Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Figuring It All Out

One of the great myths of the United States is the myth of the self-made man (or, thanks to feminism, woman).  It is a story we tell ourselves and we tell each other and we tell our children, to inspire confidence and attempts at doing new things, particularly in business or politics. It is a defining story for our culture and when you suggest that there is no such thing as a self-made anyone, you provoke the tender places that elicit violent reactions or icy cold reception.

As a pastor, I see this same sort of mythologizing among Christians who come to their “own conclusions” about faith and feel great confidence in the rightness of their preferences or of the conclusions they have drawn. These conclusions and preferences have no orientation, no “north star” other than the gravity of their own thoughts and feelings. This is a human condition, so it’s no surprise to see it in the attitudes and actions of believers. In large part, I think this is the unintended consequence of cutting people off from the Story we’re all in, the work of modernity that coopted faith for its own ends.

Stanley Hauerwas writes about this as, “the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.”

In the pond I swim in, we often refer to this as “the next move of God.”  We could just as easily call it the next wife, the next job, the next re-invention of myself: me 2.0. We talk about “what God is doing today” as if he’s started a new story – because that fits the narrative we’re already living in. Frankly, we prefer a faith practice that reinforces the things that we already believe, the feelings we’re already feeling, the conclusions to which we’ve already come. And by wrapping these all up in very spiritual language we externalize our issues and make noble our actions as we seek to follow Jesus the way we want to.

This path locks us into the inevitable entropy of disintegrated anticipation and the need to keep jumping to a new story as the last one fizzles, fails or falls apart.

Since I’ve been a Christian, not as long as you might think, we have Marched for Jesus, Willow Creeked, Wimbered, Alpha-ed, K.C. Propheted, Inner Healed, Watchmened for the Nations. We’ve been Purpose Driven, Spiritually Mapped, Soaked, the Father’s blessed us, we Cell churched, Shepherded, Globally Awakened, had the restoration of apostles and prophets, done Identificational Repentance and we’ve taken our cities for God.  We have been revived in Brownsville, renewed in Toronto, done 24/7 prayer, 24/7 worship, Youth Churched, fasted for spiritual breakthrough, made intercessors a separate group from everyone else in the church, taken Steps to Freedom, watched Transformation Videos, joined the Global Day of Prayer and discovered the moving pinnacle of worship in Integrity, Hosanna, Maranatha, Vineyard, Hillsong, Delirious, Passion, Jesus Culture, Elevation, and the soup du jour.

Some of the above has been amazing.  Some has been rubbish.

A friend of mine, a younger friend, moved to a large city and found himself in the midst of a number of people his age, believers, intent on following Jesus.  Of course, they couldn’t find a local church that exactly did it for them.  So they started meeting together in an apartment. As their numbers grew, they rented an apartment together, collectively, just to hold their meetings in.  They sat on the floor on pillows, sang acoustic songs, listened to insights they would share with one another, and from one guy in particular who people seemed to look to as an unelected leader or spokesperson for those who gathered.

At first, they didn’t take up an offering, they just helped out the poor in their neighborhood and among them. Once they had to rent an apartment to accommodate their growth as a group, they started to take up an offering, just to help with community expenses, and my young friend was made the “keeper of the bank account” because he was, and still is, gifted by God to handle and create resources.  In a short amount of time, my young friend was involved in two conversations.  The first was awkward.  The “unelected leader” of the group had found himself devoting more and more time to teaching and conversations and need meeting within their informal group.  He came to my young friend and wondered if there were any moneys in the community account that could be used to reimburse him for time missed at his regular job and cover some expenses incurred from doing his volunteer work with their group.  The second conversation was with their whole community, not awkward at all, but an epiphany of sorts.

They called a “community meeting” after their regular meeting for worship and insights. Some of the young adults wanted to discuss an issue.  Several of the young couples had started to have children.  In fact, there were a number of babies in their meeting and several women who were present were also pregnant.  They wondered together whether or not there was something they could do so that the young moms could stay in the room for worship but the babies were all nearby in some adjacent room or something, with someone designated to look after them, maybe on a rota of some kind so not just one mom or individual had to be in the next room with the babies all the time?

It was at this moment my young friend (who had grown up a PK) told me, that he realized they had become a church like the churches they had all come from.

As followers of Jesus, we’re in a Story.  It’s valuable to know the Story we are in because it will save us from thinking we’re “boldly going where no man has gone before.” It will orient us to the things that have always mattered and will always mattered.  The Story will help us sort out our wants that we’ve always projected onto God from the main and the plain of what God is doing.  Knowing our Story helps us sort out the phonies and their miracle claims because we know the Story and what miracles really look like. Immersion in the Story we’re in will carry us through the seasons when it seems like nothing is happening because we know we’ve been there before and these deserts always precede something better. Knowing our Story gives us heart for the long haul rather than spastic sprints from one “move of God” to another.

So, may we know the Story and not be taken in by the stories we’ve made up for ourselves when we thought we had no story.  And may we be saved from “self-made” thinking and find the freedom of being made by God, embedded in the brilliant Story that he has given us.

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