Friday, June 24, 2011

a ray of amish, a pinch of mennonite

Regular readers of this blog will know that salt and light is of great interest to me - and you could throw in grace and truth as well. These form the start of the periodic table of missional elements. They are the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen of mission. The vast majority of the missional world is some combination of these four elements.

Also of interest to me is that over the past generation or so (for the church in New Zealand), my sense is that the pendulum has swung towards salt (a greater emphasis on incarnation and involvement) and away from light (a diminished emphasis on separation and distinction). When I was a kid, with my upbringing, the pendulum was clearly swinging out towards light.

So imagination my intrigue when I stepped into this museum (in Indiana), explaining the Amish and the Mennonites, and discovered this image to the right. In the salt:light tension between getting involved (salt) and staying separate (light), the Amish have leaned towards being light and the Mennonites have added a little salt.

The 13min audiovisual, which I found to be so powerful, was titled like this... [Really?!]
... and in the museum I found this statement (just click on it to make it larger): This idea of fences has been anathema in our churches. An image that gained traction a decade ago is that we need to build wells, rather than fences. 'Build the place of nurture and nourishment and people will be drawn to it in a way that makes the fence obselete'. I understand - but have never been completely convinced. It is hard to imagine Paul writing to Timothy in that vein, advising him that fences are no longer necessary. The thrust of the Amish seems to be to focus on being a 'contrast community', living distinctive with such distinction that this community within the fenceline becomes a solid foundation for mission and service.

While the sentiment is sound I am not sure that there are many observers who find this Amish strategy convincing. But while it is too much light - and not enough salt - it is a ray of light we need to see and reflect upon.

Maybe the Mennonites are onto something? Did you see the fence with the open gate in the image above? Maybe they are making a better fist of keeping alive the tension between salt and light? It is no tablespoon of salt - but maybe it is just the pinch that we require?

nice chatting


Thursday, June 23, 2011

stories from shipshewana

Barby and I are in the USA for a week celebrating her father's 90th birthday with family members. It is just the third time in thirty years that we have gathered like this. The family's Christian roots lie with the Mennonites...

A highlight for me has been the visit to the Menno-Hof (kinda like a museum) in Shipshewana (Indiana). A stirring apologetic for the Amish-Mennonite story.

Here is a little story (click on it to make it bigger):

On opening the latch, the story continues like this:

[It reminds me so much of the story about the five men martyred by the Auca tribe in South America going on for fifty years ago now. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and Co. The ones doing the killing eventually became Christians (with their leader later working closely with one of the martyred men's sons - Steve Saint). A key element in their conversion, as it emerged later, was the intrigue caused by the fact that the missionaries had guns, but chose not to use them. Why?!]

Then this display caught my eye (click on it to make it bigger):

And for good measure, a photo of Dad with his five kids that ranks already among my favourites. It says so much...

nice chatting


Saturday, June 18, 2011

hurting hope

Denver and Dayton will never again be the same for me.

Yesterday - on the two hour flight from one to the other - I read (with Barby doing the same, over my shoulder!) through Charles & Joanne Hewlett's Hurting Hope: what parents feel when their children suffer.. Here and there we shed a tear. Here and there we parked in a rest area so that we could absorb the view. It is a precious book. It just is.

It will sit boldly on my shelf between Lewis' A Grief Observed and Wolterstorff's Lament for a Son (and eventually the other new Piquant publication, Goldingay's Remembering Ann).

In my jet-lagged state, I've been trying to summon the reasons why I valued the book so much. Here are a few:

The title is as intriguing as the sub-title is clear. Full marks to whoever came up with them. The idea of hope being hurt badly, but not lost or forgotten, captures me. And 'what parents feel when their children suffer' explains exactly what the book is about, just as it should be. I am not going to try and define for whom the book is written - everyone should read it. A morning? An evening? A flight? Even a pointless T20 cricket game? That is all it takes.

How often do you find both husband and wife to be such able writers? It is most unusual and yet this is the case here. The structure of the book is episodic as one parent and then the other shares a story or an insight. Back and forth it goes - with no loss of momentum. I like the specificity which they include in their writing. And I like the lean-ness - leaving spaces for the reader to become involved by never saying too much and often stopping abruptly. I like the way that there is no attempt to tell the full story. They leave huge gaps - but the gaps work on my imagination like silence in a sermon, or space in an advertisement. They draw me in. What would I have done? I wonder what happened after that? How can I begin to imagine what that would be like? Wouldn't it cool to be an angel?

The range of emotion encountered in the book is diverse. There is the raw and gritty with the anger and grief, the fear and dread. But there is also a tenderness and love that is just as poignant. It took me back to the emotion of John 20 (and the way Jesus touched and transformed) and to the Psalms of Ascent - borne as they are in the deepest of pain and yet deeper still lie strata of truth about God that cannot be budged. In the Preface Charles & Joanne write that the book is not intended "to be a theological explanation of pain and suffering" (xi). Fair enough - and yet in the section entitled 'Faith' (pp53-56) I find some of the clearest and most helpful theological explanation I have encountered anywhere. I shall return!

Everyone will drawn to different sections of this little book. The opening 'Sometimes' (pp1-2) cuts so deep, partly because it reminds me how my own experience of fatherhood has been so different ... 'Titirangi' (p23) is the one I've heard Charles retell - so brief, so poignant and so unforgettable ... Janelle enjoying bedtime in 'Acceptance' (pp57-59) ... 'Joanne' (pp79-81) ... and all the photos - but especially p115 and p127 ("atta boy, James!") ... 'Perfect' (pp127-130) ... oh, so many (I probably shouldn't have started singling some out!).

And yes, another biggie for me is the fact that I think Charles & Joanne were in our cell group at BCNZ (now Laidlaw College) when they received the news about Janelle's tumour. I've stayed in touch with Charles throughout his time as a pastor in New Lynn and Titiriangi, his MEd study at Auckland - and then recruiting him to the staff at Carey ... and now he has succeeded me as Principal. For two decades Charles - and all his Js - have never been far from my thoughts and prayers and to see this little book published is such a thrill.

A special thank-you to Pieter & Elria Kwant of Piquant Editions - two of the most enabling people in the mission of God that I have met anywhere. It really is no surprise that they are the ones who wanted to run with this project.

nice chatting


Sunday, June 05, 2011

what works (with postscript)

I've just brought up one week (to the hour) in a new (for me) unnamed country in Asia.

Most of that time has been spent in the company of the unnamed J&R, D, and R - mission workers with a combined total of 120 years working in this country. A staggering figure! It reminds me of the company I kept as a child in India. God is delighting in letting them see plenty of harvest after all their years of seed-sowing.

Why? How? What is it that has worked?

The value of learning a people's mother-tongue
I've listened and I've watched the way fluently speaking a people's language builds a highway into peoples' hearts. Eyes and faces, minds and hearts - they all open up as people hear a foreigner speaking in their mother tongue well. I kinda regret that I've never invested in doing this with any language.

The value of longevity
A long obedience in the same direction is what it is all about. Staying faithful. Standing firm. Enduring all the seasons of life and ministry. These folk, now in their 70s, have been through it all - but just when the West puts you 'on a shelf' (at about 60), the people in this country are beginning to respect you and hang onto everything you say. It is the way it should be.

The value of ministry among students
I kept bumping into people with mind-boggling leadership roles in this society. I daren't start mentioning them, but you'd scarcely believe it were possible for Christians to be doing these things in this country. And they were all fumbling and bumbling undergraduates, or postgraduates, with J&R a generation ago.

[NB: the person who was my translator this week is a woman from this country who is about to start working among graduates with NZ's student work, TSCF - in exactly the sort of role that has been so undervalued by the church in NZ ... and a generation or two later, it is showing up in our public and civic life].

The value of discipling around the Word
This is what J&R have been doing with these students over the years - and not much more than this. Taking an authoritative Word, revealing a Saviour and Lord, and in the power and patience of the Spirit working to shape lives according to that Word & Lord. It is not Duckworth & Lewis - it ain't rocket science. That smart investment in the deep work among a few, rather than being seduced into a more shallow work among the many.

The value of warmth and love
Loving people deeply and then being able to transmit it with warmth sabotages so many potential cross-cultural challenges. These qualities radiated from the '120 year brigade' this week. It was so impressive to watch.

The value of humility and integrity
This was also very evident about them. Most unusually in this work, there is some serious money from within this country meeting the costs of what is being done. After a week I am persuaded that it comes partly because J&R can be trusted - they have a reputation for being people of character and people want to contribute towards making their vision happen.

nice chatting


POSTSCRIPT (one week later):
I've just brought up a further week in a familiar, unnamed country in Asia. Most of that time has been spent in the company of the unnamed S - a mission worker (together with his wife J and their kids) with a total of only 10 years working in this country. They are not veterans at all - but as I reread this post about the veterans - everything in it is true of this young family as well. These are the very same reasons why their work is proving to be so effective. We need more people like them! I often find myself praying that they will be able to stack up the years in this country...

Friday, June 03, 2011

a light to the nations

Over the past decade, books on missional church have hardly been known for their deep engagement with the biblical story. They've tended to be testimonial, inspirational, and practical - but this stuff loses its lustre after awhile. Here is a book which corrects that flow by being biblical, first and foremost, and then aspirational on the way to a far more profound 'practical' - and the author covers the terrain with admirable brevity.

Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations (Baker, 2011) looks to describe the way in which 'the missional church' and 'the biblical story' relate to each other. The Table of Contents is a thinly disguised journey through Old Testament, Gospels, Acts and Epistles - before finishing with a useful summary chapter of just 8 pages (191-199).

Here are a few things I like about this book:

1. The final chapter, "What Might This Look Like Today?" (201-226), is superb. Thirteen characteristics of a missional church alive to the biblical story. Required reading both for courses related to missiology/ecclesiology and for local church leadership teams.

2. One of these characteristics is "a church striving to live as a contrast community" (208-211) - which is a little phrase Goheen uses again and again (far more than the Index suggests, I might add - which is a little frustrating). I love it - I am grateful to my friend, Andrew Picard, for drawing my attention to this phrase! In the salt:light tension to keep alive in the local church, this adds weight to being the light, which gets a bit lost today in the rush to be incarnational. I've tended to describe it as 'being distinctive with distinction' - but I think a preference for "contrast community" is building!

3. Almost twenty years ago I was in the thick of preparing and teaching a course on "the gospel in a post-christian society". It was a time when I discovered Lesslie Newbigin - but that era ended with a lingering frustration. Newbigin was great at telling us what was wrong and not always so good at telling us how to put it right. Goheen's PhD was on Newbigin. The Newbigin trail through the footnotes in this book is fascinating. Stuff I'd never heard of. "Four Talks on 1 Peter" at some Aussie WCC event in 1960? Let me at 'em ... I find that Goheen puts some legs on Newbigin's ideas in a helpful way.

4. On pp15-17 he describes some images of church which shape us: mall, community center, corporation, theater, classroom, hospital or spa, motivational seminar, social-service office, campaign headquarters ... and this must be placed alongside his chapter on the Epistles which amounts to a missional discussion of various images of the church: people of God, new creation, body of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, and "diaspora imagery".

A few other quotes and bits I liked:

His discussion of the exile (60-66) took me to new places. I had never quite seen the salt:light tension being lived by the people in exile. A contrast community, an alternative community, that remains involved - seeking the best for the city.

Using David Bosch, he discusses the different ways in which discipleship is conceived in the Gospels and in first-century Judaism (86).

The dangerous 'individualisation of the atonement' which means that "the cross is shorn not only of its communal importance but also of its eschatological significance and cosmic scope" (103).

With the Great Commission, Jesus was sending a community out into mission - not so much a bunch of individuals. It wasn't meant to be used directly to motivate cross-cultural witness specifically (114-118).

"The church is the people who have begun to participate in the powers of the coming age (165)" ... "(it is) the blueprint and beachhead of the kingdom of God (167, quoting Winter)." I've always found it annoying when people drive a wedge between church and kingdom. This does the opposite.

Only once does 'temple of the Holy Spirit' refer to the indwelling of an individual person (179 - 1 Cor 6.19) - everywhere else it is communal.

His discussion of the 'diaspora imagery' for the church (180-189) - exiles, aliens, strangers and the like - and the suffering that is assumed. The contrast in the suffering of Job and of Daniel (187).

nice chatting