Emergent Thailand & Holy Ghost Conviction
Tonight my wife and I had dinner with her cousins Mark and Alisa Langley, who are two 40-something former Registered Nurses who gave up a nice life here in the United States and moved to Thailand to live in intentional community with the Thai people. Their organization provides scholarships for about 16 Thai teenagers to attend school, live and work together in community with Mark, Alisa, their two children, and their mission partners.
They embrace the outcasts in Thai society---tribal hill people, those who are infected with HIV, the poor---as an outpouring of their Christian love. There's no door to door evangelism here, no huge healing services with loud, boisterous, hellfire and brimstone preachers. Just simple people living among the world's poor, demonstrating the kingdom of God.
Their ministry to those who are infected with HIV is incredibly moving. In Thai culture, misfortune is heaped upon those who are wicked or inherently bad. If you are infected with HIV it's the same as a scarlet letter. They are shunned, lose contact with society, and cannot care for themselves. Mark and Alisa help get food to many of these people in their village. They even bring cooked food and sit down for a meal together---a sign of true solidarity.
Mark and I talked about Shane Claiborne and his book Jesus for President. He told me that he was at a gathering of American Christians. One of the women in the group was extraordinarily anxious about Barack Obama being elected President. She said, "I am so afraid of losing my Christian freedom." Mark laughed when he told me this. "What Christian freedom?" he asked me. "The freedom to turn the other cheek, to give the coat off your back, to walk two extra miles?" We talked about how the lines have become so blurry in Christian culture between faith and politics. Mark and Alisa told us about how silverware in America is so much heavier and sturdier than the silverware in Thailand. They said that the pace in the United States seems so crazy to them. "Everyone is in a hurry," Alisa told us. Mark added, "They rush to work, to school, to soccer practice...there's no down time."
I found myself growing more and more convicted. I felt like a poseur.
I sit around and write blogs about the emerging church and how the Church needs to give itself away and I come home and watch CNN on my flat screen HD TV and check my iPhone for stock updates and emails.
Mark and I read the same books: Shane Claiborne, Don Miller, Jim Wallis, Greg Boyd, Phyllis Tickle... The only difference is that Mark is living out the ethos of the emergent church halfway around the world and I sit in my spacious office whining about how I can't seem to "find" myself as an "emergent leader" in an "existing church."
There's a part of me that wishes that I had the courage to just give it all up and go live somewhere among the poor. But then I love my life so much as it is, and I have been told that I shouldn't feel guilty about that...too much. And then there's the whole call thing.
The truth of the matter is, that I know I am called to my ministry as the "Senior" pastor of a big, old historic church in a mainline denomination that has been pronounced dead more than once in the past decade. I tend to think there is life in us still. Maybe that life comes from seeing what the real emergent church looks like and wanting to become more like it. I don't know for sure. I had this vision a long time ago for the kind of church I wanted to serve. That missional, intentional community of Christ that existed just to pour itself out is still alive deep in my chest.
A friend of mine used to tell me that one of his parishoners, a beautifully expressive African-American woman, would always tell him right before he got up to preach, "Now give me a good conviction today! I need a good conviction!"
Would that the Existing Church and those of us laboring within it would offer that plea every time we open the Word of God together. "Give us a good conviction, God! We need a good, old fashioned, Holy Ghost Conviction. Break our hearts. Break our bad habits. Help us to live more simply. Help us to understand that our faith and our politics are not so hopelessly intertwined that we can't see that God so loved the world... Help us to open our doors and our hearts to the poor and the outcasts. Help us... "
There is something happening here. I can feel it. It's like the scales are starting to fall from my eyes and I am seeing the world as it could be.
I need a good conviction.