On Being a Seminarian: Can We Bridge that Gap?

Part of my influence in attending seminary was to help bridge the gap between the academic realm and the realm of the average congregant. In the four classes I had taken at U of O, I saw so much value in scholarship and wanted to help find a way to bring it all to those who are doing other things, but still showing up on Sunday mornings. I wanted to break it all down into little nuggets that people could take with them and look into in their own free time. Yet after one year of being in seminary, I am left wondering if it is even possible to fill that gap.

I know most people are not like me; not interested in the Bible more than a little reading each day and a sermon on Sunday, not interested in thinking critically about our beliefs and theologies, and not interested in the original languages of the biblical text except for a few Greek and Hebrew words. Yet I also know that one doesn’t need to be interested in all these things to learn a little more about them. But what I have found is that when it comes to theology and thinking critically, those less exposed to the biblical criticisms of recent scholarship (or even within the last century) seem much more hesitant to try on a new idea. I get that. New ideas are hardly ever comfortable ones, especially if it means changing the way one perceives a “near and dear” text as the Bible. But that hesitancy often turns into resistance, which is leaving me feel quite exhausted in my endeavor to bridge that gap.

No, I don’t mean to imply that scholarship is always more correct than one’s pastor or congregation. Nor do I assume that I’m smarter than the average church-goer in subjects pertaining to the Bible. Yet I have had more exposure and know that different ways of viewing a text – even if one disagrees with that view – is healthy for understanding, which is healthy for finding ways of sharing the gospel. But more often than not, it seems as though discussions of scholarly ideas run either to prove one idea false and therefore heretical or true and further support for a church doctrine. Treating scholarship this way, though, seems to limit our understanding of the biblical text and of God, which I find also cripples whatever growth we might have made toward God.

In your experience as a seminarian, pastor, professor, or biblical scholarship enthusiast, how has scholarship shaped your understanding of God? Has this shaping had a positive or negative influence in your ministry or instruction of others? Do you think the gap between scholarship and the average congregant can be filled? What are some ways you see as potentially helpful for filling that gap? And do you think I’m being too cynical or have you shared a similar experience?

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other bloggers, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

Big Churches and Introverts…

Last night’s class discussion led to a talk about finding ways for big congregations to make everyone feel as though their voice is heard. Our talk began shortly after a Twitter exercise where we tweeted our thoughts whilst listening to an audio version of Esther, so obviously I was still reading/favoriting/retweeting everyone’s tweets. And before I could chime in about having been an introvert in a large congregation, class was drawing to a close (“having been” is in relation to once being a part of a 150-200 person congregation; not to the introverted part). I’d rather blog my thoughts anyway.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; how our Christian sub-culture tends to be geared toward the out-going and extroverted. Of course, I’m speaking from my experience in the evangelical world; I have little-to-no idea how things are in the traditional settings. In said experience, though, church means weaving through the masses, “meeting” a bunch of people whose names I’ll immediately forget, and knowing that at any given point throughout the service, there is usually someone people-watching me (I know this is true because I’m usually the one doing the people-watching).

Granted, some of these things happen with smaller congregations (especially the people-watching thing), there is still something quite challenging for an introvert in a group of 300 or more people. Even 100 people in a single room is overwhelming for me; my class sizes are about my max. Like many introverts, I feel drained by the sheer number of people I’m pressed up against – and this is without talking to anyone or engaging in any type of service-level dialogue. If you add that element in, I usually feel pretty wiped after church.

It’s kind of like alcohol; I have a certain capacity for how much I can handle before I start “feeling it,” (even in that case, it’s not very much). But over time, one’s capacity tends to increase. Similar thing happens for introverts and larger congregations. But even if that’s the case, I still need my time alone. I still need my space – not only for “recharging” purposes, but to connect with God. So in churches with a bunch of people, you could imagine how it might be difficult to have that moment of connectedness – that moment that builds up the introvert, even amongst all the activity.

My introversion is my own, though; I know other introverts who enjoy larger congregations and are even able to grow in those types of settings. But I also know of a lot of introverts who are like me and are rather intimidated, overwhelmed, or flat out drained in places with a lot of people. Not to say that we’re anti-social, even though it seems that way; but to say we function better in smaller, more intimate settings. And this seemed to be a backdrop question to our discussion tonight: How do we grow bigger as a single congregation, but also smaller to provide a “close-knit” group for as many people as possible?

No, I most certainly do not have an answer. And since I’m not part of any congregation right now, I don’t know if I should attempt one. What I do know is that I tend to steer clear of the large congregations partially because of the exhaustion factor. It’s not the deciding element, but it carries some weight.

After leaving class tonight, though, I was actually feeling quite thankful for Twitter or WordPress (microblogging and blogging) or even the practice of journaling. As an introvert, I write to process things, which makes it much easier to “voice” my thoughts (share them with a larger group). Tweeting during class discussions is something that, strangely enough, helps me understand and grasp the concepts we’re learning in class (and also invites non-Seminarians to the discussion/lecture). If there’s a church out there that encourages live-tweeting, please let me know!

So I suppose I’m posing the questions to anyone who’d care to chime in: How does your respective congregation cater to the introverts (or extroverts, if your congregation is mostly introverts)? Especially if you have a larger congregation, how have you focused your ministry (or ministries) in order to create an environment conducive for genuine spiritual families on a smaller scale (growing bigger, but smaller)? What about on the Sunday mornings, Saturday evenings, or whenever you have your larger meeting time? Is there an atmosphere that seeks to build a bunch of smaller families within a large group of people that doesn’t require a separate day?

God bless.

Discussing Female Authority…

If it wasn’t for my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Gaffney), I would not be writing this blog post. When I was young, they were the prominent people in my life cultivating a deep love for the written word – both reading and writing it. In college, when it came time to choose a major, I recalled my constant practice of emulating my mother’s beautiful handwriting, my grandmother’s delight in my ability to read, and Mrs. Gaffney’s validation of my ability to write in front of the entire class. With all of them in mind, I chose a degree in English literature. I do not regret it for a second.

I bring all of this up because there has been a recent stir within the social media world, at least recent to me, about women in positions of teaching and authority. No, I’m not talking about teaching in school or even in Sunday school. I’m talking about female pastors and speakers at conventions. I’m talking about women having the same abilities as men to speak, teach, and lead congregations in the ways of God. Some might deem this discussion as heresy, but I think we should have been having this discussion a long time ago.

Nevertheless, I’m wading into it. When something becomes popular, especially if it has a rebellious flare to it, it is easy for me to hop on until the popularity fades. Not to say that feminism is the popular thing to do or that this recent rise of it within Christian circles is merely a fad. Ideas and beliefs amongst “Jesus feminists” (a label I’m considering) are not popular in the main streams of Christianity. Yet I have the tendency to treat things like these as if they were mere trends and nothing more. With the particular topic of equality between women and men, however, I don’t want to treat it as nothing more than a trend.

What this involves is finding something within the movement that will endure. If I am to be a part of a movement, it’s best if I find where the movement is a part of me. And this is why I began this post talking about my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher. If I am going to take the stance that women do not belong in pastoral roles, then I may be attacking my own upbringing. No, my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teachers were not pastors or elders in my church growing up (I didn’t even have a church until I was in the eighth grade). But by their teaching, guidance, nurturing, cultivation and validation, I fell in love with reading and writing. Imagine if they had been teaching me about Jesus.

I understand that there are verses in Scripture that seem rather explicit – like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul states that he would not permit a woman to have authority over men. But these verses have some issues revolving around them. First off, scholars question Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy (and 2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus). It’s believed that someone wrote under Paul’s name and maybe even under Paul’s school of thought, but that it wasn’t Paul. But perhaps that’s an issue for another time. Second, if it was Paul writing this, he apparently forgot what he said in 1 Corinthians 11 where he talks about women prophesying in church. The issue there isn’t women with leadership roles; it’s women without head coverings.

Discussing Paul’s letters and where they talk about women in leadership positions is only a small part of the Scriptures that either give or forbid female authority. We also see in the Gospels where Jesus was cared for by women. And when He rose from the grave, it was women who carried the message to the Apostles (and these stories were kept in Scripture in spite of patriarchal societies transcribing them). Reading through the Hebrew Bible we find plenty of women who rose up to accomplish God’s purpose rather than men. It’s a much more nuanced discussion than it appears.

What my mind keeps coming back to, though, is what Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45;

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be our servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Emphasis mine)

I can’t say with absolute certainty that those who argue against women in leadership are attempting to lord their male authority over women, but it certainly feels that way. Micah J. Murray recently admitted in his blog that he used to define feminists as women with an authority problem. But if it is true that males are lording their authority over females, then, as Jesus points out, it isn’t the feminists who have an authority problem. (By the way, Micah, in the same blog post, also identified himself as a “Jesus feminist.”)

Although I don’t talk much about it, I am half Cherokee. One thing about the Cherokee people is that, before the arrival of Europeans, lineages were traced through the mother. To this day, women play a prominent role amongst Native tribes – particularly in leadership. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our Native sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could stop attempting to make cookie-cutter Christians and instead let Jesus create the kind of people he wants to. Perhaps we could let go of our “God-given” or “divine right” authority and let the one who is called lead the way, regardless of their gender.

If being an advocate for equality amongst genders makes me a Jesus feminist, then I suppose I am one. Right now it sort of feels awkward, but it’s because I’m still defining what it looks like for me. I’m still figuring the parts of the movement that are already a part of me – the things that will endure when something like this stops being trendy. Not so strangely enough, those elements of this movement look a lot like Jesus.

May we all learn to serve our sisters and brothers equally.

God bless.

From a Pow Wow to Church…

For my Indigenous Spirituality class, we attended a Pow Wow near Salem at the Chemawa Indian School. Being born in Salem and never knowing my Cherokee father, there was a lot of symbolism in attending my first Pow Wow near Salem, but that’s another subject for another time. What is important here is the experience of a Pow Wow and how it is largely different from my church experience. And after attending church for the first time since moving from Eugene, these comparisons are fresh on my mind.

There was a lot to take in when I first walked into the gymnasium. Drums were blaring so hard I could feel the beat in my chest, burnt sweet grass filled my nostrils, and kids dressed in traditional Native attire (and also many who weren’t) were running around everywhere. Once the Pow Wow began, a classmate of mine pointed out the ten different drumming groups present, some were from different tribes not local to Oregon. As the opening dance began, I couldn’t help but notice the different races, ages, and genders all partaking in the dance.

After a couple songs were sung, attendees were invited onto the floor for a “healing song.” Our professors wife peer-pressured us into dancing, so I awkwardly stepped around on the floor (definitely would not call it dancing). Despite the discomfort, no one laughed at my awkwardness or pointed out how I was doing it wrong. Instead, the focus was any pain on anyone’s heart and the song and dance combined functioned as the act of lifting up that pain to the Creator – God, as we Christians might say. It was a communal act unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

We sat back down when the song was over and moments later another series of songs were sung as people danced. The focus of this entire Pow Wow was for the Veterans of U.S. armed forces (since tomorrow is Veteran’s Day), honoring those who fell in battle, returned from the battle, those who are still missing in action, and even those veterans who never saw battle. Such a ceremony was full of respect and honor for the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom.

What I could not help but notice, though, was how family-oriented everyone seemed to be. As people walked back and forth from the food booths or venders to their seats, they often ran into people they knew. Babies were passed around and kids were running everywhere while men and women of many tribes and races (both Indian and non-Indian) were catching up on each other’s lives and enjoying the celebrations. Even though there were a couple hundred people there, everyone treated each other as family.

Attending church after experiencing that Pow Wow was a little awkward. For one, it’s been two months since I last gathered with a church. Be it either work or laziness or a combination of the two, I simply haven’t gone to any gathering. So that contributed to the awkwardness, but also allowed me to see just how dramatically different the Pow Wow was to the average church experience (which is essentially what this morning was).

I walked in, found a seat, stood when the worship team started to play, greeted someone when told to greet someone, sat down when the pastor came up to speak, stood again when the worship team played the closing songs, and hung out for a little when it was over. Every bit of it was familiar, but yet still largely uncomfortable.

What contributed to my comfort yesterday was the fact I was hanging out with my class – people I had met before. This morning I went to church by myself – and I knew absolutely no one. While this was a major factor into the differences in comfort between the Pow Wow and the church I attended, I still noticed how fluid the Pow Wow was and how rigid church was. For instance, kids were allowed to dance in every dance; in fact, the ones who danced the most were the kids (especially this adorable little toddler who mostly just bounced). In church, kids were only heard from their Sunday school classrooms; they weren’t out among the rest of the congregation.

I also noticed that I was the only non-white person present at church. Maybe this was because I attended the later-morning service instead of the earlier ones, but this is definitely not the first time this has happened. In the Pow Wow, however, there were plenty of non-white participants, although most simply observed from the bleachers. My classmate who sat next to me later pointed out a symbol common to most Native tribes; a circle with four colors in it (red, yellow, black, and white). This symbolizes the acceptance and unification of all races and tribes – that although we are different in appearance, we are all one in relation to each other and creation (also called the Harmony Way).

My intent isn’t to say that Pow Wows are better than church, but to say that there are areas I appreciated more from the Pow Wow than I did the church. The church service was regimented and habitual whereas the Pow Wow was much more fluid and spontaneous. Instead of singing new songs (as the church did), the drumming groups in the Pow Wow sang old songs – songs that their ancestors sang, which seemed to command a sense of reverence amongst the tribal members. And the church separated the kids out from the rest of the group while the Pow Wow wanted their kids to participate in what the adults were doing.

Again, maybe these things are personal peeves that I alone must deal with, but nevertheless I appreciated the Pow Wow more than the church service. Not to say that one group of people now has more value than the other, but to say I liked the Pow Wow style a little more. It was more personal and yet contained a greater reverence not only for the Creator, but for their ancestors and creation.

Does this mean we should change our church style? Maybe. Seeing as this particular style is shared by many other churches I’ve attended, it makes one wonder where the creative people are and how much influence they have. But who knows, perhaps this is the style that speaks more to the people who attend on a regular basis and I happen to miss out on all of that because I don’t attend? If that isn’t the case, however, perhaps it is indeed time to make some changes.

Regardless of what that church does from this point forward, I have learned quite a bit from the Pow Wow experience in addition to everything we’ve read in my Indigenous Spirituality class. And I have the responsibility to utilize and steward this knowledge to be more authentic with the people around me (regardless of age, race, gender, or any other apparent differences), more aware of how alive the earth really is (much like a sibling), and more proactive in developing relationships within my local community.

I know that not all churches are like the one I attended this morning and not all Pow Wows are like the one I attended yesterday. But from what I experienced in the ones I have attended, the church experience could take a lesson from the Pow Wows. Humanity is fluid and flawed, so why should our churches feign something different?

Be true to you, your family, and your friends around you. Or as Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39).

God bless.

Leaving Well…

Something occurred to me on my way to work this morning: Exactly two months from now, I will be living in Portland attending my first week at George Fox Seminary.

Okay, technically classes don’t start until September 5th, but by September 2nd I’ll have moved up there and (hopefully) gotten settled in. I’ll be meeting new people on a daily basis and learning my new surroundings. My day to day routine will be completely different from what it is now, except for coffee. I will never cut coffee.

What I’ve been thinking about all day is how I intend to live these final two-ish months in Eugene. No, it isn’t like I’ll never be back, but I am leaving for at least a couple of years maybe longer. And the fact that I’m leaving for an extended period of time makes me focus on how well or not well I’m interacting with the people around me now. Essentially, I’m wondering what my exit strategy is.

“Exit strategy” is a term used to describe the plan for closing out military operations. For example, if President Obama were to lay out a plan for 10,000 troops to come home from Afghanistan or Iraq every month – that is an exit strategy (I have no idea what Obama’s exit strategy is or if he even has one; just making an example).

But it’s also used for when CEO’s or GM’s retire. They have exit strategies as to what they’d like to do with their final few months of influence within the company; ideally, these things would assist in setting up that company for success. How I’m using the term in reference to my current situation is something like this.

Currently, I don’t have one. I mean, there are some obvious things that need to happen; finding a place to live in Portland, packing up things here, and taking some time off of work to get moved out of my current apartment and into my new one. But those are just things that I have to do; they aren’t components to an overall strategy of how I’d like to live the day to day here in Eugene.

What I think are components to an overall strategy are things like hanging out with friends more often, being as efficient as possible at work, or helping my soon-to-be-former roommate find someone to replace me or find a new place to live altogether. Essentially, components to an exit strategy are basically intentional things I do between now and September that are in the effort to leave well.

Of course, these types of things (spending more time with family and friends, working well at my job, and helping people) are things I should always be doing. But when seasons of life change, so do relationships. Sometimes they’re strengthened, but sometimes they’re weakened. Maybe there was an argument right before someone moved away or one person did a selfish thing that negatively effected the other and it left a bitter taste to their relationship that they never sought to mend. What I think of, when it comes to an exit strategy, is doing things that not only end things on good terms, but strengthens the relationship so that it lasts.

Simply because I’m moving to a new location to study at a new school and meet new people and make new friends doesn’t mean that my current friendships aren’t valuable to me. It is this fact that drives my desire to leave well; to spend as much time as I can with my church family, to care for the people I work with, and simply to let those who’ve known me know that I care about them, even though I’ll be living two hours north.

The Apostle Paul is a great example of what it means to have a presence in someone else’s life while not being physically present. What I hope to do in this time of transition is make it possible to have a presence in someone’s life while not being physically there. It means showing someone you actually care about them by listening to them and showing compassion and empathy. It means doing kind things even if they aren’t needed. And it means, while I have the ability to do so, showing up whenever I can – because I won’t have as many opportunities to do so later.

What I really hope for in carrying out this exit strategy is to get a phone call late at night from somebody here in Eugene who, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to get a hold of anyone else and they just need to talk to somebody. I want to be that person they talk to despite however many miles are between us.

Leaving well, in essence, is a greater focus on loving well.

God bless.

A Lesson in Loyalty…

Two years ago today, Calvary Fellowship was my church home. We had grown smaller than previous years, but closer as well. Thinking back to the years when we had two services every Sunday and then something going on Wednesday nights, having a smaller body was actually a benefit. Maybe I’m different, but I feel as though I grew more as a person in the last two years of Calvary than I ever would have if the larger numbers were still present.

What has really changed for me, though, is my involvement with my church community apart from Sundays. Back then, I felt as though I had to defend why I continued to go to Calvary or even listened to Danny O’Neil’s preaching. My faith didn’t revolve around self-defense, but it was a large part to how I communicated my thoughts and feelings about Danny and Calvary. It’s different now because I don’t have the same pressures I had back then.

I don’t have friends asking me why I still go there or pastors telling me that if it were them, they would have left. In a way, I don’t have the same distractions I had back then; I’m able to soak in the church experience for all that it is, all that it should be, and leave behind the religious garbage. Not to say that that is how I think of Calvary nowadays, but to say it was a unique challenge that the people of Calvary Fellowship had to work with. Emmaus Life doesn’t have that element. We’ve got all new people and all new challenges.

What sparked this whole reflection of what life was like two years ago was – surprise, surprise – an episode of The West Wing. Near the middle of season three, Leo McGarry (President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff) was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee as to whether or not the President deceived the nation by not disclosing his disease, multiple sclerosis. After the first part of McGarry’s testimony (it was two parts due to a pause issued by the director the committee), he was offered a deal; his testimony along with the testimonies of every Bartlet staff member would be forgotten in exchange for a censure (official public reprimand) of President Bartlet.

All of this is to set the stage before what Leo did. He said no. He said that he takes bullets for the President; not the other way around.

What I saw and felt in that moment was a sense of loyalty, a sense of relentless commitment, to a leader. It was the same feeling I had whenever someone talked about Danny’s beliefs or how Calvary Fellowship was a misguided church or whatever other rumor was floating around. In those days, not even a full two years ago, my loyalty was put to the test. It was a large element in my church experience. Not having my loyalty to friends and family tested is kind of refreshing.

Bear in mind that, back then, I did not see it as my loyalty being tested; but rather a friend – and by extension my entire church family – being maligned. Rumors, gossip, slander all destroy a church body and I didn’t want that to happen to Calvary. The church closed, sure, but it wasn’t because we were divided. In fact, in those last years and months, I think we were more united than ever before.

And I think it was because, as McGarry saw President Bartlet, Danny and his family were (and still are – I’m just describing how we saw them back then) worth taking a bullet for. Heck, they’re worth dying for. Why is that? Because, if you actually got to know them (and you still can), they’re a Godly family.

Thinking back on it now, we were kind of spoiled at Calvary. We had a team of pastors who were above reproach – not caught up in some secret, sinful lifestyle – and they were all following Danny’s lead. I mean, how many pastors resign because of an addiction they’ve been keeping secret? How many pastors take the Gospel and make it about success, possessions, and material blessing? How many pastors take their platform and make it about themselves, their books, and their whole agendas? God blessed us with the O’Neils at Calvary. And if I had to do it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Adjusting, though, is still difficult. Those of you who know me personally know that I tend to be an argumentative person – even though I’m wrong quite a few times (maybe most…) – so not having someone to defend, someone to argue in favor of, takes a little getting-used to. But I have been blessed immensely again with Emmaus Life and the Lambs.

Once again I have a pastor who’s above reproach; probably makes mistakes here and there (I say “probably” because I lack evidence), but there’s no secret sin. There’s no agenda he’s trying to promote; no book of his that he’s trying to sell. None of that garbage. He’s simply a guy following God.

And yet, I have to attribute my appreciation for Emmaus Life to my lesson in loyalty at Calvary. Another way of putting is to say that I would not cling so quickly to what we have with Emmaus Life if it had not been for what I went through with Calvary. I wouldn’t have learned that to be loyal to someone or a group of people isn’t defined by what that person or group is against, but rather what they’re for. And what Calvary was for and Emmaus Life is for is real, genuine life. Such a thing can only come when all pretentions and facades are cast aside.

My encouragement is this: Be loyal.

Be loyal to your spouse, family, pastor, church, and even your coworkers. Practice loyalty because in our day, it’s so easy to jump ship. It’s so easy to have a “new favorite.” It’s so easy to have a new pastor, church, job, etc., instead of sticking with somebody for the long-haul.

Life with Jesus is an endurance race. Staying the course oftentimes means running with the same group of people for a while – even a long while.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” – John 15:13

May we all experience such a depth of loyalty.

God bless.

P.S. Leaving a church does not necessarily make you disloyal; many who left Calvary left for the right reasons (weren’t being fed, felt called to a different city or church, etc.). I don’t wish to throw anyone under any bus; I wish only to say that loyalty is worth it.

Growing Village People…

Seven or eight months ago, Emmaus Life started this thing on Monday nights called “Villages.” I’m sure I have talked about it before, but in case I haven’t, it’s sort of like a small group, but yet very different. We all bring our Bibles and some of us bring small notebooks, so it sort of looks like a Bible study. But some nights we start off with a few worship songs. Some nights we don’t even bring our Bibles, but rather food and board games instead. Compared to the Bible studies, small groups, and community groups I’ve ever been to, this is significantly different.

Note that I say “different”; not “better.” I gained a lot from those other Bible studies; new perspectives on God, good friends, and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. What has made Villages so different, though, is that our focus is on each other. We’re not so caught up with controversial topics (like Rob Bell or gay marriage) or focusing all our energy on feeling more spiritual (as if that’s even possible). Instead, we’re pressed to share something of ourselves with each other. Whether it’s a thought, a worry, or simply something we learned that day at school, we’re invested in knowing each other a little more each time we meet with the overall effort of growing a village of Christians.

In essence, we’re growing village people.

Yet there’s something underlying that, too. There’s a purpose to our village: to learn how to develop as a group in order to come back home to our apartments, houses, classrooms, teammates, or even coworkers and carry out the same intentions when interacting with others. What we’re learning is a skill set of relating with other people, regardless of their spiritual affiliation, to care and share as God would have us do. Or, in other words, we’re learning what it means to be “little Christs.”

You’d think that a group of Christians would already have that part covered, right? I mean, isn’t that what all Christians seem to imply, that they have everything figured out – that they have the Truth (emphasis on the capital “T”)? Yet if we look in the Gospels, we see Jesus rebuking the know-it-alls again and again because they put so much of themselves into what they thought they knew that they completely missed out on embodying God’s Law. Modern day Christianity has a large population of those same religious elites.

It’s easy to do, though – especially when a good chunk of the Christian society affirms the know-it-all mindset. With a few prominent pastors and elders speaking out about the “essentials” of Christianity, we’re made to feel as though we’re doing it wrong if we’re doing anything different from what they taught. And when we’re guilted into believing we’re doing something wrong, we seek out whatever it is that we’re supposed to do – whatever would make us in the “right” – and we submit to it. If a pastor says the most essential thing for a Christian is to believe the doctrine of inerrancy or the Trinity or whatever agenda they’d like to promote, then we’re inclined to follow along because we’ve been convinced that whatever we’re following is “essential.” All the while Jesus says the entire Law is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor.

If that’s the most important thing, then how do we do it? How do we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths? The answer is easy, but its application isn’t: Regarding others as better than ourselves.

Our world teaches us the most important person, the only one in whom we can trust, is ourselves. What’s odd, though, is that in order to even believe the statement, “Trust no one but yourself,” we have to trust the person telling us. We have to trust in someone else. What God’s kingdom is all about, though, is more than trusting someone else; it’s regarding them as more important – as if our individual lives stop until we’ve cared for their lives first. Not to say we should completely disregard our own health, but to say that we won’t grow as individuals until we’ve learned to care for someone else.

Learning how to be “little Christs” in Villages, then, is simply learning how to care for each other – how to practice the first two commandments so often and so well that Christ’s nature will be our nature. It will be such a deeply rooted set of characteristics within us that it won’t matter how stressful work was, how much we disagree about various political issues, or what team we root for; what will matter is whether or not we showed love for the other guy.

Being a village person doesn’t involve costumes and hand-gesturing “Y,” “M,” “C,” or “A.” It involves a group of people who seek God in their individual lives and share their experiences in the communal life. Notice, though, we didn’t call our group “Village”; it’s called “Villages.” It doesn’t really make sense, though, since we’re one group meeting together. But that’s part of the process of going into our work places, grocery stores, coffee shops, sports teams, book clubs, or whatever other group of people we regularly encounter on a weekly basis: We’re creating more villages.

If you really think about all the different places you go from week to week, you begin to realize you have several different villages – even if none of those regular places is a church or Bible study. Let’s face it, most of us probably spend more time around our coworkers, teammates, or classmates than we do our fellow church-goers. If church focuses on something other than loving each other, then what are the chances someone from our regular lives is ever going to see the change in our lives? How are they going to see Christ in us if we aren’t practicing His characteristics?

What I think is most challenging about becoming a village person is that I can’t rely on my casual nature. Villages are intentional; when people ask how you’re doing, they don’t leave until you’ve told them. Yeah, it’s awkward. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. That’s the point. Insisting on caring for someone outside of ourselves isn’t natural, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary for the other person we’re caring about and it’s especially necessary for ourselves.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, love somebody else. Grow a village. Spread God’s kingdom.

God bless.