bought into the company to try to get employees to buy in (and then we really feel it when they fire us after we have given our loyalty). For this morality, soldiers sacrifice their lives and gang members take absurd risks.

The early church was forming a new “tribe” around the risen Jesus. This foundation may have been more relevant to them than others.  That changed a good bit when it became less dangerous to be a Christian. Jesus says it plainly in Luke 12:  “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.”

4) The authority/subversion foundation.

We should respect those in charge. We should not subvert the process. Feel respect here, deference; give honor. Adversely, feel fear. This is the foundation for talking in a manner around the boss that is different than when you’re with your friend.  In the U.S., the empire has been so strong for a while that it gives a lot of room for insubordination; but experience a 9/11 and a decade of almost universally-approved war can ensue. The church of the 19th and 20th centuries proliferated leaders who demanded obedience to God and to themselves from the pulpit based on this foundation.

Christians teach their children to obey their private desires just like most Americans these days, even though their scripture is heavily into the authority/subversion foundation.  Paul teaches in Romans 6: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Paul even told slaves to obey their masters, knowing that their obedience to God made them a master even when their masters were slaves to sin.

foundations for good

5) The sanctity/degradation foundation.

We should keep certain things sacred and clean. We should not contaminate situations or people. Feel awe, reverence and disgust here. In the era of autonomy, where the only objection we can make is that some behavior does someone harm, people don’t get this ethic. They are losing their sense of disgust and they think that is a good thing. So nothing is sacred and breaking taboos is considered freedom. Artists do all sorts of things to religious symbols that might have gotten them killed in the past. But they rarely desecrate a picture of Nelson Mandela, at least where people are WEIRD. It is ironic of course that people hold autonomy to be sacred.

This is the foundation that really sets Christians apart in the United States. It is also what makes an Ayatollah call the United States the “great Satan” since the U.S. undermines everything that is sacred and uses military might to back its blasphemy. Jesus followers seek what is holy and seek to be holy. Their sense of it is so refined that Paul can teach the Corinthian church that it is sanctified: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

6) The liberty/oppression foundation.

We should protect liberty. We should not tyrannize or be tyrannized. In some sense, there is the same anger as the justice foundation, only this is about being part of a group in which some sense of equality is prized, and that is pretty much any group. Feel hatred for oppression here. It is not hard to find someone to feel bad with you about the parking authority or arbitrary (and sometimes brutal) police. People often see the U.S. army like a relief and advocacy group because it is supposedly at work in the world as a good cop, thwarting oppression.

Almost all the foundations are found in James 2, it seems, but he teaches about this sixth one well: “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

Even while Haidt is, appropriately, undermining the value of Western culture’s sense of reason, he is writing a well-reasoned book based mostly in evolutionary theory, which he thinks explains why people do what they do, in one way or another. Nevertheless, I think he does us all a service by showing how many ways we can think about what is good. I think Jesus followers need to be aware that the Bible also lays out these six foundational ways to be moral lest we choose one that’s ascendant in our territory and start arguing some skewed political position instead of being faithful to the fullness in Jesus.

It is OK NOT to be WEIRD — the Bible’s many “rights”

While I was waiting for baby Hannah to arrive the other day I read a book. (The labor took much longer than I expected! )  It was such a good book that I can’t resist applying a few of its more applicable thoughts to what we are going through right now.

Your Christianity may be weird

We live in a weird culture and it has influenced us so much that our Christianity is weird. But our circle of hope in Christ  is the brave antidote to that, unless we make it weird.

westerners are weird
Pesky sociologists deconstructing again.

Jonathan Haidt,  a UPenn alum, wrote a well-received book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It is not a Christian book, even though he gets a lot more sympathetic to Christians by the time he is finished with his huge study on why people react the ways they do when it comes to politics.

Haidt realized that his blue-state sensibilities were actually rather WEIRD. By that he means: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. As far as assessing how humans work, in general, WEIRD people are statistical outliers in the world today and certainly are out of the mainstream of history. USonians are even WEIRDer than Europeans.  Haidt says that “several peculiarities of WEIRD culture can be captured in this simple generalization: The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. It has long been reported that Westerners have a more independent and autonomous concept of self than do East Asians. For example, when asked to write twenty statements beginning with the word ‘I am…,’ Americans are likely to list their own internal psychological characteristics (happy, outgoing, interested in jazz), whereas East Asians are more likely to list their roles and relationships (a son, a husband, an employee of Fujitsu).“

Your morality may be WEIRD

If you see a world full of individuals, like WEIRD people do, then you’ll want a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights. Concerns about harm and fairness will be emphasized. If you live in a non-WEIRD society, as most people do and as most have lived througout history, then you will see a world full of relationships, contexts, groups and institutions. So you won’t be so focused on protecting individuals, you’ll place the needs of the groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals. Morality based on harm and fairness won’t be enough. You’ll have additional concerns and a whole set of virtues to go with them.

People often wonder when our church is going to get on the bandwagon and become as WEIRD as (the obviously exceptional) westernized culture around us. We resist being WEIRD and resist conforming to their outlier morality. For one thing, we don’t think the rest of the world and the previous history of humankind is stupid. But the main reason we don’t conform is because God has revealed a much larger playing field on which truth and morality is worked out. You can see that in our far-reaching and diverse scriptures.

Haidt apparently teaches undergrads, because he can boil down his ideas into bumper stickers (which I admire). He follows his own journey out of being WEIRD as he discovers that there are six foundations for morality, not just the one that Americans are using right now to make all their new laws about protecting rights. I was not surprised to see that all six of his “foundations” are elements of the Bible’s teaching about how to live a righteous life [check them out!]. I love it when social science “discovers” the Bible! I think I will save the other five for next time. But since we just welcomed another child into our clan, I’ll leave you with the foundation that dominates our society right now, what Haidt calls the “care foundation.”

The small basis for all those laws

babies are weird but nobody caresThe care foundation for morality is all about protecting people from harm. It is what triggers that “aahh” when we see picture of babies and puppies, preferably together. And it is also the trigger that makes us angry when we see baby seals being clubbed or chickens crammed in a cage. It is also why we can be obsessed about everyone’s rights and why our leaders hasten to tell us they are protecting whole countries and the rights of humanity when they bomb them. All our ethics codes begin with the basic premise that we are supposed to “do no harm.” That’s essentially how we sum up how to act. If the married couples I know are any indication, we all apply this with vigor. They are often very concerned not to do anything wrong that will harm the other, thus protecting fairness but paralyzing intimacy. At the same time they are always doing harm because their rights are violated every day and they can’t help being mad about it.

The “care foundation” is also a main motivation for how we act as Jesus followers. We love how Jesus described God as being like a father filled with compassion for his child: “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). God is all about loving individuals; the worse off they are the more Jesus seems to love them.

The Bible teaches us to be like God in how we live: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Love, we are taught  “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Individuals and their well-being count and they are supposed to matter to us, just as they are.

There is more to morality than harm and fairness, however. USonians boil it down to that and then start analyzing everything to see if it meets up to their rather tiny idea of what is good. But they are off to a good start, at least — as long as they don’t try to make the rest of us, and the rest of the world, conform to their small idea of what is right, based on their WEIRDness.

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.