Prairie View

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Community Identity: A Critique

Several months ago I was primed to write on church/community identity when I realized that I wasn't quite ready.  Some pieces of this puzzle have fallen in place for me within the past few days, and I'm creeping out of my hidey hole to expose to the view of others the picture I'm seeing.

The plot in the pilgrims and strangers narrative thickened yesterday when Milo Zehr preached on what it means to belong to the family of God.  He began with Abraham and traced the story of being God's people--right through the Old and New Testaments and out into the life we live now.  It could hardly have been a more thorough telling of how intrinsically our identity as Christians is tied up with our identity as strangers and pilgrims, although his primary emphasis was the missionary mandate embedded in the story.  God's heart is for all  nations to be brought into His family where belonging and redemption await.

In the third and final Sunday School lesson in Hebrews 11, we reviewed yesterday what it meant for many people of the past to walk in faith.  Some experienced great triumphs, things like having the dead come back to life, seeing the mouths of lions stopped, violent flames being quenched, etc.  But terrible things befell others.  The most disturbing image is the report of some having been sawed apart.  Yet all these--the sufferers, along with the triumphant, obtained a good report, That is, God approved of them, and in the end they were rewarded.  Faith was the guarantee of approval--not immediate and visible evidence of good results.

Rachel said in our class that she used to be ever-so-sorry that the book of Acts ended where it did, with so much of the story left untold.  She now sees the unfinished story of the church as being continuously extended as the church lives out being the people of God.  In affirmation of that, Rhoda told how one of her young children once asked, "Will we someday be in the Bible too?" No and yes! child.  The writing of the Bible is done, but oh, the story of being the people of God!   That isn't done, and we're in it right now!  Someday others will know our story and see how we lived and what came of it.

I feel a palpable burden right now about our community identity in relation to living as pilgrims and strangers.  My sense is that we did a better job in this department in the past than we are doing now. Although I'm not sure that the new identity is in the majority, I believe a significant shift has occurred.  I note a lamentable difference in these areas:

1.  Consumerism (e. g. buying processed foods instead of producing food, eating out a lot, having lots of clothes--frequently replaced, expensive vehicles)

2.  Hedonism (the major question often is "Does it make me happy?" or "Is it what I want?" or "Can I afford it?" rather than more honorable and less selfish ways of deciding what to indulge in or promote or pay for--e.g. sports, music, movies, big trucks, etc.)

3.  Laziness (efficiency and convenience are king, and toilsome effort is to be avoided)

4.  Image consciousness (perish the thought of appearing to be needy or out-of-step with the times in any way)

5.  Fouling our nest (if it makes us money, we can't be bothered with consideration of how it's affecting the environment we all live in)

6.  Increasing willingness--pressure, even--to exchange personal competence and knowledge for "leaving it to the pros" (e.g. education, healthcare, food preparation, and all kinds of construction and maintenance)

7.   Definition of success in financial or tangible terms (words of wisdom or discernment or deep knowledge of intangible truths have comparatively diminished value)

8.  Independence and isolation (less commitment to supporting whole-church-or-youth-group activities like singings and Wed. eve. services and more interest in "invitation-only group" or individual activities, eroding the whole-group activities themselves, and resulting in un-included people feeling marginalized)

In the devotional at church on Sunday Arlyn challenged our thinking about worship by suggesting that it's an activity in which extravagance and even perfectionism is legitimate.  I'm still digesting some of what he said, and am not prepared to elaborate on it further--only noting that what he was advocating is a far cry from the extravagance and other acts of selfishness that I see as being counter to living life as pilgrims and strangers.


In the dictionary I consulted, appreciation and criticism are both listed as synonyms for critique.  Obviously criticism is more in evidence in this post than appreciation.  Perhaps a later post can balance the emphasis.  While I stand by what is written here, I recognize that this is not a complete picture.


  • Very wise thoughts, Miriam.

    A comment on #8. I think we should be careful not to blame people for what is actually wrong with the system. Perhaps the trend toward "individualism" is a result of being part of a huge community, where people feel like they're lost in the crowd. Also, I wonder if Wednesday evening church needs an overhaul. We live too far away to go now, but we attended regularly when we lived in the area, and I almost always found it exhausting rather than rejuvenating. (And not just in a physical sense, but mentally too.) Perhaps it would be good to reevaluate what the church actually needs. Instead of preaching on/listening to a topic that we've heard 100 times already, maybe we could find something more meaningful to do with that time.

    I probably sound like a heretic. :( But I do love Jesus a lot. That's why I even care about things like this.

    By Anonymous Rosina, at 2/11/2015  

  • Rosina, I'd love to hear how you visualize a satisfactorily overhauled Wed. eve. system.

    i perceive the matter differently than you, apparently, but I'm open to listening.

    By Blogger Mrs. I (Miriam Iwashige), at 2/11/2015  

  • When I talk about a system, I mean the whole system of how we do church life, not just Wed evening. I think we ought to reevaluate--are our ways of doing things Biblical? Are they relevant? Is it the best use of time, energy, and resources? Is it life-giving? Traditions are important, so is fresh manna. Learning about God is extremely important, so is doing the will of the Father in 2015.

    One example: I think our churches are strong on teaching (however badly done some of it is), but weak on things like worship and outreach. What if we spent less time teaching, and more time practicing other things that are uncomfortable for us? Even I don't really like the thought--I would rather sit under some good teaching than go next door to talk to the lady who doesn't go to church. But when I actually step out of my comfort zone, I am surprised by how tremendously fulfilling life is out there.

    I do agree with most of your critique, though. I think you are very brave. God bless you for writing!

    By Anonymous Rosina, at 2/12/2015  

  • I've been thinking about this topic (the pilgrim life/lifestyle) too. I appreciate the practical examples you gave of choices that may not be in our best interest in the long term even though they may seem like the best or easiest things to do in the present.

    I hope you will write more on this subject. Perhaps you can also give us a list of practical suggestions for living out a pilgrim life. (I know it needs to start with the heart, but I'd like some examples of how it should look in shoe leather.) I guess we could do the opposite of the negatives listed above. :)

    By Blogger Jackie Miller, at 2/20/2015  

  • Jackie, I'm so encouraged that you've been thinking about this too.

    A lot of things I've been thinking about over many months of time have distilled into this one imperative: Remember that you are pilgrims and strangers.

    I've been asking God to show me how to live as a pilgrim and stranger. Within this frame of reference, God has shown me how to help support others who are also on the journey of life--by sending cards and notes and by praying--certainly two small and simple things others have done far more than I. For me a heightened awareness of others' needs is part of the pilgrim lifestyle.

    The other thing that is abundantly clear to me is that any show of personal or group ostentation contrasts jarringly with a pilgrim lifestyle. Ostentation can perhaps not always be clearly defined, but bigness and attention-grabbing potential are certainly common components of ostentation. Living humbly does not draw attention to who we are or what we can do.

    The mental picture of Abraham tearing down and dragging along his tents, and setting them up in new places repeatedly seems really different from constructing massive structures and hanging a Pilgrim sign on them--different at least in the ostentation department.

    By Blogger Mrs. I (Miriam Iwashige), at 2/20/2015  

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