Sunday, June 24, 2012

The summer intent - more blog posts!

My blog has been very sparse this year, but I have a lot of things on my mind these days, so my intent is to post more this summer.  I am going to try to get back to writing short, semi-complete thoughts, rather than contemplated masterpieces (that I never reach, no matter how I try).  My hopes is that this will interest you in joining me in dialogue.  Have I said something that resonates with you?  Comment!  Have I brought questions to your mind?  Comment! (whether or not I can answer them doesn’t matter!)  Have I pushed you too far?  Comment and chew me out, I can take it!

"Help us get something out of it"

I cringe every time I hear someone in a church pray, “help us get something out of it” (meaning the sermon or lesson).  I remember this being said back in high school, and I’m sure I prayed this myself.  I wonder how far back this type of thinking goes? 

Why do I cringe?  Well, why do we go to church?  If it is merely to “get something out of it,” then it sounds like we are going for ourselves.  If we are only going to church for ourselves, then we are likely to compare the value of church with the value of the other things we do for ourselves.  If we begin to operate by this comparison, (whether we specifically think it through or not) church will eventually lose, because there are better ways to meet our personal preferences and stimulate our human senses and needs than going to church.  Think about it, how do we spend our time, if it’s up to us, and it’s entirely for us?
            - Working, because it earns money.  There’s no money to be made at church.
- Eating, because it gives us strength.  Sometimes there’s food at church, but if you’re picky at all, you have a better idea of where to get the food you prefer.
- Sleeping, because we need rest.  You can sleep in a pew (many do), but you’ll be more comfortable in your bed, sofa, or hammock.
- Seeing friends.  Many of us have friends at church, but some don’t.  Those that have friends might prefer to socialize at a quiet coffee shop or in the comfort and privacy of a home.
- Reading or learning.  There’s always opportunity to read and learn in church, but again, personal preference can tell us that we’d have a more productive time listening to a favorite podcast or reading a book of our own choice.
- Entertainment.  Some churches have very entertaining worship and media.  Much of it fits a style; if the style is yours, stay, if not, go somewhere else?  If we chose a church based on music or service style, then it is hard to criticize a person who chooses to forego church, and instead religiously attend movies, concerts, plays or comedy clubs that better suit their style. 

When someone prays, “help us get something out of it” at church, it sounds to me like they’re not content or satisfied.  Perhaps they keep attending out of raw determination, or perhaps they drift and decide the comedy club on Saturday night and a Sunday morning snooze sound better to their soul. 

Why do you go to church? 

What is church?

I’m not going to essay my answers to those questions, but I want to mention a couple of themes that I believe rise against the prayer to “help us get something out of it”.  Here’s my themes: Worship, Service, and Offering.

My themes do not mean that we owe something to God (we all know that’s a horrible motivator to go to church!)  My themes mean that we are in a reciprocal relationship with our creator and sustainer God.  Both God and us grow in fulfillment of our relationship, when we both feed it. 

Would you ever, on a date with your spouse, say, “Honey I hope I get something out of this time I’m spending with you.”  How would that go over? 

We go to church not just to “get something out of it”.  We go to worship, we go to serve, and we go to offer ourselves to our God and a body of believers in him.  We go because it’s a relationship that is much more meaningful than the meeting of our needs.

*author's edit added 2 days later:  I want to clarify that my intent in writing this post was not to criticize anyone who has prayed in the manner I have discussed.  I have admitted that I have also prayed in this way, and recognized that my attitude was wrong.  I cannot insist that everyone who prays certain words has a certain attitude.  Different hearts and attitudes are housed within similar words and phrases that we share in communication.  However, we say things for a reason, and what we say tells a lot about us.

Is there a healthier attitude behind the phrase "help us get something out of it" being prayed at church?  How do we guard ourselves from praying with a consumerist mindset... how do we guard our hearts against selfishness?

Welcome the immigrant, part 2

What makes it hard to welcome immigrants?  If it wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be writing about it, so go on, think of why it’s hard to welcome immigrants…

Let’s see… they look different, they speak different, they eat different, they work different, they live different, they worship different.  In addition, some are here illegally, costing us a lot, and we don’t know which ones are here legally and which illegally.  What else?  Some have snuck into our country and blown up stuff in terrorist attacks.  I’m sure there’s more, but does that at least suffice as a summary of reasons why it’s hard to welcome immigrants?

 So what should we do?  I guess that depends who the “we” is.  I hear some people talk as if we have the power to keep immigrants out, when really that requires political process and government policies.  That is a broader, less personal “we”, and not one that we can quickly or easily influence.  My question is, what should the personal “we” do about immigrants?  Our personal options are limited, and that can be frustrating to us sometimes.  It’s too expensive to personally round up the ones we suspect to be illegal and deport them, we probably don’t trust the law process to actually get rid of them, so I guess we can either kill them, or let them live.  Since the result of killing them is undesirable (going to jail), we settle for the lesser of two evils and let them live, frustrating as it is.  I’m making this dramatic on purpose.  My point is that personal frustration from involuntary tolerance can grow and become an issue much bigger than the matter that caused the frustration.  How does the old saying go, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?”  Well, don’t let hate for immigrants or foreigners grow wild, just because you know some are here illegally. 

If you’re struggling with holding a grudge against immigrants, ask yourself, “what would it take for me to not hold this attitude against them?”  You can’t make them disappear, we already covered that in the last paragraph.  Would you agree that it would help if they would assimilate more into American culture and values and life?  We all get frustrated over language barriers, and we get annoyed by people that don’t seem to understand “the laws of the land.”  If they would just be more like us, right?  Some immigrants do assimilate very well, others don’t.  WHY?  There’s plenty of factors that determine this, but I believe one of the biggest ones is whether or not they feel welcomed and cared about. 

Now here’s the whole point that I’ve been leading up to:  You have a powerful influence on immigrants.  You can influence them to love Americans, or hate Americans.   It’s pretty easy to influence immigrants to hate Americans, just ignore them, suspect they’re illegals, mutter slander about them, turn the other way when they’re approaching, you know, anything that portrays that they’re not welcome.  It’s not any harder to influence them to love us, but it takes a different attitude and approach.  So many immigrants come from cultures that value hospitality.  Then they come to America, and they never get an invite into an Americans home.  In college my wife used to take a whole armload of flowers to east African bazaars and hand them out to the women working there.  Many of them said they’d never been welcomed like that by an American. 

Whether or not an immigrant feels welcomed by Americans sets them on a path of building their attitude about us.  If they feel welcomed by us they will be more open to learning who we are.  If they know we care, they’ll share their struggles with us, and we can minister into their lives.  If they do not feel welcomed by us, they will be hardened by feeling like an alien.  A person that feels unwelcomed and insecure in a new setting will seek solace by looking backwards at their home culture and religion for guidance.  Many Muslim women who did not veil their heads or faces in their homelands have decided to veil after they reach America, because they don’t trust a culture that didn’t welcome them, and they became more conservative and devout to Islam as a way to cope with their insecurity.  Shocked? 

We have an influence on immigrants, and this is a powerful opportunity to change the world, as it comes to us.  Want to curb the growth rate in the number of mosques in America?  Respect Muslim immigrants, invite them to your home for a meal, and let them see that they can find people that respect and care about them outside of the religious identity they’ve had since birth.  Invite the person in to your home, and you are giving them an opportunity to look out of the religion that you fear.

Scary?  Sure it is, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done.  Let’s say you work with a Muslim, or see one regularly.  Warm up to a house invitation by beginning to greet him or her every morning with a handshake, and ask them how their family is.  Make eye contact, show you care, stick around for their answer, listen to them.  If this person never warms up to you, don’t give up and generalize all Muslim people as cold or mean.  Try again, and keep trying, and you will help turn feared foreigners into people that you and me can say, “I’m glad they’re here, they have taught me something, and I’ve had a positive influence on them as well.”