"Cargo Cult Religion", Ritual, and Manna

It is the Friday 3 days before Christmas, and everyone seems to be running to finish all the last minute details. We all want to please the people we love, don't we? And I think our worst fear is disappointing others, even though -- to some extent, at least -- we're resigned that disappointing the people we love at Christmastime is not always avoidable. (Hmm . . . or maybe that's just me. :-) )

I have been meaning to follow up my last post -- ever since I wrote it -- with an explanation of what I did not mean. I did not mean that all religious ritual and tradition was meaningless, by any means!

But I have been busy doing the next thing that had to be done, and writing is something that I have to do, but that can wait until it can't -- and so here I am, finally!

I need God's presence! I need His Kingdom imposed upon my messes! I need intimacy with Him to color my relationship with every other person in my life. And that plane needs to arrive daily and hourly, not once a week or once a month or even every other day.

I have always loved the way God gave food to the Israelites in the desert -- manna served up each morning for them to gather, except on the Sabbath, when they had enough left over from the day before so that they didn't have to gather fresh manna on the Sabbath. But every other day the manna from the day before was spoiled by the next morning, and they needed to gather fresh manna for the day.

What a perfect picture of our relationships! I need contact with my God that is fresh each morning! I need to maintain contact with the people I love each day! We don't get to keep the nourishment from yesterday, but need to gather fresh nourishment for each day.

The pacific Islanders who imitated the rituals that they thought would bring cargo to their islands didn't err in the idea of following example. They erred in a failure to communicate. The USA has always helped develop economies in places that had been affected by our wars, and would have helped bring some economic prosperity -- some indigenous industry -- to the Islanders who "wanted to do it themselves" if they had been open to having that conversation and following the teaching they received. Industriously following an example to produce a desired result is a useful trait, isn't it? But there must be a proper dose of communication, because fake runways and fake control towers don't bring planes full of cargo, do they?

I have a huge respect for the traditions and rituals of 20 centuries of Christianity -- both for the communal rituals of worship and service, and for the private rituals of personal intimacy with God. They are based on the communication of God with us and on the communication of us with each other through the years. An "emerging church" or a "missional church" that walks away from the ways the Holy Spirit has worked and communicated through 20 centuries can become very like the Pacific Islanders who were following their own reason and observations and creativity without communication about the truths that were out of their sight. We cannot afford to disrespect all that the Holy Spirit has done throughout history!

We need to hold tight to tradition and ritual while we hold tight to active communication with our Triune God about what He is doing now.

And we need to gather today's manna -- each day! My manna is 4-fold: God speaks to me privately, in His voice to me internally; God speaks to me through His Word; God speaks to me through His Church (all those Christians around me in community with me, especially!); and God speaks to me through the world around me and throughout history. If I habitually close myself off from any of those avenues of hearing Him and knowing Him and enjoying Him and obeying Him, I lose touch with any knowledge of that larger reality that needs to be the reasons for our traditions, rituals, and changes.

Obedience is the antidote to "Cargo Cult Religion", and it requires 3 things: We hear God's voice of TRUTH to us in all the ways He speaks; We determine to follow the indicated course of action and relationship; and We appropriate the power to follow that indicated course of action or relationship.

And, ultimately, all three components of obedience are gifts to us out of His grace.

Today may we know Him, hear Him, determine to obey Him, and have the ability through His Spirit to do so!


Cargo Cult Religion and Letting God Invade Your Life

In 1974 Richard Feynman gave a commencement address at Caltech (see Cargo Cult Science for the full text of his written adaptation of his talk) in which he appealed to the students for integrity in how they did science. I especially love these two paragraphs:

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

I love that! And it makes me think about "Cargo Cult Religion" that is really about getting it "right" on our side with the goal of all the riches and fulfillment we want out of life and out of our relationship with God -- because we don't really "get" it. We're just like those Islanders who think that they can bring planes full of cargo by duplicating the things they saw that brought those planes full of cargo before -- only we're trying to duplicate all the things that brought God's presence and blessings before, with just as much of a lack of understanding of what it really was that brought God's presence and blessings! We don't get that TRUTH -- the LOGOS -- is enough, and is truly The Way to all those riches and that fulfillment that we want out of life and out of our relationship with God. HE is it!

But even though that's something I knew in my head back as a teenager, and have been really learning to KNOW all the years since then, I still fall back into trying to get the runways just right and all the other trappings just right that will bring in that cargo . . .

And it is something I see all the time in all the other people who call themselves Christians. We are scared to death of the reality that we're missing, and hold onto all the trappings of reality that we call Christianity. But real Christianity -- the Christianity of real Christians for 20 centuries -- is not afraid of real life, and is not afraid of God, and is not afraid of an integrity that examines how well our beliefs are working to describe what we really see and experience. Real Christianity is willing to let God come to us the way He does come to us -- by His choice, with no manipulation on our side.

Real Christianity is willing to be invaded by a God who came down as a man, died, was raised again, and Who now lives at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us all as we live lives invaded by His Holy Spirit. We don't need to hold tight to the trappings of faith and belief and reject that real Triune God.

There's no call to action here! It is Christmas, and our task lists and calendars are full, aren't they? This is His "action item", and there is nothing you can do but wait! Just as Jesus came to us as a baby at the right time in history, watch to see how His Spirit comes to you -- right here, right now. Don't be scared! This is the real thing!


Anger, Pain, Cliques and Pettiness, and AGAPE

Where I ended up in writing my last post was a very long place from where I started. Where I started was in a very big funk that started from two small incidents of being deliberately left out by people that I very much wanted to consider me friends and include me, but whom -- for whatever reason -- are willing to deal with me as a person in their church environment but not willing to act like actual friends. The incidents, in and of themselves, were basically laughable as reasons to be moved from a good mood to an angry, pouty, "poor-me" mood. But they were drops in a bucket that was full of similar incidents, and from people that believe themselves to be dedicated to our church and to God's purposes there, and also from people whom I've made an active effort to pursue in friendship and in mutual efforts toward God's purposes in our church -- so there I was, unable to do anything more than endure the situation until I could get enough privacy to cry my eyes out.

So later I found the privacy I needed and spent time on just dealing with my emotions alone with God. He will hold me while I cry, when that's what I need -- and He is able to soothe that part of me and comfort me so much more effectively than even Mom could when I was a little little girl -- and a thousand times better than any friend or lover in my life since then.

And the next day the feelings of pain and anger were past-tense, but my understanding that I had something real to deal with was still right there. I didn't know what I had to do to deal with it, but my emotional reaction from the night before was unmistakable evidence that there was something real there, and that just processing my emotions wasn't sufficient. The only problem was that I didn't know what was needed, really. I did know that I needed God to work to fix things, and that my first responsibility in that was prayer and listening. And that I needed to refrain from any action -- whether confrontation with people or whether venting here or elsewhere -- until I'd heard God's word on it all to me.

I sent an email to a friend whom I felt had caught some of the flack from my funk right after the recent incidents, explaining a very little and asking for prayer. Whoops! I was supposed to pray and listen -- I forgot! And so I got to deal with trouble I caused in that friendship, mixed in with everything else I was processing. But God seems to have used that as part of the mix to help me sort out my side and everyone else's side sufficiently enough to have figured out the general picture of what I was neglecting and what I needed to change and what I needed to do.

We are all still just children, aren't we? We may be 40 or 50 or 60 or older, but the way we behave socially is often no different than what I see happen with my 5-year-old or with my 14-year-old or with my 22-year old. And the worst part of it is that I always think I'm right, and you always think you're right, and we haven't really learned what "listening" is. It's no wonder we need all the varieties of counselors that we employ to "get you to hear my side" or to "be able to stop feeling so guilty or depressed or angry". (And I think there's legitimate value in all of that, and that many therapists are very useful to God in what He wants to do in the lives of people brave enough to go there and beyond.)

But in our churches and lives, we need to go beyond a surface show of "a welcoming environment" and "brotherly love". We need to actually pursue AGAPE, which Jesus told us is the main characteristic of the KINGDOM that will be visible to the world around us. And we're such children play-acting with our playmates when it comes to the reality of that!

So that's where I came to on Friday, when I wrote my post on "Heroes Close at Hand". I am not an orphan! Not only do I have the Holy Spirit (which Jesus sent so that we would not be left as orphans without Him physically present with us today), but I have my parents and the other people in my life who model the kind of discipleship that assumes the role of "adult". As Henri Nouwen talks about in his book on the prodigal, I can stop just filling the role of "prodigal" and of "the good son", and I can become the "adult" in the story, allowing Him to use me to love my brothers and sisters with real agape in the middle of the real pettiness and silliness of human interaction.

The starting point to that, of course, is that I have received our Triune God's healing and reconciliation and agape, and that I keep receiving it each day -- even the days where I am feeling like a child rejected by her peers. The second part to that is found in the same community where I keep getting hurt: I focus on the people who don't hurt me, but instead surround me and love me and deliberately nurture me in their particular ways. And the last part is found in just being willing to GROW UP!

The pain I was experiencing was rooted in the expectation of being loved and nurtured and accepted by the people who take on the role of being leaders of one sort or another in our community. I should be able to expect that, shouldn't I? . . . . hmmmm . . .

It was also rooted in the expectation of those same people acting like the Christians they claim to be, and of them living out love for me and for the others in our community that they find hard to love -- for whatever reason. I should be able to expect that, too, shouldn't I?

But, guess what? We are all still in need of nurture and acceptance, and we are all still broken and not always able to live out the things we claim to believe. Me too!

So we pray "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" and then do the mental gymnastics that make us believe we've actually forgiven them . . . when the reality is we've stamped a label on them and treat them according to whichever label their sin or failure gave them in our minds -- and then we create our cliques and our friendships and our ministry teams, and think that's all okay . . . but it's NOT!

I am called to be an adult -- to be THE adult -- and to consider where real forgiveness and agape calls for simple tolerance, to consider where it calls for a renewed effort at friendship or at least a more effective "working relationship" as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to consider where it requires actual confrontation and a call for understanding and change. I cannot do any of those things properly from the emotional place that is needy -- so I need to receive first the healing and love I need, from God-in-Three-Persons, from my intimate friends, and from my "heroes close at hand". But then, out of that place of healing and fullness, I am called to extend real AGAPE.

We cannot effectively minister together if we are ministering as a team that doesn't possess all the needed skills for the game to which we are called -- that's what Paul talked about so often in his words about the church as a body with all its uniquely talented members. We focus on those words as a call to see our own unique giftedness and to exercise that giftedness -- but that wasn't primarily what Paul was saying! He was saying not to "dis" (disrespect) the other members of the body! We need each other -- even that annoying man who doesn't just exercise his giftedness but gets in the way of me exercising mine, and even that annoying woman who likes to exercise her ability to "punish" socially anyone who doesn't fit her agenda. (And you may actually really need me as part of your community, too, to see God do everything He could do through all of us together -- despite all the things about me that are so clearly broken and deserve a label and your relief if I find other friends and a different circle to minister in.)

So, through the course of the next few years, as we deal with all the "political" stuff of a pastoral transition and a denominational crisis, and as we keep walking out the "service" side of our mutual Christian calling, and as we grow together and individually in our worship and individual times of prayer and study: May we look for all the ways we are called to minister to each other each time we are together in any way!

I will not allow myself to "label" you and move into a different sub-group of our community, but will make sure that -- as much as it lies with me -- I truly am at peace with YOU. And my prayer is that each of you will do the same with me and with each other -- in all the petty little things!


The Blessing of Heroes Close At Hand

I spent a few days recently struggling through some of the kinds of issues I talked about in my post "The Difference Between Agape and Being Liked", and I suspect I'll have more to write on the subject of how discipleship is very intertwined with conflict and agape in all our lives. But the place I found myself at this morning -- out of those meditations -- was focused on my heroes.

I have many heroes from the past -- writers, missionaries, preachers, and women like Susanna Wesley -- and I have many brothers and sisters around me with whom I feel a strong affinity and for whom I have a strong respect. But I also have my "heroes close at hand" who inspire me to live today and tomorrow and into the future in a way that is obedient to God and in a way that enjoys Him fully. None of those "heroes close at hand" is perfect, but that's what makes them so inspiring! They are close enough so that I can see they are real people -- people just like me -- and also close enough so I can see the real qualities of endurance and faith in their lives.

Life is hard, isn't it? And it is so very daily. I hear the "idealistic" messages of what life can be and should be, but the reality of daily conflict and tiredness and confusion and tedious tasks would make it easy to buy into the values of the world around me, and spend my life pursuing the things that people pursue as ends in themselves -- successful careers, money, relationships, beauty, power, entertainment, etc. But the word that there is more than that -- the word from scriptures and the word from the real Church in the World and the word from the Holy Spirit spoken in my heart -- is easy to hear for me because of the view I have of people around me who live it out on a daily basis for years. I can believe in the REAL -- not the "idealistic" -- message of the Gospel of Christ because of my "heroes close at hand."

The first two -- and most important and believable to me -- of my heroes are my mom and dad. Kids know their parents with too much intimacy, don't they? I know and have bemoaned everything I could bemoan about my mom and dad as I went through my times of adolescence and breaking away and as I processed a greater knowledge of the world and the places that their teaching or example or relationship with me did not adequately prepare me for reality. That is part of growing up, isn't it? But from this perspective, I see a clear picture of discipleship lived out over the 68 years they each possess (well, at least in a few weeks, Dad! :-) ), and it gives me hope and strength unlike any other view I have of life. Mom is a picture of faith and service and study and prayer, and Dad is a picture of responsibility and strength and stewardship and worship -- seen in the big picture of 2 lives, and seen in the little picture of each word and each choice and each day and each relationship. What a heritage, and what intimacy, and what wisdom! I love each of you so deeply, and am so grateful to God for you, and so grateful to each of you for the choices you make each day!

My other "heroes close at hand" these days are these figures in my life: Leah Stout, minister of congregational care in our church; Lydia Sarandan, minister of adult education; Jim and Judy Jefferson, one of our elders and his precious wife; John Huffman, our senior minister; and Trevecca and Dennis Okholm, our minister of children and families and her husband who is a professor of theology at Fuller and Azuza and is also our interim co-senior pastor with Dr. Huffman. None of these heroes are people whom I know anywhere near as intimately as I know my own parents, of course -- nor do I know any of them as well as I know my closest friends. But I know them well enough to be blessed by them in this way: I see clear examples of discipleship lived out by imperfect people in imperfect ways but with the tremendous results that God brings to faithfulness like theirs.

Leah is a precious example of compassion and faithfulness and faith and practical love lived out today and shown in the years leading to this day, and illustrated in the fruit God has given her, despite the places life has been hard and is hard. Lydia is an example of beauty and strength and a deliberate pursuit of intimacy with God and a faithfulness in stewardship of her gifts and the gifts of those around her despite the injustices of life, and the fruit of her hands -- all the ministries she administers or leads -- is a large part of the beauty of our community. Jim and Judy are a picture of a Christian couple extending themselves in love and service to those around them in an energetic way -- and I am grateful to be one of the beneficiaries of the love they pour out so freely! John is a picture of a life of preaching good theology and a vision of the God Who IS, and of the discipline to follow Jesus in pursuing that life he preaches. And Trevecca and Dennis are so many things! -- but the most important ones in my life have been these: they model Christian marriage in an amazing way; they have an amazing understanding of worship and discipleship and a vision for how that could be lived out in our community coupled with the love and restraint that lets God work to bring about His vision in His way and time; and they really believe that God forgives sin and uses sinners -- enough to have given me the first push toward each of the things God has done in my life to move me out of myself and into service to others.

I am blessed with many others around me who also encourage me in similar ways as these ones I have mentioned, of course! I am a fan of every single person on our program staff and many support staff and volunteers at St. Andrews, but especially of Jan Harvey, Sharon, Jeff, Merle, Jerri, Jim Birchfield, Bonnie, Rose, George, Janice, Ruth, Dana, Tina, Tempest, Alix, Diane Miller, Diane Rysan, and Vicki (whose efforts to help me find fellowship over the years and whose faithful ministry to me herself have been very significant in what God has done in my life!) And my precious friends who show me so much love and who labor with me through all the details of my life and theirs -- you are not my heroes, you are my intimate companions, and I could not make it without you!! Diane, Barb, Emily, Darci, and Linda-Kay -- just look what God has done in my life in the last 3 years because of YOU! I love each one of you!

Thank God for all the ways He reveals Himself to each of us! Today I am especially thankful for the ways He has shown me that a life of discipleship is not "idealism", but is something I can apply right now, as I jump in the shower and then head out the door to meet my husband for lunch!