Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:1-11]
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Forgive me my absence yesterday, Gentle Reader. Combination of both work and being a bit under the weather conspired, along with the nature of the day’s travels. The Lord did not identify the “stuff” to be disposed of in so clear a fashion as He had thus far. Not that there ISN’T something to be released, but rather that it’s not so simple a matter as “reputation” or a spider or scorpion. It wasn’t really until this morning that I could “identify” the encumbrance.
Having identified and disposed of my scorpion and spider, Don Merritt did a wonderful article on this same topic in The Nature of Debate. A comment to that article included the following words by fairyneedle:
Christians have become so afraid of losing their kids to the culture, that they don’t even see that that very mentality is making Christianity seem weak!! I know there is a proper defense of the faith since the Bible speaks of it, but debating political issues or retrying the Scopes monkey trial over and over again is not it! The Church will prevail over the gates of hell and greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world. I personally believe that none of this has anything to do with the Gospel but rather that the American church world bought into the mentality of empire long ago.
Now, the issue is not whether I agree or disagree with this position. (That would simply be to enter into another debate.) What was meaningful to me was something very deep that clicked in my soul at the underlined phrase. I realized that for years I have been part of a movement… a not-so-popular movement… an underground resistance movement… in opposition to what I now call the Imperial Church.
Let me be very clear here. I LOVE the Church! I love the Body of Christ. I love the Bride of Christ. I love a body of believers who gather to encourage one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). I have been blessed, across my life, to worship and to serve on staff of such churches. These are places, “houses of God”, where the mission and passion is to lift up Christ in every way He sees fit, and greet, feed, and heal people with His words and touch, in His name. These are love-driven places, ministry priorities are dictated by ministry to the needs of both congregation and community, and where grace raises and equips “ministers” from among the people, more than “administering programs” of the management, into which the “people” will fit like neat cogs in their ecclesiastic machine.
Sheep… in such flocks and sheepfolds… THRIVE. They grow, they dance, they bleat and leap and laugh with the very JOY of service and sainthood. Imagine, if you will, a flock of sheep constantly moving upstream towards a mountaintop. Imagine them surrounded by cool water of a gorgeous river on their left, and fabulous glades of delicious grass on their right. See them bounding and prancing along upstream, with a shepherd laughing as they walk among them. Sometimes they nuzzle that shepherd. Sometimes the shepherd pets one or another, with no reason but love for flock. Now… imagine THIS strange thing… sometimes you see the shepherd become a sheep… and you see sheep become shepherds. And this vibrant dance, this joyful adventure, always moving towards the Source of the River. I have known, and been part of such flocks… known and been one of those “mutable” shepherds. Yes.
But now, as you imagine this in your mind’s eye, imagine the camera panning back to more of a “wide shot panoramic view”, and see that between you and your point of view you see an endless row of “other flocks”. You see before you a number of other flocks all walking in circles, as if circling a running track around a drinking pond. Their heads hang down, they follow nose-to-tail. There is no dancing, no singing, no bounding… the shepherd “herds them” rather than dances with them… and they never EVER break out of their lines. They don’t dare. The shepherd and the sheepdogs will hurt them if they do. Not to mention the other sheep.
Many years ago, the Lord showed me this. I came to understand that churches differ, pastors and shepherds differ. And I was to understand that to which I was called. So I have sought to serve Him.
But just now He has added a new element to this picture. I see one small oval flock, overrunning and trying to absorb another. Sheepdogs wander far and wide seeking sheep, not for their care and protection, but simply to grow the flock’s numbers, and to gain the yield of spring lambs. Sheep are kept in their boundaries and in line by fear. Fear of the shepherd, fear of the sheepdogs, and fear of the monsters they are told about in the wilderness.
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What is wrong with this picture overall? Is it the mood of the sheep? Is it the “management” of the shepherd? Is it the trajectory of the flock’s path? Clearly grace, is present with the first flock, and not nearly so apparent with the second. So what is the difference? Well, it’s easy to “point at the management” with an accusing finger, and that has been my struggle over years. And there’s truth to that, no denying it.
But I’m coming to see in a new way… it’s not the “management” that is the “cause” or the “root” of the situation. The pastoral outlook is also “fruit”, just like the attitude and posture of the sheep, and the aimless circling. The issue is “navigation”, “destination” and “focus”.
The First Flock is focused on a real destination… the Source. They are moving forward, scattering across the face of the earth, being fruitful and multiplying. They aren’t HUNTING, they’re MULTIPLYING and there’s a world of difference between the two. Multiplication and fruitfulness results from love, acceptance, intimacy of heart, and creativity. Only God and grace can bring about multiplication by fruitfulness, where people come as attracted by light, love and joy… to find safety, encouragement, and LIFE. How does this come about? They look BEYOND THEMSELVES, even beyond their human shepherds… they seek, and pursue, the Source. They seek and build the Kingdom itself, as His joyful children.
But the Circling Flock can realize this doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no new life, no joy, no grace, no growth. They can turn predatory, focus on themselves, and determine that their imperative is to grow… by consuming others if necessary. God says “grow”. God says “grow is good… big is good… small is bad”. (Where this idea comes from, frankly, I’m not sure… but its a powerful belief system in church management). God says, “if you do right, if you manage right, if you administer right… YOU TOO can have a MEGACHURCH!” And as we all know, bigger, better, badder is where it’s at! Where is the focus of this flock? On themselves, on their pastor, on their finance committee, on their programs, and on their campaigns. “Just keep them dollars rollin’, folks!” And when we’re big, bad, shiny, and rich… we’ll know God has BLESSED US as a church!
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Here is the tension I’ve felt for a whole career. And it is not quite right. It is ALMOST right, but not quite. Until I released my spider and scorpion I couldn’t SEE clearly enough to find the flaw in my thinking. My spider and scorpion had to be let go, before I could let go of today’s encumbrance.
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What is that? What is the item the Lord points to for me to drop along our wayside? It’s a neon, glow-in-the-dark poster. A “vintage” 1960’s psychedelic poster, memorializing the face and mantra of an icon of the times, Dr. Timothy Leary. The saying expressed was his oft-quoted motto: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
Now, please understand, I didn’t even KNOW this was in my pack. Am I a “child of the 60’s”? Well, *cough*, to be truthful, yes… yes, I am. But I wasn’t exactly a “hippie” either. I was a bit of an “overachiever” type, scholastically, well-behaved, yadda yadda. So at first, this poster confused me as the Lord and I looked at it.
But as I looked at it, the Lord held up a model in His hand, and smiled at me. The model was a bit less “vintage” than my poster… but still a symbol from an earlier time. It was a plastic model of a Borg ship. You may, or may not, know who the Borg are. They were an adversarial race on Star Trek: The Next Generation. They were a hive-mind culture of predatory nature, dedicated to absorbing technology whenever and wherever it was found. Rather the extreme of Deus ex Machina.
The Lord didn’t accuse at all, in fact He did not speak. But just standing there, looking at this model… the Borg mottos: “Resistance if futile. You will be assimilated,” echoed in my mind. I realized that across the years, this was to a large extent, how I can come to see the “Imperial Church”. Impersonal, bureaucratic, mechanical, predatory, determined to assimilate all competition, having forgotten “why”, except in the most cliche and abstract terms. I mean, it’s all well and good to SAY “scriptural things”. But when you continue, day after day and week after week, to pass by the starving Lazarus at your gate, barely looking down at him with disdain (Luke 19:16-31), driven to glorify covenant, pastor, council, and denomination by constructing a more intimidating campus than anyone else… well, I’ve struggled more than a bit to keep my attitude balanced across the years.
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It is a hard thing… for me at least… to see a “bias” in myself. A “prejudice”, an “unfair judgment” of someone or something. Only recently have I come to realize that the essence of “judging” is NOT in criteria of measurement applied to a subject, or the manner of applying criteria to a subject… but rather the believing one “looks upon a subject of measurement” at all. It’s not a problem “out there”, it’s a problem “in here”, in believing one has the standing to judge another.
Intuitively, I’ve known this, though I’ve always struggled with it. Knowing my heart was out of order, knowing that to judge in this way was definitely not Light, my own “coping mechanism” was “avoidance.” I do not do well with conflict, whether violence is physical, emotional, or spiritual. My upbringing was filled with conflict, and I learned, as one friend puts it, not to so much be a “peacemaker” as a “peacekeeper”. To maintain stability in the environment, to placate aggressors, feed predators, palliate those who wound others… whether me or someone else. After all, this controls chaos, this makes for peace, this keeps everyone’s voices calm and reasonable. Right?
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So, in my own way… in my own (what’s called) “passive aggressive” way… I learned to “Tune in. Turn on, and Drop Out”. I could see only “conflict”, in my own form of “straw-manning” the Corporate Culture Church, the Six Sigma, Church Business. I could see my “spider”, and could not resist transformation into “my scorpion”. My only acceptable alternative was to “look away” entirely, to “ignore” the conflict and fail to engage. To avoid the arena of “church politics” altogether and focus on individual discipleship and spiritual direction. Was this, is this, a BAD thing? No, not entirely. But it is an INCOMPLETE thing. It is an approach that fails to embrace all people as equally sacred.
So… what’s changed?
It seems that for me, at least, the “sequence” has been important.
- First, that “judging” is not just to draw the conclusion of value… but to reach for the specimen in the first place.
- Second, that “dispute” is a meeting of two “aggressors”, without much difference between them, once both are armored and loaded for bear.
- Third, that when faced with the Borg Imperial Church, I was both judging it… and fleeing from it as overwhelmingly powerful at the same time. Rather than surrender, or be defeated, I would flee.
So what about today?
Today, I will stop fleeing in fear… either of the Borg Collective, or of my own reaction to it. Jesus did not flee, nor did He fight. He told us, time and again, to keep our focus on what is Real and what is Important, and let the winds and waves of the meaningless just flow around us without regard. Jesus interacted with His own Borg Collective constantly… the monolithic religious establishment that said, “you will believe as we believe, or you will be assimilated or eliminated. You will act as we act, or you will die.”
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Isn’t that amazing, Gentle Reader? THIS is what He is showing me to throw away, today. He did not “fight, fly, or freeze” in the presence of the Collective. He just stood still, stood strong, stood fast, and spoke the Truth. He tells us to do this, to love one another as He loves. To forgive as the Father forgives. To love without taking offense, counting cost, or expecting anything in return. He assures us that when we DO this, when we love with the Father’s heart, follow in Jesus’ steps and love as He loves… He assures us that we will be reviled, persecuted, put out of assemblies, rejected by both friends and family. Why? Because we will love no matter what, and speak Truth no matter what.
Love, real love, the Love that God gives us, that He gives us to touch others with… That kind of love CHANGES people. It changes lives. It changes hearts. It changes agendas. It changes institutions. Therefore, THAT kind of love is very VERY threatening to the “smart” people, the “clever” people, the “power” and “control” people. For those who must constrain, control, and micromanage their environment within close boundaries and rules… this kind of love is not acceptable.
My response to all that has simply been to close my eyes and look away from it. But now, finally, I can be free of that. Fear of conflict, constraining love, is just one more constraint. Jesus did not have this, did not yield to this, and… it is His preference, if I’m ready to face this… that I don’t either.
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Yup, my poster is now gently set on the fire. “Tune in, turn on, drop out”… even with regard to the Imperial Borg Church… will no longer dictate my responses. I will simply decline to enter that dimension of dialogue… having hung up my Lab Coat… and work to love, embrace, and accept ALL people as sacred, speak Truth, love and serve them… without regard for response.
Apparently, He would not have me constrained any more by fear of “myself”… than of my fear of “others”.
“Tune In, Turn On, and Drop By”, Gentle Reader.