(Dis)unity and Protestant Theology

Should I be I surprised when good Christians argue over theology — over who God is and how he relates to humans?    Jesus said that unity should characterize his followers.  But we Protestants have long been divided, and continue to divide more.

A history of dividing, not of unity, is built into the label “Protestant”. European Continue reading “(Dis)unity and Protestant Theology”

Immigrants, take America back!

The cover of Atlantic Magazine this month asks if America can put itself back together again. Convoluted thinker that I am, I wondered where this “again” came from and where (or who) some people want to take America “back” from (of course some of us know that it is on the brink).

When was America “together” in the first place?  If there was a time when this country was not on the brink, your ancestors may have missed it.  Some of mine were in “the home country” until the Gold Rush, and others didn’t come until the 20th Century.  On the other hand, maybe some of yours were already here.  That’s possible if you are from an old California or Texas family with a Spanish last name family, but then maybe “America” was about to invade them. Continue reading “Immigrants, take America back!”

Leadership, Jesus style

Tuesday nights in February I teach a class at a church in Oakland on “Liderazgo al Estilo de Jesús” (that’s Spanish for “Leadership Jesus’ style”).  My students are mostly tri-lingual.  And, one of the three, is likely to be one of three different dialects of Mam, a Mayan language from the highlands of Guatemala.

After my one week introduction to the story of Jesus’ leadership, I have invited guest Continue reading “Leadership, Jesus style”

They want to be leaders. Jesus has something to do with leading.

I will spend the next four Tuesday nights in Oakland with a group of immigrants from Guatemala who want to lead.  Our task together is to think about leadership in light of Jesus.

Where do they lead? If by “leader” we mean someone who shows the way for others, or someone who redefines the future, then these immigrants are already leading in multiple contexts.  Some might find it surprising to think that they lead on a global stage–even though many might consider them to be victims of globalization.  But their leadership extends beyond the local.  They lead their families who are scattered in Continue reading “They want to be leaders. Jesus has something to do with leading.”

Thinking clearly — in Caesaria Phillipi.

When I think I see clearly, that is when I am most at risk.  Clarity is overrated. It’s not useful fuel for that “inner light”, nor is it a good guide our choices.

I obviously have a problem with pride. I find it hard to tell pride from a victory that needs celebrating.  When I feel self-satisfied, it can be predictive of something destructive that affects me and people around me. I can tell when I come home and tell Lois what happened–she’ll know if we should celebrate or if I am bragging.   I still need to learn how to enjoy the victories, but not to make a big deal of them. Since it is always God who empowers, the victories can be meaningful.  I should be able to accept the gift, and move on.

So it is when we think we see clearly.  It is easy to get overconfident in our ability to live by what we see.  It doesn’t take long before we start acting stupid. Last year, my favorite baseball team, each time they started reading good press about them, seemed to start loosing games that they should have won. Then they got into a slump the couldn’t get out of.

Seeing clearly is no preparation for the un-expected, out-of-our-control transformative events by which the story moves forward.

So it was for Peter, James and John in Mark 8:22-9:41

I almost put pictures in here to draw readers into the story of the disciples seeing clearly.  But the pictures that are on the internet made it hard to identify myself with the story.  I need to see myself in that progression in which their eyes were opened, they understood about Jesus, and then they got all hung up with being the smart ones — “who is the greatest?”.  The problem is that in all the pictures on the internet they are wearing ROBES! Even when I get out of the shower–let alone when I interview for a job–I don’t wear a robe.  

jesus_heals_blind_man2 peters-confession Transfiguration_of_Christ_Icon_Sinai_12th_centurychild1

Moneyball: "you are solving the wrong problem".

Last Saturday, Lois and I went to see the movie Moneyball.  We highly recommend it.  We went mainly because we are Oakland A’s fans who happened to be at the Oakland Coliseum the night that the A’s won their 20th consecutive game.   We can still recall the exciting emotions of that night.  The A’s record winning streak was at the center of the story that the movie.

The most unprecedented thing about this movie might be that I am thinking of going to see it again.  I can’t remember when I watched a movie twice (my ADD won’t tolerate it).

If I do go to see it again, it will be to learn more from how Billy Bean confronts a broken system. His managers are stuck.  They try, over and over again, to solve the wrong problem.  It doesn’t help that, in the past, they actually had been successful.  They don’t recognize that the world in which the A’s must compete is no longer the same and the old strategies will no longer produce wins.

Over and over, I have found myself in broken systems, much like the one that leads Beane to quote Thomas Paine “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

Billy Beane changes the A’s strategy only after coming up with a new understanding the problem.   The painful and emotionally shocking language he uses to deliver it to his managers doesn’t change the managers, but it frees him to begin to make the changes that transform the strategy and produce wins:
“The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap. And then there’s us. It’s an unfair game.”

I am linked to 3 or 4 organizations and movements whose successful and fruitful histories of serving God and others show that they can produce good things.   But right now, they need to change how they are doing what they do.  The playing field has changed and they need to change their strategy.  How to see the problem in new light?

Did you ever think how important it is to have a boss?

I have been working with my Latin American friends to organize PMI’s ministry in the USA for about 4 years now. Just like in the American Express commercial about startups, starting a US version of a ministry created and led by Latin Americans can be a lonely business.

In spite of living 20 years in Latin America and having adopted many Latin American ways, I am still a gringo and I live in the midst of Gringos (echo Isa 6). I get to “visit” Latin America and sometimes experience it right here in the USA among my new immigrant friends.

Setting up an organization and a ministry that is relevant to Anglos, Hispanics, Brazilians as well Muslims, to immigrants in the USA, to residents and to people who have never been here, is a huge challenge. To set up an organization that honors them and honors God, one that is based on obedience to God and challenges other people to hear God’s voice and obey Him, this is an additional challenge!

There is a group of people who stand with me in a special way as I do this.

What they do for me is so very important. They listen, they pray, they support, and they tell me how to do my job. If I didn’t have them, I might be floundering.

Having a good boss is so important! And I have two sets of them.

One set of my bosses are the Latin Americans who run PM Internacional from Spain. I love working for them and with them.

My other boss is the Board of Directors of the US organization of PM Internacional (we call it PMI-USA for short). This last weekend they spoke clearly and honestly into my life. If I can do what they said, I will be more effective in ministry and more balanced as a person. If it works, I imagine Lois will be grateful!

This group of people sacrifices time and money and works hard so that Latino Christians can become friends with Muslims and they pray for the Spirit of God to make Himself known in those friendships!

That kind of commitment is humbling. I am grateful. I need what they do for me and for the rest of the family of PMI around the world. But I never feel like I deserve it.

Dick Hillis

Lois and I spent almost all day Saturday remembering a man of God whose life touched ours profoundly: Dick Hillis, the founder of OC International. When we went to Brazil in 1977, we were sent out under OC International.

Dick Hillis died on December 14 and his memorial service was January 14. It was an all day affair with BOTH of his families (he and his first wife, Margaret, had 6 kids and many many grandchildren) including the OC family. It was wonderful to reconnect with many precious friends and fellow travelers, since we were part of the OC family for 16 years! Read the link!

Here are some things I heard that challenge me:

  • When OC started out, Dick surrounded himself with people in their 20’s and built the mission with their help. One said: “Even though we were in our 20’s, he expected us to do our jobs well. He gave us jobs that were over our heads. He praised us when we did well and he confronted us when we didn’t. He expected hard work and he expected God to guide us. He always took the hardest job.
  • Dick told us, I will give you 10 days to decide whether God is telling you to join us in Taiwan. Get counsel from people who know you well. Bathe everything in prayer. Find examples, especially Bible examples, of people faced with a similar decision and learn everything you can from that example.
  • He wanted to build the church by building a foundation under national leaders. Raise up others so that they will be successful.
  • Spend yourself on a cause that will outlive your own life.
  • If you are going to make it as a missionary, learn to laugh at your mistakes!
  • Dick was there when I was in trouble or hurting.
  • He served, not to be great, but to make others great.
  • “Where are all the men? 80% of missionaries are women. You men are all chickens!” (He said this to High Schoolers at Mt Hermon before WWII.

What stood out to me most was that he was a fork in the road person. His challenge changed the course of the life of many people. And this was because he had a great love for Jesus that was noticeable to all, and that he depended on God to enable him and to take ordinary lives and use them in extraordinary ways.

I was reminded of his favorite verse (2 Cor 4:5) “we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

I hope I can follow His example!