Monday, September 17, 2012

How does an elementary school gym become a church?

Pretty much like this:

My most awesome husband made this video last night and posted it on his blog, but I wanted to share too. It is the same group of hardcore dedicated Threads (what the members are Tapestry Church are called) who do this each and every week. You know, those background people who do really important stuff that no one really knows about--well, here they are in action. Also, a huge shout-out and thanks to Washington Elementary School for allowing us to store all of our equipment in their gym week after week. It makes the weekly set-up and take down soooo much easier!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nothing in Return

Robert and I were talking the other day about an organization on which he serves on the board of directors. It's called Touch Twice United (TTU) and it helps churches to provide significant outreach to the community by organizing a day of clinic that incorporates free medical care and dentistry, as well as things like haircuts, mechanic work, family photography, and clothing. All necessities and little normalizing "luxuries" that many families can't afford. Robert was telling me of a church who used to be pretty involved with TTU, but had recently severed their relationship.I couldn't imagine why since I knew that previous clinics at this church had been very successful and ministered to lots of people. Then he told me. The reason? The church couldn't do as much direct evangelizing as they wanted.

While on one hand I do understand that (evangelical churches naturally feel that evangelism is important...and I agree). On the other hand I think that simply meeting these physical and material needs IS evangelism.
Matthew 25: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I  was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (emphasis mine)
Meeting needs of clothing, healthcare, hygiene, and transportation for "the least of these" is important ministry first and foremost, but it is also a type of evangelism because it involves sharing the love of Christ. Maybe not in words, but in actions. The importance of these actions, that result from an inner life of faith and love to Christ, are mentioned throughout the New Testament, e.g., love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31), evidence of discipleship is love for one another (John 13:35). And while I am a big fan of verbal evangelism as well, I am very much opposed to much of the Christian "bait and switch" that goes on in many churches. You know the big, free community event that is advertised as a community cook-out or a free clothing drive, then when people come they are given a Jesus hard-sell and pressured to come to Christ. All they were coming for was a hamburger or new-to-them school clothes for their kids and now they feel confused, embarrassed, and well as duped.

There is a time and place for tough conversations and discussions of personal faith issues in a evangelical faith community certainly. I personally believe that relational evangelism with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family is the place for those discussions as I am not a big fan of "cold call" or street evangelism for many reasons that I won't go into here. However, I think we also sometimes minimize the work of the Holy Spirit through simple acts of kindness and love to others. Just helping someone get a painful cavity filled for free is a huge ministry and I think Jesus is very much glorified by that. Looking a homeless man in the eye and saying his name without judgment as you serve him a meal is loving Jesus. Sometimes that is enough. For now.

I was reminded of these things this weekend. We have a Spanish and ESL teacher, Natalie, in our church who worked with a lot of children of migrant workers in summer school. She started talking with Robert about these kids and a group from church ended up taking a group and teaching them how to play disc golf. Through our association we have access to a block party trailer that contains bouncy castles, a popcorn machine, a snow cone machine, and other goodies. We decided to get that and host a block party for the migrant worker families.

Migrant workers in the US are certainly among "the least of these" according to the general population. Many migrant workers live below the poverty level, but because of the transient nature of their work, they are often ineligible to take advantage of programs to help those in poverty like food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid, even though they pay taxes and social security. Although approximately 77% of migrant workers are Mexican born, they are here legally, but remain the subject of racial profiling, prejudice, and suspicion. You can read more about them here, here, and here. Due to the impetus of Natalie our church set on a mission to celebrate and esteem them so we threw them a party.

We had a good group of kids of all ages, but mostly teenagers, attend. I was kind of surprised and a bit disappointed that none of their parents came until I found out why...they were all at work. Migrant workers often work 7 days a week and don't have a lot of workers' rights like 8 hour days, weekends off, or workman's compensation for injury. While I talked with a lot of different kids, I spent the most time talking to Frank/Francisco, a charming and well-spoken 14-year-old 8th grader whose favorite subject is math. He told me how they all live in south Texas near the Mexico border from December-June and then return to Wisconsin every June so the parents can work at farms and the local Del Monte plant down the road from my house. He has his Texas school and his Wisconsin school and the two schools coordinate his education. He is two grade levels ahead in math and the schools are collaborating to keep him caught up with each other. He has two sets of friends: Texas friends and Wisconsin friends, in addition to the cousins, siblings, and friends who migrant between the two. He has been a migrant kid since he was two years old and it's the only life he's ever known.

So we had a party. These people aren't prospects for our church because they live in a Wisconsin community 15 miles away from our church 6 months of the year and the other 6 months they are in Texas. Unlike VBS or big church community events, we didn't have them fill out contact cards so we can count them in any numbers or encourage them to attend our church. We just simply spent time with them, fed them, ate with them, played with them, talked with them, and had a good time. 

Nothing in return.

I'm pretty confident that Jesus was there in our midst and that He had a good time too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Are Democrats Welcome at Church?

A couple of nights ago I signed off of Facebook until after the election. I love Facebook, so it wasn't an impulse decision. Facebook keeps me connected to friends from high school and college, extended family members, former neighbors, missionaries, and former clients, students, and youth ministry kids, as well as former church members and co-workers. We have lived in 5 states and traveled quite a bit, so FB keeps those friends and family scattered all over the world as close as my iPad. I love knowing the dailyness of people's lives, as well as the milestone events and occasions.

So, why am I taking a leave of absence from Facebook? Politics! I am so tired of the insensitive comments, cartoons, and links plastering my newsfeed. I have blocked and hidden some people who routinely post inflammatory and hurtful things, but it's not enough to keep the vitriol from creeping in on a daily basis. I'm sick of it! The biggest problem is the vicious things being posted are causing me to think ill of people I love and care about. I don't want my impressions of people to be tarnished because of their lack for forethought in posting something that they probably aren't thinking much or at all about how it affects other people, so I need to walk away. I find myself thinking not-so-nice thoughts about people I really like because I think what they posted was cruel, ignorant, or intolerant...even though I know that they themselves are loving and giving people.

This behavior is occurring on both sides of the political spectrum, with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. I don't want to give the impression that it's just Republicans at all because it's not. Democrats praise MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, the Democratic National Convention, and bash FOX news, the Republican National Convention, and all things Romney and Ryan. It is just the opposite with Republicans. There is a very obvious line in the sand. Quite frankly, as a southern transplant living up north it appears to me that the Civil War is still being fought. As the RNC was in session my southern friends were so inspired and motivated while most of my northern friends were mocking Romney and the parade of speakers, as well as Ryan's marathon time. The opposite happened this week with my northern friends praising speeches by Clinton and Deval Patrick, while my southern friends proclaimed they were nauseated by the proceedings and questioned how much money Michelle Obama's wardrobe costs. However, in this post I am singling out Republicans. Why? Because conservative Republicans compose the "religious right", the tea party, and let's be honest, the membership of almost all evangelical Christian churches, especially in the south. And even more particularly, WHITE evangelical churches.

All of this political posturing and ranting on Facebook (and yes, I shamefully admit that I have been guilty of it as well, although more in the past than recently) got me thinking...

Are Democrats even welcome at church?

One of my evangelical Christian friends posted this in the last couple of weeks

What if I was a Democrat neighbor of this person? Let's pretend we have a friendly neighbor relationship. We talk while doing yard work. Maybe we check each other's mail when we are out of town. Perhaps we've grilled out and eaten together once on Labor Day. I see this on my neighbor's Facebook page and then he invites me to church. This seemingly innocuous little captioned picture basically says that liberals aren't worth even existing. Basically, we could all get along fine if all liberals were dead. And you think I would want to go to your church? That one little posting has the potential to destroy a relationship.Other Christians I know, many of them in vocational ministry, have posted "jokes" about watching Obama drowning, as well as derogatory posts about Democrats as a whole.

Or some evangelical Republican Christians welcome liberal Democrats to their churches because they "know" that Democrats are lost, backslidden heathens. After all, Jesus even said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17), so Democrats make up a great mission field. However, this may come as quite a shock, but being a Democrat and being a evangelical Christian are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of liberal Democrats who love Jesus too. This causes the religious right to say, "Well, how can they love Jesus and not vote Republican? Democrats are FOR abortion. God hates abortion." As a moderate, I am pro-life, so I ask "How can Republicans be for capital punishment?" Since I'm somewhere muddling in the middle I "get" the questions that Republicans ask of Democrats and vice versa. I think we have to remember that while our faith has to (or should) influence our political opinions and voting record, there is not one "right" candidate. I haven't seen a dove descend from heaven and land on anyone in the political realm. Jesus did not live a sinless life as God incarnate to die a horrific death for political dogma. He did it because He unconditionally loves each of us. That includes Romney, Obama, Bush (both of them), Clinton (both of them), and yes...even political figures like bin Laden, Hitler, and Castro.

Here's very well written post by Eileen Newsome, who I am proud to say is a member of our church. A couple of things you should know about Eileen, aside from the fact that she is witty, gregarious, and loves Jesus. She is working on her master's degree in social work, she has worked for years at a crisis pregnancy center and she lives a life of service to others. She wrote:
It’s possible that you don’t know this about me – but I am incredibly passionate about abortion, euthanasia, and the surrounding issues. I work in the right-to-life movement in the summer putting on leadership camps which inspire many youth to get involved and be a part of the change we wish to see. We stress teaching them to think critically and debate effectively. Something we teach campers is to always ask the opponent – what if you’re wrong? I firmly believe in the importance of being asked this question. Recently, I read an article solely saying that we cannot truly believe something unless we’ve allowed the possibility to come into our minds that said belief is wrong.  
So in the midst of political uproar, I ponder the legitimacy of being an incredibly pro-life, future social worker, and voting republican. Ooo, what a sentence. 
Last night, I spent about three hours reading in one of my social welfare policy books and hearing all the craziness of the “religious right” … especially in regards to the tireless efforts to take away everyone’s reproductive rights, of course. So first, I find myself fuming at the textbook first for misrepresenting me. Then second, I find myself fuming with this textbook when I am reminded that it’s liberals who care about feeding the poor, educating children, taking in the homeless, and treating the ill.  While I do not find it to necessarily be the government’s responsibility to do any of the above, I have a little message for the religious right – Jesus said train up a child, feed the poor, house the homeless, care for the sick. And we. are freaking. not. Thus, the crisis calling for bleeding hearts to advocate that the government do these things. It’d be very nice if religious, republican voters would all take care of the poor, the children, the ill, the homeless, and we wouldn’t have this problem of whether or not that’s even the government’s role. But we do have this problem. This topic could be an entirely different post itself, but point being: please never wonder if I don’t consider these things or care about these things. I am just outraged as you are that “the top 1/10 of households account for more than 50% of all income” (Netting). 
So I question. I ask myself, am I wrong, the way I’m voting? Are the people who care about these issues right, about my issue? Are they right, about the right-to-life? What if I am wrong? What are the implications? Well, let’s say my vote decides the election. I vote for the R’s and social welfare policy takes hit. The poor remain poor. The hungry remain hungry. The ill may die. That’s not very pro-life.
Oh...she's also only 22 years old...and this eloquent. If only we could all be so humble, so thoughtful, and so willing to learn from each other. Eileen is so much wiser than most people twice her age.

As always, this post is getting very long.. The crux of the message is this:
  • Is the temporary glee we get from making flippant remarks about "the other party" worth it? 
  • Is announcing religious right agendas from the pulpit isolating the democrats and moderates in your congregation? 
  • Does every evangelical Christian adhere to your exact political ideology and if not, can you consider that maybe they are right, you are wrong, and/or that it's okay to disagree and we can still be in love with the same Jesus? 
  • If a liberal Democrat attended your church would he/she feel welcome or as the presidential election heats up, will he/she hear snide Obama jokes around coffee before Sunday school?

We should embrace our freedom in this country: our freedom to vote and our freedom to openly discuss political opinions. However, we need to remember that not everyone currently IN our churches and certainly not everyone outside of our churches holds to the same political ideology. By assuming that others do...or assuming if they don't then they are wrong...we are at risk of making political agendas more important than Godly agendas. Love God. Love others. That's what Jesus told us to do.

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