Sunday, March 27, 2011

400 Years (or hours?) of (blogging) Silence

Dear treasured readers (both of you!),

I'm sorry for the time of no new blog entries. Understandably, Lent is a very busy time for any pastor that oversees music in the church. If you live in our area and would like to learn more about what's going on at our church, please feel free to check out the Facebook Fan Page to the lower right of this entry, or click on "Sheboygan eFree" link above.

Lack of blogging does not mean a lack of thinking. I do hope to post more often in the future, with some less verbose posts, and this will certainly my one Google subscriber (hi, wifey!) happy.

In the meantime, rest assured that I am not suffering some bad case of writers block or going through some quandary of the purpose of blogging, going on a leave of absence from this blog, perhaps never to return.

I'm just busy, and, strangely enough, blogging (though sometimes strenuous) is something I miss doing.

Hopefully you'll hear from me soon.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Death of the Consumer Church, pt. 2: Creating an Epidemic of Grace

“Whatever happened to porches?” my friend said.

I was a leader in a church plant in an East Coast community with very urbanized and congested housing, and our particular geographical mission field struggles with poverty and crime. My friend was the church treasurer and longtime resident of the general area. And he was on to something.

“You see, with porches, you get to know your neighbors. The entire street becomes a close community, and you have the opportunity to share Christ. Nowadays, people just go in and out of their houses with barely anything to say. Whatever happened to porches?”

I understood what he meant. My middle and high school years were lived in a serene Iowa subdivision where porches were a dying breed. It seemed that the only neighbors of ours to bravely step outside their haven of privacy were parents to watch their kids play, and they became good friends with my family. Otherwise, my own street somewhat had a ghost-town feel. Waiting for the school bus or taking walks, I sometimes had to remind myself and have faith (without any evidence) that many of these houses did have people living in them.

It’s somewhat depressing that so little connection and community had taken place with so many houses. In the six years I lived there with my family, we barely knew that one of my school bus classmates had a mother who was struggling with alcoholism. Or that another home on our street was suffering a nasty divorce.  What else might have happened? It was hard to tell, because you could only know so much about some of our neighbors when you can only see what cars are parked outside the opaque garage, what decorations, etc. are outside the shuttered windows, what yard (or realty) signs are displayed, and what they use to mow their lawns.

One of the available amenities of the American Dream is privatization. Some people brag about their neighborhood’s firm security, even with gates. At the thought of the presence of a generous fruit basket at their doorway (as a neighborly gift), these people would say, “How could I take unpackaged and unmarked food from a stranger?” Shows what’s happened to neighborhood community. 

For me, it was a bit of a surprising contrast to one of my years of newlywed/grad-school life, when my wife and I rented in a lower-income apartment complex by an expressway in the northwest ‘burbs of Chicago, where balconies are stacked and aligned closer to each other than even the best porches. We knew would have had to be complete anti-social enigmas to not at least befriend our neighbors in such a context. The couple above us struggled with communication in their marriage. We once babysat the daughter of the couple below us while they took their other child to the emergency room. We offered and gave food, toiletries, and even money to other neighbors when they needed it. 

The question that keeps coming to my mind is: what would living near a Christian be like? What would they know about you, other than that you’re off to church for a few hours on a Sunday morning? How would they have the impression that you follow a God whose Greatest Commandment includes the charge to “love your neighbor as yourself”?

It feels a bit awkward to leave those questions unanswered. The basic truth is that Christians believe in life and joy, and ought to share it with their hurting neighborhood that needs it, sometimes badly, most times silently. From a Saran-wrapped plate of cookies to hosting a family while their house gets blasted with pesticides, you’d be amazed what can happen with an epidemic of grace.

I try to imagine in my neighbor’s mind, completing the following sentence:

“My neighbors are Christians, therefore . . .”

-they will dress up and rush off for a few hours every Sunday morning
-they will never give a complete sentence to a salesman or door-to-door Mormon
-they will help shovel the snow off others‘ driveways and bring them food when they’re ill
-they will notice and help nab vandals of my property in my absence
-they’re always give kind words and generous tips to the pizza delivery boys
-they’ll have the most morale and spirit at our otherwise-dreary block party

Fill in your own blank, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and questioning myself as to how biblical living might have to part ways with the American dream, how we can live selflessly, and, with Christ’s help, bring life to the full.