The pace of life in the current age continues to speed up while technology and the economy make it look like we are just getting started. In an age where life feels too fast to keep up, there is a strong temptation to speed up anything that we can with shortcuts and streamlined systems focused more on efficiency than on people.
The International Slow Food Movement is an effort to preserve traditional food preparation, promoting communal enjoyment and protecting local food producers. Authors Christopher Smith and John Pattison use slow food as a metaphor to help us reimagine what it means to live together as communities in churches that are rooted to a particular time and place.
Slow churches resist the “cult of speed” that drives us to fill our churches as quickly as possible with people just like us, focusing instead on “…cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives.” (14) This contrasts with a more fast-food-like approach that aims at efficiency, values predictability, measures by quantifiable results and seeks to retain control of God’s works in the church.
I have reflected recently on how much insight artists seem to have on life. As they convey their own feelings, experiences and ideas through art they reach us in unexpected ways.
I used to think that I was primarily a philosophical thinker. While pursuing knowledge I began to feel like I was drying up so I picked up photography. I received so much affirmation from friends and family for my initial efforts that I began to lean back toward art as my primary form of expression. This may have been partially due to the fact that I was required to read and write for my education while art was purely voluntary and fun.
When I graduated from seminary and was no longer required to do so much writing I started to enjoy it again as a way to articulate what I was learning from life. Now I’m trying to find where these two vehicles of expression collide. I think and therefore I write. I feel and therefore I express. I want both my writing to convey art and my art to express truth.
A seismic shift has shaken the Western world in recent decades, pushing Christianity and the church out of the center of society and into the margins. The era often referred to as Christendom featured the religious arm of the church and the secular arm of the state cooperating to build a Christian civilization. The collapse of this long-standing arrangement raises profound implications for the life and ministry of the church.
After Christendom is a series of books that aims to explore these implications. Lloyd Pietersen carries this discussion into the realm of how we read the Bible. He proposes that “…the alliance between church and state from the second half of the fourth century onwards has resulted in ways of reading the Bible fundamentally alien to that of the earliest church.”
The demise of Christendom presents an opportunity to interpret Scripture from a perspective that is less hindered by privilege and more consistent with the context of the Bible’s original audience. Pietersen lays out his case for this fresh look at how we read the Bible in three parts.
It is sad how often we try to determine our own value by how much we feel that we have accomplished. There are several problems with this assessment. First, we tend to focus on this evaluation most when we feel the least accomplished. When things have not worked out as hoped in our lives we begin to reflect on our own apparent worthlessness.
The second problem is that the more often we conclude that we are worthless the more likely we are to live as if this is the case. Why try when nothing we endeavor to accomplish works anyway? This notion can be debilitating and can keep us from making progress toward our goals. Hope is one of our primary motivators. With the loss of hope goes the confidence that with time and effort our situation can improve.
There are certain points of pain that magnify our need for wellbeing. I think the one that impacts me the most is the social, which the book Wellbeing describes as “having strong relationships and love in your life.” I want to know that I am contributing to the lives of others, that I am a good friend and that I am loved by those in my life. When I returned from my travels I found that San Diego had become a lonely place. My group of friends it seems have scattered and moved on to new places or aspects of their lives and I have not done much for the last few years to replenish my relationships here.
When we don’t feel well connected to community we begin to beat ourselves up and to think that there must be something wrong with us or we would have more friends. The vicious cycle begins when we so dislike ourselves that we think others don’t care for us either. The more we retreat into isolation the more our insecurities are affirmed until we have walled ourselves into self-made prison cells of isolation.
There are seasons of life that demand so much attention in particular areas that we lose sight of others. Finishing up four years of seminary has caused me to think about this a lot in recent months. I learned to survive working full time and studying at the graduate level by a selective focus that allowed me to ignore areas that seemed to difficult to initiate or to maintain. The routines that I developed in survival mode have become harder to shake than I would have thought. Reentry from graduate studies into the rest of my life is not automatic as it turns out.
My last six months of seminary wore me down. It was all I could do to try to maintain a positive outlook on life. It seemed that several years of unbalanced living had caught up to me. Staring at the finish line awoke my senses to the rest of my life that was still there and needed to be addressed. In school mode I trained myself to focus on completing the next assignment, finishing the current class and making it through one quarter at a time.
A graduation is called a commencement, however, because it is only a beginning. Finishing a degree program is not meant to complete our pursuits but to ignite us to follow them with enligthened vigor. This overwhelmed me as I pondered how much of my life I had learned to tune out just to get by.
When we sing Away in a Manger, we still picture a crib for Jesus’ bed. This is perhaps because we don’t have anything to relate a manger to in our own experience. Laying a newborn baby down to rest in anything but a comfortable little bed is unimaginable to us.
One of the unique features of the Christmas story is that due to the intervention of history, a Roman Emperor’s call for a census, Jesus came into the world under circumstances that were far from ideal. Rather than preparing to give birth in the safety and comfort of her home, Mary embarked with Joseph on an arduous journey to Bethlehem in the final days of her pregnancy.
I am encouraged tonight by II Kings 6:16 where we are reminded “Don’t be afraid…Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Here in Africa I am beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. The magnitude of the need here and the countless arms reaching for help make me wonder if anything I do here will ever matter. It is hard not to feel somewhat depressed by the violent oppression that so often ravages this continent. Yet, I am reminded by this passage that although I may be overwhelmed, I am not outnumbered.
Staring at the vast Syrian army, the man in this story also felt overwhelmed and that nothing he or anyone else could do would matter. When his spiritual eyes were opened, however, he saw that the power of God was greater than all of the violent oppression that the Syrians could inflict. I’m thankful for the reminder that God’s power is not only greater than my own weakness but also greater than all that oppresses East Africa. It is true that by myself I cannot change anything but I pray that God, through his power, might use me to help bring needed changed to this beautiful but needy part of the world.
I’m sitting in one of the most appropriate places to reflect on the power and influence of writing; under the shadow of two of the greatest writers of the last century, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Overjoyed to find an empty table in the Rabbit Room at The Eagle & Child, I am enjoying a cup of tea and reveling in this place.
“For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:26)
The regions of Macedonia and Achaia, or modern-day Greece, were some of the most wealthy areas of the New Testament world. It is likely that many of the Gentile converts in these regions, as well as the Jews living there, were quite successful in the world of trade and business. The Christians in Israel, however, suffered under intense persecution. They lived in a society where leaving strict Judaism to convert to Christianity meant giving up your place as a citizen of society in good standing. The Christians in Jerusalem, in particular, suffered greatly at this time.
Learning of their Jewish brother’s sufferings, the believers in Greece decided to make a generous contribution to the church at Jerusalem. When the apostles and other traveling ministers brought news to them of Christians’ needs abroad, they opened their hearts and gave.
We have a similar situation today for in America we have more wealth than anywhere else in the world. Our Christian brothers and sisters abroad, however, suffer lack in many parts of the world. Somebody needs to travel like Paul did, seeing each situation first-hand and carrying word of the needs to the rest of the Church. Somebody also needs to be willing to give to the needs of those who are part of our own body, shared with Christ as the Head. Just like we would not ignore the needs of our own family, we must not turn away from the needs of our family in the Lord. At Mission Focus our desire is to bring not only the testimonies of the Church abroad, back to the West, but also the needs. We pray that God will open our own hearts and many others, to provide for His people.