March 31, 2006

The Missional Church, part 1

By request, I thought I’d go ahead and sort of re-explain what we’re doing here in Melbourne. It’s not an easy question to answer, particularly because it’s such a shift in the traditional way of thinking that explaining it requires one to completely reevaluate their concept of God, of church, and of the very way they live. It took me two years to wrap my mind around it, and most of the time I still think that I’m not really there yet; but I believe in it – in how God is using it – enough to move this far around the world to try it.

So – the missional church.

The missional church is the continuation of a story, a story that has been unfolding for thousands of years. It started when God created the world, made people, and they rebelled. Then God chose a few of them to be his chosen group, and they rebelled. It got so bad that God had to come to earth personally (Jesus) and set up a new deal so that he could rectify his holiness with his compassion. It was bad enough that God had to die – but then he rose again. Then he created the church, his name for all the people that decided to get to know him. Over the next two thousand years, he did all sorts of things with this church, and it did all sorts of things with the world, good and bad.

Which brings us to now.

Today, lots of people seem to have different ideas about the way life works. In an age where it’s easier to communicate than it is to find a job, the problem is that nobody seems to: we talk a lot, and don’t say much. Consequently, people really want to feel close to one another; it’s like they’re relationally starved.

The missional church is simply the unfolding of the first-century church in modern (or, to label it, “postmodern”) culture. It lives the principles Jesus taught and seeks to mimic the heart of God in the culture of today. It is a relational church, and instead of trying to convert people, it chooses to inspire them to seek truth (the logic being, since God IS truth, if people seek Him, then they’ll find Him).

It is an experiential church in response to an experiential culture. No longer do people simply want straight answers, but rather, they wish to experience God for themselves. Instead of providing answers, the missional church tries to provoke questions (and questioning).

Other words to describe the missional church:

Actions before words
Social Justice
Outside the box
Values balance

So now, ask me questions. The best way to learn about something is to experience it for yourself, but frankly, my writing is meant to provoke those questions that lead you to experience. So: if I can answer any questions for you, please, fire away.

March 30, 2006

My Accent

I'm still getting used to being the one with an accent.
For example, I was just talking with Colin and said "why is money so hard?" ... to which he replied, "why, does it hurt?" I sat there for a second, trying to figure out the metaphor (he is a trained pastor, he must be smart like that, and let's face it, Jesus hardly ever answered the way you'd expect). Then he realized what I'd said, which he heard as "why is my knee so hard?" It confused us both.
The funniest example so far was yesterday, when we checked out the house that we've (mostly) decided that we're going to rent. It's in a little suburb called Coburg, and it's this cute little two bedroom unit with a yard, and vaulted ceiling in the kitchen. The real estate agent came up and let us in and was guiding us around the place, showing off the features. As we were in the kitchen, he asked us, "so, your accent is what, Canadian?"
Troy, stop laughing.
I replied that no, we're Americans from New York, half expecting to have to explain that it's 250 miles northwest of NYC (fortunately I didn't have to, as I have so many other times since we arrived). But that's what I've heard is the way they do things with North American visitors - they first ask if you're Canadian, because Americans don't care if they're called Canadian, but Canadians get upset to be called American, and then tell the Australian "how would you like to be called a Kiwi?" A kiwi is a person from New Zealand, apparently Australia's equivalent of America to Canada.
It's amusing, being a foreigner. I can see why the missionaries I've met in the past seem to be good communicators: they've learned that it's ok to laugh at themselves, because really, nobody can actually understand what they're saying unless they try to speak to the language - and especially to the accent - of the individual, a language which changes from person to person, even if it's only slightly. It's rather difficult, but fun at the same time.

March 25, 2006

No Worries

Current Time: 1:11pm 3/26/2006, GMT+10
Current Temperature: 30C
That's right, it's 90 freakin' degrees farenheit outside. I've been living in below-freezing temperatures for months, and now, this pasty, somewhat lumpy New Yorker has moved into paradise.
I'm greatly enjoying the time I've had here so far, and looking forward to the year we have planned: food, friends, Jesus. [for those of you that asked me to explain what I'm doing here, don't worry, I'll get to it soon, but it's a complicated post to write, so give me a little time]. My first impressions of this place aside, I can tell that I'm going to learn and grow quite a bit while we're here.
As an American, I've grown up in a culture that doesn't tend to value failure, disappointment, easing off the throttle, and generally speaking, we Americans don't much get over ourselves too easily. American culture is steeped in a drive to succeed, no matter the cost, and failure is not an option. And we hate to admit we're wrong. Ever. Unforunately, this is neither realistic nor healthy.
What I'm saying is that, for all our talk about it, Americans are not generally inclined towards freedom. American Christians are even worse: we live for the rules, always hesitating over any decision to see if it might compromise our self-declared holiness. The result is that we often ignore the relationships around us. Our self-imposed rules and regulations (most of which aren't actually in scripture) are the antithesis of freedom.

What I'm not saying is that freedom is that we are allowed to do anything and everything.
I love this culture because they do not look towards God and ask "what can or can't I do?" They look towards God and ask "who can I know today?" It's not about rules; it's about life. It's not a selfish desire to feel good about themselves and behave well, it's about the people around them and building relationships.
I have a lot to learn from these fine people. I've always been a bit of a poster-child. I did all the right things, I said all the right things (and more importantly, never said the wrong things), and yet somehow still felt empty. The longer I'm here, the more I realize that it's about my own desire to be perfect - and how I have to get over myself (and in the process, learn to laugh at myself). This place is going to be perfect for that.

March 23, 2006

Knee Deep in Truth

We rode the tram today into Melbourne and listened to a bad trumpet player.

To back up, we spent 25+ hours on various aircraft, to arrive safely in the Melbourne Airport two days ago. Lots of security checks and one missing suitcase wheel later, Colin found us in the welcome area and we went to our new home in Blackburn. It's been fantastic already, after two days here, I've seen so much. The commonwealth games are on here, sort of an Olympics for the countries that used to be British, and with them come a diverse body of interesting characters. The trumpet player asked for money afterwards. We hope he uses it to get lessons.

But it's the beauty of this city - anything goes. You insult them ot their faces and they laugh at you and insult you right back, and then laugh again. They're a friendly people, and after you get past the part where, if they like you, they make fun of you constantly, you realize what a wonderful people Australians are.

And they drink a lot of tea. Except Colin. He drinks lattes.

We've been going over lots of the essentials since we got here, things like buying cell phones (with the no money we have yet, still waiting on our first paycheck), learning how to use the tram/train/bus system, opening a checking account, that sort of thing. But in the midst of it all, we get to dream. How we get to get rid of the box church has been in and start over with Jesus' words and the community of people He's given us, and just to live.

It's freedom.

I wish you all could be here to see this place, experience the energy of this city, see the people we see. They're beautiful, with such potential, such dreams, such passion. One guy, a sports announcer for the Commonwealth Games, really embodies this for me. The sport: Lawn Bowling. I didn't know you could get excited about Bocce, but it turns out that you can. His passion for every sport he comments on is unreal, screaming in excitement over every single athlete, dying with every missed ball, failed attempt; living the emotions with the athletes, making them vocal for the audience. It's fantastic.

March 15, 2006

Nothing to do with Me

Well, I'd like to say "patience payed (paid?) off" but that would insinuate that it had something to do with me.
That's right. We have our visas.
Not only that, we also have our plane tickets for Monday, May 20. We fly out at 4:45ish in the afternoon, to arrive in Melbourne on the 22nd at 11amish. Not "eleven-amish", but "eleven-am-ish". We're not quakers.
But I digress.
God is so good, and I'm such a moron for having stressed out the way I did. I mean, it's "understandable" that I'd be stressed out over a completely uncertain future, but sometimes I just want to say "God, ok, it's cool and all, but you're showing off again." One - ONE - day after I find out that I may never get to Australia, I get our visas in my email inbox. It's like God's saying "ok, but on MY time, not yours."
Message received.
Anyway, I thought everyone out there should know that He's done it again, and we're going to be leaveing now, for sure. Please keep praying for us, as we still have one or two loose ends to tie up (including that ticket for the inspection on my car, which I'm not sure how to handle). But we're going. And I can't wait.

March 12, 2006


This day’s been crazy, but everything’s happened on schedule
From the rain and the cold to the drink that I spilled on my shirt
Cause You knew how You’d save me before I fell dead in the garden
You knew this day long before You made me out of dirt, and
You know the plans that You have for me
And you can’t plan the ends and not plan the means
And so I suppose I just need some peace
Just to get me to sleep …
[Derek Webb]

It's been a really long day. Really long. We were up late last night (till 3am or something crazy) packing, getting things together, and boxing things up so that today we could move near all of our worldly posessions to my grandparents' basement for storage while we were in Australia. So we did - we spent a good four or five hours today moving furnature, boxes, more boxes, and finally, more boxes. Sarah and Dan were a huge help, each moving more than Liz and I combined.
So I left for home quite tired. On our way, what should happen than we get pulled over. I wasn't speeding, but somehow the guy figured out that I haven't had my car inspected yet (on my to-do list, but I've had a lot on my mind lately). So after that, I'm pretty upset. I get home to call the Australian embassy, and nobody picked up the phone. For an hour. I still haven't talked with them.
And so I had to cancel our plane tickets. Because of the funky nature of frequent flyer miles, I don't get charged any kind of fee, but I'm also at the mercy of US Air for availability of seats.
There aren't any until May.
I can't even begin to tell you how frustrated I am right now. I want to be sleeping tonight knowing I'll be leaving tomorrow, and instead I'm stuck in a strange bed wondering if I'll ever get to go at all. I don't know what to do, I don't know how to act, but I know I want to scream at the top of my lungs and run until my sides give out (which for me is about half a mile, but you get the drift).
The worst part is that when anybody sees me or Liz, the only thing they associate with us is "they're leaving for Australia" and so, naturally, that's all they talk about, and at this point, I just want some kind of life back, where people care about more than just if I'm going somewhere else or not. Inevitably, when they find we're not leaving, or we don't have our visas, or whatever, they insist on the "well, God's timing is best" line that's so engrained in Christians these days.
Thank you. I know.
I know God's timing is perfect. Really, I do. But it's quite another thing to feel like I knew what God was telling me to do and then find out that I hadn't quite heard Him right. I screwed up. And every time someone says that, it's a painful reminder.
And yet, I know that it's what I have to remember, that it's not about me and what I want, but it's about something bigger. God loves me, and He loves everyone else too - and maybe keeping me here is about someone else and I should just deal because it's not about me.
But it doesn't make it any easier.

My faith is like shifting sand, changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand, so I stand on Grace

[Caedmon's Call]

Blessed be Your name with the sun shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be; blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering; blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your glorious name

[Matt Redman]

March 3, 2006

Old Friends

It's the times of life like these that make me really appreciate the value of friends. For the past eight months or so, I've been mostly a home-body. This is of course, not entirely accurate, given my attempts at work (three different, mostly meaningless jobs that I had once I finished school), but when I stop to think about it, a lot of my time in the last eight or nine months has been spent in our little basement apartment.
It's amazing what a lot of time alone in a little cave will do to a guy. When I wasn't writing brass parts for my worship team or reading some book on emergent theology ... or procrastinating by playing a computer game or reading or something ... I had to find stuff to do. Not only that, but since I moved to Canandaigua, most of my friends have now been an hour or more away. There are a few exceptions (for a big freakin' examle, my wife, because believe it or not, she really is my best friend), but for the most part, it has taken a lot of effort for me to socialize. Which is hard: I'm a people person.
On top of all this, I had to deal with the fact that pretty much everyone assumed I was leaving for Australia momentarily. At our training, we learned that this can do funny things to friendships; almost like people forget you're still around because they've already dismissed you in their minds. Not intentionally, but to them, you're already gone and not available to grab coffee anymore.
All this to say that I've hardly talked to anyone for the last eight months that wasn't because of a meeting at church or a weekend service or something formal and organized.
But it's been nice, in the last few weeks I've reconnected with a few friends that I haven't been able to see or talk to very often at all. An old friend from college recently reconnected with me, all the way from Vancouver. It's been nice to just talk, connect over what we've missed in each other's lives for two years. Last weekend I got to drive out to Ohio to visit one of my closest guy friends, also from college, who's getting married while I'm gone. We got to talk for pretty much two days straight (minus the time required to ingest pizza or whatever).
And I have a new perspective: friends are one of the most valuable things God has given us on this earth. Having spent eight months in semi-solitude, I can say now that those friends mean more to me now than they did before. Having spent time with Rob for a weekend, doing dinner next week with Troy, and all the other little get-togethers I have planned until we leave (on the 13th, if anyone didn't know that), I can say that my life is a little more full, complete, together than it was a month ago. So to my friends, and you know who you are, I love you as a brother. Thank you for the friendship I've been priviledged to be a part of. I'll miss you while I'm gone. But I'll be back soon, and we'll have to do coffee.