Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Missional Reality: Personal Reflections on Missional Encounters in Orlando

The following are personal anecdotes that have served to open my eyes to the need for new ways of serving as an ambassador of Christ.
1) My youngest daughter has a friend (F) whose parents are originally from Upstate New York and Michigan. She invited F to stay over night a year or so ago. It was a Saturday evening so we gained permission for F to accompany us to worship on Sunday. The next morning we got up with the intention of attending a 9:30 AM service. As we dressed and prepared to leave the house, F looked puzzled.
She asked us, “Why are leaving so early? It’s not time for lunch yet, is it?”
We replied, “We are not going to lunch yet R. We are going to Church.”
“Now I’m really confused, Mr. Brian. I’ve been looking forward to going to Church’s with you because I’ve heard that their fried chicken is excellent.”
I was speechless. Here was a child of middle class white parents from middle America living in the suburbs who had no idea that the church we were talking about was something different from the fried chicken restaurant.
2) I use to live a few houses from our local elementary school. I always tried to find time to hang around before and after school in order to converse with parents and allow our daughters to enjoy the company of friends. I had many impromptu conversations across a wide range of topics. Spirituality was a popular theme. One of my friends, a self-avowed atheist, likes to see where people stand in terms of religion. One day she was polling the other parents who had gathered in our driveway. She wanted to know if any of them attended church. Most said, “No” or “We used to.” One woman said that her family attended until her son was frightened by some of the bible stories. In particular, he was horrified by the story of Jonah and the great fish. He was afraid that God might send a whale to swallow him. They had not attended church since this lesson.
What does it mean for teaching the Scriptures that Western culture has lost its memory of the most basic stories? How have stories that contained good news become bad news stories?
3) I think that that the preceeding anecdote also has implications for children’s curriculum, but let me first share a related incident involving my oldest daughter.
She walked out of her Sunday school class upset one day. The class had studied the story of Noah’s Ark from Genesis 6-9. I asked her what was the matter, and tears welt up in her eyes. Why did God have to kill all of those innocent animals? Wow. Great questions. In fact, it is a natural one given our modern bent toward environmentalism and animal rights. Our family loves animals. My daughter wants to be a vet.
Her reaction was in many ways similar to the reaction of our neighbor’s son to the story of Jonah. It begs this question: Isn’t it time to reassess how the Bible is taught to children? Noah’s Ark and Jonah are not children’s stories. They are poignant and powerful narratives for adults.
A missional hermeneutic is profoundly interested in rejuvenating the Old Testament in our day. Genesis 1-11 is the fundamental narrative for understanding our life in the world today. It is not the stuff of children’s Sunday School. These are texts for the pulpit and for adult bible study. Likewise Jonah is a story of a missional God’s heart even for the avowed enemies of God’s people.
What would it take for our communities of faith to reengage with the whole of Scriptures? Why do we relegate such theologically rich texts as Genesis 1-11 and Jonah to the realm of children’s Sunday School?
4) A couple of years ago, I chaperoned my youngest daughter’s class’ trip to a Wilderness Center. I enjoyed hanging around with the kids and watching them engage the wilds of Florida. During lunch, I engaged in a fascinating conversation with a young man. He had been telling me of his love for dinosaurs. He paused. A song bird was singing. He grinned. He then took me by surprise with his next sentence. He said, “This is a beautiful place to mediate.”
I looked up from my lunch. “You meditate?” I asked.
“Yes. Meditation is the only way that we can speak with the gods.”
Wow. I was taken aback. This was the first time in my life that I was confronted by an openly polytheistic statement. Yet it was coming from a 9 year old boy! I followed up, “What gods do you speak with?”
He began to rattle off a series of Hindu gods such as Krishna and a litany of others.
At this moment, a girl sitting a few seats away joined him in talking about the various deities and their stories. I sat amazed at these two young people sharing with me and their friends about their religious beliefs openly and proudly.
My daughter looked at me with some confusion. We talked later about the world religions.
How well are we preparing to dialogue and converse with persons who are not merely post-Christian (there are clearly many such women and men in the West today) but alternatively adherents of contrasting faiths? What does it mean to read the OT and NT within a global context?
5) I love soccer. Both of my daughter play as often as possible. A few seasons ago in the Greater Central Florida Youth Soccer Leagues, my oldest daughter’s team was competing against a team from an openly Christian soccer club. The name of the team was the Praise. Yet midway through the game one of our girl’s parents who is not a believer moved her chair back to where most of our team’s parents were seated. She reported, “The parents down there were encouraging their girls by yelling ‘kill’em’ and ‘knock’em down’. I thought that we were playing a Christian team?” Not much that I could say at this point.
How would your current practices of reading Scripture and preaching/teaching speak to these situations? What similar stories/experiences have you encountered in your missional work?
© 2015 Brian D Russell

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