The Blessed American Church

I’ve mentioned before that I think we in the American church have forgotten who we are as a people…foreigners. Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 2 and it is mentioned a few other places in the Bible as well. But, I feel we have gotten to a point where we as American Christians, have a “blessed complex.” And by “we” I mean a corporate, underlying, perhaps sub-conscious belief within the Church in America. Myself included. How so?

Let me first give some background. The Builder and Boomer generations were very much of similar mindsets. If you work hard, persevere and live a good moral life, you’ll not only be successful, you’ll also be able to enjoy living comfortably later on in life. To an extent, they were right. These two generations had gone through a lot. They had lived through the horrible Great Depression, had come to the aide of the Allies and ended up being hugely helpful in the winning of both World War 1 and World War 2 and the economy boomed afterwards. They had also seen great death- many of their countrymen in both World Wars, Vietnam as well as stopping “evil” in the Korean War. But America overcame. Being American meant being successful and being successful meant you were blessed. Having a house, picket fence, two cars and a 401k was the non verbal definition of being blessed. But is that really the true definition?

This blessed complex infiltrates our ambitions in that we feel we have the right to live out the rest of our days how we want, to live off of our “successes,” to sit back and relax because we’ve “earned it.” When we ask the question, “don’t we deserve it,” and have it answered with a resounding “YES,” I believe we have become too rooted to this world. By believing that we deserve it, we go on telling the rest of the world to do as we did-work hard, nose to the grindstone, believe in Jesus and they will be successful to. And I would agree…if we were citizens of this world. If we were nationals here we would surely be entitled to enjoy it for all it’s pleasures and to be rewarded by it’s man approved accolades. The Gospel is not based on what anyone deserves. Yet that is what we preach in our actions.

But we are not citizens, we are foreigners. We are not nationals, we are in fact in exile. We are not residents, we are strangers. Giving in to the notion that we work hard and therefore earn it, is not a ideology of the place where we are from. It is a notion of this place. This place is a place built on reward based on effort and work. When it becomes an internal belief , then we have moved it from a place of thought to a heart held belief. I believe we have become far to tied to this place and forgotten to Whom and where we really belong to. We Where we are from, we are only citizens by Grace.

This grace that we don’t deserve yet God gives out generously, is the definition of blessed we need to share with the world. This blessed is where we can truly live out Ephesians 2 where Paul writes that it is by grace we have been saved through faith, not by works so that not one of us can boast. This blessed has nothing to do with effort….simply submitting our control to God. That other definition, the lie, that not only holds others in oppression, it holds us in bondage as well.

More to come….

Live in Grace today

be blessed today

Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Roots

I used to have this great desire to work my way up the ladder. I can attribute much of that (not all) to an inward desire to be significant. Though I’m still trying to figure out why that desire is there, because it is still there, it doesn’t rear it’s head up as often as it used to. To be looked at as important, clever, needed, valued…all desires of mine that need to be met. But I looked for those needs to be met in working my way up the ladder, even though those ladders are as rickety and worn as they are.

I was trying to find roots. Something I could sink my teeth into, grab a hold of, cling onto when all else fell apart. Working your way up the ladder is ok if that is what God is leading you to. But when you are working your way up as a way of looking for security, significance or importance, then I would question whether that ladder will ever provide that for you.

Roots are needed by all of us, but what are we rooting ourselves is the tricky part. Henri Nouwen writes that it would be better if we were “rooted without being ‘settled with title, salary and prestige.'” He continues in his letter,”The solution-I think-is not in moving to another outer place but to another inner place,” (Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life; Convergent, 2016).

I wrote in my last post about the “now whats” that we ask ourselves when we are in an unforeseen transition. In my past, I was always looking towards the “now what.” The “next thing,” “bigger opportunity” or “next step” that was coming down the line. Maybe it wasn’t a physical move but it was a shift of focus. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, at least mine weren’t. But where my folly came was pinning that desire for significance, value, worth, importance on something other than what God has already given me. It may not be something that I can hang on my wall, show on a budget sheet or print on a business card. But it is something far greater than a rickety ladder made by man. It’s moving to a different inward place. Hopefully, you can start moving that way today.

be blessed today

 

 

Photo Credit: http://www.public-domain-photos.com

Shouldered

So, we recently moved to Northwest Oregon and I’ve realized a few things. First, this beautiful place, for being as far north as it is, it doesn’t do snow. In the mountains and passes, yes. But in the everyday driving in the Willamette Valley and I-5 corridor…just no. I grew up in northern Ohio, have lived in Russia, Mongolia and Alaska, and snow wasn’t an issue unless we received 6 or more inches in one shot. But here, the mere threat of snow….done, closed, cancelled, out. Recently, we had a snowfall of about an inch or so. In the three mile drive from our exit to the next exit, there were two pickup trucks in the median, another flipped over on it’s side, and two cars with the front ends wrecked. Crazy. There were a few cars pulled off on the shoulder of the highway, but there didn’t appear to be anything wrong. I assume they were just not sure what to do next….move forward or simply ride it out until the storm passed. They were simply sitting on the shoulder.

In an earlier post, I wrote about reflecting on where you’ve been by re-reading things you may have written in your journal.  I did this and found something that was coming at a point I was shouldered (well, one of the times I have been shouldered). I want to pull out one bit that I journaled about on February 9th, 2015. It has to do with that of “liminal space.” Richard Rohr defines liminal space as “the  place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have let the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.” He goes onto say that we begin to ask the question of “now what?” which isn’t bad, but gives the idea that there is one perfect utopian thing on the other side of this space that will fix all our “problems.” And, if we don’t find it, we’ll be in this place forever. I must say, I don’t believe this is true. At least, I no longer believe this is true.

I used to believe that there was ONE soulmate, ONE calling on my life forever, ONE perfect set of choices in this life and if just one of those were “wrong” then my whole life would be wasted. I also used to believe that if there was pain as a result of a choice I made, that that was a “wrong” choice. How incredibly legalistic, bleak, dismal, disheartening and oppressive that is. That is quite the opposite of living a life of freedom, isn’t it? Are their consequences for our actions? Yes, absolutely. And sometimes there are painful consequences for doing the right thing or living our lives for Jesus.

There is no one perfect utopian thing on the other side of transition. Why? As Rohr suggests, it’s because “change doesn’t exist in a box.” Just like our God. People have free will, and therefore, change will constantly exist and not be able to be contained, regulated or predicted. And again, neither can God.

So what are we to do with this time and space? Run? Sure, we can run. In fact, that’s what we often do-we escape. If we run, then we will most likely be caught up in this place again, trying to figure out what to do next. We miss the moment to learn what God is doing in that moment, what he’s doing in us. Believe me, I am notorious for moving on too quickly and not really taking the time to look around at what God has for me in the moments of my day or in these liminal moments of my life. Grief is a huge one that many have a hard time sitting in and with. Or when it comes to a relational issue we run by either trying to fix the issue or escape it completely instead of trying as much as we can to reconcile it. This transition place is just like one of those moments-God having something for us, we just need to allow to sit in the space for awhile. But, my word, it is so incredibly hard to not run for the hills with whatever we have left in tow.

These could be part of what St. John of the Cross coined a “dark night of the soul.” Or, what others have called a “desert.” But a liminal space is it’s own place of unknowing. God may be speaking clearly to you, perhaps clearer than ever before. He may also seem incredibly close to you. But this space is simply one of not knowing the life that is coming down the pike, nor what direction to head in, nor whether to simply sit in it and for how long.

So, I sit.  Shouldered in another liminal space. Just like a car that simply quit and the driver has no idea why. It simply won’t work. I can’t go forward or backward, but sit on the shoulder and figure out what I need to do next. I was in one the spring of 2015, and here I sit in yet another one. I am worried, concerned and fearful, yes. I would be lying and, dare I say, not a human being if I wasn’t. But I learned before that He is here and He will not let me be destroyed. And I know this from reflecting on my past. I have learned that it is imperative to have a separate set of eyes (or five) as I walk through this time. A coach, spiritual director, soul friend, mentor, sponsor or any other person who is sensitive to the Spirit that can listen for His guiding alongside me is so very important. They are far more objective than I am as they are removed from whatever fog I’m in.

A good portion of what is written on this blog is from times I was in the desert, liminal space, dealing with a time of fog. It seems as though I’ve been in those places almost as much as not these past 12 years or so. Sure there are things that are current, the now, what will be. But my responses and thoughts on those things are from these spaces I’ve walked through. I think it is in these times that our other senses are fine tuned. Hopefully what is written here will do the same for you…allow the Spirit to finely tune in those other senses. Especially when you’re shouldered.

be blessed today

 

 

Are You At Home Or In Transit?

We’ve lived (are living) in some incredible places in our 14 years of marriage. Since we first met in 1998 we have traveled to some places most people only dream of. Our first major trip together was our internship in 2000 where we traveled with 6 other people backpacking in Nepal and Northern India. Since we lived in Europe for the past 10 years, we’ve been thankful for how cheap it is to travel once you’re there. We’ve been able to travel to Germany, Holland, Finland, Spain, the U.K., Italy, Estonia, Russia, Panama, Siberia, Turkey and now reside in Mongolia. Our kids have been to most of these places as well making their life experience fuller than they realize. It has been incredible.

We are foreigners in these places. When we have met people, struck up conversations, and tried to go off the beaten path to the “local” places, most conversations stick to surface things. However,  if we are there long enough, conversations can tend to dive deeper into thoughts, opinions and perspectives. We’ve been asked a lot of times what we think of their particular country, language, cultures, politics or political leaders, etc. And we have asked the same of their thoughts. The politics question is almost always the question that can cause a breakdown in any conversation.

I went to university in the Southern United States. That was a cross cultural experience from where I grew up in the Northern Midwest. Almost half my life has been lived in a cross cultural context. A foreign one. We have tried to assimilate by learning the local languages, eating their food and trying to fit in. But we only do this to a point. There are parts of our my personality that I would have to give up or hide in order to fully assimilate. There are parts of my past that I would have to lock up, never to speak of again if I really wanted to fully become one with a foreign culture. And there are things that if I engaged in them, would completely break my relationship with God.

The other day, I quoted Walter Bruggerman that we as followers of Jesus are “in transit.” Not “transition” but “in transit.” It’s a different way of calling us “foreigners” or “aliens” as we are called in 1 Peter 2:11. I resonate deeper with the phrase “in transit” because it is an active intentional phrase. It’s a phrase of continual motion or action. Not simply a title, but a word of movement. If we are in transit or foreigners in this world and on this earth, what does that mean? For me, it means to do what I have done before-try to learn the local language, try to understand the culture the best I can, be respectful of those who live here as they are part of God’s creation to. However, there are also things that if I engaged in them, I know it would break my relationship with God. At the very least, it may break my relationship with other fellow believers, which is not honoring to God.

In the Church in the States, at least, politics is one area that we seem to engage in more and more with each election that is divisive and ends up tearing the church a part. Expecting people who have no relationship with a Redemptive God to live as such. It seems that our “rights” as citizens of our particular country tend to trump the rights granted to us by God. There are other examples I could bring up, but these are the hot topics right now from what I can tell. And I wonder, is this what living like a foreigner looks like? Is this living in transit?

There are two extremes that I have seen in people who live overseas. The first is complete lack of assimilation. These foreigners have no desire to assimilate at all. They either ship in food from their home countries or go to stores that only sell things that they are familiar with. They have no desire to learn the language and usually, from experience, have a complete disdain and arrogant attitude toward their host culture. We could compare these to sects or groups of people in the States who have nothing to do with modern society. The other group are people who have “gone native.” These are the people who have completely blocked all of who they were/are from their past to fully embrace everything about their host culture. From what I can tell, these  are ones who are trying to run away from something in their past and so they suppress it and embrace this new way of living.

In the Church in the States, I have seen both. And it’s painful to watch. It seems that the Church, at least in the regular and social media, is playing the part of the latter, going native and embracing our political system as the means for Christ’s salvation to come, as opposed to living a life modeled after Christ. Making this place our “home” settling for second best forgetting that our eternal home is far greater and better. Beyond what we could ever hope, think or imagine we’re told in Ephesians. Why? Maybe because it is something we can touch, feel, smell, hear, see. Our eternal home is not as tangible as of yet and therefore out of sight out of mind might rule. Whatever the reason, we are not living as foreigners carrying the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control that we are given, to the host culture that we are in..that is the culture of this world. And that is hard. It is sad. It is painful. It brings grief and mourning to my heart. I wonder if it does to others.

My encouragement is that your mindset be as a foreigner-our eyes set on the hope and prize in Christ Jesus, and living like Him here in our host culture. Blessings be on you.

What does living as a foreigner, in transit men to you? How do you see this being lived out practically? What have you learned from others you’ve seen live this way? Thanks for sharing your stories as we journey together.