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I’ve never been an anglophile and, frankly, always gone a little out of my way to make the point. When the opportunity to have dinner at the House of Lords with Lord Wei came up in our trip planning for London I was the first one to say, “That’s not the kind of thing we want to do for dinner.” What’s the attraction of having dinner with someone just because they have a title? My assumption has always been titles have been handed out for the same reasons major donors to successful Presidential political campaigns are awarded positions as ambassadors. It’s patronage pure and simple.
As well, the word “peer” means something totally different in our two countries. For me, it means someone of equal standing and by whom I am willing to be judged should I go to court. For our UK friends it means a member of one of the ranks of nobility. We are more than an ocean apart on that one!
However, I was in the minority so I tagged along with the rest of the group.
In the course of the evening I changed my mind about dinner with Lord Wei and learned a lesson in the process. Years ago, a woman named Gert Behanna was a popular speaker. She was raised in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel as the irresponsible child of a wealthy and dysfunctional family. She was brought up to be a snob. After her remarkable conversion from “alcoholism and boredom” she would tell people,“I’m a snob above snobs because I look down upon people who look down upon people.”
While I was not raised at the Waldorf, I recognize the painful truth of Gert’s comment. It’s easy to make assumptions about people and to fit them into simple categories. It’s easy to look down on people who we believe look down on people. The only snob I met that night was me.
I’m going to say more about our dinner and conversation with Nat Wei in the next blog. He was not at all what I was expecting.Comments
I’ve just returned from ten days in Europe – London, Oxford, Paris and Prague. A small group from The Gathering (11 of us) went together. In the course of those ten days we made visits or heard presentations from 23 different ministries. Yes, that is insane but you should have seen us high-fiving after the final presentation. For me, 23 in ten days is a “personal best”…but that’s not a record I want to break. I took good notes and intend to write it up in segments for the blog and the Board of The Gathering.
However, this morning I wanted to focus on a theme that kept coming up consistently among the group. All of us have visited ministries in Africa, India, Asia, South America, etc. and most of our experience has been with ministries working in the undeveloped parts of those places. We’ve been with the “poorest of the poor” (a phrase I don’t like but will wait for another time to talk about) and trekked around villages in rural areas as well as unimaginable slums in Kenya, South Africa, India and other urban areas. Those trips are not hard to explain to friends. It was most difficult to explain our taking ten days to visit ministries in Europe. Why is that?
First, there are no pith helmets in Paris. There have not been any David Livingston types in France since the monks spreading the influence of the Church among the barbarians in the dark ages. There is no powerful figure standing out for us as a missionary to pagans or the cannibals of London.
Second, one of the paradoxes we encountered was the perception among donors that Europe is completely Christianized and at the same time hopelessly secular. I know it cannot be both but many people see it that way. It has already been “churched” over the course of thousands of years and yet is now written off as beyond the reach of any true faith.
Third, we have been taught that part of the effect of Christian missions has been the civilizing of pagans. How much more civilizing needs to be done in Europe? In fact, we still compare ourselves to sophisticated European civilization in our manners, music and the arts, intellectual accomplishments and habits. When we think of civilization we look to Europe. No further work of civilizing needs to be done.
Fourth, I think many of us are intimidated by secularism in a way we are not by poverty and physical suffering. Our compassion and our pity are far more effective in Africa than Oxford – and that makes us uncomfortable as donors. Some might even argue that evangelicals are not convinced secularists and intellectuals (not always the same thing in Europe) are even opportunities for the Gospel. After all, it was the same who saw the Gospel as foolishness and rejected Paul’s preaching.
Finally, I believe it was J. Oswald Smith who said, “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice until everyone has had an opportunity to hear it at least once.” I know in my upbringing that meant we “shake the dust off our sandals” to the hardened hearts and move on with the proclamation. My sense is others have been brought up to think the same about Europe. They’ve had enough opportunities and have rejected it. Why should we spend precious resources on them when we can reap a bigger harvest in other places?
Again, this is not exhaustive and many of you could fill in all the blanks I’ve left – and I hope you will. I came back to the States with so many thoughts about ministries in Europe and a desire to think about ways those ministries could present themselves to American donors as valid and as worthy as those ministries we support in “needy” countries.Comments
This afternoon I am meeting with a young man who is trying to figure out what to do with his life now that he has left his company. I have found most people in this situation go around and have conversations with individuals and then try to process everything they have heard in their own heads. It’s a pretty standard way of getting advice. If your primary doctor gives you a diagnosis you can go get a second opinion. If your insurance quote is too high you can call another agent. We tend to get advice and counsel that way. I’m not sure it is the most effective way of working through life change decisions.
Years ago I was introduced to Parker Palmer and a process used by the Quakers called the Clearness Committee. (http://www.couragerenewal.org/parker/writings/clearness-committee). The purpose of the clearness committee is not to give direction or to “fix” people but to help people access the resources of a small group of trusted friends. It’s not an intervention or group therapy. Again, it is not designed to come up with an answer to the person’s question about what to do. It is not a time to say, “If I were you this is what I would do.” It is simply a way to access the value of a group working together instead of an individual being the only one to hear everything.
While some people are reluctant to impose on their friends or they feel asking a group is uncomfortable or sounds self-centered, just the opposite is true. The friends are delighted and they love having the opportunity to learn from each other. If you are working through a decision, try a clearness committee.Comments
I live in a city of 100,000 people. When I moved here 27 years ago it was 75,000. Not much change in population but somewhere along the line we passed a tipping point that has affected once well established growth patterns, management, structures, politics and a host of other things. The change is not merely incremental. Like many cities in the South we have learned to accommodate and manage our differences. We have a registered Democrat, I think, that covers us for political diversity. We have many brands of Protestant Christians, large numbers of Catholics and a healthy Jewish community.
Up until now, our local “secular” community foundation has grown and the Board has pretty much reflected the overall religious diversity of the community. I have been resistant to the option of a specifically Christian community foundation as I thought it would create a tear in the fabric of the city. Would it become not just a “Christian” foundation but even more defined as an evangelical Christian foundation and unintentionally exclude Catholics, Jews and mainline denominations who are currently on the board and have significant funds at the existing foundation?
Lately, a group of Christians have begun talking about a specifically Christian community fund that would serve a defined market of Christians. I’m wrestling with that but I also recognize the reality that in a growing community this is probably not an abnormal response. Just as in a growing church people tend to identify with smaller groups of people who are “more like me” then there may be the same in a growing city. I’m not done wrestling.Comments
In a recent column titled “Who will bat against ‘Alibi’ Obama”, George Will wrote “Announcing his candidacy near the Statue of Liberty, where Ronald Reagan began his 1980 post-convention campaign, Huntsman promised “civility” because “I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation” when running for president. Actually, you do.”
I doubt George was advocating vicious personal attacks but I do think he was saying we need to define “civil” as something other than bland. I only mention this because I have had two conversations today with organizations in Washington who are both working to bring “civility” back into politics. Is that like bringing romance back into human trafficking? Has the game changed so radically that talking about a return to civility is like a return to wind powered passenger ships?
It’s novel and laudable but ships don’t run on wind anymore. That is not what fuels them…and civility does not fuel politics. I’ve read enough history to know it never did and we are probably comparing our politics of “civil war” to a time that never existed. From what I heard this morning about the Center for Public Justice (www.cpjustice.org) I love their work “to help equip citizens, develop leaders, and shape policy in pursuit of our purpose to serve God, advance justice, and transform public life.” I can only hope they will show a practical alternative to Rupert Murdoch’s brand of journalism and the “love of hate” that drives ratings and blood pressure up.
While it is certainly counterintuitive and against the trends, it is encouraging to see groups like CPJ taking the stand that there is a City of Man and we, as Christians, have a place in it. Others are beginning to join them and say we are not just here to evangelize or do social justice or create culture. We have a role to play in the rough and thoroughly uncivil world of politics and governance.Comments