Pipe Cleaners and Popsicle Sticks

12 05 2008



I went to Vacation Bible School (VBS) once as a kid. I was about 10 years old and I was spending a week with my Aunt and Uncle in Martinsville, Indiana. Since my Aunt wasn’t a regular churchgoer, I’m pretty sure she just needed a babysitter. VBS to the rescue…

I’d been to church before, but really wasn’t much of a churchgoer myself—sitting in abject boredom for two hours every few months doesn’t really qualify you as a regular—which means, of course, that I didn’t get to lay claim to my own pew (but I did get a role in the Christmas pageant once). Anyway, mom had taken us to church a couple of times—enough that I knew that I went to a “Church of God” church. I had no idea what that was or what we believed, but I knew we were right. And deep down inside, I pitied all of the poor souls who were caught up in all kinds of false doctrines—you know, the Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and, to say the least, Pentecostals. I felt sorry for them in a way. Someone had lied to them! They’d been duped into following down the wrong path and it ended them up in a quagmire of confusion. It was a crying shame, really.

When Aunt Debbie announced that we would be going to a church event—something called a “Vacation Bible School”—my heresy radar was immediately on tilt. “What kind of church is it?” I wondered? I later learned that it was a Nazarene church. No self-respecting, ten-year-old, Church of God, non-regular has any idea what a Nazarene church is, but I could tell that it smacked of heresy.

“I’m not going.” I declared with all the righteous indignation of a martyr’s last words. My aunt countered that either I would go or I would stay home and do chores.

I went.

As I reflect on that summer and my experience at the VBS, two things amaze me:
1) VBS teachers are masters with pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks! I’m pretty sure we illustrated the entire Old Testament with ‘craft’ supplies and a tub of white glue. (Check out the amazing Dancing Pipe Cleaner Man here!)
2) It is shocking how prone I am to thinking I am right, and everybody else is hopelessly wrong.

What is it inside the heart of man that convinces us that we—the person who can’t even tie a tie—could possible have unlocked the secrets of the universe? How is it that we believe that our understanding of truth could be so much superior to those who worship at the church across the street? Why do we need to be right, and why do we need others to be wrong?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I take “poor in spirit” to mean open-minded—being willing to admit that you don’t have it all figured out; you don’t have all of the answers. I confess that I’ve spent too many days walking around like the spiritual upper class. I needed, and (confession) still desperately need to be right. And it wasn’t enough simply to be right; I needed others to know I was right. Insecurity fueled my quest for dominance, and, like a cage fighter seeking a belt, I took on any challenger.

The problem with being right is that it forces us to think that everyone else is wrong. It forces us to close our minds to other ideas, philosophies, and opinions. Our ideas become lines drawn with the intention of separating truth from fiction, but end up separating us from the actual person behind the idea—a person with real hopes and dreams and fears. Our quest for right-ness dupes us into seclusion, and it is ourselves that we hold hostage.

The world would be a better place if I could—if we all could—learn to love the person behind the idea. I think Jesus did that. At first I was uncomfortable with Christ’s seeming lack of zeal to defend himself before Pilate. I couldn’t believe that he refused to lecture the woman caught in adultery. Why didn’t he plea with the rich young ruler? Surely he could have out debated the Pharisees! Didn’t he want to be right? Didn’t he want to win?

Then it hit me: maybe he didn’t want to win; maybe he wanted us to.

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7 responses

15 05 2008
Amanda

i don’t think that it is always that we want ‘others’ to be wrong. WE don’t want to be the wrong ones. so, the default is that it is the others that are wrong. most people are very afraid to be wrong. i don’t think that there has to be a right and a wrong, but just listen to other people share, and then hope that they have the same respect to listen to you openly.
i was discussing this with a girl at work. she had gone to lunch with another coworker and she had made the comment that i am the only person in our office that she hasn’t gotten into an arguement with. he automatically thought that we never talked (she can have some very strong opinions) but actually we go to lunch very often together. i pointed out to her that i don’t argue her opinions/thoughts. she is allowed to have her opinions/thoughts, and they are HER opinions/thoughts, so why would i argue with her about those. but i can also say that because i don’t argue her opinions/thoughts, she is very open to hearing mine and doesn’t argue mine either. i think that if you want to reach an non-christian, listening to them openly is a great way to get them to listen to you openly. (this may have gotten a little off the subject)

17 05 2008
rjschaefer

Some people feel that if an opinion exists that is different than theirs, it is their job to eradicate it! (I admit to pulling out the brass knuckles a time or two myself!) I fear that in our desire to beat up a person’s opinion, it is often the person behind the opinion gets pummeled.

17 05 2008
Anonymous

I don’t feel the need to eradicate opinions that are different from mine. But where church is concerned, if they seem like loose opinions with no discernable “anchor,” then I will question them.

That is what troubles me about the Emergent Church. No discernable anchor. All talk.

On the surface, it’s a great idea. The culture is changing. Young people are not reached by the same things older folks are reached by. I have argued this point with my family for years. My main frustration, though, is an air of superiority…exercised on both sides of the coin.

There is ROOM for the Emergent Church and the traditional church to do amazing things under the same roof. Why the need to splinter?

Shane Claiborne is my hero. You have surely read “The Irresistable Revolution?” It will rock your world.

17 05 2008
rjschaefer

Hey, Anonymous. Why be anonymous? Your opinions are safe around here!

I have to admit that I don’t know much about the “Emergent Church” that you’ve refereed to. I’ve heard the word batted around and could give you a casual definition, but I’m not that versed in the movement. I did a little research tonight and really was amazed at how much of their thoughts and verbiage is reflected in Dialogue Church! I’m sure that I haven’t studied it as much as you have, but I share some of your concerns as well! (I’ll check out the book you recommended.)

I’m still hesitant to call Dialogue Church an “Emerging Church”, but we are rethinking things. Just as you question “loose opinions” without “anchor” I question why we do the things we do. It is a journey that has enriched my faith and brought me closer to God. But, Dialogue Church isn’t about my doctrinal viewpoints, it is about a family of people and its about our journey together.

Dialogue Church is not about methods and tactics (even though I agree that people today don’t respond the same as past generations). Dialogue is about heart and approach. Its about being able to have strong opinions, but being able to love and journey with people who don’t share them. It’s about living by the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life, but realizing that maybe you don’t have all the answers. We have many people who actually prefer what some would consider “traditional” worship and styles! We have others who can’t stand the sight of a hymnal. But that’s not the point; the point is that we refuse to allow doctrine to separate us. We embrace difference and allow for uniqueness. We understand that in ten years or twenty years or fifty years the church will move beyond where we are today and realize that we were just as confused as we think they were during the witch trials, or before it was ok to worship with drums, or when ladies had to wear skirts, or when women couldn’t speak during church, or way back when people still thought tattoos were forbidden, ect. The point is that we don’t–and we never will get it all figured out, so we just embrace those around us and live the way of Christ.

That’s what Dialogue Church is about.

I apologize if their is an “air of superiority: in our tone. It is completely unintended. I do disagree, however, that we are “all talk”. Some of us babysat for a single mom with two kids last week, for example. We are doing what we can to live out our faith in the world around us and to play a part (small part) in God’s redemption story.

What do you mean when you say that the emergent church is without anchor? I’m not sure that I’m following you…

20 05 2008
Anonymous

What I mean when I say the emergent church is without anchor is that there is too much dialogue (I am not referring to Dialogue Church, I am using the verb tense) and acceptance of differering opinions without bringing it all together under the authority of the Head, which is Christ.

Differences are fine…God made each of us uniquely. But differences in that the EC gives the impression that anything goes as long as it is all about Jesus is giving dangerous license to cracked clay pots that will be tempted to abuse the privilege.

There has to be an authority in the church, one who is accountable for leading the body. And the body must submit to that authority so long as that authority is submitting to Christ.

The EC is nothing new…it is something old, rehashed. It goes back to the so-called “hippie-era” practices. Great intentions, lousy ending.

I look at the EC and my heart wants to wrap itself around what they are doing because they seem to want to live as purely Christian and as Christianly pure lives as possible…this is good. BUT, there is no depth of substance to the movement as a whole.

The reason I say there is room under one roof for the emergent church and the traditional church is because we would do well to learn from each other and practice what Jesus preached. But lets make this really simple and strip away the labels…

We would ALL do well to simply OBEY what He taught. Nevermind dividing ourselves according to our differences and subsequently criticizing each other.All we end up doing is creating new denominations. Satan wins.

In our obedience, we would see the gifts of the Spirit flourish, the fruit of the Spirit would be evident, there would be no need to “do things differently” or “do things the same old way” because we would be about His business according to His will and there is no going wrong in that. There would be no more splits in the church, no more hurting each other because the focus would be on Him first, others second, ourselves last.

Have you checked out the Shane Claiborne book yet? He is totally EC. I sincerely HOPE God blesses what he is doing…and I think He is because by simply being about our Father’s business, Shane is doing exactly what I said…reaching across denominational lines and making them of no significance. The thing of significance in what he is doing is simply living an openly obedient Christian life before us all. I believe God is blessing His work because Shane doesn’t “challenge” people to do things differently…his example makes people long to live for Christ.

There is an air of superiority in your tone at times…just as there is in the tone of those in the traditional church…maybe even as there is in my own expressions at times. You apologized if I sensed that in you. I apologize as well. My intent is not to harm you with my words. It is evident in what you don’t say so much as what you do say in some blogs that you have been hurt. Even so, please be careful not to be a source of pain to others. The temptation will be there just as it has been for leaders since the beginning of time. I have been on both the giving and receiving end where pain is concerned. God does not bless us when we choose the low road.

Choose the high road. Walk in compassion. And go be blessed.

20 05 2008
rjschaefer

Thanks, Anon, for the advice and encouragement. It sounds to me like we are thinking and feeling some of the same things but are using different words. I agree with much of what you say.

Learning from each other and living together is the foundational principle of Dialogue Church! We believe that we’re stronger together than we are apart, so we don’t allow doctrinal differences to separate us. You seem to share our frustration with the many denominational walls in the body of Christ. We’ve moved beyond that and invited anyone who wants to follow Jesus into our family. That means we have to accept that some people are going to see things differently than we do. It would be foolish to say “everyone is welcome…as long as you think like us”. Personally, I don’t think that means that we lack substance or anchor. I believe it builds depth in our personal relationships with God and forces us to cling to Christ and His Word as our anchor.

I certainly agree that the church has to quit focusing on ourselves–our likes, our tastes, our desires–and start focusing on others. Above all else, this is what keeps me up at night and compels me to keep serving the call on my life. It’s what Bill Hybels would call my “holy discontent’.

Maybe what comes across as superiority is that we (I) am completely ok if other churches don’t ‘get’ what we’re about. I expect that some Christians who love God with all of their heart won’t understand Dialogue Church–and I’m cool with that. As I said before, we understand that Dialogue Church isn’t for everybody. We invite everyone to join the conversation, and we don’t take it personally when someone chooses not to.

I can’t think of anything more like God than loving people regardless of their viewpoints and learning how to find beauty in other people. I think that it is a shame that so many followers of Christ have no tolerance for people of different spiritual perspectives. If the only people that we can love is people who are just like us, then the only person we love is ourself.

(I will read Shane’s book. He seems like a great guy and I’m sure that I’d learn a lot. I hope that you keep reading and keep commenting. I appreciate your heart and I’ve learned from you.)

31 05 2008
Jess'ca

Hey! Seems like you’ve got a great start here. I like what I’m reading for sure. I think Mr. Rob Bell would be proud. ;)

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