by Glen Edward Quiring
Jesus included others. It was, perhaps, this habit more than any other that made his life and teaching distasteful to the religious authorities. He ate with sinners, was unafraid to touch the unclean, and defied the religious mandates. This habit of acceptance has been lost in many faith communities.
I grew up in a Christian tradition that valued conformity rather than acceptance. In this, we behaved more like the religious authorities of first century culture rather than Jesus himself. For example, in my tradition, it is not uncommon to hear parents bemoan the reality that their children don't live within the doctrines of the faith community they were raised in. I'm thinking, particularly, of a common phrase, "my son/daughter don't know the Lord". My heart breaks when I hear this
Can it be that in saying that our children don't know the Lord might we be saying that Jesus is really unknown in our homes? Might we be saying that the first priority of the child is to accept the tradition or the doctrine of the parents in order to be accepted? When we say our children don't "know the Lord" aren't we really saying that we don't accept them?
Perhaps this is the reason the Christian church is shrinking in North America. Our children leave church - not because is is irrelevant - but because they have been alienated first in their homes? Is there any point in further alienating themselves in a larger community?
If this reflects our actual situation, our homes and our churches have become profound places of Godlessness. Where the presence of Jesus becomes a reality, there too, does the very basic reality that God accepts all who are present. Our families - our homes - become places of inclusion and embrace where the life of Jesus is present.
Many churches exclude others in principle and reality (see, for example, the churches insistence on cognitive ascent to a set of doctrines before they are worthy to enter into communion). This indicates that we are not willing to radically include others (like our children) as people worthy of love.
If it is time to embrace the community for Jesus, this reality must first become a radical reality in our homes.
by Glen Edward Quiring
"Christianity is a Relationship, not a Religion." Preachers are fond of this saying. As I grow older, I realize that I too, have become quite fond of it. I have even written and titled blogs using this phrase.
But what does it really mean?
It appears to me that when we say this we mean that there is a simple connection between the Divine and the individual. Such connections or "relationships" are made possible in a variety of ways: contracts, affinities (or commonality), Mandates, Loyalties, Mutual goals, Outcomes, Traditions. It should be noted that many (if not all) faith systems work to connect the Divine to the individual.
So big deal. I have a connection with my Postal carrier too. My carrier gets paid to heave a large bag of deliverables to my door step 5 (soon 6) days a week. Is this indicative of the relationship like the one I can "have" with the Divine? Another example might help. I have a "relationship" with the local church.This means I attend worship on Sunday mornings. I sing, pray and give a donation, perhaps attend a mid-week Bible study or common meal. Does this constitute "relationship?"
So what constitutes a relationship with the Divine? What do Christian preachers mean when they say that their religion is really a relationship? The answer is, unfortunately, "it depends." Churches vary as much on idea as they do anything. Some see it as legal contract; a set of obligations. Others envision it as working on a task; getting others to believe as we do.
The drama of the Bible relates a story of the Divine connecting to the world. In the Ancient world temples were often were found in the center of town. The Temple was a place to meet the Divine and it was the focal point of life. Other ancient stories suggest other ways to connect. The Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11), for example was thought to be a means of access to Divinity.
In the New Testament, still a Primitive (Ancient) world to be sure, the writers envision that something big has occurred. A connection or relationship with the Divine has been internalized; the Divine resides within us. The individual has become the focal point. This idea is more like a marriage than anything. A couple strives to live together in mutual submission and support. There do not exist "terms" for the relationship as if it were a contract. No indeed. It is more like two lovers living together, each graciously making space for the other, each working toward the interest of our partner.
This is religion as "relationship". So, when I say, "religion is a relationship" I am saying more than "I have a connection". I am saying that the Divine is a fundamental part of who I am and that my life expresses the Divine each an every moment.
by Glen Edward Quiring
One day Jesus was walking through Jerusalem when he became hungry. Seeing a fig tree close by Jesus went to it. Our storyteller (Mark) now tells us that the tree had no fruit. He further goes on to tell us that it wasn't the season for figs. Jesus, nevertheless, looks at the tree and subsequently curses it, presumably because it could not satisfy his hunger.
Why curse a perfectly good tree?
This snippet, like so many others in the gospels, is a small scene in the life of Christ that we might easily ignore. Have you sat watching a movie and wondered why a particular scene occurs in the story? Did the scene show us the formation of a character? Did it give us hints about what might happen? This snippet in Mark is like that.
We may surmise that God is simply moving beyond Israel, toward the establishment of a new religion. It is tempting to see in this snippet God dispensing with the Old (Israel as the fig tree) and ushering in a new means of being good, a new way of connecting to the Divine. We further might be tempted to suggest that this new religion is one in which all others must believe in or give ascent to. If we were to infer this, we would be suggesting that the Divine simply wanted a better religion - that is, a new social reality with different membership fees.
But this isn't another simple attempt to design a new religion.
By turning away from the tree, Jesus is pointing toward himself. Jesus, being God himself, puts himself center stage as the prime example of God's new thing. God himself is journeying with humanity. He is expressing God's deep affinity to be present with creation. This is what the entirety of the New Testament points. Jesus' life and resurrection points to this life. We might call it a deeply charismatic community. One in which the spirit of God lives and breathes in us and with us.
Can you Imagine your faith community as one that journeys with the Divine? So often, the church often stands on the strength of judgement -- it's us against the world! It is our way or the highway! The narrative of the gospels, however, suggests that the church is something much different. It is a charismatic community. That is, it is one that operates within the life of God -- it is a community that lives as a spirit filled community - God with us.
Do you yearn for religion? Or do you yearn to live free from religion? If so, look past your own concepts of goodness and rightness. Look simply to the life of Christ who brings Divine presence right into your own journey.
by Jessica Davison
Please welcome Jessica Davison to NewGen Faith. Jessica has a Masters of Peacemaking and Conflict Studies from Fresno Pacific University. She lives in a small farming community in CA with her husband and daughter. She loves spending time in community, traveling and cooking. She is also passionate about pursuing peace and justice in relationships.
Family conflict. It’s something that not many of us want to deal with but something that affects all of us. There are many different levels of relationships and many times, we disregard the importance of our closest and longest relationships (family) and allow both small and large conflicts to ruin these connections.
At the end of the day, most of us come home to some sort of family dynamic. We are tired from being busy and want to relax. It is times like this when a statement such as “Can’t you get off the couch and help with the dishes? ” can turn into a heated argument. We would not allow the same comment from a friend or coworker to turn into an argument. Why, because we want others to like us, respect us and for others to think highly about us, we are on our best behavior. We take more caution in our responses. In the back of our minds, we think that our family has to always like us and so many times we don’t treat them with the kindness and love that they deserve.
Family conflict has existed throughout all of history. Throughout Scripture, there are many examples of family conflict. Some of these stories turn out well and some not so well. A great example family conflict that eventually turns out well is the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob took his brother Esau’s birthright away from him, which was the culmination of many years of smaller conflicts. Jacob’s decision to do this then took years away from their relationship. Fear and anger ruled Jacob and Esau’s lives until circumstances brought them back together and their relationship was restored. My belief is that this story and many others are sprinkled throughout Scripture so that we can learn from them and implement these skills in our present day lives.
Conflict is inevitable. There is no way that we can avoid this part of life. So, we have to make the decision to rise above the feeling of anger and awkwardness and make a goal to restore the relationship that is broken. When dealing with conflict, remember to take time to examine all perspectives, take time to count to ten before reacting to others and above all to remember that God offers forgiveness to everyone and that is what we are instructed to do as well. Taking the time to work through and not avoid family conflict can forever change a family and it’s dynamic.
by Glen Edward Quiring
Pastor NewGen Faith
My son and I read literature at bedtime. Historically, we've read a somewhat lighter fair; The Butter Battle Book is one of our favorites. It is amazing; Dr. Seuss has a way of instructing and entertaining simultaneously.
Recently though, we started reading the bible -- the Old Testament to be exact. We started with the stories of creation and got through the stories of liberation found in Exodus. We would have kept reading in the Old Testament. But I uncovered a great picture book of Homer's Odyssey in a Barnes & Noble store in this holiday season. I couldn't resist the artwork so I bought it and figured we could read that too.
Quite to my surprise, there exists common themes in these two pieces of ancient literature. In Homer's great poem, we discovered Odysseus wandering around the sea in a fashion not unlike the Israelite's wandering in the desert wilderness. We also learned that Odysseus' men feared to move into a part of the land because there were giants - a theme also found the Old Testament (remember when Joshua sent out spies to check out the promised land?). We learned that Odysseus defeats the giant cyclops just as King David defeats Goliath -- the giant philistine -- both giants being too arrogant for their own good.
Narratives -- stories -- if you will, don't pretend to be prescriptive. Rather, they connect us to our humanity and to the millions who have gone before us on this little planet. They connect us to common struggles and common victories. Perhaps most importantly, they connect us to the values and wisdom of generations past. This connection doesn't insist we live as they did in the story. But is does attempt to inform and inspire us. It beckons to us: live valiantly, thrive, dare to do the impossible.
Each of us can thrive and flourish. I can't tell you how. I can only say that it is our calling. And this I know, for the narrative
tells me so.
by Glen Edward Quiring
Pastor, NewGen Faith
Seminary won't teach you how organizations actually work. I learned a lot about Theology, Preaching, Ethics, and the Bible. But I was really unprepared for what lie beyond the halls of the academic enterprise.
In the last year I was able to learn two important words from the Wharton School of Business: Capacity and Bottlenecks (see Coursera.org). Capacity is the ability to meet demand. Bottlenecks are those points of service that prevent business from delivering services up to that demand. So, let's say you own a sandwich shop. You hire one person to make sandwiches but she cannot make sandwiches fast enough to satisfy the long line of customers. This scenario would constitute a bottleneck. We would further say this shop has a very limited capacity (ability to meet demand).
Bottlenecks occur in all kinds of organizations. I am a Minister so lets pick on churches. Here are some working examples of bottlenecks in traditional churches:
1. Hospitality: churches often want to be a friendly church but they have no operating gifts of hospitality.
2. Staffing: churches can hire staff and then run too many programs.
3. Message: Most churches believe their message is the backbone of faith. Often, however, churches will have a very narrow view of the gospel and therefore, a very narrow message.
4. Committees: Many churches are managed by committee. Committees can be pervasive bottlenecks when they debate decisions endlessly or refuse to act until they have an operating consensus. The result is a diminished capacity.
These are just a few examples that impact capacity in churches. Despite fervent liturgies, powerful sermons and rigid beliefs, these bottlenecks must be addressed in order to increase capacity. If you don’t increase capacity, your community will stagnate. Let’s face it, growth is not only desired in churches, but it is required for healthy, high functioning communities.
Whether you sell widgets, build houses, or provide social services organizational capacity will impact performance.
Is your church experiencing a downturn? Has your attendance dropped or you sense spiritual lethargy? Ask yourself if you have attributed this downturn to a lackluster theology. Perhaps you have attributed poor performance to a lackluster acceptance of the truth among your congregation? If so, do yourself a favor and avoid the blame game. Review your capacity and examine your organization for bottlenecks. You’ll be glad you did.
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