Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doing the Deed...

...been away from the blog for a few days. I apologize. It's been a busy week, and weekend, with a staff retreat all day Saturday, and students in town from Canada for some seminar teaching. But I've been thinking a lot about vision for ministry over the past few days, and while I'll be writing more later, I'd like to focus on something that I think is vital for us to consider: the need to act!

Perhaps you're aware of the present dialogue in Seattle about what to with our waterfront transportation problems. The details are here if you're interested, but the details aren't the point right now. Rather, it's to note that Seattle is a culture that has a hard time making decisions and sticking with them. I think the same difficulty often seeps into the life of churches.

There are a number of reasons why this happens. We might blame leadership for being weak and indecisive. We might blame the people for being divisive, rather than rallying around a leader and vision. But Eugene Peterson points out a flaw in our culture that is larger than either of these other two problems. Here's what he writes:

We live in an age that has replaced compassion with sentiment. Sentiment is a feeling disconnected from relationship. Sentiment is spilled compassion. It looks like concern; it could develop into compassion, but it never does. Sentiment is the patriotic catch in your throat as the flag goes by - a feeling that never gets connected with the patriotic honesty of paying your income tax. Sentiment is the tears that flow in a sad movie - tears that never get connected with visiting your dying friend. We feel sorry for people; we lament the pain and suffierng in the world. But having felt the internal motions of pity, wept a few requisite tears of sorry, and sent off ten dollars to a charitable appeal, we've exhausted our capacity for care.

Peterson is simply sayin that sentiment, when it is confused with compassion, leaves us feeling good about ourselves simply because we feel bad about the plight of the other. The problem, of course, is that the feeling bad never eventuates in any tangible action, let alone a real change in our own lifestyle.

This effects us as individuals, but it can plague and paralyze churches as well. We know we ought to do something, and somehow the knowing we ought to, and the pondering over what could be done, become our life, our satisfaction. This life is, however, a shabby substitute for actually doing the deed. Meanwhile the world gets hungrier, darker, drier, hotter. What's needed? We probably don't need to go watch "Crash" or "Constant Gardener" yet again. Maybe what's needed are less tears and more action. I mean, the day finally comes when talking, praying, weeping, must give way to action.

My own heart is stirring, confident that God is opening up clearer obligations for service for His churches in the coming days. May we have the compassion to get off the sofa and into the game.


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