Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hybrid Mission and Ministry

Through a long and somewhat trying series of events, I am now the proud owner of a 2002 Toyota Prius and thus a new member of the club of hybrid car drivers. Hybrids, for those unaware, use both an electric motor (that often functions as a generator) and a gasoline motor to provide power to get one down the road. The interesting thing is that when going downhill, slowing down, or turning, the kinetic energy that ordinarily would be lost to heat through the breaks or otherwise discarded is instead routed to the motor/generator to recharge the battery. What that means is that the car never really coasts since it is constantly either drawing power from motion or contibuting power to it. After driving it for almost a week, my initial thought was "Why don't all cars work this way?" Given that most of the kinetic energy of a car, much less the heat from internal combustion, is exhausted or otherwise wasted, it would seem a total no-brainer that this is the future of automobiles.

At the same time, as a part of the aforementioned series of events, I had occasion to speak with one of my colleagues about the current state of affairs in both our diocese and the wider church. It seemed to both of us that we were entering what, upon later reflection, I would call a "hybrid" time of mission and minsitry in the institutional church. No longer were the structures that had been built up during the last forty years (coincidentially my current age!) sufficiant to facilitate the mission and minsitry in the current environment. In fact, some of those same structures that were built to protect the institution were instead choking the life out of it! Mission and minsitry today is done much more through a network of often local relationships than it is done through I tightly controlled program or a hierarchical system. While there is a need for accountability, there is also the need for flexibility.

Yesterday I caught an episode of Fresh Air that talked about the way in which the government has rewarded farm consolidation and articficially supported the growing of crops that virtually required fossil-fuel based pesticides and long distance transportation (obviously using fossil fuels). Again, this system had developed over the last 40 years. The guest advocated the "solarization of food" in which farmers once again grow a variety of crops, practice crop rotation, and that supply lines by shortened so that crops were eaten closer to where they are grown. One example he gave was that chickens from the United States are shipped to China to be processed, then shipped back to the United States for sale! This is because it is cheaper to ship them there for processing and ship them back than it is to pay labor costs in the United States. That is proving to be less and less the case as fuel prices increase.

I have often thought of the church as a battleship--hard to turn but very strong, occasionally intimidating if you are on the outside but very safe if you are on the inside. However, we live in a world that is much more geared to smaller, more agile craft like speedboats or patrol boats. There is a reason that the Navy no longer makes battleships--they have outlived their usefulness. In the same way, perhaps we need to look hard at our structures, our canons, and even our assumptions about how the institutional church should function (and often does, in spite of the official rules) and what modifications we could make in the structures to accomodate and encourage a less hierarchical, more localized, and less travel-centered. I don't really have any specific proposals for this, but I'm wondering if there is a "Why don't all churches work this way?" question to be asked.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Peace that Passes Understanding

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Philippians 4:4-6

This was one of the lessons appointed for this morning, in addition to the story of the golden calf and the wedding feast. In my sermon, I pointed out that Paul's letter to the church at Philippi was written from his own prison cell to a church that was both low on financial resources and in the midst of a land that was occupied by Roman legions. It is hardly a call to "find a happy place" and disengage from the world about them. Rather, it is a promise that if we rejoice in God's grace in our lives and pray for that which we need, God's peace will guard our hearts and minds. In other words, the Philippian Prescription is Praise + Prayers = Peace.

With the stock market in free-fall, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an utter lack of confidence in either congress or the current occupant of the White House, and a political campaign climate steeped in fear, the need for "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" can hardly be denied. Yet as flawed, sinful human beings, we more often than not succumb to the temptation to shrink back, to protect ourselves, and to rely on and protect our own resources and forget about the grace and peace of God that has been with us in the past. We choose the golden calf over the Godly celebration to which we have been invited. We're often too busy saving ourselves to hear the voice of our Savior calling to us.

As conflict and fear rage around us, it would be well for all of us to recall that it is in such an environment that God continues to call us to the wedding feast, the great heavenly banquet in which God is the host. We are reminded of that invitation at the Eucharist each week. May we recall who we are and Whose we are as Children of God and rest in the peace which passes understanding.