By accident I stumbled across Joel Osteen the other evening on television. I decided to watch a bit, just for the heck of it. He's basically my age. (I know, he looks much younger but we're within a year or two.) I am sure that he has touched countless lives in good ways and I respect and appreciate that. But, honestly, it's like he's still living in 1985. That troubles me. (I really am not being critical though -- he has brought many people to new and better understandings and places in their lives, I am sure.)
Joel Osteen aside, I think that lots of us who lived through the Reagan era, now that we're in our 40s, are finding ourselves transformed into things we never imagined possible. Kids, the market collapse, September 11, personal tragedies, illness or death of parents, seeing the trials and tribulations of those we love, coming to grips with our own eventual mortality, even watching Brad and Angelina ... these things have given us a different perspective.
Todd R recently blogged about having a missional/emerging theology with prosperity gospel tastes. Though he is a bit younger than I am, his feelings may go a long way in describing how many folks in my age bracket are feeling these days. I guess that makes him a man ahead of his time?
One thing that bugs me when I think about the missional church is that somehow our minds automatically go to sort of an "us" and "them" philosophy. I guess that, if you're serious about going into the world to carry Jesus' love and message then, to some degree, there is an "us" (Christians) and a "them" (pre-Christians) but I guess that what bothers me is that the "them" we think about are usually the poor. They don't look a lot like "us". They may have different color skin or different diets. They may, by circumstance, not have our own level of personal hygiene. They likely live in a different country but, if they do live in our country, it is on the other side of the tracks.
It's easy when we think of being "missional" to think of "them" as being how I described above. After all, the more different they look from us, the easier it becomes to know who "they" are and to know who the others of our "we" are.
It's easy to think of being Jesus to the starving, to the sick and destitute, to the hopelessly addicted. After all, "they" look a lot different than us. We can try to make ourselves look more like "them" in our missional attempts but, still, someplace deep in our psyche if not closer to the surface, we see that wall of separation ...
And, believe me, for those who actually hear and follow a call to go into the midst of poverty and disease, into the midst of despair and utter hopelessness, I am not being critical of you. That is absolutely wonderful and I have the utmost respect and praise for you.
But, somehow, others of us, in the midst of all this clearly delineated "us" and "them," choose to miss the "them" that are amongst the "us".
Bringing grace, love and mercy to the poor and broken is a marvelous thing. It offers such a huge contrast -- such a transformation -- it is very visible and very beautiful.
But all of us have the chance to bring grace, love and mercy to pre-Christians who look more like "us" than like "them". And that is where I often blow it. It's easier for me support a Compassion child than it is to go out and bring Jesus' love to my neighbor on the same side of the tracks as me.
What about the factory line worker? Hard working, nice home, 2.4 kids, good marriage but still not knowing God's love and grace. Most of "us" have been brought by God to the point of where we have countless contacts every day with this type of individual but yet, when we think missionally, we think of Africa.
What about the business executive? Hard working, huge home, 2.4 kids, powerful, respected, everything seems good ... but he and his family still don't know God. How do we bring Jesus to them?
I firmly believe that it's harder, really, to be Jesus to the factory worker and the executive than it is to the starving children in the Sudan. Afterall, the factory worker and the executive "look" like us. Very little differentiation. Happy, "good" lives, living the American dream. On a heirarchial scale, we may be below them. Normally, even though it may be very hard to admit, we're more accustomed to reaching "down" to be Jesus rather than "out" or "up".
There may or may not be "hidden" things in their lives that we don't see. There may or may not be addictions, immorality, a lack of ethics. That doesn't make any difference. The life not accepting Christ is damned to hell. And Jesus sent us out to transform the entire world.
A call to be missional ... a call to be part of the emergent church ... these days, I feel it much more than I feel a call to big hair (wow, that's LONG behind me) or button down shirts (though I may still wear them on occasion ... old habits die hard) ... but I need to remember that that call is on my life where I am today ... it's not something I am waiting for in the future. God brought me to where I am today to be missional.
That may look different for me in the future depending upon where God leads but for now it means reaching out and even "up" to those around me to share God's love. Doing so can actually be far more intimidating than reaching in the direction that is normally thought to be "down" to share God's love. But, I must remind and discipline myself, it is what I am called to ... what I am shaped for ... today.