The wonderful thing about a blog is that it provides a forum for the development of thought. Blog posts aren’t published research, they aren’t the final say, they don’t presume to have the complete answer ….. at least mine don’t. Rather, they are a space for reflections, wonderings, exploring, and sometimes testing the waters. They are a space for learning, grace, humility and growth. (And it should be said, that it is equally hoped that those who engage with this blog will keep arrogance and nastiness packed away – especially those who name the name of Jesus).
I recently sat with the chair of the board for New Direction. John is a delightful combination of wisdom and wonder wrapped up together. I always feel safe while pushing the envelope in conversation with him. He’s a philosopher, a theologian, a teacher, an artist (though he would say he mainly hangs out with artists through his work with Imago) …. He thinks deeply, loves freely and is the kind of mentor who allows you the liberty to be fully yourself.
As we talked about the way forward, we began to talk about systems. I have been intrigued and engaged in the conversations about the structures and systems that undergird the gathering of God’s people we call the church.
This blog is an example of some of this conversation. As I ponder the implications of the church functioning as an organic or living system, I can’t help but apply these thoughts to the very unique work God has called New Direction to. What would it look like for New Direction to resist being an institutionalized, self-preserving, ‘closed’ if-you-will system?
We’re not a community per sae – rather we are a facilitator, a catalyst, hopefully a subversive presence within a larger system and community that begets a movement. A movement of thought, language and most importantly relationships that reflect the good news of Jesus Christ in reaching and engaging those affected by diverse sexual identities.
At the center of this movement is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ at the center of our reality, our humanness, our pain. Jesus Christ liberating us to be our true selves, without hiding, without pretending or posturing. Jesus Christ offering resurrection newness. Jesus Christ source of all hopefulness, source of all life. Jesus Christ in us.
So what would an organic, living system look like for a ministry addressing issues of sexual identity?
I’d been wrestling through writing this post when a friend, Bill Kinnon, connected me with Brad Sargent. Now Brad ironically used to work for Exodus as their resource and publication specialist. Brad is super smart – like I seriously need a Tylenol to read through his blog…. But I was so delighted to discover that Brad is really smart at evaluating systems, paradigms, and models …. And that he has been intimately involved in the missional conversation. And as I read through some of his stuff, it again helped me wrestle with articulating the kind of system that New Direction is seeking to embody. In an email Brad said, “I like your approach: discipleship, welcoming and transforming – not rejecting and condemning, or welcoming and affirming. You’ve chosen the harder, more paradoxical road, but one that brings more possibilities for true, deep, and lasting impact through the dynamic tensions of listening, learning, and loving … without compromising truth.” Thank you Brad!
Perhaps it is a bit easier to start with describing the kind of closed system that we’re trying to avoid (some might even say emerge from).
We don’t want to be about maintenance – just preserving the status quo (“This is the way we do it. This is the way it has always been done.”) instead of pressing forward with redemptive imagination and creativity. We don’t want to be in a defensive posture – focused more on preventing opposing views from gaining ground than creating and nurturing a place of renewal and hope. We don’t want to be a system of control – focused on censorship or keeping everyone ‘in line’ with a rigid legalism rather than risking entrusting people to Christ.
John made the observation that New Direction seeks to engage people not as a “problem to be solved” but with “potential to be empowered”. This is huge isn’t it? People who experience same-gender attraction aren’t a problem to be solved – they are a beloved child of God in whom there is potential to live in relationship with God as a co-heir with Christ. But it does beg the question – how much of Christian ministry approaches a same-gender attracted person as a problem to be solved / fixed / cured….
Empowering potential is much more nebulous. Much more unpredictable. It isn’t about control, or holding onto power – it is about letting go of control and giving power away. It means resolutely refusing to be coercive in someone’s life. It means that sometimes there is a lot of pain and disappointment.
But it also means there is hope. It means there is potential to operate in the freedom and joy of resurrection newness.
And I think it smells a lot like incarnation.
It doesn’t mean that we avoid calling sin, sin. (discerning the right time – we do call for repentance) It doesn’t mean that we resist being organized or excellent or stewardly (we want to be all those things). It doesn’t mean we don’t deeply and passionately care about the outcome in a person’s life (we do – particularly expressed through ‘kick butt’ intercessory prayer).
But it does mean we humbly let God sit on the throne – not us. It means we strive for a place of authenticity – not a veneer of spirituality. It means we try to model our engagement after Jesus – who gave up control, divine power, and came among us to serve. And it means we resist the quick, the easy, the consumer mentality – in exchange for the deep, abiding, transforming presence of God.