Swinging for the Fences

Is your church really preparing people to play the game Jesus is calling them to?

I recall playing a season of tee ball at some point during my elementary school career. I only remember a couple things about that experience. One, I was older than most of the other kids and two, despite that fact, and the whole ball-sitting-still-on-a-tee thing; I wasn’t very good.

I was in a meeting recently and we were asked to list the things that were necessary for discipleship to occur. We tend to talk a lot about discipleship nowadays, largely because we know that something is amiss in our experience and practice of it today. We sense the sharp difference between the common experience of church membership and the call to discipleship Jesus makes in the Gospels.

Our conversation veered toward the challenge in many churches where people seem more intent on receiving services, and with keeping up appearances, than upon giving or serving in risk-taking ways. As we talked, it struck me that the people in the pews might not be the problem. Instead, isn’t it actually true that pastors and other leaders are changing the rules of the game on them?

Community and the Things Trolls Kill

If you aren’t overly concerned about relationships, there is a good chance you could be a troll.

The word ‘troll’ is used on the Internet to describe a person “who posts a deliberately provocative message with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” If you’ve never seen a troll in action, find a provocative topic on a popular blog or news site and work your way down to the comments section. In and among the people seeking to engage in genuine conversation are the trolls who poke, prod, and bully others, quickly stifling the possibility of any real dialogue.

In the religious world, trolls come in all shapes, sizes, and theological perspectives. Researchers at the University of Manitoba released a study late in 2013 showing that internet trolls bear strong correlations to sadists, or as Slate puts it, they really are horrible people.” These are the people who are quick to judge and carefree in their naming of heretics worthy of the flames of hell.

New church; a constellation, not a melting pot.

Do you want to know what church is going to be like in our new age? It will be a constellation of brightly shinning unique individuals; not a mass of indistinguishable people melted together.

A few years ago I was a part of a small design group that came together to experiment with creating authentic community. Our motivation was to combine my conceptualized Communication System, with the work of Peter Block from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging.

As a design group, we were extremely committed and spent an amazing amount of time together. At one point we were talking about what to call our group and as we each shared, we realized that the majority of us had referenced themes of galaxy, stars and constellations. In our experience of the process we caught the vision that what we were doing was—constellating ourselves.

The thing that kills people…

The homeless don’t just die of hypothermia, mental illness, and addictions.
I think some just die from a lack of touch. Loneliness.
The same is true for the elderly.

We have so often made touch dirty or sexualized it. That’s a shame.
I try to hand out hugs, as much as communion, while doing ministry in the park.
People need human touch. Jesus got this for sure.

Hug someone today (especially someone who probably won’t get a lot of them.)

There. Sermon over.
Enough talk.
Go. Do.  🙂

Jerry Herships is a storyteller, love monger, spiritual entrepreneur, and founder of AfterHours, a experimental faith & action group based in Denver Colorado. Jerry helps to feed 700+ poor & homeless every week and does church in bars all over the city that they call Happy Hours. He loves wine and God.

Photo Credit: Cropped from “Homeless and cold” by Flickr user Ed Yourdon.

Battling Demons

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28, The Message translation 

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]I have devout Christian friends who often post on Facebook about battling with Satan, detecting Satan’s presence in a stalled car or an unsent email. I say this not mockingly; most often, the friends report Satan’s presence as resulting in an internal battle that is waged between feelings of angry frustration and calm acceptance. In this way, their beliefs are very similar to the true meaning of jihad, the internal struggle that unfolds when we wrestle with our emotions in the face of adversity.

These friends, in the main, believe that literal demons must be expelled from a person; that is, external forces that can overtake our bodies and distract us from the work of God must be expunged. On the whole, I do not share this pneumatology. But the Bible speaks of demons. Is there another way to frame their existence?

For some of us Christians, battling demons means facing our belief that demons are not real.

I just left the funeral for the church…

I went to a green liberal arts college for undergrad back in the late 90s. While environmental issues were in the public sphere already, many of the conversations we had were way ahead of the curve. As things go whenever anyone tries to predict the future, some of the forecasted calamities never came to be. In fact, if all of the environmental predictions we discussed came true, many of us wouldn’t actually be here still to debate them.

Some of the stories we tell about the church and its future, or lack thereof, remind me of those days. We speak of the church’s future demise as if we can predict how the story ends when in reality we can do no such thing; the future hasn’t been written. The church does have its own version of climate change deniers, but we also have the sky is falling sort whose lack of hope can torpedo any initiative to try and do something new.

I was the odd person out at my environmental college. I didn’t have an overwhelming concern or care for the environment. I didn’t hate nature, but I wasn’t really sure about the benefits of recycling, the dangers of overpopulation, the sources of global warming, etc. In short, I wasn’t a tree hugger (a term of affection there) and I wasn’t predisposed to care about spotted owls. 

People of Abraham, unite!

We Christians sometimes forget that God did not start with us. The original covenant was with our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews. Through grace and the fullness of time, prophets came bearing the message that salvation is available to all persons, Jew and Gentile. Reasonable people can debate as to whether or not the invitation was always available, and if human consciousness needed to develop before realizing the truth about God’s radical, equalizing love, but the fact remains that we Christians owe a deep debt to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

So, too, do we owe something to our fellow Muslims, who worship the same God as do we, who honor our Messiah Jesus as a central prophet and as foundational to God’s definitive revelation. Too often we forget that Muslims are sons and daughters of Abraham, as are we, and that our faith lives are orientated in the same direction. All Abrahamic faiths emphasize care of the stranger; all promote peace and compassion in the face of a world that values violence and oppression.

To be sure, there are uncomfortable passages in the Tanakh, the Christian Testament, and the Quran. There is violence; there is a sense of spiritual arrogance; there are passages that deem to divide. We cannot deny this, and we must be honest about that which makes others uncomfortable by admitting that it makes us uncomfortable, too.