Thursday, August 25, 2011

How can we really help?

Recently we started a food program at our church which we call Manna. One Saturday morning a month we have several dedicated volunteers arrive who prepare a free breakfast that we serve to anyone in the community who joins us. We also spend the month collecting canned goods and non-perishable food that we set out on a table for our visitors, telling them that our goal is to send home enough food with them to last them through the day. We are able to put flyers in the take home folders of children at our local elementary school and word is getting around the community when these breakfasts take place. We are also in a conversation with some other local churches to possibly offer these meals more than once a month...

There remains a part of me that continues to wonder how much help this is really giving the families that join us. I am involved with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program and in this we read a great book, "The Practice of Adaptive Leadership" by Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky which help differentiate between technical and adaptive practices. A technical issue is being addressed with our Manna program: What can we do to help the hungry people in our community. Answer: Feed them. But there are some adaptive issues that are also raised: Why are people hungry? What is happening in their life that prevents them from providing for their own well being? What is the story behind their hunger? Addressing the adaptive issues behind the hunger is a more complicated, involved task.

So complicated that on one level I believe the church DOES NOT WANT to address. We feel overwhelmed by the question and by the lack of information available to respond to the seeming long term needs of the people who visit us. And yet, to not address them simply insures that our Manna program is nothing other than a way of continuing these people lives who struggle to find enough food for their families on a weekly or monthly basis.

Jesus tells the disciples, when the crowds have gathered and they have urged him to send the crowd away, to give them something to eat. This story, on one level, is easy to understand. People are hungry, so we should feed them. But there is another level to this story as well. The hunger that many in that crowd must have felt was a spiritual one. Jesus' teaching was about more than filling empty stomachs, it was about filling ailing spirits.

How can we provide for the spiritual hunger that plagues our Manna visitors? How can we adaptively address the issues behind their physical and spiritual hunger? If we fail to ask these questions, then in some ways we also fail to help.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Creation vs. Evolution: Does it HAVE to be this way?

Recently a well meaning pastor from another church in town asked if our church would be willing to attend and promote an upcoming event his church was sponsoring on creationism. He patiently explained to me that, in his opinion, the schools were teaching our children to NOT believe the creation story as recounted in Genesis and were instead substituting the theory of evolution as scientific fact. It reminded me of a friend of ours who has a son nearly the same age as my own who made a comment to me one day about this saying that he could not understand how anyone could ever try to blend creation with evolution once they knew the facts of the situation.

Now I guess I am more of a middle of the road kind of pastor and theological thinker, but I have issues with this whole debate. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not appreciate the valuable contributions both sides of this discussion offer?

First- creation. I find it hard to remove God's interest and participation from the process of creation. The arguments of how long a day is to God and how literal we should take the creation story are not as important to me as the concept that God is intimately involved with the process of creation. That God uses the spoken Word to bring this creation into being and that every aspect of God's creation is good. The connection between different species makes sense when one realizes the hand of the artist behind their creation. Why would God create such beauty and then limit its ability to adapt and evolve in accordance with God's grace? There is a part of that desperately clings to the necessity of God's involvement with creation, since I find myself needing to believe that God is actively involved in my own life.

Second- evolution. All of creation is connected to the rest of creation. When one living organism as a species suffers or thrives it affects others in that ecosystem either positively or negatively. What is so troubling about being distantly related to other animals as a part of God's creation? What is so anti-Godly about humans and animals adapting to the environment in which we find ourselves. It makes a lot of sense that those most successful at adapting would have the best chance to pass along their genes to the next generation.

Notice here that I have left out discussions about dinosaurs, carbon dating, Biblical literalism, etc... These distract from the main point of this thought process- that even though there are issues with each point of view there is wisdom and experience that serves to validate both the theory of evolution and the creation story.