Thursday, March 15, 2007


One cannot read the news about Iraq, Sudan, Congo, or the Gaza strip without hearing and perceiving competing territorial claims. Neighborhoods are staked out, militia (armed thugs) patrol streets dispatching summary execution on anyone intruding into their territory. Iraq is descending into it own ugly civil war between factions whose issues and sides makes western heads spin.
While in Kenya and Cairo, I was exposed to small, impoverished and embattled Christian communities that do not have time for territorialism. They are in a pitched battle for survival not protection, for evangelism and mission, not enhancement and customer satisfaction. In Kenya there is a pronounced weariness (that I briefly observed) over denominational divisions and competing claims to spiritual purity. The pastors I met with longed for larger Christian fellowship and cooperation. They hungered for collaborative worship, evangelism and fellowship. The same sort of sentiment was expressed to me by pastors I met with in Cairo. They are not very concerned about the subtle differences between Presbyterianism and Lutheranism. They are not worried about which style of music makes most people happy. Instead they are writing their own music and focussing on disciple-making.
After three weeks of talking with pastors, I could not wait to get back to do some pastoring; to get back in my own community with the people who called me and love me. I could not wait to get back into regular worship and study, praying and preaching, visiting and caring. But one of the disturbing notes I heard back in the USA among my fellow pastors (and some lay leaders) is our creeping territorialism. Especially in staff settings, where multiple pastors work (and compete?), there seems to be a low-grade fever of discontent, of striving for more. One pastor told me wearily how discouraged he was with a staff person who is always pushing for more authority, more visibility in worship, more up-front time, and endless suggestions how everyone else on staff needs to make improvements. He told me that he is now getting exhausted before meeting with this person, knowing that he will be pushed, poked and prodded.
The dilemma with this condition is that it is contagious. When I hang around territorial people, I defensively become territorial, protective and reactive. I see conversations more like bartering and haggling than a free exchange of ideas. I wonder before meeting "What will they want this time?" and that jades me from listening to their heart and caring for their soul. I wonder if part of the problem is our abundance of stuff and our lack of fire for the lost? Last Sunday night at the Santa Barbara County Jail, we had a miserably hot room with music booming out of a small cd player on rumpled sheets of music sung badly by a motley assortment of prisoners, most of whom I would not see again. But I ended up almost weeping as we ended our service with them all standing, singing "Sanctuary" with hand raised and eyes closed in praise.


At 10:32 PM , Blogger Isaac Johnson said...

I had an interesting conversation with my buddy Sam tonight. We hired him at the company not long ago. He had worked with me as a janitor, as a lab worker and several other mediocre jobs before getting into software. We were laughing about how angry people at work could get over things so trivial.

At one point, we identified a common thread - that those who were so intense about such trivial matters were the same that were hired into their well paid career positions directly out of college. Those that tended to readily scope problems and focus more on the big picture knew what it was like to push a mop.

Perhaps what you are really getting at is how some people aren't well grounded and sometimes seeing how life could be makes you better appreciate the life you have (and more importantly not sweat the small stuff)


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