Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fire Ants!!!!

You really never know what your day will be like at the Christian Zheng Sheng College, most especially when you are hamstrung by a lack of language skills. Not that this would change the chaos, it would just give you an extra ten minute heads up. Cantonese is such a surreal mix of ancient roots and crazy modern culture that I feel I am caught up in an Asian Mennonite tribe trying to learn low German with nine tones.
Today was another one of those 'another days' where I was pin-balling around the campus as life happened around me, and one change after another sent me careening from one situation to the next. Today was, in fact, the day of the, I mean BIG clean at the campus as everyone is preparing for the Lunar New Year. Every corner of the campus was being carefully scrutinized and sanitized for the festive season, which honestly leaves Christmas somewhat lacking. Lunar New Year just has so much history and culture behind it that Christmas feels like a cheesy ad trying to lure patrons back to its tinsel and commercial mayhem. Not that there isn't commercial mayhem here, with banks forming people into queues to get their crisp new banknotes for red packets, but I digress.
As I was wondering about trying to ascertain where my presence would be most useful Mr. Lao came up to me with an eager eyed student and asked if it would be OK for the students to "use the fire guns for the ants?" I was immediately intrigued, and even as I was about to query one of the numerous lines of questioning arising from his question I had a pretty decent idea of what was going on, but I also realized I needed to find out for myself exactly what was going on. Mr. Lao is a senior staff, and no slouch, but I was not going to hand off this assignment with a casual nod. No, I had to know. I told Mr. Lao it should be fine even as I headed off in the direction of the mayhem that must have been the cause of this request.
What I found was that a bunch of the desks ( a loose term) had been pulled back from the concrete wall that they normally back onto, and a fierce skirmish ensued as dozens of infuriated fire ants advanced upon the unsuspecting brothers. Seeing how, in our environment of schooled incarceration, any blip on the screen will be treated as a host of hostiles just to make life interesting, this was tailor made. Lines were quickly drawn and weapons swiftly brought to bear on the perceived antagonists who quit themselves admirably if the state of the study area gave any testimony. Unfortunately I arrived too late to take part in the main assault and was relegated to a minor role in the mop up operation. It was only when this was winding down that I caught wind of a second front. On the stairs of the kitchen there was a fiery confrontation taking place in very close quarters. The brothers had cornered their foe in a wooden cabinet door which already bore the scorch marks of the first few assaults. There was an inch and a half by one eighth gap in the plies of the plywood the enemy utilized to create a system of defensive tunnels. When I came upon the scene the brothers appeared to have it under control until I saw one of them beat the door on its corner with a jarring rap on the concrete. Cries of "WHAAAAA" (Cantonese for wtf, I'm sure) filled the air as fire ants literally poured out of the small gap in the door to meet their doom in a butane driven conflagration. Witnessing this left me little choice, I had to join in! When they put the door down to see if any more would come out I scooped it up and gestured for the "fire gun" which is a WD40 sized can of butane with a torch/ingniter on top that is like a low powered propane torch. With door and torch in hand I too bashed the enemy's stronghold on the floor, and gleefully incinerated the six legged troops who were, by this time, just trying to get clear of the carnage I'm sure. Not satisfied, though, I hoisted the door up and set upon the escape hatch with the torch until smoke was pouring from other pin holes, no doubt formed by the ants burrowing, and the bottom of the door was slowly being engulfed.
At this point I shut off the gun, and with a contented grin, handed the still flaming door to its owner. There were no cheers, or accolades, but the looks on all their faces gave it away. For this day I was still one of the boys.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's What's Inside That Counts

I really had to look over what I wrote in that last post, because, seeing how I wrote it in the heat of the moment, there was a lot of room for error. It is true, though, that in the heat of the moment all of our guards tend to come down, and the things that are lying within can more easily find their way out. It is always in moments of importunity that the sheen comes off (usually along with the gloves), allowing all a clear view. Transparency is something that many people like to talk about in small groups and seminars, but what we see through an open window may not be what we expected.
Even now I am carefully choosing my words and thinking things through much more carefully than I did the other day. Maybe I shouldn't, especially because my intent here is to be more self effacing. See, when I wrote that rant it was triggered by years of internal struggles for which there have been few respites. Years of being in the church and wondering what on earth it was all about. Years of wondering about the glaring differences that I saw not only between scripture and my "church" experience, but also between those dagger like words and myself. Years of asking questions of other people who were struggling with the same thing, and putting the best face on it that they could muster. Years of this, in my home church alone, never mind the one I grew up in. It seems that after all these years there may finally be some light.
The most difficult thing about the light that usually makes its way to me is that it comes like a narrow shaft between the clutter of thoughts it means to illuminate. This is difficult because the narrow way is the only way to follow this shaft to its far greater Source. It illumines the dark, confining thoughts, revealing them for what they are, but I must divest myself of the flesh that they cling to so that I may climb that tangible shaft of light. In this case I do still see the things that I wrote as being valid, and I thank those of you who ventured to comment on them. The only thing that still remains is answering the question of what to do about it.
Blogs are wonderful things. This one has afforded me a place to feel that I have given voice to my thoughts, and I have truly enjoyed that. The awful thing about this particular situation is that the people whom I feel most need to read this, or whom I would like to talk to about this will likely never even know that this site exists. Even if they did read it, or overcome the miles separating us and sit for a coffee to work it out, the fact will still remain that it is up to me to act on this. It is up to me to overcome the crippling effects of institutionalization. It is up to me to peel off the diapers, and stand up. It is time for me to stop looking for leadership and step into it myself. This will probably never mean a stage and a mike, but it most definitely means being a father to my children, and a husband to my wife. It means taking hold of the things God has given me to do without always looking for someone to show me how or hold my hand. The people who could help me would be far more inclined if I came to them with my hands dirty anyway, either from a joy to see someone doing the 'stuff', or a desire to see if the dirt means I broke something of theirs. Fortunately I have found myself in such a place and the long hard climb has begun in earnest. There is so much work to be done, as those who know me should know, but God will be faithful to shine the light where it needs to shine, so the exit is clearly marked. I guess I would say with Paul that I have not yet attained, but I know where I want to go.

PS I sooooo desire to see my home church shine like it was meant to. The ones closest to us always seem able to draw out our truest ire, eh? Love you NL!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

It Is Time To Call Out BS!!!!!

I am sitting here listening to yet another announcement from a leadership that just cannot seem to get its shit together. I have no other place to vent things out so if you have wondered over here it may not be as flowery as you may like, nor as poetic as I have been hoping this blog could be again. This is one of those times when hangin' my brain out to dry means that the drops will be carrying away some of the darker thoughts I have been carrying around.
I am so tired of church leadership!
I am also extremely tired of infantile congregations!
On the first point the main thing that wearies me to tears is the disease that seems to gnaw away at leader's minds until they no longer have the ability to look outside of their own calling, position, or gifting. It is unclear what this ailment should even be called, but it is clearly deadly. Part of the process of this malady is to produce a brain numbing pathogen that is emitted from the oral cavity, and after it enters the ears of nearby victims it nests at the base of the logic center until the flow of thoughts through this center are completely choked out. At this stage the victim becomes fully pliable to any further suggestions from the original host.
Leaders are constantly telling the folks out in the pews how we are supposed to be working out our issues with one another and walking in love with one another. We are challenged. We are reminded. We are invited up for prayer for these issues. Yet when these things occur within the folds of leadership it is vigorously defended as a patently private affair. The folks out in the pews are expected, not unlike kids in the midst of a divorce, to just suck it up and trust that mom and dad know what they are doing. This actually has the effect of keeping those of us who do not take to the stage in a state of immaturity, which is, incidentally, one of the cardinal sins that are railed against quite regularly from that same stage. It is time for leadership to step off from their podium of power and prestige, and get dirty with the rest of us. It is time for them to stop being so terrified of messes that happen as Christians mature. Attempting to keep us in diapers to contain the shit that happens is only causing a serious case of cheek rash that will hinder our ability to sit on even the most lavishly cushioned pew (or chair). When a person gets up with a nasty rash, and no Penaten® on hand, they will go home, or go to another leader who has some Penaten®, or perhaps start a group for others suffering from the same pain in the ass. Any way you slice it it doesn't come out pretty.
On the second point I have to say that institutionalized, infantile Christians are in serious need of having their butts kicked. They need to be weaned off of the bottles they clutch, like Sunday morning services for example, and start chewing on some real meat. Not just another "really good message", mind you. That kind of meat just sits in their under exercised colons, and causes those bloated expressions preachers get so tired of. Sunday morning is the Valium® of the diaper clad Christian masses. They get into an absolute tizzy if you threaten to change it, and will cry themselves into a coma if you ask them to take some responsibility for it. The biggest reason that they get so worked up about the crap that happens with leadership is that they have no idea who will change their diaper and burp them after the service. I think that is why pastors all over North America pat you on the back as they shake your hand at the door.
The meat Paul was referring to is not just some real tasty doctrine that we discuss with a practiced steak knife. The meat he was talking about was the protein packed food that will build muscle mass as the muscles are exercised.
At this point I will admit my own tendency to act like an institutionalized Christian, and my lack of desire to fight it for so many years. Fortunately I consider myself to be in recovery, and the rash is beginning to fade along with the pudgy thighs. Much of this has come from leaders who could not have been happy to just stand behind a pulpit week after week. They actually got down in the dirt with me. They actually let me grab hold of the tools, and start doing it myself. In fact their cheerfully turned away my requests for intervention, instead allowing me to figure it out.
The Sunday mornings I attend now feel very awkward, because with the rash disappearing I can finally think straight for myself. The way Sunday mornings are presented (North American a la carte) hold no interest for me at all any more, but thankfully there are leaders around who are willing to offer something very different. It is a savory dish, mostly because it is enjoyed just before going back to work where it will produce more muscle, and supply energy for the tasks at hand.
Hopefully you noticed that although the former rant about leaders did not end on so cheery a note as the latter about pew holders, the latter showed the relationship that is necessary to revitalize the church. Leaders who will get dirty in the trenches, elbow to elbow with the people they are leading. Not Sunday morning trenches either! The real ones we all slog through Monday to Saturday. Leaders who are not afraid of their charges maturing. Leaders who are not afraid to hand over the tools necessary for the work that is to be done. It is also about disciples who will kick off the diapers and get going for a change. Disciples who will grow up to become leaders in their own right. Disciples who are willing to yank the Sunday morning intravenous milk tube, and brave the withdrawals. Disciples who will actually do what their leaders have been teaching them instead of just discussing it over coffee to determine how 'biblical' it was.

Whew! I think that is it for now. If the next podcast has the same BS quotient as the one I listened to tonight I may just have to go at it again. Till then, may God bless your diapers off, and give you a hand down the stage stairs.