Friday, March 29, 2013

Affirmative Action

In a leadership class I took for my Master's of Divinity degree, we used a book entitled "Leadership: Theory and Practice" by Peter Northouse. Based upon its price on Amazon, I would guess that it's a typical textbook for business classes, describing varying approaches and models of leadership.

One of the chapters towards the end of the book is all about women and leadership. As I read through the chapter, my mind constantly wandered to what I really think about this topic. It's somewhat of a volatile issue to me and has the potential for getting people on both sides of a debate fairly worked up.

I was raised with a mom who was very much the typical 1950's mom. Her family was the most important thing in the world and she did whatever she could to ensure that the kids would be all right and Dad could keep working. She eventually went to work in the public school system as a teacher's aide for over 20 years, but she never really outgrew the gender roles that had been defined by her in her past. I certainly would not consider to have been a "doormat." She had a voice and was willing to allow it to be heard, but she had some strong opinions about the role of women in leadership.

As I began to explore options other than the ones that my parents had conveyed to me, my parents and I developed a healthy and loving debate over the issue of women in leadership, primarily when it came to the church. My parents adhered to the "women should be silent in church" mentality, believing that men should hold the primary roles of leadership within the church. While all of this deeply impacted my ideology and thinking, it certainly did not cause me to make decisions without having thought them through myself.

When I left my engineering career to follow after God's call on my life and enter into full-time vocational ministry, I served in a church where this was not an issue. Their ideology was much the same as that of my parents: women had no real place in the leadership of the church other than as Sunday school teachers and nursery workers. It was during this time that I really began to ask myself some questions that began to get me into hot water. The ironic thing is that I had not even formulated an opinion, I was simply asking the questions.

Now, I've always been one to play the devil's advocate. It's part of my personality. If controversy doesn't exist, I may be the one to create some just to liven things up a little bit. After all, who doesn't enjoy some good old fashioned passionate debates once in a while? Friends have referred to it as the social equivalent of throwing a grenade into a crowded building. While that might be a little extreme, I can't deny that I have, on more than one occasion, thrown the figurative "grenade" into a crowd and sat back to watch and enjoy the chaos that ensued. I started this in high school and haven't really stopped since. After a personality analysis, I was labeled a stabilizer/de-stabilizer. Can you guess which one I tend towards?

Anyway, as I moved through high school and then college, the time grew nearer to when I would need to look for a full-time job. As that time approached, I began to realize that I fell into a difficult place as an educated white, protestant male. Unlike today, there were more jobs out there, but there was this thing called affirmative action and equal opportunity that mandated a certain number of positions to those who were considered minorities.

I eventually got a job and the idea fell out of my conscious mind because it just wasn't something that I faced on a regular basis. Recently, it has surfaced again, in no small part due to this leadership class. At the same time, it has been a hot button topic for many of the denominations in whose circles I run.
A while back, I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called "Blink." I blogged about it not too long ago here, so you can read what I wrote. Many of the stories within the book fascinated me, but one that stood out to me above the others was about a woman who had become a member of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra as a trombonist. Auditions were held behind screens and the members of the committee who selected the musicians were shocked and astounded when they realized that they had selected a female. They thought that there had been some mistake, but the screen had forced them to listen with their ears rather than their eyes.

As I read the story, I was intrigued to think about what the equivalent of a screen might be when it came to jobs. How could a search process be done with applicants "behind a screen?" Was it possible for people to analyze applicants for a position based upon the things that matter rather than the things that don't? Wouldn't that be so much more effective than mandating the number of positions required to be filled by females or certain ethnicities? But how could it be done?

I used to argue with a pastor who I worked with that morality could not be legislated. We both came down on different sides of that argument and finally agreed to disagree. When we attempt to legislate morality, people may have a tendency to resent that morality and all who subscribe to it. In the same way, when we legislate who should be hired, do we not endanger ourselves from doing the same thing? But what is the alternative?

As I mentioned before, I have never fallen into the category of a minority, though I someday may. If I did, I would much rather know that I had gotten a job because I was the best person for the job, not because someone had to fill a quota. I would much rather know that out of all of the qualified candidates out there, I was the one that was chosen because someone thought that I was the best person for the job.
As I think through this, I can't help but think about Jesus' approach towards people. He broke cultural and gender barriers, which were a bigger deal during his time than they are for us now. He saw past the stereotypes and saw the value of the underlying human being. Legislate it or not, the only way that we can even come close to "behind the screen" decisions is to allow ourselves to be changed to be more like Jesus. If we want to see things less tainted and skewed, we need to exchange our view for the view that Jesus has.

I certainly haven't figured this all out, and I am not so sure that I ever will. I do know that I always want to be in a place where I am working with people who are there because they are the best people for the job that they are doing. I can only hope and pray that my eyes might see more the way that Christ sees than the way that my flawed and sinful self sees. When I begin to see as Christ does, I will begin to impact the world in much the same way that Christ did and still does.

It's been pointed out to me that this is an oversimplification of the concept of affirmative action, and I am beginning to understand that more and more.  There have been major injustices done in our country that we are still trying to live down and make right.  Unfortunately, it's not an overnight event to right these wrongs, but a process and I believe that affirmative action can be helpful for us to rethink the way that we have made decisions in the past.  While an oversimplification and extreme approach to it could suggest filling a quota, the broader sweeping view of it is that it keeps us in check and helps to prevent us from making some of the major mistakes that we have made in the past.

This post is really addressing the extreme view of it and a desire to see people be given a chance because we look past color of skin, gender, physical limitations, etc. and look to abilities, skills, talents, and qualifications.  We could all use a "screen" sometimes when we make decisions as our own preconceived notions and assumptions color our view of situations and people.  May we all work towards looking at people as creatures made in the image of God.  That alone will add value to everyone we look at, seeing them as God sees them.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Today is Maundy Thursday.  When I was a kid and I heard the term, I couldn't understand how it could be Monday and Thursday at the same time.  Over time, I realized that I was mishearing the term and that it actually referred to the day when Jesus celebrated the last supper with his disciples.  It really wasn't until I was in more Reformed circles that I really started celebrating Maundy Thursday.

From Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday, so much happens to Jesus.  He goes from celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples to praying in the garden, getting arrested, tried, sentenced, and then crucified.  He dies faster than the average crucifixion victim and is laid in a tomb.  Easter morning, his friends and family find the tomb to be empty.  In just a few short days, everything has changed and Maundy Thursday begins the whirlwind of those days.

As I think and reflect on everything that Jesus accomplished in his time on earth, I marvel at the fact that he lived in obscurity for three decades before he began his public ministry.  Then, in three short days, God accomplished through him what we could never accomplish on our own.  IN 3 SHORT DAYS!

Unfortunately, this Holy Week has been distracted.  We've turned our eyes, hearts, and minds towards other things.  We seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are celebrating something much more important in God's sacrifice, we are celebrating the one who gives us the freedoms that we enjoy, the one who has showed us what unconditional love is all about.  It's not about physical attraction.  It's not about lust.  It's not about our rights.  It's about sacrifice.  Sacrifice regardless, even when we don't feel like it.  Even when it is not returned.  Even when it leads us to dark places.

Jesus' sacrifice provided a means of restoration and reconciliation between us and God.  A means of restoration and reconciliation for people who were still actively rebelling against him, who were spitting at him, cursing him, and hurling false accusations at him.  It was given while we were still sinners, before we had been regenerated.  Before we had turned towards God.  That is unconditional and sacrificial love.

Our culture does not show us many examples of this kind of love.  It seems that so many are distracted by looking at whether or not their own needs and rights are met.  We're more concerned whether we will get everything they want rather than whether or not someone else will get everything that they need.

I am guilty.  I am a hypocrite.  I lack a sense of sacrifice.  I am selfish.  But I do not need to be this way simply because it's my default position, simply because of the nature with which I was born.  Christ came to make a difference, to be the sacrifice so that I might learn to sacrifice.  If I think I can do it on my own, I am deluded and wrong.  I can only accomplish this with Christ in me.

As we roll through this holy week, take time to think about the sacrifice.  Are we basking in the grace of that sacrifice only, or are we doing our best to pass it on, to let others know of the sacrifice made for them as we model it through our own sacrifice?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Replicating An Experience, Part II

So, here are the 7 sets of questions mentioned in yesterday's posts.  If you missed Part I, just click here.  I welcome feedback as you may be wrestling through some of these same questions.

1) What do I do in my private times of worship?  When I carve time out of my day to spend time alone with God, is music as big of a part of that time as it is during my corporate worship time?  Honestly, music is just a huge part of my life in general.  I am constantly listening to music and I know that much of that time could be considered "private worship."  There are a lot of my own musical preferences that cannot be accommodated in a corporate setting, and I have learned to live with that.  Is it possible that I reserve my own preferences for private worship times and anticipate that corporate worship might be the time when I need to allow for others' preferences to take precedent?

2) Do I like every aspect of every meal that I eat?  I have 3 young children.  Mealtime can be very interesting.  I can't count the number of times that my children debate my wife and I about certain aspects of the meal.  We have told them countless times that our house is not a restaurant and that they do not have the luxury of having meals served up to their liking every single night.  I probably did the same thing when I was their age, but over the years, my tastes have changed and as I have allowed myself to try different foods, I have grown to appreciate, not necessarily like or love, foods that I once detested or even loathed.  Is it possible that in our growth and maturity we might find ourselves being more open to different kinds of "foods" as we come together corporately?

3) Tagging off the last question, is it possible that we won't be moved, touched, or feel spoken to by every aspect of every corporate worship service every time that we come together?  If that's the case, can we be okay with that?  I might come to corporate worship one Sunday and feel like I heard the greatest message ever but the music fell flat based on my own preferences and desires, maybe even my mood.  Another Sunday, I might show up and feel that the music was so uplifting and helped me to worship while the sermon did not really speak to me.  Does that make me a bad person?  Can I be okay with the fact that I don't get what I want every time that we corporately gather?

4) Who is worship for?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers the question of what our main purpose (or chief end) is by answering that we are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Worship is about giving glory to God.  As I think through this, I can't help but think back to the story behind the song "Heart of Worship" by Matt Redman (click here if you have never heard it before).  Despite popular belief, worship is all about Him and we do it every waking moment of every day if we truly heed Paul's instructions (1 Corinthians 10:31).

5) When we change music styles to accommodate our culture, are we "dumbing down" the message of the Gospel?  Finally, the $1,000,000 question.  Some people would say "yes" and some would say "no."  I don't think so, but I could be wrong.  Paul was aware of his cultural surroundings in Athens when he spoke in Acts 17, making cultural references that he knew would connect with the people whom he was trying to reach.  I certainly wouldn't say that Paul compromised the message of the Gospel, but he certainly understood his context and changed the "container" in which the Gospel was housed in order that he might get the message across in a way that made sense.

6) Are we defined by a style more than we should be?  I will be honest and confess, I hate the word "blended" as it refers to corporate worship.  It is the most vague word that has the potential for misunderstanding, misconception, and disappointment.  My own experience has shown me that people see it as a 50/50 split in styles, which ends up disappointing everyone.  Is it possible that we allow our corporate worship to be purposefully directed towards God with purposeful, well-though out, and deliberate elements that are placed within the context of the service because they focus us on the object of our worship, God, rather than on the method of meeting Him?  Recently, I have compared blended worship to affirmative action, we place elements in the context of a service because we need to meet a quota rather than because there is purpose and meaning in its place in the order of things. 

7) What would happen if people asked the question, "What does this song/drama/video/hymn/anthem/etc. have to do with the theme of the Scripture for today?" rather than asking, "Do I like it?"  Would it help us in any way?  Would we seek purpose and meaning beyond style and preference?  What would happen if we began to ask not whether or not something ministers to us but if it ministers to someone else?

I will continue to wrestle with these questions.  People have been trying to come up with adequate answers to them for more years than I have been alive.  I know that everyone has opinions about them, and that's fine.  God has created us to be subjective beings, that's part of who we are.  Can we allow that subjectivity to help us answer these questions without skewing them according to our own preferences?  That might be the $2,000,000 question.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Replicating An Experience, Part I

My church has been wrestling through an issue that has run rampant in the church for years: contemporary versus traditional worship style.  We all came out of a church where there were two different worship services with two distinct worship styles.  Although people were comfortable and led with the styles that were most conducive to their own personal preferences, there was an overwhelming sense that we were a congregation that felt disconnected from one another.

One element of that disconnectedness is the size.  When churches reach a certain size, it will be increasingly more difficult to fight against the disconnectedness because there are so many people.  That's a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

But the other element of the disconnect is feeling that we can all come together at one time, in one place, with one style that will unite us.  I have struggled for years as to whether or not I think this is a "pipe dream" or if it can really be achieved.  Unfortunately, it seems that, while there may be a few people who take comfort and joy in a corporate worship service where the worship music style is more of a mix between the historical and the contemporary, the overall consensus is that people will eventually grow tired of the compromise. 

My own experience has shown me that when some people say that they want a blended service, they really mean that they will tolerate the style that they are not in favor of in order that their own preference can take a front seat.  While there may be some who generally can be led in either style, they are a small minority.

My own stylistic preference is eclectic, at best, and scattered at worst.  I have had seasons of my life where I have been in more traditional services and I was able to worship there.  But, truth be told, during those times, I also had places where I could regularly go and be a part of a contemporary style as well.  I found a rhythm that worked and those who wanted separate and distinct styles were able to corporately worship in those specific instances and places.

As I think and wrestle through this issue, I have no choice but to wrestle through it in myself.  It's hard for me to remember a time when I did not have a significant part in leading corporate worship services, but I am trying to ask myself questions to help myself try to find some resolution to this issue, if that's even possible.

So, tomorrow, I will post 7 sets of questions that have helped to challenge me as I have wrestled through this.  See you then!