Why I’m Not Going to “The Elephant Room”.

In a week, there will be a video cast of the “Elephant Room” at Western Seminary (where I am doing ThM work).  I have received a few emails promoting the event and from the beginning I haven’t felt the slightest inkling to go.  In fact, I see the promo and cringe a bit on the inside.  It made me wonder why I intuitively grate against this so strongly.  I realized there are a few major reasons.

1.  The Price.  

99 dollars to watch a video?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  I probably wouldn’t pay this for a one-day live event.  Just sell me the DVD for 10 bucks and let’s call it good.   But I suppose T.D. Jakes has to find a way to pay for his private jet fuel to get to the event somehow.

2.  Caters to a celebrity culture that has no place in the church. 

The only people in the conversation are male (we’ll come back to that) mega-church pastors because apparently, they are the only ones who have anything interesting to say.  I would rather sit down and have these kind of conversations with local pastors who are dealing with these issues in the city I live in.  I don’t find any of these men authoritative on these subjects just because they are celebrity figureheads of large churches.

3. Mark Driscoll

There has been more than enough written about Driscoll in the past few months so I don’t want to tire you with more.  To put it simply, after a history of sexist, insulting, derogatory, and insensitive comments and writings, he has simply lost all credibility.  Could I do the mature thing and try to learn what I can from him despite his shortcomings?  Sure.  I could, but I won’t.

4. No Women. 

Maybe the fact that Driscoll is present prohibits this from happening.  But apparently not only are mega-church celebrities the only interesting voices, but also women have nothing to say about any of these issues either.

Overall, I find this to be another chance for struggling, desperate pastors to worship their celebrity idols and get their kicks on what their hero has to say about x, y, and z.  It’s the same reason I avoid the circus that is Catalyst.  I’ll pass.

7 Weeks Post-Op

I’m amazed that it’s been over 7 weeks since surgery.  Every day that goes by I’m thankful to be another day along in getting my shoulder back to normal, even if the progress is depressingly slow.  I’ve made some small improvements in the last few weeks in flexibility, but nothing groundbreaking.  The repair is actually healing very well and relatively painless but my biceps tendon is incredibly painful and is getting pinched in my shoulder joint.  That makes physical therapy and stretching much more difficult than it should be.

I saw the physicians assistant today to get cleared for active exercises.  It was an encouraging appointment.  She said that I’m on the right trajectory and shouldn’t be discouraged.  This week I’ll get to start actively raising my arm and hopefully in 8 weeks I’ll be able to move it in every direction again.  The best news she delivered was that for most people the 2 month to 2 1/2 month mark tends to be the turning point where the shoulder starts noticeably improving.  Almost there!

Despite the varying level of constant pain, my arm is starting to feel stronger.  Still sleeping in the recliner, but hope to transition back into the bed soon.  While I’ve officially retired from recreational basketball, I’m hoping to be able to shoot around a bit this summer.

A few more observations:

First, I can now see why medical issues can become so all consuming to people.  When it’s painful and there’s an uncertainty lingering in your mind about the possibility of full recovery, it’s hard not to think and talk about it all the time.  Doing stretches and now exercises three times a day, it feels like a part-time job.  When you already have one really full-time job, this is the last thing I desired.  Emotionally, I feel like I’ve been neglectful of my family and friends because this thing has been an emotional drain on me.  I just haven’t felt present and my family has paid the highest cost.

Second, I imagine Kelli (and many others) have to be sick to death of hearing about it every day, but there’s something therapeutic about talking about it and commiserating with someone.  In fact, I don’t know what I would do without that.  It’s especially encouraging to talk with those individuals who have been through it.  All this to say; if I’ve been too big of a baby, I apologize.  I think I’m out of the whining stage finally.  🙂

Third, knowing that I cannot lift anything it has been awesome to see other people step up and do the set-up/tear down work at Evergreen.  Two years ago I remember a morning when I moved every chair and brought in every piece of equipment.  It was a Sunday that fell on 4th of July and apparently, for whatever reason, that means you don’t go worship God that day, which is terribly alarming and made me realize in a lot of ways we’re no different than any other church I’ve been a part of.  To be really blunt, I remember feeling like I hated everyone that morning and found it hard to preach.  My attitude was not good.  But I was mostly angry with myself because it was my fault.  I didn’t ask for help.  I didn’t want to burden people with showing up at 8am and moving everything.  So I just hoped people would magically show up in the morning.  Now I can adequately look back and conclude: that was dumb.  Thanks to Kelli and Krista’s help in coordinating, our setup crews have been massive and awesome! And because I can’t really do anything to help, I’ve just been able to talk to people which has been fantastic!

Fourth, I’ve realized how much activity I take for granted.  Right now I can’t run, I can’t ride a bike, I can’t pick up Gram, I can’t lift a carboy of beer, I can’t stir the mash, I can’t brush my teeth, I can’t cut my food.   The list goes on and on.  Things that I not only have always taken for granted, but feel entitled to.   I’ve realized as I’ve become a fixture at OHSU and the rehabilitation center how many people can’t do those things either and a lot more! Some of these people will never be able to do many of those activities again.  I realize through this experience how much there is to be received as a pure gift.

Community IS created, but not by us.

This semester I get the privilege of studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer, under the teaching of Joel Burnell, a professor who has spent the last several years teaching in Poland, and who did his PhD work on Bonhoeffer.  As I’ve reread and meditated on his classic book “Life Together”, I’ve come to the conclusion that it radically undermines my (our?) assumptions about the foundation and nature of Christian community.

For instance, we talk a lot about “creating community” at Evergreen but rarely step back to ask who is doing (or has done) the creating?  After re-reading Life Together, I think we have made an ecclesiological error in thinking that community is created by our own human effort.  I have certainly made this mistake.

Bonhoeffer writes, “In Christian brotherhood (community) everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.  Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.”  (pg. 26).

Further he says, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”  (pg. 30

The truth is, community is not created through any effort of our own.  It is Jesus Christ who has brought us into community together.  It is a spiritual reality that he has enacted in us.

Bonhoeffer states, “Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.  On this presupposition rests everything that the Scriptures provide in the way of direction and precepts for the communal life of Christians.” (pg. 24).

AND

One is a brother or sister to another only through Jesus Christ.  I am a brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sister to me through what Jesus Christ has done for them and to them.  The fact that we are brother and sister only through Jesus is of immeasurable significance.  Therefore, the other who comes face to face with me earnestly and devoutly seeking community is not the brother or sister with whom I am to relate in the community.  My brother or sister is instead that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, absolved from sin, and called to faith and eternal life.

Surely we will have to work to figure out how to live and get along with one another.  There are plenty of opportunities to learn to forgive, to forbear, to accept, to embrace, etc.  Those kind of exhortations about how to live in community fill the pages of the New Testament. But whatever it is we are doing, we are NOT creating community.  Christ has overcome human and spiritual alienation reconciling us with him and one another and has brought us together to the spiritual reality that is community.  What we are working at is faithfully representing the community that Christ has accomplished in us.

In the past, I’ve spoken of our home communities in terms of “this is where we create community” but I’ve realized that is a misnomer.  Home communities are in fact where we live out and give thanks for the community that has been created for us through Jesus.

Falsely believing that we “create community” leads us to an idealism that is unattainable and ultimately frustrating and destructive of true community.  That is why Bonhoeffer can so strongly speak against the “wish dream” that destroys communal life.  It also leaves us striving for an indefinite result always asking “are we there yet?” but never really knowing.

This week as we gather in home communities and on Sunday and any other time, we do so not trying to achieve something, but to celebrate what Christ has already achieved in bringing us together.  That helps me sleep at night.  It is not our job to create, but to enjoy.