2007 June

Controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is publicizing “Sicko,” his new movie about health care in the United States. During his appearance on the daytime talk show “The View,” Moore commented that because Jesus taught us to take care of the widows, orphans, and needy among us, perhaps we should start referring to universal health care (“socialized medicine”) as “Christianized medicine.”

It seems like a lot of believers I know are against public health care. I think that it’s a shame that people living in the United States (working people, at that!) can’t afford to go to the doctor when they’re sick. I find it odd that believers who don’t have a problem lobbying for the government to ban the things they’re against (homosexual marriage, abortion) would be opposed to government doing something that Christians should be in favor of (paying for the care of sick people).

I’ve always been taught to do what Jesus would do. So much so, that the question of “what” Jesus would do completely eclipsed the concept of “why.” Jesus was selfless and always put other people’s needs before His own. He spent time in public with people who were known as sinners and drunks. Jesus kept the law, turned the other cheek, and kicked the capitalists out of the temple. Why did He do these things?

“What?” is the question of the obedient. “What do you want me to do?” “What is right?” “What does the Bible say?” It is vital that we know the “what,” but for the past couple of years, it’s the “why” that’s haunted me.

“Why?” is the rebel’s question. It implies conditional obedience pending personal approval. That’s why frustrated parents answer “why?” with “Because I said so!” Leaders answer it with “Because I’m the boss.” People who are interested in maintaining the status quo consider “why?” to be disrespectful and insubordinate.

“Why?” threatens the authority of a leader (especially if he doesn’t know the answer!) Addressing it can be difficult, time-consuming, and can reveal shortcomings and inconsistencies. Nevertheless, “why?” is a question we should be asking, because the power is in the “why.”

Asking why is how we come to know God in a personal way. We don’t really know Him until we begin to understand why He does what He does.

Once we start asking “why,” we shouldn’t ever stop. Too often, we settle on a reason or explanation and never revisit the question. We accept a logical and well-presented argument and move on. This is why people in the pew believe that we should do missions will bring Jesus back and why people on the field buy into the lie that anyone’s eternity depends on missionaries. Questioning “why” protects us from legalism, complacency, and meaningless tradition.

Why not ask “why?”

Sometimes when I talk to people about missional/relational ministry and church planting (you know, as opposed to program-oriented, attractional, subculture growth), and what my work here in Western Europe looks like, they are left with the question:

“So you get paid to hang out with people and drink coffee?”

“Yes,” I reply. “Actually, I do.”

But you’ve got to know that spending time with nationals is really quite difficult. First there’s the fact that the language they are speaking is not the language you grew up speaking, but instead something you decided to try to learn well into adulthood. Understanding requires effort. For me that usually means physical fatigue, which isn’t so conducive to cross-cultural communication in a smoke-filled bar at two o’clock in the morning.

And then there’s the awkward question of what to talk about. Movies? Sports? The weather? It’s hard to find commonalities across cultures. You could go the easy route and bring up politics, but that doesn’t always end well, as you might imagine. I usually end up going through my well-rehearsed routine of lame jokes and feigned interest in European Football.

So then I’m left with questions. For some reason, the inevitable lull in a conversation always freaks me out so that I turn into Larry King with the badly planned Q&A. I panic, and my mind can’t think of any questions that require more than a yes or no answer. I repeat the same question but reworded to prove that I didn’t understand the answer the first three times. My life is one of those awkward scenes from any of Ben Stiller’s movies.

But I’ve been through training. I should know better. My default should be to take an active listening posture and to delicately repeat the last three words of any of my friend’s comments and nod knowingly but so as to avoid the appearance of agreement. I want to show that I’m interested while remaining ambiguous about what he’s actually saying so as not to agree with something I disagree with. My face is trained to show utter fascination with whatever my friend is saying. I’d never want to let on that a boring person is, might be, you know, boring.

So sure, maybe I have the dream job- “throwing parties and telling stories.” But it’s really quite difficult, as you can see. Now, If I could only figure out what to do on vacation…

The longer I’m on the field, the more out-of-touch I become with my home culture. I suppose this is natural, but it can make communication with people back home difficult, to say the least. Take my blog, for example. The misunderstanding seems to get worse the harder I try to clarify my thoughts and opinions. This is especially apparent with the arrival of partners from the States. The other day I had a conversation with a new arrival that was, um, disjointed to say the least. He asked about my favorite Christian music. I don’t have any. He asked about several church planting conferences he had been to. I hadn’t even heard of a single one. He asked if I knew any of the (according to him, at least) movers and shakers in Christian circles in the States. I tried to play the name-drop game too, but I don’t really know anyone who’s someone. (No offense if you’re someone I know.) I haven’t read the latest Christian bestseller (I can’t even name one), and I don’t care about what Al Mohler thinks about anything.

My friend was surprised that the things that were important to him weren’t important to me. For him, it wasn’t okay that I wasn’t up on all the latest Christian news. He (seriously!) doubted my spiritual maturity because I thought that MyPraize or GodTube were good ideas. He questioned my understanding of scripture because I’m not enamored with Mike Huckabee (who is apparently the only presidential candidate a Christian should vote for).

Back home there are training programs to help teach Christians how to interact with lost people. I need one to help me learn how to relate to church people.

Why is it that church people are some of the most difficult people of all? Where everyone else gives you the benefit of the doubt, leave it to the religious folks to point out every flaw. Lost people call you “different,” saved people call you a heretic. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why the same Christians who cop out of rational debates with nonchristians by using blind faith arguments insist on using logic to prove their points in conversations with fellow believers. I don’t understand how God’s people back home can claim to love people, but ignore the lost and fight with the saved.

Why is it that I regularly have commenters who attack me? How could anyone chastise me for sharing what God is teaching me with an admonition (“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” “You don’t know how good you have it!”)? I’m not complaining here. I can take criticism and disagreement. I can admit that I’m not always (hardly ever?) right. I just don’t understand why do so many Christians consider those they disagree with (in knee-jerk reaction) to be enemies?

Maybe I just don’t get Christians.