Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wanted: More Imagination

There is no lack of imagination in our household. Very often, blankets are turned into caves, bedrooms become classrooms and cats become targets of "kitty hunters" (our poor cat!). I have often said in all seriousness that buying our children toys really is a waste of money. I must admit that I feel like one of the unfortunate signs of growing older is a decline in imagination. Instead of seeing things as they can be, we become all too comfortable accepting things as they are (or were), and fail to challenge, risk, and do the necessary work to move toward any dream of what things can become.

As we participated in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's (CBF) 20th General Assembly gathering in Tampa last week, I was reminded of how difficult it is to imagine things differently than they have been in the past. The dinner that kicked-off our celebration of 20 years focused on CBF's dissent from the Southern Baptist Convention and the humorous (yet, evidently very painful) divisions that resulted in CBF's setting out to form a new "fellowship". While the next few days certainly took on a more positive tone, the impression of this opening event stayed with me. It bothered me that our identity seemed so centered around who we were not, and less about who we had become - the next few days did communicate in a powerful way who and what is at the heart of CBF, and for that I was so grateful.

Often, I do not think the problem lies in our not moving in the right direction, but rather in our ability to see and imagine who we are becoming and where we are headed on the journey. We are so used to the same language, jokes, explanations, and rhetoric that we miss the amazing way that God is moving and re-shaping us for God's purposes. We will miss the fullness of participating in what God is doing if we continue to see ourselves as a reaction to the past - we must see ourselves as what and who we sense God is calling us to become.

I could use a fresh dose of imagination. In church starting, in CBF, and in life, we must remember that while the past has brought us where we are, it is what lies ahead that deserves our energy, attention, courage and wisdom. In the words of Andre Gide, "People cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cleaning up the neighborhood

Over the weekend, I participated in a work project in the Springfield neighborhood. A group of concerned residents who want to improve the quality of life in the community met to clean-up a row of homes that have been vacant and used for a variety of illegal activities. Several of the porches were serving as makeshift homes and there was trash, clothing and drug paraphernalia strewn about. The place was a mess before we started, but after a couple of hours, it looked like a totally different place.

As I worked, I reflected. Several thoughts and questions kept coming to mind:

  1. Why is it so much easier to clean up other people's weeds and garbage than to deal with my own?!

  2. Initially, I asked what drives a person to live in a state of such despair and hopelessness? A few minutes later, I remembered that I could be that person if I were to lose my job, my family, or my health.

  3. How can we be effective in treating the systemic issues that only perpetuate the problems we "cleaned up" today? It's the more difficult work, but it's necessary.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster classifies service as a spiritual discipline. According to Foster,

"Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial."
I admit sometimes I am more attracted to the grander expressions of faith and to those things that help me escape the mundane. In service, though, I am moved to recover my place, to see my connectedness to God and other, and to humbly acknowledge what I have failed to really "see" in my frantic pace.