Saturday, March 29, 2008

culture bound: spring 2008

my earlier culture bound blog.

introductory thoughts

As Pastor Martin [Luther] insisted, worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular is a mark of the true Church. We've been praying and talking, studying and working together to contextualize, cast into our local vernacular (but there's not just one!), not only our worship and preaching but especially our evangelism and outreach to our nearby neighbors. I really am in the process of writing a short proposal that'll lead to an outline that in turn will lead to actual course material related to multicultural and other decidedly relevant neighborhood ministry...slow as the process has been, and a few questions we'll be asking include: according to us, who are we? According to scripture - and especially according to Jesus - who are we? What do we consider our calling? According to scripture - and especially according to Jesus - what is God's call to us as individuals, as a local church and as the ecumenical church?

Models for [especially local church] Ministry

resurrection witnessesHere's the mission statement I wrote for the church I served in City of History; I'm quoting it again [because the deployed staff guy from the national church declared it "a model" and asked permission to show it to other congregations? - no, not] because all these years time later I agree it is finely succinct and every bit as relevant to the congregations I'm involved with on this coast as it was to that one on the other coast.
We are the people of God, forgiven and set free by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; by the power of the Holy Spirit we are called together and sent into the world as witnesses to his resurrection. God calls us, a servant people, to proclaim in word and action the presence of the risen Lord to all those whom our lives touch, especially in this community.

past ecclesiastical blasts include...

basic business model

Up until a few decades ago the now recently departed dad of a friend worked for the UCC's national church; the family lived in New Jersey, and the dad took the commuter train into New York City, to 475 Riverside Drive by Riverside Church, where in those days the national offices of most mainline church bodies hung out. Due to financial and other constraints, the UCC eventually moved to Cleveland, the PC(USA) to Louisville and the ELCA to Cleveland, though those cities' names still more than suggest Basic North American style and sensibilities, diverse as this continent has become—but at least they're geographically and otherwise a little decentralized. Even as theologians and pastors, we often casually call ourselves and our churches the "mainline" that in the beginning was more of a sociological designation than an ecclesiastical one. Given that at its start during the 1880s the Main Line railroad relocated the city of Philadelphia's social, political and business elite, effectively creating some extremely affluent new sub-urbs, is that what we in today's protestant mainline aspire to be and seek to live? It's only terminology? Words can carry so very much power and impact! Words can create worlds! Words do create worlds and words destroy worlds (as well as people and communities).

During my tenure at the above-referenced congregation, I was attending seminary and serving in the very inner city, so in the cold winter months I typically wore corduroy levis and sweaters to work and school; denim and khaki skirts with polo shirts were my usual summer attire. At least once senior pastor said, "The Church must emulate business, and business...wears dark and formal suits and shoes, etc." Talk about non-vernacular! In that ultra-urban setting (not all that different from where I currently live) as in others, already each one of us is unique though not immediately apparently so, but why attempt to make unnecessary distinctions that can lead to further divisions rather than essential unity? In real life, I definitely wasn't dressing or behaving all that much like most of my neighbors, but I attempted a semblance of approachability, and given the results, I believe I succeeded.

European model

Riverside Church in New York City is far from the only church building in this country designed after a western or northern European cathedral model. Built by financial and railway tycoon John D. Rockefeller, Riverside physically presents as a Gothic cathedral, but taking history into consideration, we need to remember the Christianity first experienced by colonial America and later on by the new republic featured imported doctrine and liturgy, with protestantisms from continental Europe and the British Isles, Roman Catholicism from Germany, Italy and central Europe. Gradually church structures imitating local rather than foreign architecture came about—Spanish Mission adobe being a still prevalent popular style.

biblical model
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47, NRSV

current contemporary

Again I'm agonizingly wondering if we've been designing our worship, modifying the bible's theology and editing our lifestyles to appear non-threateningly culturally congruent; do we present the gospel of Jesus Christ as another slick spiritual smörgåsbord (browser spell check added the diacriticals) selection rather than a tremendous offense, a scandal, a stumbling block in almost every sense? Mercy driven, grace given, world-transforming? Is it even possible to tamely articulate the reality of the cross and resurrection? Or maybe worse, do we offend humanity and blaspheme God with some kind of unbiblical folk religion? Is Jesus basically another guy like us or is Jesus of Nazareth The Wildest of the Wild? It seems as if I talk and write and blog the same stuff over and over again, but far too much of what I've been seeing and hearing and feeling sure ain't nothing I can imagine living for, let alone dying for.

It looks as if right alongside the mega- and related churches those of us in the mainline who really really need to discover all kinds of newer models for ministry and to recover a sense of our own worth have become just as similar to popular culture and society as the earlier European and business models. But the gospel is not an extension or an expression of popular culture, not a separate compartment of some folks' existence, hardly an optional selection in God's solution to all creation's quest for the fullness of redemption, for dwelling within the milk and honey of the sovereignty of heaven. God calls and by grace enables us to live baptized into Christ each moment every day; we are the community that in Jesus Christ, in baptism, already has experienced its first death and its second birth!

In subtle and insidious ways, artifacts and habits of consumerism and overall general superfluity make inroads into the lives of people who never intended it, just as political, economic and religious imperialisms often far exceed the sum of their discrete parts. You know Colossians specifically describes powers and principalities, while other biblical writers more than hint at them. In one of his sermons Paul Tillich says most of us insist they don't do the really big sins, but rather fall prey to smaller ones; in exactly the same manner, we often claim we don't subscribe to super bling, ultra sex or super-excessive consumerism (though of course we like nice things and lovely clothes...) Besides, "a little can't do any harm." Do we appear, talk and act just like our nearby neighbors who have no conscious knowledge or awareness of Jesus or do we live and walk with Christ in ways our neighbors can see, touch, hear, taste and hope for more of?

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