As I watched/watch the Conventions I am struck with so many issues. If God speaks through culture how are we discerning what we are seeing unfold in our current history-making elections? I have noticed many things that we (the church) could “notice” and wonder about. I will mention one thing and that is how many of the speeches and interviews with folks from the Kennedy’s, Clinton’s and Obama’s to the Bush’s and McCain’s, (and everyone else in between) always, always, always mention how their parents instilled in them a profound sense of no matter how privileged they were they must, must, must serve others. I have been struck with this notion for weeks now and am asking myself first, as a parent how I continue to raise my young son with this value and secondly, as a pastor how to create an environment within our faith community to instill this value in young people.
It is Sunday around 3:40 in the afternoon. I have just come home from a baptism. This afternoon four VCC’ers were baptized in a pool with family and friends there to witness, pray and celebrate with them. Before I go on, let me back up about one year.
Our home is located in a neighborhood in a suburb just north of the city of Seattle. I live in a cul-de-sac that is reflective of the ethnic diversity and religious pluralism of our time. Across the street is an Asian family, immigrants from China that practice Buddhism. Next door to them is a family that immigrated from Bangladesh and are practicing Muslims. Our neighbors to the west are a retired couple from Japan. In the eight years we have lived here, the church next door showed very little signs of life. The only person we would see during the week was an elderly man that kept the grounds. On Sundays during their worship gathering, we would see at the most six automobiles.
Last summer we noticed activity. Even the church sign board came to life and was changing every week. The messages seemed to be following a sequence of Scripture verses from the book of 1 Peter. The first one I noticed said, “Judgment must begin at the house of God”; the second, “Elders, feed the flock of God”; then, “Your adversary walks about seeking whom he may devour.”
I began to ask myself, “I wonder who this particular church is hoping to serve”? I found out that a new pastor had come in to restart the church. The church sign had a website address. Out of curiosity I looked at the site. Here are a couple of excerpts from the website:
A little about us…
• WE ARE A CONSERVATIVE, family-oriented fellowship desiring to serve God in our families, in our church, in our community, and everywhere else that God leads.
• We are evangelical in our practice of faith and are in substantial agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.
• We are traditional in our approach to worshiping God and we praise Him with hymns, choruses, played and sung in a non-contemporary style, and other inspirational music.
• We are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Northwest Baptist Convention and the Puget Sound Baptist Association.
Philosophy of Ministry
The admonition by Paul to believers in Ephesians 5:19 is to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. The music in church, therefore, can and should be varied. However, the heart focus of our music and singing must be on the Lord, on what would be pleasing to Him. An admonition found in both the Old and New Testaments is for Christians to be holy as our Lord is holy, to be in the world but not of the world. While there is no guidance in Scripture that prohibits a specific music style, clearly the Audience of our praise and our obedience to God in the matter of holiness must be reflected in our choice of music and singing. Rather than guess what or what is not acceptable music for the church, the church should purpose to exclude those forms of music that are easily recognizable as worldly. Therefore, contemporary Christian music that incorporates the different forms of rock and roll should be avoided. In my view, unacceptable contemporary Christian music is identifiable by its dependence on drums with a significant back beat and driving, repetitious, or sensual rhythms. A blend of hymns, sacred music, and melodious praise choruses that do not incorporate the rock style are certainly appropriate in the church.
In all the years we lived next door to this church the parking lot was used by us and the neighbors for parking when we had company, the kids rode their bikes and played ball there. After the new pastor came to revitalize the congregation, towing signs went up in the parking lot and the kids were told they could not play in the parking lot.
We met the new pastor and talked with him a few times. I think he felt sorry for us because we were not KJV only Christians.
A few months ago, Rich noticed several trucks moving stuff out of the church. He asked the pastor what was was going on. The pastor said they sold the building, that they were merging with another church. When Rich asked who they sold the building to he said he couldn’t say and that we would know in about one week. We were curious…
About a week later a new sign went up:
The Seattle Meditation Center
For the past few months we have watched cleaning, remodeling and a ton of landscaping going on. We have had several conversations with our new neighbors who immediately took down the towing signs and welcomed the kids back into the parking lot. It is a Thai Buddhist congregation.
This last week they have had an “Open House” invited all the neighbors. Here is part of the invitation we received tucked in our front door:
You are cordially invited to join us for an open house celebration of the Seattle Meditation Center. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching meditation as a means to relaxation, stress reduction, peace of mind and numerous other benefits.
For guests who are interested in meditation, we will offer 3 meditation introductory sessions in a non-religious manner for beginners.
We are looking forward to meeting you in order to know each other, build up our friendship and be good neighbors. We hope that you will kindly accept our invitation and come to see what we are doing and what benefits we will bring to the community.
Here is what their sign looks like:
We wanted to check out the open house but couldn’t. We talked with them and they said it went great. They had an authentic Thai buffet. Almost the entire congregation is from Bangkok. There are five monks with this congregation. They live in a house a few blocks away.
Today they were having their Grand Opening Ceremony. When we left for our worship gathering this morning, Alex and I went out the door and I heard Alex say, “whoa” because the parking lot was more than full, cars were lined up and down our street, we have never seen so much activity. The Grand Opening was from 9:00-3:30.
When I arrived home after the baptism I went over to check it out. I walked through the parking lot which was still full, there were Thai kids playing everywhere, from small children to teenagers. They were all dressed in white. There were several tent covers up with people scurrying to put food away. It looked like it was a full on Thai buffet. I walked up to the front door of the temple and took off my shoes (there must have been several hundred shoes) then went into the temple (which used to be the church sanctuary) and sat in the back. Here is what I observed:
It is a small building, probably holds a capacity just under 200. They had carpeted with an off-white carpet, there was a blood red runner running down the middle aisle. We sat on plastic white chairs (the kind you rent for a wedding). The room was packed with almost all Thai people all dressed in white. I stood out like a sore thumb! There were two other Caucasians in the room. One of which was sitting next to me. She asked me if I had ever been there before. I told her no, I was just visiting, that I live next door. She introduced me to the women sitting next to her, a Thai woman that traded places with her so she could explain to me what was going on.
In the front on what used to probably be the altar/stage (elevated about 5 feet) area were 15 monks dressed in an orange wrap around. They had a table in the front with microphones. The head monk was in the front and center. They were all seated. Above them (tall ceilings) was a gold plated enormous statue of a Buddha. To the right of the altar, stage area were seated another 15 or so monks. The rest of the room was facing them and did I say packed! At this point in the ceremony is was the offering time. Several young Thai women brought gifts to the monks on what looked like tall glass cake plates that were decorated with flowers. I asked my interpreter what was in the boxes, she said, “gifts for the monks, shaving cream, personal items and money”. The woman on the other side of her said to me, “you probably remember this was a Christian church, a dead Christian church, well this is different, all the work that has been done to renovate here came right from these people, they did it all and now they are bringing their offerings to the monks. Very different than Christian churches that are usually supported by endowments.” I nodded.
Next the head monk was saying something and then everyone brought their hands together in a prayer posture and all the monks began chanting something. My interpreter told me that the monks were praying a blessing. She said, “close your eyes and make a wish, as you make a wish the monks blessing will help it come true.” So, I assumed a posture like everyone else and observed the blessing. As the blessing came to an end, my guide let me know what was happening next. The young women were coming back with gifts on the platters for those that had been the most generous contributors. They called them forward, several people went up front and they were brought gifts. I asked what was in the boxes and she said, “framed pictures of (the head monk).” She said the name in Thai but I can’t remember what it is. Next she told me the head monk was going to give a sermon (in Thai) and then there would be meditation and chants.
The woman sitting next to her told me to come back on Sunday’s. They will begin with meditation at 9:30 and at 11:00 the monks eat and then at noon everyone else eats authentic Thai food. After lunch they then have a sermon, blessings and then more meditation. Sunday’s from 9:30 until about 3:00 there are activities. She told me to be sure to come. Then a man behind me leaned up and began to explain what the meditation was about, what the blessings were about and wanted to help instruct me on what was going on and to invite me to be sure to come back. He told me they were going to begin offering training for young boys and girls on Saturday’s from 9:00 – 3:00.
At this point I needed to go. I didn’t want to sit through a sermon in Thai so I thanked my guides and walked home. A couple of things I noticed:
1. Very, very kind people
2. The entire service was in Thai so I couldn’t understand
3. There were no kids or youth in the service
I have more thoughts about this but I have to get to something else and this post is getting way too long.
I wonder what it means to be faithful to Jesus in my pluralistic neighborhood. I will go back often to talk with my Buddhists neighbors. I wonder about a lot actually…
I am not surprised that things are a mess in Lakeland. I am not happy at all about hearing that the Bentley’s are having marital problems. The bad, bad theology of this thing from the beginning had me very concerned for all involved. I am sure Jesus is shedding more than one tear over this entire fiasco. Do I think God was/is there? Of course, God is everywhere and meets us when we have faith and when we don’t. If you are interested you can read about it here and here
Lest you think I don’t have a desire for the power of God to be present, that is not the case. I will say again, when these situations come, we have to be discerning. So many vulnerable, desperate people can be and are very damaged from the lack of discernment and theology of the Kingdom that often accompany these “hot spots”. I hope the Bentley’s will get much needed counsel.
There is a lot of discussion in the “Missional Church” conversation around the issue of having a building for gathering and functions. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, as I think this issue must be considered within the context, mission and vision of the faith community the building will serve.
For us a building became important in order to carry on our desire to continue to serve a specific community. In 2004 we took the step to lease a building. Prior to 2004 we were renting space in the basement from a local congregation for Sunday gatherings. When we were given a year’s notice to vacate, we began to ask the hard questions regarding leasing a space. We were at the very beginning of a journey, listening and interacting with the myriad of voices discussing the times we live in. We asked question after question trying to grasp what the tectonic change in world history we (the global community) are living through meant for us to be faithful as a local faith community.
We began a Tuesday evening dinner and book study. For eight months we met at our home for dinner and discussion. We discussed chapter after chapter of “Missional Church”. We were trying to wrap our brains around the concepts in the book and understand what those concepts might mean for us.
We discussed the pros and cons, the why’s and why not’s of taking the step of leasing a space. Our biggest fear was that we would lose sight of the congregation as the church. You see when we rented a basement room for Sunday worship only, everything else we did as a faith community happened in our neighborhoods, the host community and in homes. Moving into a leased space that we would have 24/7 access to could endanger us to put the emphasis on the building as the church rather than the church being the people.
Can you feel our dilemma? We prayed for discernment and direction regarding leasing a building or not. One morning as I was reading through the Gospel of John in Eugene Peterson’s, Message, I came to John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
my heart lept as I read those words. I literally felt like something ignited inside. I knew that it was the Holy Spirit saying, “this is why you can lease a building”. I knew then that we could lease a building and it would be right for us as long as we knew that the building was to be a tool, a gift to serve a specific neighborhood. As a congregation we were to move into a neighborhood and be the presence of Christ to that place.