Let’s Do A Little Healing First

If, as followers of Christ, we are sent out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is near at hand, what would that look like in practical terms?  It would have to look something like what Jesus did.  When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus what they should say to John about whether Jesus might be the messiah, he told them to “go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
So, proclaiming the good news has something to do with restoring sight, healing the lame, cleansing lepers, enabling the deaf to hear, raising the dead and bringing good news to the poor.  Sounds fairly straight forward.  It has little to do with the common way of understanding evangelism, and everything to do with continuing the work that Jesus did, within the constraints of our human condition.   
Restoring sight, for instance, requires knowing what it is that one can’t see, and why they can’t see it.  That can’t be done without spending time for enough mutual trust to develop so that what can and cannot be seen can be the subject of unhurried conversation.  If the kingdom of God is near at hand, it is a kingdom that can be illuminated through the words so that others can see it, but not until the causes of their blindness have been dealt with.
What does the kingdom of God look like to you?  What words do you have to describe it?
What causes lameness?  Things disfigured, broken, out of joint, and sprained are incapacitating, making it hard or impossible to get around.  Everything is a struggle when one is lame.  The spiritually lame are no different, and, one way or another, each of us is lame to some degree.  Childhood experiences, exposure to unpleasant church preaching and practice, workplace problems, issues with home, health, friends and family all cause spiritual lameness.  Recovery requires a solid diagnosis.  What makes walking with God hard for a person?  There is a different answer for each, and only they know what that answer is.  Without assumption or prejudice, continuing the work of Christ means taking the time to listen to their story.  Then come simple exercises, done together, not hard at first, but always pressing onward and upward.
Peter and Paul understood their own lameness well.  They never recovered fully, but they learned to walk without fear or hesitation in spite of their limitations.  It’s part of what inspired others to follow their lead.
Leprosy is what we now call Hansen’s Disease.  It is easily treated with today’s medicines, but for centuries it was a death sentence.  It was so feared in Jesus’ day that many skin disorders were called leprosy.   Sufferers were stripped of every human dignity, forced to live apart as best they could, and shunned on pain of death from contact with any clean person.  Today’s lepers are those whom society shuns for whatever reason.  They are the detested, avoided, humiliated, bullied, and ignored for the way they look and act, the diseases they have, and the conditions of their lives.  Healing begins by recognizing them as beloved of God, respecting their human dignity, and embracing their company, not as betters reaching down, but as equals reaching out.   The disciples had a hard time with that.  They tended to think of themselves descending to the level of those in need, or raising others up to their own level.  Even among themselves they jostled for position as the greatest.  It took a while for them to learn that in God’s kingdom all God’s beloved are on the same level, just in different places on that level.  We are no different.  We live in a world of upper, middle and lower classes; hierarchical churches and corporations; to go up is good, to go down is bad.  It may be true that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are pretty sure that we have not fallen as far as others.  
As the sainted Fr. Damien discovered, it’s so much easier for one leper to embrace another, but first you have to know you are a leper. 
“Can you hear what I hear?” asks a popular Christmas song.  According to recent polls, there are many, especially among the young, who cannot hear the good news because of all the noises rattling out of churches that sound like narrow minded bigotry, cheap grace, get rich schemes, mind-boggling ignorance, vacuous thinking, and so forth.  All that noise has made them deaf to anything else.  We need to know what someone can hear and is hearing, before we can introduce them to something they can’t hear yet.  Polls are not reliable indicators of what any one person can or cannot hear.  Conversation is the only gateway to finding out.  It’s a conversation requires us to do most of the listening.
How is your own hearing?  Might you possibly be a bit deaf to what others are trying to tell you?  Do you ever listen to yourself to discern what others hear?  Truth be told, most of us are lousy listeners because we are lazy listeners.
You have heard the saying about being pecked to death by ducks.  It means that one can be killed bit by bit in hundreds of ways.  The walking dead are not zombies, they are our friends and neighbors who have died a thousand deaths at the hands of others.  But they are are not dead to God.  Resurrection can be theirs, a bit at a time, now, here in this life.  Jesus calls us to restore them to life, but how?  He raised the dead by touching them with the very source of life itself, the living word of God through whom all things came to be.  As followers of Christ, some small part of that power has been given to us also.  We carry it in the cracked and leaky clay pots of our own lives.  We carry it not to be hoarded, but to be poured out into the lives of others as a life giving balm.  Life and hope can be restored through the presence of God’s love that touches them through our presence, especially if we keep out of God’s way, hold our tongues, and refrain from preaching. 
Jesus was fully present to each person he encountered.  Through that full and undivided presence he healed, made whole and restored fulness of life.  The kingdom of God came crashing into lives who desperately needed it.  It was the good news.  We are not Jesus, but we are his followers.  He commissioned each of us to continue his work as best we are able.
Of course we need to tell the story, but first we must give sight to the blind, heal the lame, cleanse the lepers, restore hearing to the deaf, and raise the dead.  Telling the story will follow.

The Dreaded ‘E’ Word

Pentecost Sunday.  The overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit to lift up drooping hands and strengthen weak knees to go out in the public square and proclaim the good news of God in Christ in ordinary everyday language.  That was then.  What about now?  
This morning I was asked why Episcopalians seem to be so scared of the dreaded ‘E’ word.  For one thing, I don’t think it’s an Episcopalian illness but one that affects all mainline churches, including the Catholics.  We got used to the idea that everyone in America was either Protestant or Catholic with a few Jews tossed in.  As for Protestants, the primary question was what flavor one liked best without much thought given to dogma.  If youngsters left the church shortly after confirmation, so what?  They would be back when married with children of their own.  That was never true, but it’s taken two or three generations for it to sink in.  In the meantime, why would one even think about neighborhood evangelizing?  Missionaries to the heathen, yes, by all means, and what a treat to hear their stories of far off exotic places!  But me in my own community?  Not a chance!  That’s for those odd ball doorbell ringers, and we certainly Do Not want to be confused with one of them.
That’s one part of the problem.  The second is more serious.  Our faithful members don’t know the story well enough to tell it in plain, ordinary, everyday language.  I filled in for a friend at another rural church this morning.  One long time member leaned over to my wife just before the service began to ask what Pentecost was.  She knew it meant wearing something red, but what else?  She remembered learning something about it in Sunday School, but that was fifty years ago.  Our wonderful people, the faithful ones who show up every Sunday (Saturday if you’re SDA), not only do not know the story well enough to tell it, they do not know why their particular Church worships the way it does and teaches what it teaches.  Most important, they don’t know their own story well enough to tell it.  
I’m not sure what to do about that.  How do you inspire in an aging congregation the love of life long learning about God as we Christians have come to know and understand God?  Maybe one way is to challenge the assumption that they don’t want to learn and are unwilling to try.  I don’t buy that.  I believe that new and youthful life in Christian discipleship is not just possible but would be highly desired and sought after if presented in the right way.  Why let a few grumpy old men and women stand in the way?  Ignore them and get on with teaching the story so that it can be told.

Penetration

Penetration.  Our diocese is sponsoring three Saturday workshops tomorrow in three widely separated communities. The idea is to take the best in continuing education out from the cathedral precincts and into the places where people live.  The workshops have been on the books for months.  They are featured on our diocesan website, announced, without fanfare, in our weekly bulletin e-mailed to all clergy and many lay leaders, and announced again at clergy meetings.  
When called a few days ago to see how registrations were coming along, the secretaries in two of the local sites denied knowing anything about a workshop, had no preparations in the works and never heard of registrations.  My own random checking with a few lay leaders in three congregations revealed the same thing.  Never heard of these workshops.  
What’s going on?
The problem is penetration.  How do we penetrate the blizzard of information that confronts everyone every day?  We are inundated with information about worthy events being sponsored by every organization we ever supported.  E-mails and mailings from every organization, including the church, are mostly boiler plate, so we skim them quickly, if at all, to see if anything leaps out as being personally important to us.  Particular information on websites is often difficult to find and undifferentiated from everything else on the site.  Diocesan leaders assume that if clergy have been told about something, it will somehow translate into effective communication with parishioners.  Diocesan leaders assume that if someone has been asked to do something and they say yes, no more communication is necessary, the thing will be done. 
The contemporary communication environment needs something else.  If something is important, it needs to be communicated in an important way.  If a certain audience needs to be reached, they need to be reached directly and not through second and third party agencies.  If we are asking for another person, not our employee or direct report, to do something, we need to engage in a relationship with them that will move things along.
I have sympathy for the parish secretary, or other person, who agrees months ahead to set aside time and space for some diocesan event and then never hears another word about it.  In the meantime services come and go, bulletins have to be produced, funerals and weddings arranged for, dozens of church committee meetings accommodated, community use of space facilitated, the furnace fixed, irate parishioners tended to, and so it goes.  That’s the here and now of local ministry.  Whatever it was the diocese wanted is easily forgotten and for good reason. 
I have sympathy for clergy.  What seemed like such a great idea while gathered together in diocesan meetings, quickly fades into insignificance on return to the demands of the local congregation.  What one enthusiastically promised to do slips lower and lower toward the bottom of the to do pile on the desk.  What one got talked into does not have to sink, it just gets put on the bottom. 
I have sympathy for lay leaders in congregations.  They have families, jobs, other organizations and causes important to them, a social life and more.  Christ may be at the center of their lives, but church isn’t.  Just because we tell them that a wonderful workshop will be held nearby on February 26 does not translate into commitment, or even awareness.  Looking at my own mail, e-mail and piles on my desk, retired though I am, I find agendas and minutes for boards I am on, appeals for support from a dozen organizations that are important to me, invitations to community events filling up several nights each week, and long reports to be reviewed in connection with community projects.  
Right now I’m working with one of our local hospitals on a day long seminar to be held next fall.  We intend it to be for local spiritual care givers, medical staff and maybe mental health counselors.   Our planning committee is very excited about it.  We cannot imagine that it will not be a success.  But, if we are the only ones who know about it, there will be six of us attending.  Simply announcing it will not be enough.  We must make sure that the people we want to come are contacted directly, not indirectly.  They have to be made aware of it, which will take several iterations.  They have to be given the information needed to make a decision, which will take several iterations.  They must be asked to make a decision, which will take several iterations.  That all takes work, and we are all volunteers.  The one staff person leading us has a full time job doing something else.  It’s not easy, but it must be done. 

Religion – The Enemy of Spirituality

Spiritual but not religious.  Good Grief!  Not that again.  How often do we have to go over that ground?
An ongoing locker room conversation led to an hour or two over coffee.  If you are spiritual but not religious, I asked, what is religion?  He had a quick, definitive answer.  Religion is to be forced into a community where you are told what to think and believe, and be threatened with eternal damnation if you don’t.  This was religion as he knew it from his youth, and it seemed unlikely to him that there could be any other kind.  Moreover, the religion of his younger life asserted that one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ was all that mattered, it was an individual thing, and if that’s the case, what good is religion or the weekly gathering of so-called believers whose claims to be Christian are highly suspect based on their daily behavior?
What if religion is something different from that, I asked?  We explored what, for him, was a brand new idea.  That religion, the Christian religion, is made up of the rituals and traditions that serve as conduits through which we enter into a more profound communion with God.  That no one set of traditions and rituals serves all people well, and some people not at all.  That however important our individual relationship with God through Christ might be, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Jesus was all about restoring, healing and calling people into community.  There is something essential about being spiritual that can only be found in community with others.  
Consider that our whole conversation was an act of community in community: a lapsed fundamentalist talking with an Episcopal priest in a coffee shop owned and staffed by Greek Orthodox.  It was church, but only for a moment, and it depended on there being other churches, organized, in buildings, centers of regular worship, places from which the Word is sent out into the world.  
I wonder where our hour or so will lead.  Maybe another conversation some day.  My desire is for doors to be opened through which he can encounter the love of God in Christ who commands faith, but faith not chained by fundamentalist dogma, rather a faith in which he is invited in to conversation and community with God Almighty.  He may never join a religion, but perhaps he will make enough peace with it so that religion is, for him, no longer the enemy of spirituality.

Balaam as Spiritual Hero

Balaam, at least the Balaam that appears in Numbers, has become something of a spiritual hero for me.  Elsewhere in scripture Balaam is condemned as one who tried to curse Israel, but whose curse was turned by God into a blessing.  In Numbers, Balaam is portrayed as one of integrity.  Who he understood God to be is unclear.  Certainly it was not Jahweh.  What is clear is that he would accept no payment nor offer any prophecy except that which the Lord gave to him.  It must have been hard to stand before the king backed up by his army and say, not once but several times, Tough luck your majesty, but God has blessed these people and there is nothing you or I can do about it.
Balaam’s integrity as a holy person is worthy in and of itself, even if he did not know the God whom he faithfully served.  As a Christian I believe that God’s self revelation to humanity is progressively recorded in the words of Holy Scripture, and is most fully and truthfully revealed in Christ Jesus as we know him in the gospel records.  That does not stop me from considering that God may be speaking to and through persons of integrity who do not share my faith or understanding of who God is.  
Balaam’s courage to be faithful to God’s message is astounding.  Fail to do as the king orders and it’s off with your head.  Not many of us are likely to lose our heads, but how often has a major donor or influential member threatened to do some sort of damage if the pastor doesn’t toe the line?  One pastor, whom I know well, has lamented that he often felt constrained in his preaching for fear of offending powerful members of his congregation.  I imagine that is not all that unusual, and I regret those times when I also failed to be bold in proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.
The Balaam of Numbers has much to teach us, but his mention in 2 Peter 2:16 (KJV) also has its uses.  A friend of mine used to mutter a portion of it under his breath during vestry meetings: Behold “…a dumb ass speaking with a man’s voice…”
So here’s to Balaam, and here’s to his ass.  May there be more such as they.

Living Stones and the Future of the Church

You are a living stone, not a house, and as a living stone be yourself built into a spiritual house.  That’s a rough paraphrase from a portion of 1 Peter 2 that goes on to call followers of Jesus into a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  “Once,” he wrote, “you were no  people but now you are God’s people…”  Peter offers no hint of the possibility of being a solitary Christian in a world of solitary Christians.  A stone is not a house.  However holy and precious in God’s sight, it remains just a stone until, because it is a living stone, it permits itself to be built into a spiritual house.  Stone upon stone, course upon course, extending outward and upward from the well laid cornerstone that is Christ, the spiritual house, the Church of living stones, is built.  To become a royal priesthood, a holy nation of God’s people is collaborative, disciplined work in community.  That’s what Peter thinks.
Peter appears to be little more than an unsophisticated dreamer.  Clearly neither he nor God has any idea how dated, unrealistic and contrary to the ideal of individualism all of that is. 
We live in a time when the dominant religious theme is not only to claim spirituality without religion, but to enshrine that mantra as the new orthodoxy.  Dozens of books and articles proclaim that the Church will have to adapt to a population that has no interest in denomination, the church as institution, hierarchy, educated theologians as clerics, dogma or doctrine.  To be spiritual but without religious affiliation of any kind is not only acceptable but preferred.  Affiliation, if any, might be considered as a participant, but not member, of small spontaneous gatherings of like minded people eschewing any formal leadership, and indifferent to being led from spiritual milk to solid food by qualified teachers .
I’d like to suggest that Peter was not so far off the mark after all.  We are called to be a people of God, not a collection of persons of God, the god of our choice.  We are called to be a part of the community of a royal priesthood.  Peter suggests that we can only do that by casting off all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander.  Admittedly that takes a lot of the fun out of life.  It’s not easy to love others as Christ has loved us if we hang onto those favored pastimes, but that is what we are called to do.  Tradition, reason, experience, dogma, doctrine, structure and standards of excellence in learning are essential tools to help us along the way.
What I hear from too many of my clergy colleagues is fear: fear that the Church will have to adapt or go out of business.  There is nothing wrong with adaptation as such.  It’s what we mean by a reformed church always reforming.  We are always in a state of adaptation, but not for the purpose of being conformed to this world.  I have no fear that the Church will die out or be subsumed by something else.  It is, after all, God’s Church, not ours.  We are not to be measured by size or market penetration, but by obedience.   Moreover, a revitalization of a spirit of obedience does not go in the direction of a Calvin, Luther, Aquinas or Augustine, but in the direction of Christ and the abundance of the generosity of God’s grace promiscuously poured out in love for all of creation.

Awareness

I started observing how people exhibit awareness of their surroundings years ago during a midwinter consulting trip to Alabama where I was picked up at the airport by clients and driven into town.  It was cold and rainy.  The car was full.  The driver was undeterred by the rain and saw no reason to use the wipers.  It didn’t take long for the windows to fog over as well, but that didn’t bother him either.  With near zero visibility, he sped down the road as if he had x-ray vision.  I asked him about it.  He was a bit surprised.  He simply hadn’t noticed.  That started my informal decades long study of environmental awareness, by which I mean awareness of the environment in one’s immediate vicinity.
I saw some of that yesterday.  It was raining hard, but more than half of the cars coming from the other direction were not using wipers at all.  The ditches are sometimes filled with cars of drivers who were unaware that the roads were icy, and multi-car accidents are caused by drivers unaware that they cannot see in the fog.  But the roads are only one venue.  Consider the loud cellphone users who are not rude people but simply unaware that they are intruding on the environment around them.  The same goes for those having conversations in quiet places such as the theater or church.  Speaking of church; good, friendly, hospitable folk express total surprise that someone new was there.  They are simply unaware.  My work means that I sometimes go into the homes of others at unexpected times where I encounter residents who are simply unaware that the floors are dirty, the garbage is spilling over, or the tub has needed cleaning for at least a year.  We can be mindlessly unaware of the poverty in our own community, the abuse going on in the house next door, the hurt in a friend’s voice, the child’s cry for help, or someone’s desire to know more about God.
The examples seem endless, and I don’t think it has to be a matter of rudeness, ignorance or stupidity.  It more often has to do with a simple lack of awareness of one’s surroundings.  That lack of awareness is the preface to the age old question: What were they thinking!?  Surprisingly enough, there is a theological point to all of this. 
Being aware of your environment, of what is going on around you, is a part of what means to follow Christ.  Jesus led a life of awareness.  He was always and everywhere fully present to those around him and to the place where he was.  It is part of what enabled him to bring the kingdom of God into the lives of others.  We can do that also, at least some of the time.  None of us can be fully aware all the time. but we can do a good deal better than we do.  I have a reputation for being a bit absent minded, but it has more to do with where I left the keys or a book.  Now and then, deep in thought about something, I’ve found myself walking a block past the place to which I was going.   Eyesight and hearing can set limits on how much awareness is possible.  So can cultural myopia and lack of education.  We have our limitations and moments, but, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we can be, we must be, more intentional about being aware of what is going on around us, more aware of the nearness of the kingdom that is at hand, more aware that it is through us that the kingdom is made known to others.  

I Have Not Accepted Jesus as My Personal Savior? Have You?

I attended a day long evangelism workshop yesterday and learned quite a bit. One person was bold enough to give her testimony about when and how she accepted Jesus as her personal savior. That’s a bit unusual for us non-evangelically minded Episcopalians. I’ve known this woman for years and know her faith to be real and deeply held, and her intentions without guile. But I also know that, for many people, accepting Jesus as one’s personal savior has become a formula for the one correct way to become a Christian. Case in point; I got an e-mail just recently from an occasional reader who knows that I am an Episcopal priest and wanted to know the story of how I came to accept Jesus as my personal savior. I doubt if it occurred to her that there was any other question to ask of a Christian. I have some problems with that.

For one thing, I’m uncomfortable with the individuality of the language: it’s just me and Jesus. Don’t need anyone else. For another, I dislike the implication of ownership: “my personal savior,” as if Jesus belonged to me as something I own. Finally, the idea of accepting Jesus as my personal savior seems, at least to me, to put the burden of my salvation on my back, and I’ve got enough to carry without adding that.

When my occasional reader asked for the story of how I came to accept Jesus as my personal savior I wrote back, “I didn’t.” I was brought up in the Church. I cannot remember a time when God in Christ was not a part of my life. There was never a question of whether I accepted him as my personal savior. It’s a question that didn’t even make sense. But there were plenty of questions about whether, and to what extent, I was willing to be a part of his community of followers. Maybe that sounds like splitting hairs, but if so, I think they are hairs worthy of being split. It’s one thing to have a personal savior. It’s another to become a member of a community of disciples who faithfully trust that this Jewish carpenter is so uniquely the presence of God among us that he really is the way, the truth and the light, and that no one comes to the Father except through him. Becoming a follower of Jesus must always put us into the company of other followers. Moreover, following implies a journey. Being on that journey brings to my mind the multitude of conversations that have to be taking place among all the others walking with us. I’m in conversation with you the reader right now, but at another time I might be deep in conversation Erasmus or Augustine or some guy named Ralph. We can (but maybe are not required to) each have a very personal, even intimate, relationship with Jesus, but it can never be singular, nor can it involve any form possessiveness that might imply our ownership of that intimacy.

That leaves plenty of room for Jesus to be the one in charge of what avenues of access to God are open or closed, acceptable or unacceptable, and I don’t recall that Jesus ever asked our advice on the matter. One can most certainly be very authentic in one’s testimony about how Jesus became their personal savior. I may have my own problems with that statement, but I won’t deny it as a genuine statement of faith. What I will object to is any claim that it is the only acceptable statement of faith, the only and necessary entrance ticket required by some heavenly gate usher.

P.S. If you ever get a chance to hear Victoria Heard, Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, speak on evangelism, do it. Her workshop, “How to Share your Faith without Spooking your Friends” is excellent.

Holy but not Magic

Holy but not magic. I wonder how often these two words get used interchangeably? Many of the street people I used to work with in NYC had been through a variety of 28 day gospel mission sobering up sessions where they learned that if they really and truly accepted Jesus as their personal savior their addictions would be cured and life would become good. Becoming a believing Christian held out the promise of a magical cure. Maybe that’s not exactly what was taught, but that’s what was learned. It was learned well. The carrot of Christ was always just a few steps ahead of them, always promised but seldom reached. That’s a dramatic image, but I see the same way of thinking and believing acted out in the words of ordinary every day Christians who imbue faith, the right kind of faith, with what can only be understood as magical powers. It creates several big problem for Christian evangelism.

First, it makes it very difficult to share the faith with a skeptical public that has little time for that sort of naïve childishness. Second, mere magic robs our faith of its “numinous mysterium, tremendum, fascinans”, replacing that with something more akin to professor Albus Dumbledore. Third, it tears to shreds the idea of miracle.

It has been said that modern humanity has lost its sense of enchantment. Perhaps, but the popularity of enchantment based entertainment tells me that modern humanity is hungry for it as long as it is rooted in human(ish) design and control. Skeptics may express disdain for the naïve magical thinking of some Christians, but that’s only because they put it on a par with their own magical pretending, which their pretended rational skepticism knows to be mere entertainment.

Christianity is not about magic. it is about the holy. It is about the unknowable God being made known through God’s self-revelation in the words of prophets and the flesh of Jesus Christ. It is about the ground of all being in love so pure that it frightens mere mortals. It is about that love pouring out and dwelling with humanity and all creation in ways that entice, seduce, inspire, draw and guide. It is about holy mystery that cannot be solved but only lived into. It is a mystery that draws us through our own time and place into God’s eternal time and place.

Christianity is also about miracles, and that’s where things get sticky. Magic is about the human mastery of nature such that it can be manipulated with a word or gesture. Miracle is about God engaging in the lives of human beings in wholly unexpected ways that can, and sometimes do, violate what we think we know about the “laws of nature.” Unfortunately, there have been and continue to be some Christians who believe, and practices that declare, that God can be induced to produce a miracle through the right kind of faithful prayer or ritual. That’s magical thinking and it’s wrong. The power of God to enter into our lives in miraculous ways cannot be limited, nor can it be manipulated. It can be faithfully and hopefully requested but not induced. My own experience is that God most often works through subtle guidance and coincidence. Your experience may be different. In any case, keeping magic and miracle separated by a goodly distance is serious business.

As Christians we are about the holy not the magical.

Jesus the Bread of Life. What’s the Bread of Life?

Jesus said that he is the bread of life. No doubt John intended a strong Eucharistic symbolism, and I don’t think there is anything more important than that, but I also think there is something additional. It begins with a question: What is the source of foundational nutrition? Most cultures that are close to the land have a food that is symbolic of life itself, most often not bread. Whatever it might be, it is a food so basic to that culture that life cannot be imagined without it. Jesus as the bread of life is a perfectly understandable and instantly understood metaphor in those cultures. John goes on to make it not just a powerful metaphor but a claim on the reality of Jesus as the one on whom life itself depends and through whom life comes.

We Americans, and, for that matter, all of the OECD nations, have a hard time apprehending the power of John’s message because we have nothing that is culturally representative of life itself. Blessed with an abundance of inexpensive food in many varieties, there is not one that is the “bread of life.” To be sure there are foods that have powerful symbolic meaning for ethnic heritage and pride, but not as the very stuff of life itself.

However, what we cannot claim as a culture or nation, we can claim as individuals. I imagine that in each of us is something symbolic of life itself, something so basic that life cannot be imagined without it. Whatever that is, it is that which provides the foundational nutrition for our lives. I guess that was what Jung was after and sometimes thought he found. That’s what the advertising industry is after, what motivates fear driven politics, and probably what makes it so difficult for us to ‘sell’ the idea of Jesus as the bread of life to the skeptics that have occupied my thinking about evangelism. It’s why I’m inclined to believe that the best any national church evangelism program can do is to raise awareness and no more than that. I’m inclined to think that for Anglicans, and probably for most churches of the Reformation, real evangelism works best one-on-one or in very small groups. It works best when we take the time to get to know the other well enough to recognize that which is his or her own personal symbolic bread of life.

We’ve had programs that were supposed to do that. Alpha was a program that got its start as a grass roots phenomena back in England and became very popular in the U.S. and Canada. It lost its way when it got packaged and merchandised with videos looking a bit too much like theological “Sham-Wow” commercials. Most of the people who attended congregation sponsored Alpha gatherings were already members of the congregation with a few strangers strong-armed into coming for the free meal and fellowship. As I think about it, they were more like AmWay parties than anything else. I wonder if that’s where the idea came from?

But I digress. For the time being I think I’ll stick to preaching and teaching with the aim of encouraging the formation of disciples who can be all but unconscious of their effectiveness as evangelists just in the ordinary ways they go about their daily lives.