Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Looking through our Western lens at other cultures, it's easy to spot syncretism. That's when folk beliefs and other religions and non-Christian values mix with Christian beliefs to make a new system that opposes scriptural principles. The Bible and my textbooks are full of examples of resulting mish-mash and chaos when people depend on things besides God's provision to keep them safe. Villagers wear charms, amulets, and tattoos. The urban poor have special rituals. Across the world, people visit witch doctors and shamans for advice, keeping their Christian beliefs as "high religion" for Sunday and other other meeting times. They spend time and energy preserving ungodly systems.

Wait a minute. How is that different from the American culture?

We have gurus for how-tos on everything from meditation (Zen calm) to exercise (Hindu yoga) to carrying around lucky charms (best handbags and high-end jewelry, success guaranteed). We depend on Oprah and Dr. Phil or Carucci (NFL) and Hal Bodley (Mariners) to keep us on track. We check astrology quizzes on FB to see "what type of person" we are by the week we were born. We have routines we depend on for safe passage through the day. "Oops, I must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed," we say when something bad happens. Ever watch the rituals sports players go through for luck before or during a game?

It's not that some things are wrong in themselves. But our lives and balance sheets show what we have prioritized over our faith. We pay our dues to God by attending a Sunday morning song service and sermon (is it over yet?), then spend our time and money on Sunday afternoon at restaurants and the mall, the regional center of commerce and materialism. A global missionary remarked to me last week that he was struck by the temple atmosphere as he sat in a mall, watching the aimless wander from store to store. He was appalled at the costly decoration of the altars of the Gap and A&F (where do those window decorations go?) He was stunned by the veneration of "stuff" to bring satisfaction and fill the empty heart. What happened to Jesus' observation that "You can't serve God and mammon?"

Work provides our needs. It brings us money, satisfaction, affirmation. We expend our energies in a secular setting, putting our faith aside as something that doesn't belong on the job. Meanwhile our coworkers are struggling with family issues, illness, cares of this life, weighed by the weight of guilt and sin and needing Good News. They may have no idea we are hoarding a treasure beyond compare. We lose our jobs and wonder why God is not providing when we haven't ever expressed our gratitude and his ownership by tithing. (No, I'm not saying if you don't tithe God will punish you by taking your job away!)

Do our kids take first place on the schedule as we run them from one activity to another? "There's not time for devotions or sitting to talk about God," one mom complained to me. Off she went to take her kids to music and ballet. Of course, we teach them to think highly of themselves, so that they can fight to survive in a capitalist society. "Look out for me. I'm the center of the world." We'd recognize it as pure idolotry, if we'd see it in another culture.

We train the young to worship sports and venerate professional players (the priests of the religion). Some players become god-like, and their accomplishments substitute for ours as our families watch from the sofa or sit in the stands to applaud them. TV and movies swallow our resources without a thank-you. We treat movie stars like deities, and reward them for modeling shallow and self-centered excess.

I'm not immune. I look at my schedule and checkbook and compare that to the the time I spend talking about the Pearl of Great Price. It doesn't always balance into the holistic, abundant life God promises to those who serve him with all their heart, all their mind, and all their body.

I'm reevaluating my life, looking again at our worship of goods, sports, and celebrities. We're deeply vested in a culture in America that is desperate for committed and prophetic missionaries, especially when viewed through the lens of global missions. Who needs Good News through us today?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

World Christianity

The dark wood floors gleam with polish, and the soft grey walls cool the cottage. I'm studying in a friend's place over the weekend, a home filled with lace, hand-hooked rugs, and pillows.

Yesterday I plowed through five or six books on my way through thirty for Friday's second exam. The information (contextualizing the Christian faith across cultures) is fascinating. I love the history of missionaries, their interaction with and love for people groups, and the missionary observations that informed the science of anthropology in the West. They pioneered, explorered, and adventured in surroundings completely strange to them.

Tracing the ongoing transformation of cultures is interesting. As missionaries sought to understand their fields of service, they translated works by world religions. By giving the text to the people, Buddhist, Shinto, Islamic, and Hindu systems resurfaced among their populations, morphing to shape and regulate their own cultures more strongly. Where Western culture was imposed along with the gospel, the Church separated from the indigenous culture within a generation or two. The gulf is almost insurmountable in some places today, with parallel cultures that can hardly identify with each other.

The feeling that Christianity is Western is unfounded: the faith is Middle Eastern in origin. Christians were in India from the first century, if Indian historians are accurate. A Chinese emperor erected a monument to Christians in his court in the seventh century. Buddhism reached Japan about the same time as Christianity - and it is not sidelined as a foreign system. (In the next generations, as Muslims have big families in Europe and migrate out, will Islam be called a Western religion?)

As I go through today's books, I am excited to read how Good News is good news everywhere. That God should send Jesus to give us abundant life, to let us be fully human in the moment, to reconcile us into the open friendship he made us for... how thrilling is that? It's time for a pause to say thank you. I'm happy to be part of world Christianity.

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. May your [peaceful and loving] kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven..."

Friday, June 26, 2009

the aftermath

This morning I wrote the first of two exams that will determine my entry into the PhD program. Thanks to everyone who prayed. All I can say is, Christ have mercy. Neither profanity or humor intended. I had a wonderful week of studying when I first arrived. This past week, coordinating schedules with my husband (here to teach a class) and being woken each morning before I had finished sleeping... (including 6am this morning), has left me absolutely exhausted. He bent over backwards to try to accommodate joint studies. But I was distracted and the information I had begun to grasp started to rot and accumulate in a deadly, stinking swamp from which I couldn't extricate myself.

It was awful. A few minutes ago, I peeked at what I wrote for the exam. It's worse than I feared: the thoughts are a jumble of a information, barely sorted and not edited. Three questions, three hours, and a computer. Oh yeah, and a head full of lists and ideas, names and theologies. I always have trouble with names. Several important ones, along with some major ideas, flew right out of my head, spoiling the flow of writing (and they didn't come back.) It's not that I don't know the information. With another hour, I could have written a coherent essay or two. Even at that, I probably could not write three.

Some people process quickly. I dump and sort. Dump more and re-sort. After I have everything out, it takes time to edit... time I didn't have today. I remember the same chaotic process and frustration from the practice exam we wrote last year. How I was hoping my brain scramble and ability to regurgitate info had evolved since then. Sadly, nope. Same thing. Especially since the test asked the question I had the least clarity about. A thick fog settled in my head, the ideas went around and around, and everything mushed together in an incoherent jumble. Learning under pressure and among distractions has been like this for me since I was a little kid.

I am frustrated with the day. I accept the way God made me: I even like much of how God put me together. But jumping into someone else's question without warning, at a moment's notice? My frozen response is great in emergencies when you need a steady exterior. I process trauma a few days later.

Quick retorts have given me trouble before. This one, even though it's written, may be a death knell for my continuing studies. I'd really regret it, because I have enjoyed the classes and information. We'll see what God has planned. And I'll keep you posted on the results.

There are double the books and half the time - one week - until the next (and final) exam. Did I say, "God have mercy!" already?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why so favored?

Mary found herself "highly favored" among women. Reading church history, I have the same feeling about anyone who is called to be God's through Christ.

There's a tendency to see our way as the right way, whether it is telling or doing - and especially so in the Church. My childhood Christian tradition is a "my way is the only way" and we would be told how to think and how to live in great detail, sometimes in response to a pastor's visit to an attendee's home. For the most part, we'd speculate who he'd visited, and then ignore the specific warning of falling away with a breach into worldliness.

Such a holiness tradition produces a hidden culture. In missionary terms, we call it a two-tier faith, where old superstitions and coping mechanisms underlie a veneer of Christianity. In American culture we'd call it "putting on a good front." We even applaud when people look like they have it all together.

Such "salvation" is not for me. I know I'm broken. Fighting for my life at times. Utterly unworthy of God's favor by anything I might accomplish or aspire to.

Knowing that makes the Christian life of hope, love, and faith all the sweeter for me. Jesus died for our sin and sins while I was still in the circle of sinners. I live in joy and peace in the world and among others like me. Our common ground as humanity is that we are sinners, even as we call others to join us in his community. Can't wait to tell the Story "of Jesus and his love."

Friday, June 19, 2009

I surrender all... again

Wading through book-loads of lists and information, I'm amazed by the scope and faithfulness of God's interaction with us. As I've been staggering through data, I've had to stop to worship several times, overwhelmed by the magnitude and simplicity of the mission of God. Throughout history, he has been determined to reconcile the world to himself and restore our relationship with him.

Reading Stephen Neill's History of Christian Missions, that classic recounting of the Church's serial efforts and mistakes, brought me to my knees. Surely Christ did not have in mind the formalizing of ritual to replace our fellowship with him. It is doubtful that Jesus would have died to bring a Latin liturgy, a thick book of Common Prayer, or a white-clad church with a steeple somewhere into a culture of poverty or a survivalist community. How many of us have garbled his invitation with our cultural overtones? Do we still morph the Good News today, living within communities who see church as an irrelevant relic from the mid-1900s era?

Christianity is certainly not a Western religion, having found its home everywhere in the world before its adherents were brutally suppressed. Since apostolic times, the Church has sent missionaries, the first wave is killed, the second and third waves go in their place... and eventually a foothold is established. The church springs up and thrives.

Then a savage hoard of opponents slaughters every believer in its path or an emperor gives an edict and the entire faith community is wiped out. I was devastated reading the horrific cycles of the early indigenous churches of India, Japan, China, Persia, Europe, Russia, Palestine, Egypt, other parts of Africa, and North America. These are my brothers and sisters, my Family! How many have suffered and died to bring Good News over the centuries? How many starts must be made in the same place?

Our complacency has no value, especially in the "safe zone" of Canada and the USA. How are we carrying out God's invitation to reconciliation? Will we be judged in comparison to the faithfulness of our predecessors. They gave everything for what they understood as God's call on them. Are we willing to do the same?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

prayers please

I'm headed out today for several weeks of intensive study: I write two entrance exams for a doctoral program in 2 and 3 weeks. If you think of it, please pray that:
  • God would give me clarity as I study
  • I would study the right information for the questions that will be asked
  • I would be able to regurgitate what I learn for the tests
  • the privilege of learning would bring great joy - I am grateful for the opportunity and call God has given and don't take it for granted!
Passing will be a miracle. (We have had a rather distracted year so far, between weddings, travel, work, family health, etc.) I'm going to "do my best, and let God do the rest," as the saying goes. Prayers greatly appreciated over the next few weeks. Your spiritual partnership means a lot.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Good advice

Thought I'd pass this along - good advice, thanks Phyllis for passing it to me!

Written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland , Ohio:
To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 46 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick.. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take nofor an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie.Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day.. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come..
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.
46. Friends are the family that we choose for ourselves.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day: Tenebrous \TEN-uh-brus\ adjective

*1 : shut off from the light : dark, murky
2 : hard to understand : obscure
3 : causing gloom

Example Sentence: "A zigzag line of windows … cuts up from the base of the building, bringing light into its once-tenebrous interior." (Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post, September 28, 2008)

Seasons of life spiral through spurts, pauses, and occasional regressions. Winter, spring, summer, and fall parallel our life experiences. The dying off of fall and fallow sleep of winter are difficult for me. I love the spring when the ground warms up, the sun comes out for long periods, and life blossoms.

In winter's holding pattern, we may appear cold, hostile, or unfeeling while we preserve our core. We are thankful for spring’s reprieve which brings lush new growth – when darkness begins to fade and light comes streaming in. We gain new understandings, are nourished by friends and circumstances, and thrive. Summer storms either harden off the sprouts to make them permanent and strong or reveal our brittleness by breaking off what we’d gained. And fall brings the harvest and reward for all the labors of the year before a season of rest.

I’m looking forward to this summer with its routines of tilling and weeding. I can’t wait to enjoy the blooms and emerging fruit.

Read more:
*I will sing of the LORD's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself. Psalm 89:1-2 NIV

*The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life; a wise person wins friends. If the righteous are rewarded here on earth, what will happen to wicked sinners?" Proverbs 11:30–31 NLT

*And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10 NLT