Sunday, November 8, 2009

Affirmation of Faith

In church this morning, we used a new Affirmation of Faith from the Iona Abbey Worship Book:

We are not alone; we live in God's world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God's presence, to live with respect in creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our Judge and our Hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.

As an old professor of mine used to say, I'd like to unpack this. The following is my stream of consciousness; please share your thoughts.

We are not alone; we live in God's world.
We believe that everything on heaven and earth was God's and is God's - the people, the plants, the things, the thoughts and ideas. And we're not alone! What an enormous relief! I'll get to more on that later.

We believe in God:
-who has created and is creating,
Our God didn't call us into being and then abandon us. Creation is ongoing! Look around!
-who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
God lived with us, suffered with us, loved with us. We got Him as proof that God doesn't want us to be alone.
--to reconcile and make new,
We are so flawed, us people, even though we try not to be. Jesus is God's way of saying, "It's okay - I'll make it better."
-who works in us and others by the Spirit.
God gave us the Holy Spirit; it lives in us so we're never alone (see a theme here?) AND we get to "be God" to other people and things.

We trust in God.
God is good, and even in the good world God made, bad things happen. We know that God loves us and we trust that God will always be with us and will always help us. Always.

We are called to be the Church:
God created us to work together to do God's will. The Church (with a big C) means all of us - every faith, every race, every orientation, every ability, every gender.
-to celebrate God's presence,
We get to LIVE in the LIGHT of God's creation. What a gift! We eat and drink and play and make joyful noises because we CAN!
-to live with respect in creation,
God created (and is creating!) all things. We are blessed to be part of this dance, and we show our gratitude through our respect of each other, the earth, and everything on it.
-to love and serve others,
We love God as God loves us, and we show God that love by loving each other and taking care of each other.
-to seek justice and resist evil,
We are richly blessed, and we therefore have a responsibility to come to the aid of those who are less fortunate. Sometimes that means fighting the good fight, and sometimes that just means enduring alongside our brothers and sisters. As Nowen wrote, "Being present to each other is what really matters."
-to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our Judge and our Hope.
There is so much here I can hardly write about it. This is our faith.

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
We are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone. Ever. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Say it again: Thanks be to God!

In today's episode of This American Life, Ira Glass (the host) spoke with author Jim Henderson, "who argues that evangelicals should follow Jesus' example not through conversion, but by simply befriending non-believers." (Those were TAL's words.) Frankly, the interview made me uncomfortable. Glass is a self-described "staunch atheist" and it was clear he was displeased with Henderson's tactics, however innocuous they may be. I listened to the Podcast again and transcribed part of the interview. Bear with me; they talked a lot.

IG: So walk me through what it is that you're advocating. You have this thing called Doable Evangelism that actually normal people can do without feeling weird about it. So give me the steps of it - like, what do I do if I'm going to do it?

JH: Doable Evangelism does not concern self with converting people. It's not about sales, it's about connecting. … There's 3 spiritual practices for connecting with people. Number 1, notice people. You know, practice the art of noticing. ... Sit in the mall and watch people go by, and ask yourself, I wonder what's going on with that person. Just reflect. The second one is pray for people behind their backs. You know, Christians like to pray for people. And we believe prayer matters. So pray for them behind their backs; … it's not gonna hurt them, it's not gonna hurt you - maybe something good will happen. Who knows? The third thing is go to someone and actually listen. You say something like ‘How are you?’ And then you listen. And the person will be amazed when you don't interrupt them with your own story of How You Are Not Doing Yourself.

IG: So you would send people out, you'd say, I want you to listen to people, I want you to notice people, and then...does this work? In bringing people to Jesus? Or is that just like the first step?

JH: That's the question of course Christians ask us. They want to know about numbers and results. And, um...

IG: But I feel like that's a fair question because you're saying, like, this is a kind of doable evangelism ... Ah, so, where's the part where they come to Jesus?

JH: You have to keep in mind: our mission, our goal is not to get converts. Our goal is to get Christians out connecting with non-Christians. Our goal is to get Christians learning how not to be jerks. Our goal is to help Christians learn to be normal. (I laughed out loud at this.) And what happens over a period of time is they start befriending people … and yes, naturally, just like if you were interested in something and I knew you for some length of time, the likelihood of me going to the school that you're recommending, buying the car you recommended increases because we're in proximity to each other. ... My saying is "When people like each other, the rules change."

IG: Is it possible that your tactic just leads to nothing? Like, I think about my own circle of friends, and for whatever reasons now, I have a bunch of friends - my wife and I have a bunch of friends - who are very devout religious people. And we hang out with them, and we share our lives with them...but they are no influence at all in pulling us towards Christianity, away from our STAUNCH atheism (this is where I started to get uncomfortable) - and vice versa.

JH: That would be what my ideological enemies within evangelicalism would accuse me of: that this would lead to nothing. And so, the alternative is for me then to...imagine your social circle, what are your alternatives then? To try and persuade each other. I have this one chance of trying to get Ira Glass saved, so here I go. And then what happens as a result of that, typically, is that's the end of our relationship. And we go our separate ways. Now I have zero influence in your life, and I'm not gonna be able to be influenced by you as well. (I liked his response so far.)

IG: When you describe it - and I'm not saying this to be critical, I'm just observing - what you're replacing Bait & Switch with is all bait. And then there's no switch at all. Obviously you're assuming that at some point, like, something will happen and maybe it'll be good...

JH: That doesn't offend me in the least - I kind of like that 'All bait, no switch.' I admit, I could be wrong, maybe I'm a little delusional, whatever, but this is one that I prefer over the alternatives. And I'm happy with that. Again, our goal is to get Christians engaged in the process. We're not concerned about results. The average amount of time it takes to be a Christian before you actually make a decision is about 4 years. So I'm much more concerned about the starting line of faith. Why don't we try and get them across the starting line instead of the finish line?

I feel like Henderson missed the ball here. He didn't screw it up, but there's so much more he could have said. Like, Well, Ira, the foundation of our faith is that God creates wonder out of such ordinary things. We see God's transforming power everywhere - in sunshine, in President Obama's fervent quest to make things right in this country, in the combustion engine - and we can't help but "assume" something will happen and it'll be good. Our job as Jesus' disciples is to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8); the rest of it - the "conversion," if you must be so consumed with the concept, is in God's hands. As Christians, we walk through life with a certain peace in knowing that we are unconditionally loved. Of course we still experience stress and sadness and tragedy, but we know that God is with us in the trenches. Sometimes we feel God's presence in other people. Even if you're an atheist, Ira, I want to be that presence for you, that certain peace in your life.