Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Covenant Renewal

Over the years I have found John Wesley's Covenant Renewal Service meaningful and rewarding. Though I have not always been faithful to its practice, I have discovered the material challenging in terms of vocation and identity as a pastor and disciple. We certainly cannot separate vocation and identity, of course, but we can prepare to take seriously the need to commit ourselves to God, reflecting on our calling as Jesus' followers. The Renewal Service offers the opportunity for us to renew our commitment to Christ and to pray together the Covenant Prayer:

Let me be your servant, O Christ, under your command.
I will no longer be my own.
I will give up myself to your will in all things.

Lord, make me what you will.
I put myself fully into your hands:
put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart give it all to your please and disposal.

O mighty God, the Lord Omnipotent, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you have now become my Covenant Friend.
And I, through your infinte grace, have become your covenant servant.
So be it.
And let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven.

There is, of course, more to the whole Covenant Service. Over the years the service has gone through multiple changes. However, the above Prayer is indicative of what is at stake. And I can only pray that more clergy and laity would truly pray this prayer with all their hearts, souls, and minds, allowing the Spirit to cleanse and convict within, that our common practice as Christians would visibly reflect the glory and love God in the world.

So be it.

Andy Kinsey

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Mystery of Holy Night

It is no secret that I admire the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From college to seminary into the parish, I have kept Bonhoeffer's books nearby. I have been fortunate to study Bonhoeffer's theology in Germany and to take a Bonhoeffer Tour, traveling to all the major sights associated with his life and death. To say the least, I am humbled by what have read and seen.

Bonhoeffer's life was certainly complex, and the volumes about his life too numerous to mention. But on this Christmas Eve I thought I would share a small piece that has meant a great deal to me over the years: "The Moment of Fulfillment."*

Given the importance of children, I cannot help but reflect on Bonhoeffer's words about what God has done in the Christ Child on this Holy Night:

How do we wish to meet this child?

Have our hands become to hard and proud from daily work to fold themselves in adoration at the sight of this child?

Do we carry our head, which has had to think so many heavy thoughts and to solve so many problems, too high for us to bow to it humbly before the wonder of this child?

Can we one more time forget entirely all our strivings, accomplishments, and importance, to join the shepherds and the sages from the East and offer childlike adoration to the divine child in the manger?

To take, like old Simeon, this child in our arms and instantly acknowledge with gratitude the fulfillment of our entire life?

It is truly a strange sight when a strong, proud man bends his knee before this child, when with a simple heart he finds and reveres in him his Savior.

And our old, clever, experienced, self-assured world must no doubt shake its head, or perhaps even laugh with contempt, when it hears the cry of salvation from believing Christians: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."

As I reflect on the children I have seen in Africa and Haiti, in Mexico and Europe, in Indiana and elsewhere, I am reminded of the Christ Child, and I am reminded of what Bonhoeffer wrote about the importance of children for theology. At the end of Act and Being, Bonhoeffer links Incarnation and hope, writing how "we all are children of the future"; "here in faith becoming a reality, there in vision perfected, this is the new creation of the new man of the future, who no longer looks back on himself but only away from himself to the revelation of God, to Christ; the man who is born out of the narrowness of the world into the breadth of Heaven, who becomes what he was or, it may be, never was: a creature of God - a child" (p. 184).**

On this Holy Night may we all be born out of our own narrowness and see how we are children of God and how we all may worship the Child of God among us.

Andy Kinsey

*The Mystery of Holy Night, Edited by Manfred Weber; Translated by Peter Heinegg (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), p. 30.

**Act and Being, Introduction by Ernst Wolf; Translated by Bernard Noble (New York: Octagon Books, 1961), p. 184.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Missional and Missionary

I have just picked up a new book entitled "Introducing the "Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Become One." Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren are the authors. Thus far, I have liked what I have read. In fact, after returning from Africa I have been thinking more about missions, missionaries, and missional matters. As I have shared with others, I have gotten the missions "bug" bad!

Without going into a great deal of hairsplitting over missionary and missional aspects of ministry, I would like to think that there is a deep connection between those churches that are seeking to become more missional and those that have a strong link to supporting or sending out missionaries, whether locally or internationally. The missional church cannot help but to have significant ties to missionaries overseas, for example. Likewise, missionaries overseas are likely to have support from vital missional communities. The two go hand-in-hand.

I make this point to share that in the past, at least in my experience, the missionary supporting congregation could easily fall into the rut (and it still can) of thinking that missions is something others do "over there." While such support is critical, as I have learned, it can too readily lead, ironically, to a kind of disconnect from mission, that is, to a kind outsourcing. I don't think this insight is new, but I would like to think there is truth to it. It is another aspect of a Christendom consciousness. (I am also wondering how this dynamic is related to the drop in the number of missionaries the church sends out. That's a topic for another day.)

On the other hand, the whole thrust of the missional congregation is to foster the kind of imagination and commitment to discerning the movement of God's Spirit in the world and to join that Spirit wherever it may lead, whether "here" or "there." The missional church will find ways of assisting missionaries, to be sure, but it will also seek to discover ways of being in mission with missionaries, regardless the circumstances. It will do so because it realizes that the purpose is to carry out God's mission. Moreover, it will realize that God's mission is so much larger than the church can fathom. The key, then, is to invite others to imagine what God's mission is. In short, as Roxburgh and Boren state, the key is to cultivate an "alternative imagination" to the "attractional model of ministry" that has dominated mainline and evangelical Protestantism for so long
(p. 20). Or, as they go on to argue quite persuasively in the following paragraph it is to recognize that "God is up to something in the world that is bigger than the church even though the church is called to be sign, witness, and foretaste of God's purposes in the world. The Spirit is calling the church on a journey outside of itself and its internal focus. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, summarizes this imagination in this way: "It is not the church of God that has a mission. It's the God of mission that has a church." He is saying that God is at work in the world to redeem creation, and God invites us to participate in this mission. God is not interested in getting more and more people into the institution of the church. Instead, the church is to be God's hands and feet in accomplishing God's mission. This imagination turns most of our church practices on their head. It invites us to toward our neighborhoods and communities, listening first to what is happening among people and learning to ask different questions about what God is up to in the neighborhood. Rather than the primary question being, "How do we attract people to what we are doing?" it becomes, "What is God up to in this neighborhood?" and "What are the ways we need to change in order to engage the people in our community who no longer consider church a part of their lives?" This is what the missional imagination is all about" (p. 20).

I still have many questions about the connection between missional and missionary. Perhaps they may seem pedantic, but they persist. For if I understand what Roxburgh and Boren are saying there are ways we can engage in the kind of imaginative process they encourage; that is, there are ways we can participate in the kind of process that asks the question, "What is God up to?" Roxburgh and Boren are not asking anything new here; they are asking what we have failed to ask for so long: "What is God doing in the world?"

As we look back to see how God has lead us to this point, it is hard to imagine any missionary or pastor or church failing to ask this important question. But then again it seems we haven't been to awake to the reality that we are not in Kansas anymore! The mission is always closer than we think.

Andy Kinsey

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Never Forgotten

The following post will appear on December 12th in The Daily Journal. It is adapted from a previous post.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that "being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, and forgotten is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. Loneliness is the most terrible poverty."

A few weeks ago I realized how true Mother Teresa's statement was when I and three others from Grace United Methodist Church went to the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania. Our experience was part of a larger mission, specifically to the Joy in the Harvest mission in Kigoma. As we spoke to persons in the camp, we learned a great deal about the importance of remembering others and of simply showing up to care.

Approximately 61,000 persons live in the camp. Most come from nearby Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. Fortunately, with political strife ending, many will be able to leave and return home. Most, however, have lost their livelihoods, including their homes. What comes next is uncertain. Ironically, life in the camp, while difficult, has provided a measure of security.

Our visit to the small United Methodist church in Nyarugusu was eye-opening. The members of the mud-brick church practiced what could only be described as "radical hospitality." The lively worship and visible demonstrations of kindness were truly inspirational. God's empowering grace was tangible and real.

Most inspirational, however, was the letter the pastor read stating how grateful the church was that we had simply come to the camp: "You didn't forget us. Thank you!"

It was a humbling moment. After all, the four of us from Franklin had traveled to Tanzania to do something. We went to accomplish a particular task.

God, however, had other plans! Visiting those who had been forgotten made us remember what was truly important: There is power in remembering who God remembers. There is power in remembering the most vulnerable of God's children. We went to Tanzania with one set of expectations. God had another set!

The experience was life-changing. I say it was life-changing because all too often we can forget how God surprises us by opening doors we may least expect. Too many times we can suffer from amnesia, forgetting what we need to do, or forgetting what is important. I know in my life I can forget where I placed the keys, or worse, forget to pick up the kids! The list is endless.

In a couple weeks many will pause to celebrate Christmas, the day of Christ's birth, the day a refugee family couldn't find shelter in the inn. I think it is safe to say that, at the time, most folks didn't know what had occurred; yes, a few shepherds showed up, and angels sang in glory, but otherwise the night was uneventful. Who would remember such a birth?

Our visit to the Nyarugusu Camp revealed a heart-changing truth: If it seems the world forgets you, take heart; God won't! In fact, God never forgets. No matter how often we forget God or each other, God never forgets us.

It has taken me a while to believe this, but it is true: Forgetting cannot be an option, especially on a continent where millions have perished. God doesn't divide the world between children "there" and "here." Either we all are God's children or we are not. We remember because God does.

Looking back on this experience, I can now understand why the refugees in Nyarugusu welcomed us so generously. Despite physical hunger, there was a deeper hunger: "You cared enough to come." This was the real message they shared. It was also what we needed to hear. It still is, especially now. May we never forget!

I look forward to receiving your comments.

Pastor Andy

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Challenge for Africa

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a chance to share about our mission trip to Tanzania with loved-ones and friends. It was good to let others know about the church's mission there and to reflect on Africa's situation in terms of the future, that is, in terms of political and ecomonic challenges and leadership. The challenges are daunting and severe, to be sure, but the opportunities are endless. Trying to make sense of this continent requires a great deal of wisdom.

One of the ways I have been trying to make sense of our experience in Tanzania is to read Wangari Maathai's amazing book The Challenge for Africa. Wangari Maathai is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement. In her book, she presents a different vision of Africa that brings to the surface the complexities and possibilites for change and improvement. She offers the kind of "hardheaded hope" and "realistic options" many are seeking on different levels of engagement, while also providing a necessary critique of what Africans can and must do for themselves, stressing the importance of responsibility and accountability along the way. Throughout, she is passionate about Africa's situation.

An example of what Maathai writes is worth noting. Near the beginning she writes how Africans need to break out of the "culture of dependency" that has arisen over the decades and centuries which has resulted "in too many Africans waiting for outside help instead of unleashing their energies and capabilities and taking actions today that will improve their lives in the future(p. 23). She goes on to say how "only Africans can resolve to provide leadership that is responsible, accountable, and incorruptible. It is they who must embrace their cultural diversity, restore their sense of self-worth, and use both to create thriving nations, regions, and the continent itself. It is they who must begin the revolution in ethics that puts community before individualism, public good before private greed, and commitment to service before cynicism and despair" (p. 23).

These challenges, of course, are not simply for Africa but for the world as a whole. In fact, what Maathai writes applies to families and communities as well: how can we all help to nuture the kind of healthy relationships that will provide for human flourishing and well-being? How can we re-imagine ways of relating to the environment that will work to sustain the precious balance of nature? How can we treat others with dignity and respect? These are good, basic questions.

I like what Maathai writes. She has lifted up issues of importance that affect the lives of millions. What I appreciate is her honesty: she writes with clarity of intention, but also with ease and elegance. And yet, she doesn't back away from the hard issues. For example, I appreciate how she addresses the nitty-gritty issue of leadership. One of the major tragedies of postcolonial Africa is that the African peoples have trusted their leaders, but only a few of those leaders have honored that trust (p. 25). It's a story becoming all too common in church and society, not simply in Africa. Getting to the crux of the matter will take courage and commitment as well as patience and perseverance. It won't happen overnight. Maathai encourages us to get beyond simple solutions and slogans.

In many ways, Maathai writes a parable about Africa: facing overwhelming odds, Africa is still a land of hope. There are still ways to reverse the despair. In fact, Maathai points out, Africa can change. And yet, Africa cannot travel down the road of victimhood as in the past. Rather, it must engage in the kind of solution-making that begins and sustains a conversation and looks for ways of making a difference, that is, the kind of solution-making in which we all need to share.

I know I am glad I have found a conversation partner to make sense of what I just experienced. I am glad I have found Maathai's book.

Pastor Andy

Ps: Please leave comments. I have gotten several, so it apparently is working. Thanks.