Origins — Main Morning Session

I have a tendency to go on and on about preliminary observations but not get to my actual main comments.

So, before the day is done I’m going to go ahead and make my post about at least one of the sessions.

Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles and one of the main folks putting together the Origins network. Here are my notes, mixed with my commentary then and now:

Does what I’m doing matter? That’s a big question. Use of time and effort and energy. In this time of transition, transition of seemingly all of society, including the church, is what I’m doing matter?

How do we tweak the transition so what is done is done in a way that matters.

He reads Acts 17:16ff.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

The city was full of idols, McManus points out. So what does Paul do? Goes to the synagogue, talks to the already religious people.

McManus sees this as a cognitive dissonance, a contrast of goals and methods. I disagree with him. I think Paul followed a plan and was being led by the Spirit to do what he did. Paul wasn’t limited to a particular audience at this point. Nor was his message safe in any place. In a city filled with crime one might ask the police what they are doing. In a city filled with idols one might go and talk to those who are against idolatry, talking, listening, learning… indeed arguing. Paul was pretty sharp, and probably a bit beyond too much criticism as to his missional instincts.

McManus is making a particular point, however, and while I don’t think this passage in Acts was the best example (and maybe I heard his use of it wrong–that’s quite possible), he has good points to make.

And this is where the discussion of the three spaces comes up. This wasn’t new for me, as I’ve sat and heard others talk about this, and talked about it with others, McManus added some interesting texture.

First place. This is where I had to laugh at myself. After my comment before about seeing the guy looking at the bird and beach and sailing pictures I said there’s a guy I could be friends with. “There’s just something about him.”

It’s easy to be friends with people just like us. We like people who are just like us. People like us when we’re like them and they’re like us. We get each other. We’re comfortable. We share interests and we view the world the same way.

Churches are quite easily these kinds of places, especially in the buffet of churches we can choose from, picking among those we just fit with, so we can sit and interact feeling comforted by a lot of us gathered together talking about Him. This isn’t an evil, per se. Churches have a place, and a home, a first place where we invite others in to join us in our space, are natural human response.

The first place is the place of authority, of power, of comfort, of safety. The religious place.

The second place is the place we go out into as neutral ground. The marketplace. The place we work, the place others work. People are allowed to argue, to have opinions, to come from different backgrounds and expectations. The law says so. No discrimination. It’s not necessarily a free place, but in a way it is because the restriction itself forces us out of the place of power and comfort. Far too often Christians have sought to pull people out of these places, to pluck men and women out of the marketplace and put them into leadership in the first place, the church. We invite people from the second place to the first, so we can then get control and influence over them.

However, what if we were to maintain our relevance in the second place, excelling in our places so we become models and symbols of God’s life in us. We live the hope that is in us by living the life we are called to live, wherever we are called. We are called, as McManus says, to maintain relevance in the second place. Christianity that removes people from ‘the world’ is not the Christianity of Christ who came into the world to save the world. We like to make converts and then encourage them to disincarnate. We remove ourselves from life as most people know it to find safety in the pseudo-kingdom of the Christian bubble.

The third place is the place of gathering. Where others meet, not for a demanded cause or necessity, but because of some other voluntary choice. In these places we have no power, no inherent authority, no real control. We can’t force our way in and expect people to listen or care about our message. We can be invited. We can be humble, letting go what we think we are owed, and become incarnations in these places. We can have the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. We can be a presence, and with that presence find conversation, friendship, camaraderie, respect flowing naturally as human community is good at, trusting that the Spirit who is working in us is working in this world. The Spirit who has called us, who fills us with Christ, is after all the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who seeks the lost. The Spirit is the missionary who we follow. People aren’t looking for apologetics or encyclopedic knowledge, as McManus puts it. They are looking for presence. Most people are quite open to God, but they’re not open to manipulation or artificial interactions with ulterior motives. Even if we think we have a good cause, the cause is not furthered by pushing people away from God because of our own angst filled desires to make us feel like we’re about God’s work. It’s not works righteousness after all. We live in grace, we respond in grace, we walk with God in his work, trusting him to work. We called to show up, to be a presence, to be someone who listens and who, in the ripe moments, responds to questions asked and opportunities given–just as Jesus did.

We live life. We live life with God, and we live life among other people. We live life this way we bring God into spaces, not out of proselytizing fervor. Out of a love that loves as God loves, a patience that is patient as God is patient, a hope that hopes with God’s eternal hope. We live. We let others live as they will live. We are there to walk with the Spirit and be a light, as a light is needed.

This requires a deep spirituality, of course, something a lot of people are too impatient to find–to the detriment of all the spaces.

We live a life that deserves to be heard and people begin to listen and wonder and ask. Everyone, McManus says, has a potential created by God, yearned for by God, asked for by God, to enliven them. We can be bearers of this message of life. If we are able to truly see, truly “be there”, and speak the words that God is speaking in each moment. That’s a hope for people, not a hope for power.

To reach the third space, however, all too often (maybe always) a person has to give up popularity in the first space. We have to talk with those who are rejected and speak of God in ways that is uncomfortable. This isn’t heresy, this is Spirituality. Jesus was condemned for being a babbler, a drunkard, a glutton, who ate with sinners, tax collectors and lepers. He utterly rejected the charges religious people put against him, saying that those who called him a heretic, a blasphemer, did not themselves know the God they sought to serve.

And that’s the danger and challenge. We have to let go trying to fit in all spaces if we want to fit in the spaces God seeks us to be and is working. If we want to be God’s light in the third space we let go illusions of grandeur and safety in the first places.

That’s a huge statement. And a huge challenge. And a huge call.

McManus followed this up by saying, “They follow you, and learn to follow your identity, because they do not yet know God’s identity.”

That’s true. But that’s a bit troubling to me. Because no matter how much we know God, no matter how solid we are, we don’t have enough identity to give anything to others. The search for identity can only find sustenance and satisfaction in the Spirit, who is the bringer of whole life. I’m troubled a bit by this because the handing over of identity, and taking it up, is just about the most common reality in churches. That’s why pastors have so much power. People see their identity in their pastor, and pastors feed off the identity of their followers. Everyone loses, because no one, not even the pastor, is tapping into God.

We have to point always to God, letting people go away from us as they seek God’s work in their lives. Otherwise hierarchy and authoritarianism once again rule, grieving the Spirit.

And that’s my thoughts on this first Origins session.

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