“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Natural like home"

In our Light and Power Company group, we often talk about how we feel more like a family than like a class or a group that meets at church. People are accepted as they are.  Sure we make demands on each other. But the overriding theme is acceptance, overlooking differences like social skill deficits, thinking the best of others, trying to be affirming, praying for each other, caring for one another and so forth. These are the kinds of attributes we find in families that are functioning well.  We rejoice with the successes of our family members, we hurt with them when they hurt. It is like we recognize that we are in this life together, as a family. In families, you don't necessarily choose each other, but you love one another nontheless. When you enter a group like our Light and Power group, you become a member of a family of people who chose the group initially, but then just accept others as the family grows. It is kind of like the idea of America being a melting pot (although we seem to be struggling with that at the moment as many groups don't want to relinquish their rights to be a part of the American family, they want to change the American family to be like them), where you come in as whomever you are and then become a part of the family, whatever personal characteristics you bring.

On our recent trip to Australia, we discussed this idea with Lindsey Gale, a groundbreaker in helping churches to be open to persons with disabilities. She made the comment in one presentation that the experience of being in a church should be, "natural like home." Church should be an extension of the love and acceptance I feel in my home among my family. As she went on to say, if disability is different at home than it is at church, that indicates a problem. If I do not feel at home, I am not experiencing the hospitality that I should be feeling.

I have been thinking that churches should be regularly reviewing their level of hospitality towards people...all people. Not the high performers who would be celebrated in any environment.  But hospitality toward those who experience devaluation for any number of reasons, not the least being disability and the poverty that too often accommpanies it. It is the presence of those people who can be like the "canary in the mineshaft" to tell us how we are doing at hospitality.  If those people are not in your church, if they do not see your church as "home", then some serious self examination needs to occur about who you are as a church. Are you a church of Jesus Christ who would welcome devalued people, or have you morphed into something else that self-examination would cause you to make excuses for?

Do you have the courage to ask those with disabilities or those who are familes with members with disabilities about whether your church feels like home to them? It is a scary question. (see this past post on scary questions) But it is a question if answered honestly will provide guidance for the church such that it will become hosptiable to all.  So it would be "natural, like home."


Monday, July 21, 2014

"God has a mission so the mission has a church"

A new friend, Rev. Phil Gale (husband of CBM's Luke 14 Director, Lindsey Gale), in one of our many great discussions, turned me on to the thinking of Bishop John McIntyre of the Anglican church.  His comments about the "missional church" were really interesting in particular as they relate to ministry that includes persons with disabilities.  I quote Bishop McIntyre from an article in the July 2014 issue of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican, p. 11).  All emphases are added by me.

"To be a missional church, he said, was "simply in integretity to be Christlike and in grace point to Jesus Christ in all we are and all we do."
It is to be present in community with an integrity of being that assures all those whose lives we touch that we are there alone for their wellbeing; that we are committed to peace with justice, mercy and inclusion. Where we can live out that demand, I am convinced people will be drawn anew to faith in Jesus Christ. Then our churches will grow as we participate in the mission of God in the world."
One reason Anglicanism is Australia was hampered in its capacity to be genuinely missional was because in the past "we have essentially been an associational church rather than a missional church" - "just another association of people who happen to be religious," he said.
The problem was exacerbated when church people assumed the associational view of church as well, so that "what we call 'mission' then becomes finding new ways at attracting people to become part of our association." But the "mission of the church is not to grow churches," he said, "It is to live under the rule of God; to live in allegiance solely to Jesus Christ.
"God's mission has a church. If we make growing churches our aim, we are trying to do God's work. Our aim is to live in singular allegiance to Jesus. When we do that with integrity and grace, God grows churches as the means by which God's way is extended in God's world. Others come to faith in Jesus Christ and join us."

"...we are there alone for their wellbeing..." Imagine if that was our reputation as the Christian church in the lives of persons with disabilities. What things might we do for people for families? What example might we be to the community?

Once again, "God's mission has a church." The way Phil restated the bishop's words is that
"God has a mission so the mission has a church."
That resonated with me as different then the way we often understand church. It implies that we are up to something, that we are active, kinetic, doing something of worth in the community that draws people to want to join us in our mission and become followers of Jesus Christ. They will learn about what we believe, but our mission by God's grace causes us to be irrestible. In order to achieve our mission, we have a meeting place where we are trained, where our wounds suffered from trying to love our communities are ministered to, and we are prepared to be sent out again. The church meeting is not the focus of the mission, not the end all of the mission.  The church meeting, the Sunday morning service, simply becomes a part of the mission. We are not being prepared at that meeting to go home because we have done all we need to do for the week, untill the following week when we come in and sit again. It is a rallying point for our onging, difficult activity of loving our neighbor.

If the above were the case, we would be prepared to find our neighbors with disabilities in need of assistance or simply love and friendship. When was the last time you heard a sermon about loving your neighbor with disabilities? Unfortunately, that is currently not a part of the mission as evidenced by what we are not being prepared to do (assuming we are being prepared to DO something) and by the people who are not sitting in the chairs next to us.

We have a church because God has a mission and the mission is not our comfort.