The Oppression of the Fair

Fair is fine as long as we're just going for a ride

Many of us hold fairness in high esteem.

But what does "fairness" look like?

Fairness frequently means that everyone gets treated exactly the same. Equal pay. Equal portions. Equal time and attention.

In a fair world we are judged on our merits. This can be a motivating force. Work hard and, in a fair world, you will be rewarded. Treat people fairly and, in a fair world, you will be respected.

You could make an argument that fairness makes the world go around.

But fairness can also become oppressive.

Out of a desire for fairness, we race to the bottom. We refuse to do good because we can't do it for everyone. We treat everyone fairly, but no one well.

And, out of a desire for fairness, we focus on our rights, what we deserve and want, what we've earned and what everyone else is getting. This focus blinds us to what we have, robs us of gratitude.

And, out of a desire for fairness, we ignore people's differences. We miss out on the good and beautiful gifts diverse communities have to offer. We treat everyone fairly, but long for something more.

We all, secretly, when pushed, desire more than fair treatment. Friendship. Love. Grace. These are all unfair ... and beautiful.

Instead of fairness, we should pursue generosity, goodness, godliness and gratitude. After all, isn't this what God, through Christ, has given us?

Where have you seen fairness fail to satisfy?

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com and penywise

Gratitude


What do you have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Overwhelmed


 How do you feel when God calls you to do something huge?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Unfair


What could be better than fairness?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Naturally Disappointed


Have you ever been disappointed by someone who didn't know your expectations?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and jlumbv

Access


How hard is it to get through the front door of your ministry?

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng and jelle80nl

Travel project

Inspired by the folks over at despair.com and the Demotivators meme, I'll post a couple of captioned pictures between now and Tuesday.

Have a wonderful weekend!

3 Steps Toward Outside the Box Ministry

The box is a cage ... escape!
Describe the box

Before you can intentionally step outside the box, you need to find the walls of the box. You need to acknowledge the walls. You need to describe the walls.

Describing the box helps us generate a desire to escape. Will. It takes an enormous amount of will to break outside the box. The box is comfortable and safe and becomes invisible quickly.

A clear knowledge of your limits helps you grow.

Create a visualization

I find this so helpful. I draw out our systems. Boxes and circles and lines. Notecards and whiteboards. Flowcharts.

It's one thing to know the box, it's another thing to see the box.

My idea generator kicks into high gear when I start sketching.

Break down and swap

Once you've described and visualized the box, try a swap exercise.

Think about it with new student outreach ...
Instead of ice cream, try attracting people through a social justice cause.
Instead of short conversations with the many, pursue deep conversations with a few.
Instead of asking them to join us, offer to join them in what they're doing.

The easiest way to break outside the box is to pick a wall and push.

Where do you need to push?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and hotblack

Incremental thinking locks the box

Enter the box at your own risk

Remember the rotary phone?

Technology improved and the rotary phone became quaint. Soon, every phone had buttons. Then they lost their cords. Then they worked in the car, then anywhere. Phones got smaller and thinner.

Then someone thought outside the box.

Phones started getting bigger again. Now, they have cords you can attach when you need them. And I wouldn't be surprised if, eventually, those Apple folks put their iPod rotary device (aka "click wheel") on a new iPhone.

Thinking outside the box turned a phone into an iPhone, into a smart phone.  All of the sudden, people stopped thinking about how to make the box bigger and better and started to think about how to escape the box.

To break the lock on the box, you have to give up on incremental thinking.

What does this look like?

Take something that's super-InterVarsity, super-campus ministry ... new student outreach. Every Fall, every InterVarsity community all across the United States connects with new students. All of these InterVarsity groups do something that looks like an Ice Cream Social. Good advertisement. Good organization. Good follow-up. Lots of ice cream and lots of students to connect with

But chapters tend to flat-line with NSO. Eventually they reach the same number of students every year and, no matter how much better you make your ice cream social, you can't break that threshold.

One outside the box idea that broke that threshold was a progressive dinner. We engaged fewer students (40 rather than 200), but had more of them stick with us (35 rather than 20). More attention, deeper connection, longer involvement. Outside the box.

But how do we come up with the ideas?

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com and karpati

Short Series: Outside the Box Ministry

How would you escape this box?


Getting outside the box is one of the most difficult things to do in campus ministry. 

With every campus ministry ... InterVarsity, Cru, FCA, Wesley, BCM, BSU, CCM, RUF, Navs ... you'll find pretty much the same structures (something that looks like NSO, something that looks like Large Group, something that looks like Small Groups, etc ...). It's hard to get outside the box in ministry.

Churches struggle to get outside the box too.  So do justice ministries.  So do missions agencies.  It's hard to get outside the box in ministry.

Outside the box ministry comes from outside the box thinking.

Thought patterns around ministry often focus on expansion and improvement. "How can we do what we've always done but just do it a little bigger, a little better?" And this would be fine ... except for the box.

And there is a box, right? Campus ministries plateau. Sometimes this happens to an individual campus. Sometimes it happens to an entire organization.


How do we think outside the box?  Let's do a Short Series.

Photo courtesy of chadra and MorgueFile.com

Why the grass on the other side of the fence almost always looks greener

"I'm not sure, but I swear the grass is greener over there"
"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence"

This proverb isn't in the Bible, but don't you wonder if it should be?

Think about your health, your relationships, your body, your home, your job ... your life.  Aren't you tempted sometimes to think that everything would be better if you could just get "over there"?

There are two reasons ... big reasons ... why the grass on the other side looks greener.

The first reason the grass looks greener is Ignorance.

That better marriage may be icy.  That better job may be boring.  That better house may have a huge mortgage.  That better body may have cancer.  "Better" isn't always better, but we struggle to see this.

The metaphorical fence that stands between us and the greener grass keeps us from seeing the downside.  And the upside catches our attention.

I remember thinking I might go to graduate school and become a professor, so I'd be able to leave the stress of fundraising behind.  A few months later, we had some freshly minted professors join our Small Group and ... all of the sudden ... the grass on the other side of that fence didn't look so green.  Deadlines and job insecurity, bureaucracy and meetings and costumes.  There was a lot I didn't know.

So much of our dissatisfaction in life is due to mistaken ideas formed in ignorance of the facts.  Before you quit your job or your marriage or your church, check yourself for ignorance.

The second reason the grass looks greener is that it really is greener.

As a homeowner, I've had brown grass.  I've had dead, brown grass-pretending-to-be-dirt, lying flat beside a neighbor's sweet green turf.  I didn't care well for my grass and - as a result - the grass on the other side was greener.

And maybe this is the point.

Who cares if the grass is greener on the other side?  If the problem is with me, it won't matter which side of the fence I'm on.  If my grass is dead because of my mis-management, that fresh field on the other side of the fence won't be green for long.

There's much to be said for godliness with contentment.  

What would life look like if you were just content?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and HaddyConsulting

Bonus photo comes from the good people over at despair.com.  It's a great place to do your ironic Christmas shopping.

Wherever you go, there you are

Focus on the Family ... of Jesus



Jesus showed up in a human family, a messy, crazy, wild human family.

The Gospel of Matthew starts with a genealogy, displaying this family.  I'm always tempted to skip over genealogies in the Bible.  I know that all Scripture has value, but some passages have a value that's harder to see.  But there's something special about this genealogy.

On the surface, the most interesting thing is the inclusion of women.  Even though Jewish identity is traditionally passed down through the mother, all of the genealogies in the Bible focus on fathers.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife ... these women all stand outside the normal stream of God's people.  They are included through marriage, through desperation, through stories filled with pain.  But their names are remembered.

In Jesus' family, you find a liar, a weakling, a thief ... and that's just the patriarchs.  Other ancestors visited prostitutes, murdered rivals, cheated on their wives, had multiple wives, worshipped other gods, and took advantage of the poor.

And then there's the dozen or so people we've never heard of, names like Shealtiel, Abihud, Azor, and Matthan.  In fact, most of Jesus' ancestors were ordinary people, people you've never heard of.

What does all this tell us?

Jesus enters a diverse family.
Jesus enters an imperfect family.
Jesus enters an ordinary family.

And his ongoing family ... the church ... we're not that different.

Jesus joined with people like us: people who's families are unique, people with characters in their family, and people who don't know their roots.  He joined us ... united himself to us ... to save us.

How could Jesus save us if he wasn't part of our family?

"The Last Judgment: Jacob, Abraham and Isaac in Heaven" by Andrei Rublev courtesy of WikiPaintings.org

Which Son is the Lost Son?



Have you heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

A father has two sons.  The younger son demands his inheritance before his father passes away, squanders it and then comes home looking for mercy.  The father welcomes his son home and throws a party.  But the older son refuses to participate.

Which son is truly lost?

At the end of the story, the younger son is in the father's house, enjoying the party.  The older son is out in the field, angry enough to die. And we learn something about each of them.

The younger son understands the father's mercy.  He manipulates and takes advantage, first in the shake-down, then in the return.  But he receives the father's kindness.

The older son doesn't seem to understand the father.  He acts surprised by the father's mercy to the younger son.  He feels like he's slaved away all these years, trying to please his father, without success.  And when the father tries to bring him into the party, he refuses.

Which son is truly lost?

I guess you can be lost, just out in the field.  You can be lost even after years of doing the father's work.  You can be lost and well-behaved.  You can be lost, even as you talk with the father about "the lost."

How do you know if you're lost or not?

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt courtesy of WikiPaintings

Fully Adopting Jesus

You knew that Jesus was adopted, right?
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary ... Adopted by a guy named Joseph.

Somehow, this third clause never made it into any of the ancient creeds. 

But maybe it belongs.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit: Jesus is linked to God.
Born of the Virgin Mary: Jesus is linked to humanity.
Adopted by a guy named Joseph: what does this show us?

Over my years of campus ministry, I've heard painful and beautiful stories of adoption.

One of my friends, through tears, shared that his adoptive son started asking questions about his birth parents.  The son felt confused, unwanted.  And his adoptive father ... his father ... well, his tears came because he remembered the season before the adoption.  He remembered the longing, the prayer, the saving up and selling stuff and sacrifice ... all so he and his wife could welcome this child into their family. 

The son was wanted.

And perhaps this is a hint to Joseph's place. 

An adoptive parent does a wonderful, mysterious thing.  An adoptive parent shoulders a burden that doesn't naturally (literally, by nature) belong to them.  An adoptive parent includes the child into a new family story.  An adoptive parent says "Even though you weren't born into my family, you are my family." 

Through Joseph, Jesus is linked to the large and wild biblical narrative.  Jesus is adopted into a family with kings and prostitutes, liars and warriors, people of faith and doubt and perseverance.

Now, you might think, like me, that Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary (who was a Jewish teenager) would already link him this wild biblical narrative.  But in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' ancestry is traced through Joseph, the adoptive father.

We could dig into why the gospels trace the genealogy through Joseph and not Mary, parsing theology and revisiting the church fathers.  But I notice another facet of the story here.

Look at how completely Jesus was adopted!

Jesus may have been conceived without Joseph, born without Joseph ... but his story can't be told without Joseph.  His adoptive father was fully a father to him.

And by being adopted, Jesus becomes truly like us. 

As we stand before God, as his children, we are all adopted.  We are all wanted and chosen and included in our Father's story.  And though we may not know how to live in this new family, as adopted children, we have a Savior who knows what it means to be adopted.  Perhaps he can help us.

Why does it matter that Jesus was adopted?

"St. Joseph and the Christ Child" by El Greco, courtesy of WikiPaintings

A Gospel Written to Make Disciples?


I've always had trouble understanding the Gospel of Matthew.

Luke tells us why he's writing his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Mark also lays it out:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,
And John, you've got to read to the end, but he also says:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
But what is the Gospel of Matthew all about?  Why did he write it?

This month I'm studying Matthew in my personal time in Scripture.  I'm listening to a sermon series, reading a commentary and really, really digging through Scripture.

Today, I read an idea by Stanley Hauerwas, that Matthew wrote his Gospel to help men and women become disciples of Jesus.  This resonates with the Great Commission, which calls the church to make disciples.  Will this idea hold up as a guiding idea for the Gospel?

Why do you think Matthew wrote his Gospel?

"Inspiration of St. Matthew" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, courtesy of wikipaintings.org

Forget the chicken and egg


What do you do when you identify a problem?

Your ministry has plateaued.
You feel distant from your children.
You see your weight increase to unhealthy levels.
You are having trouble communicating with your spouse.

If you're anything like me, you want to get to the bottom of it, whatever "it" is.  You want to figure out why the problem is happening before you try to fix it.  You want to deal with the problem at the source, pull it up by the roots.

But, sometimes, this sets us on the Do Nothing Path.

Some problems remain difficult to unravel.  Do I feel distant because we're not communicating or are we not communicating because I feel distant?  Do I overeat because I'm sad or am I sad because I overeat?  Am I doubting my call because of the plateau or is the plateau flowing from my doubt?  Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

When we can't get to the source of the problem, we freeze.  We remain inactive, waiting for a solution that will allow us to backtrack out of our problem.

But, sometimes, the way out is to move forward.
And, sometimes, insight into the source is hidden in the solution.

What would happen if we stopped obsessing over the source and moved on to the solution?

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile and peachyqueen
For a funny video on this theme, check out "Fix it" from SNL