Thursday, September 2, 2010


I heard the word “infidel” used in a news story this morning and it got me thinking. Here’s how Webster’s defines it: “disbelieving Christianity or whatever may be the religion of the user of the word.” Another way to put it: we’re all infidels. No matter what we believe, we’re all infidels to someone else. We are all unfaithful to someone else’s God, by definition, if we believe in another God (and I suppose that’s especially true if you don’t believe in God at all). No way around it; you are an infidel, I am an infidel, and most importantly, they are infidels.

Some have tried philosophically to get around this uncomfortable truth by pointing out that God might not actually care which religious institution we identify with. After all, we are not God and, in just about every religious system, at least one of God’s attributes is love. So if God loves humanity, perhaps that love will outweigh whatever errors of belief we might have.

But as nice as that sounds, it unfortunately doesn’t change a thing; you are still an infidel. You are an infidel because I have The Truth: I am a follower of Jesus; you know, “The way, the truth, and the life.” I have this specific news about how to be in good standing with God and it doesn’t overtly say anything about “other paths.” I may hope that God’s love is unconditional and universal, but I would truly be an infidel if I neglected God’s plan for salvation as I have received it.

So infidels we remain. As long as we each have The Truth and our Truths disagree with each other, at least one of us is going to be an infidel.

But here’s my thought for the day: the notion of “infidel” is inherently ungodly. It’s ungodly in two senses of the word: first, it’s ungodly in that we are not God. When we declare someone else to be an infidel, we are doing so from a limited, human perspective. Although we have an obligation to God to live our lives and worship practices in a way we know is pleasing to God, we don’t actually know that the practices of others are not, in fact, pleasing to God.

But also, the notion of “infidel” is ungodly because it results in our turning our attention away from a godly life: a life lived in relationship with God. When we identify another as an infidel, it is their faith, lifestyle, and worship practices we are concerned with, not ours. Now obviously there are those who violently disagree with my thinking here, but I believe that the whole point of religion is to encourage the believer toward a deeper relationship with God. It has to do with helping each individual follower grow and sustain that relationship; concerning ourselves with how others are “not doing it right,” does not help us to be any closer to God.

Of course, even though it may be ungodly for me to concern myself with the faith practices of someone else, I am still called by God to care for that person. This is especially true if I believe I have The Truth that someone else does not have. But the question then becomes, how am I to share this Truth? Obviously, calling them an infidel has not historically been effective. No, I believe the only godly response is fidelity. We all, regardless of our religious beliefs, must remain as faithful to God as God enables us. There must not be disconnection between our lives and the God we speak about. Live what you believe with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and let God be God.

But then, what do I know? I’m just an infidel.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Triplet Survey Results

First of all, this survey is in no way scientific. The method we’ve used is meant to help us listen for the Spirit’s leading, not to pinpoint any measurable facts or even popular opinions. Here’s what we’ve done:
  • Between Christmas and Easter, nine Triplets met together a number of times. Recognizing the presence of Christ in those meetings, the groups got to know each other and talked as the Spirit led.
  • Toward the end of this time, the Triplets were asked to respond to the following questions: 1) How would you describe us as a church? 2) What do you imagine God is calling us to do in this church and in our community?
  • Six of the groups sent in responses.
  • The organizing team (made up of a moderator, the pastor, and three other members, chosen by the Session) read through the responses, looking for themes that arose from the responses.
Here’s what we saw:
How do we describe ourselves as a church?
We are a family, centered around the Good News of Jesus Christ
who enjoy a traditional style of worship
and seek to be friendly, caring and accepting of
those within and outside of our church walls.
What do we imagine God is calling us to do in this church and community?
There were two obvious calls: to reach out to those (mostly younger families) in our community and to care for the needs of our (mostly older) members. As the team discussed these results, it became evident that these two themes may be a single calling

Unless the participants in this process have strong objections to our summary, these results will be brought to the Session next. Our elders will be asked to consider these responses as they consider our image in the community and as they plan for our future. I am hopeful that this process will lead us to tangible actions that will guide our ministry for the next few years.

Also, there were a lot of great ideas that came up in the Triplet conversations. Feel free to either write out those suggestions to the Session directly or tell them to your favorite elder and let him or her pretend it was their idea.

Monday, May 3, 2010

There's Something About Betty

If I seem a bit bleary-eyed on Sunday morning, it's because I will have stayed up too late on Saturday. You see, Betty White is hosting Saturday Night Live and I am not going to miss it; I have a thing for Bettys.

I met a friend's mom named Betty yesterday and said that to her. I immediately realized that I should probably explain myself so she didn't think I was hitting on her: I have never met a woman named Betty in a church that wasn't awesome. I qualify that statement with "in a church" because I don't want to be presumptuous; perhaps there are Bettys in this world that are awful people who don't go to church. But at the same time, I realize I don't have to; where else but in the church are you going to run into someone named Betty? It's one of those names that was big in its generation, but has since faded out a bit. You're not likely to meet, for example, a twenty year-old Betty. Sure, you'll meet an Elizabeth, or a Liz, or even a Beth; but
Bettys are more and more becoming an endangered species. And of course, Bettys are of a generation where church was not an option.

I think my thing for Bettys started about fifteen to twenty years ago. I was working in a church that, like many, was having a bit of conflict. My personality has always wanted everyone to get along so it was stressful and difficult to stay out of other people's quarrels. There I was, training for church work, while all around me people were tense and upset... except for the Bettys. There were a couple of women named Betty who, for some reason, were able to rise above it all: they were supportive and always seemed happy to see me; they never spoke ill of anyone; and no matter what else was going on around them, they had an amazing ability to remain sweet, generous, and calm through it all. At the time, their example taught me a great deal about church conflict: namely that being right isn't all there is. Often (if not always), whatever we're arguing over is far less important than the love we are called to show one another.

At the time, those Bettys gave me an example of what I strive to be among my siblings in Christ. It wasn't until later that it became a "Betty thing." In the next church I worked in, it happened like this: I met a woman who was awesome and thought, "Wow, she reminds me of Betty." Sure enough, that was her name. Since then I've worked in several other churches and I've met Bettys in every one of them. And yes, they've all been awesome.

So I guess my point today is simply this: lets all strive to be a little more Betty... whether that's your name or not. And if your reoccurring example for living out the love of Jesus isn't named Betty, then feel free to insert their name here instead. And who knows, maybe in doing so your name might one day become synonymous to someone else of what is best about the church.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Churches Eat Their Young

That’s going to end up as a sermon title. I just heard it during a conversation with a church member who was calling, among other things, to see if I was back to my normal, peppy self. I am; thanks for asking.

We were also chatting about the possible next steps regarding the Triplet adventure and other “visioning” processes that churches go through. I’ll be writing more about that for the quarterly newsletter, due out next week. But for today, this quote that has moved me to break my months-long blogging silence is certainly worth talking about. What my friend meant by “churches eat their young” was our tendency to load all of the work of the church on the few we deem are most capable of doing it. You know who I mean: younger, able-bodied people who may even still have that “new Christian smell” to them. And of course by “eat them” we mean we exhaust them.

It’s one of those lines that are funny because they’re true… only it’s not that funny. It happens all the time and not just in churches. It’s the 80/20 rule: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. It’s why rooms clear out like scurrying roaches in a truck-stop bathroom when the lights come on whenever someone starts “looking for a little help in setting up next week’s bake sale.” We know that if they get us for this, then they’ll get us for everything else that follows this and in three months we’ll be in charge of this for the rest of our lives.

Can I get an “amen?”

I know plenty of people who have left churches for exactly this reason. And why not? We don’t join congregations to be in charge of them. We join a church because God has done something in our lives that compels us to be there. Although at first we are eager to respond to God’s leading, doing everything was never part of the deal. But even though it is wrong for churches to expect the faithful few to carry the weight of the many, our initial eagerness to serve still remains the right response. However unfortunate it might be that we can eventually find ourselves being chewed up by our churches, doing nothing was never part of the deal either. The Risen Jesus is a game-changer. By his life we are not the same and avoiding eye-contact with the people who are trying to live out Christ’s ministry is not what Jesus had in mind for the church.

And so, herein lies our dilemma: Jesus calls us to action in and through the church. The problem is, not everyone seems to have gotten that message. And so, those who do get the message wind up doing more than their share.

From my perspective, there are three ways churches deal with this problem:

  1. Do nothing. This is a very popular response. Let the 20% continue to do next to everything, expect that eventually they will burn out, and hopefully some fresh meat will turn up before it’s too late.
  2. Do less. Nurture the 20% to do only what they can handle and if the other 80% doesn’t care enough (said in your mom’s most guilt-inspiring voice), “I suppose the work of Christ is going to have to take a back seat to whatever else they’ve got going on. Oh no, don’t worry about it; you run along. You’ve got important things to do. Jesus will make do somehow.”
  3. Do more.

Do more, but stop letting someone else tell you what Christ’s ministry ought to be. Avoid volunteering and strive for Calling. Theoretically, volunteering is doing something that helps in someone else’s calling. That’s wonderful in short-term bursts of service; it’s rewarding and much appreciated. But Calling is where the real fun is. Calling is all about Christ at work in and through you. It’s about the person God has uniquely created you to be and the ways only you can serve him in the world. Calling is about volunteering because you know it’s for something you’ve been created to do or not volunteering because you know God has put you on another job.

In short, if you don’t want to be eaten by your church then do more of what Jesus calls you to do. Enjoy it, let others celebrate it with you, and never stop listening for what Christ might be calling you to next. And if you’re not sure what you might be called to, come by and see me; it’s one of the things I’m called to do.