Wednesday, October 30, 2013


It has been a curious journey this year for the Red Sox. As I await tonights game with the possibility of them winning the world series, I wonder what made them successful? Why do they have a chance to win the world series and 28 other teams sit home and watch along side me. Of course there is a lot of credit due to numbers, signing and getting players that sybermetrically are amazing. But to the naked eye there are teams with a whole lot more talent. They even had a better a team two years ago talent wise and traded away 3 of their better players. Yet this year they have a chance to win it. How has the culture changed within the organization/team? How is that even measured. I am sure the management of the team said as a bonding experience you all need to grow beards. Yet there was a bond and culture that has become evident to even an outsider.

I have thought a lot about culture lately and observe it in ever facet and aspect of life. Culture is something we can not neccesarily define tangibly or even be able to put our hands around but it is the way we conduct and do life with those around us.

As I was thinking this morning I was thinking of tangible ways our family has it's culture. Part of our culture has been defined because of life circumstances. In general we go to bed early, this is partly due to the kids getting on the school bus before 7 in the morning. It is also due to the fact the Kyle gets up throughout the night and we are just plain tired. So most nights we are in bed and asleep by 9. That is part of our family's culture. Did we make a rule or a plan? No it happened out of life circumstances. Many times culture does not happen intentionally it happens naturally.

I was having a talk with a friend yesterday and he is someone I highly respect. He asked me to lunch and as soon as I sat down at the table. He asked me why are churches so screwed up? I just smiled because they are filled with normal people that is why they are screwed up. But curious of where he was going I aksed him what he meant.

He went on to tell a story, he had been visiting churches in the area trying to find a home where he and his wife could connect with people. They had visited a church on a Sunday and went back later in the week for a Bible Study. The Bible study was in the church building and they were the new comers. So they began talking about love and living out the fruit of the spirit- living a life with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control. They were talking about showing love in their life, when a man came bursting through the doors about an hour late. Out of breath he asked is this were the bible study is? He then apologized for being late. He explained how he had a fight with his wife, was desperate for answers and basically this is the only group he could think of to come to.

My friend said immediately I knew this guy needed someone to talk to, vent, share with. But being the the new person wasn't sure what to do. So for the next half hour the latecomer asked tangible questions about the topic like, if you get in a fight with a women who you disagree with how can you love her? My friend thought this guy needs someone to talk to. In hindsight he thought I should have taken the initiative and taken him and talked to him. My question to him was what did the leader do. His response was the leader told him that they needed to stay on task and go through the material.

Now being in that position I understand the dilemma of catering to one person or keeping the group on task. As I processed this yesterday, I asked what does this story say about church culture? What does this say about what is important and what isn't?

My friend told me a second story. He and his wife have been helping out with a ministry that helps with the less fortunate. He was at a dinner one night, and the church that was hosting it was a charismatic church. They fed the people and then did a service, during the service they started speaking in tongues and started encouraging the less fortunate to do so also. They approached to people sitting next to my friend, and they politely replayed that is great but we are just homeless and came here for a meal.

Culture, it seems so normal to us. It seems like everyone should love this so much because we do. We are so ingrained in our own culture that is hard to see through it.

My friend who was very troubled by the tangible needs of these less fortunate homeless people. Began thinking what he could do. If having a charismatic service wasn't the answer what was it. he wanted to share the love and hope of Jesus yet knows the tangible need of these people. So he runs a business and gave them work. His wife oversees them. One day they were working along side her and were a little confused. They said are you guys Christians? She wasn't afraid to say yes. Then they replied you don't act like them.

I am not sure what they expected. But their expectations is the culture that we are or portray. Culture sneaks up and is created with or without our permission. It becomes our default. It also begins attracting others that resonate with that culture.

Changing any culture is difficult, church culture is no different. But as I see people like my friend and his wife tangibly acting like they want the church to act culture begins to change.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The social norm

As we prepared for our trip to Disney world last year, Jill contacted them about housing. It was interesting the response she got. There was only a few options for a family of 5. Disney world is built for the ideal family of four. This is their norm, this is who they are marketing towards. The ideal family, the social norm.
On Saturday Jill and I went to a marriage seminar, there was 500 or so people in the room. It was good content but 6 hours tends to make my head spin so I began looking around the room and my mind began wondering. I was looking for the couple that didn't fit in, what was the norm of this group and who probably felt like the outsider? As I started taking in the crowd, it was diverse in age. There were people of all ages, there were even a few minorities. But then I started to look for what was missing. I didn't see any handicapped people, all of us were dressed basically the same. It was a very typical social norm for evangelical Christianity.
Last night as a family went to a Halloween event with some friends of ours. It was in a different area of the community than we live so my curiousity was peaked again of what type of people would come to it. It didn't disappoint, there were all the typical Halloween get up, and then there were some people (mainly adults) that I had to wonder if they were wearing a costume or not. If those were fake teeth or their real teeth? That culture was very comfortable. But that group would not have been so comfortable in a marriage seminar with 500 "socially normal" people.
I have been struggling with this for some time, the culture that we build around ourselves consciously or sub consciously. The things that we take for granted as a value everyone holds around us, the people that we allow to speak into our lives that basically just reaffirm everything we believe.
As I continue to get older, I realize that I can hear the same answers and hear the same information reiterated over and over again. I can become pretty stagnant in my thinking because of the people I spend time with.
I recently heard from a friend in the field of American missions that only 2% of the American church knows the poor. I am sure the stats are skewed, but what does that say about us following Jesus' example? When Jesus came into this world it wasn't the "social norm" that he was looking to engage or even affirm. It was those on the fringes, those who were not so well thought of or even well liked. The Pharisees and the religious leaders did a good job on upholding and maintain the social norm. They did a great job of both defining and living by the norm. Yet that wasn't so much what Jesus was trying to get us all to.
I am curious what it actually looks like to live by faith. It is easy for me to ask other people who are older or people that are very Biblical literate for an answer. I am sure I will get a very good answer, and I am sure I will get answer that is very theoretical. But what if I ask a single mom who struggles with addiction, who is trying to make ends meet. Who has had a rough past but is trying to live a life of faith. What is her answer going to be? Is there going to be value in her answer? Better yet am I going to value her answer?
As I have thought about my time teaching in prison, I am confident I have been of zero help to the men in there. I have given them great theory, I have given them even some good common sense. But practically speaking they have taught me so much more than I could ever have learned. It has been the best way for me to learn about a different culture, people, and circumstances. It has opened my eyes to the world from another viewpoint. The question is does this affect the way I live my life? Do I value what men who have committed atrocious acts say? Or am I so arrogant that I don't feel that I have anything to learn from them?
Jill has told me so often that people don't see Kyle they see a wheelchair, very infrequently do I see people engage in conversation with Kyle. Why is it because there is no value of what he would have to say? Do people think it is only a one way street where they can encourage him but he couldn't be an encouragement to anyone else? Again I have learned and seen tons more Kyle than the little value I pour into his life. He complains less than anyone I know, and yet he has the most to complain about. He treasures and enjoys life to a great extent. He is simple yet profound, but yet very few have seen or experienced this both from him or the many other handicapped in the world.
Jesus came to live (incarnation) among people. He lived within the margins of society. He enjoyed, communicated, recruited, and loved those that most of us pass by on a daily basis. Where do I miss the chances, and the opportunities to be blessed, learn, and grow from those that don't fall into the social norms?