24 September 2006

Some thoughts after two days

It's the culture, stupid! That's what I usually think when I don't do something I should do, do something I shouldn't, or just don't get it.

For example. I drove for the first time today in France. Not much more anxiety than driving in parts of Chicago. However, when you make a left turn in France, there is a large white circle in the middle of the road that you are supposed to go around on the right, not cut across it. This circle is meant to keep two large moving pieces of metal from contacting each other, especially when I'm in one of them. Makes sense, it you know what the white dot is for.

We did our first load of laundry tonight. No problem, except... everything is in French, and even then, the words written on the machine don't alway match what is in a french dictionary. So it might make sense or it might not. Then we could not figure out where to put the soap (it's in a pull out tray at the top left), how much to use (still don't know), and which of the five slots to put it (ditto). Our country director happen to call at an opportune moment, so most of the problems were solved.

Then, we couldn't get the door open on the washing machine. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn't open. Finally, I noticed that it hadn't finished it's cycle, and the drum wasn't turning. I finagled the knobs and got it to short cycle to a finish, and then got the door open, behind which was our soaking wet laundry. The problem turned out to be nothing more benign than simple overloading of the machine.

Another problem: who do you kiss on the cheeks? Everyone kisses on the cheek (actually they launch the kiss in the air several inches from your skin and assume it will drift down to make contact). I saw quite a few people greet each other that way, but I saw no rhyme or rational for it, so I kept moving and shaking hands. Finally one very nice woman caught up with my wife, and then before I could react, we were both "bised" (kissed). The next thing you know I'll be buying a beret.

An interesting bit of culture shock is buying four pieces of ham in a plastic bag that cost as much as the entire pig in the U.S. Or paying for a liter (approximately a quart) of gasoline that costs almost as much as a gallon of gas in the states.

Of course, the problem isn't the culture, it is us --we are the people who are out of sync.

All of this is to say that as bad as it sounds, I've enjoyed every minute of it. Basically, I've had to deconstruct my own culture to discover why I do certain things a particular way, and come to the conclusion that it really isn't that important unless comfort and familiarity is really important to you.

I don't say that to be specious or sarcastic. All this is opening my eyes to how to do ministry here in France. I have no doubt that God can and will use the giftedness that he's given me to share and touch the lives of people here, but it means that I need to really think beyond the box and look carefully at my cultural baggage, and how it puts a spin on how to reach out to others.

But, as Paul writes, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, neither is there male or female, the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. I think that means that God is in culture as well as above it, and if so, there is hope for us whom he has called to serve

We've Moved

Well, here we are in France. Grenoble, to be exact. We got here on Friday about 1600H (4:00 PM local time, 9:00 AM Chicago time), got situated, and finally crashed after being awake for 40 hours.

We did sleep on the plane, but it was like the Pharaoh who had his legs broken in order to fit in his sarcophagus. But, it did get us through.

It is really a beautiful area, and we have a great view from our flat, half way up the side of a mountain.

This picture is looking to the south-east out of our sitting room window. It was cloudy and hazy when I took the shot, but I like the effect. I almost can see Frodo and Sam making their way along the side of the mountains on the way to Mordor.

It's been a grand adventure, although most missiologists tell you never to think of working in another culture as an adventure. Maybe it is because an adventure is about the thrills and challenges that you have to face on your own, relying on your own resources. Most of that is true except the part about being on your own and relying on your own resources. There is always a certain confidence that I seem to enjoy when I know I'm following God where he is leading.

Our first Sunday was kind of a red-banner day, attending two english language church services, and partaking communion with both congregations. Everyone was absolutely marvelous. We have several invitations to lunch and such, and there is already much in the queue as well.

As I sat doing devotions this morning, a thought struck me as I read through Psalm 1. It was the word "Torah," or Law, as it is commonly (though mistakenly) translated. Torah is more like instruction or guidance. It resembles a road map for a journey that shows us landmarks and places of interest along the way. It is not a series of laws and pronouncements, restrictions or lists of "do's" and "don'ts" given to us.

Paul points out that the word of God (i.e., the Law) is for equipping the saints for every good work. If you read 2 Tim. 3:16f, you have more the idea of a journey than a set of guide lines and regulations: scripture shows us the path we should walk, let's us know when we get off the path, shows us how to get back on the path, and then how to stay on that path.

I think this understanding of the Law comes from a bad reading of both Paul and Luther. Luther said in his sermon on the gospel of Matthew:

The Law is that word by which God teaches what we shall do, as for instance, the Ten Commandments. Now, if human nature is not aided by God's grace, it is impossible to keep the law, for the reason that man since the fall of Adam in Paradise is depraved and full of sinful desires, so that he cannot from his heart's desire find pleasure in the law, which fact we all experience in ourselves.
We get it right when we say, as with Luther, that God gives us his commands, which is Law. But where we get it wrong is that we think that this is all there is to it. Always with God's command there is also grace that transforms and changes human nature so that it is possible to keep the law and make us righteous before God. God never gives us a demand without giving us the ability to understand it and obey him. This is grace, or more properly, gospel.

The attempt to fulfill the demand of the Law outside the realm of grace is what we commonly think Luther refers to as Legalism (as does Paul, since he must of read Luther). But this is not legalism. Legalism is an overemphasis on the peripheries. The misunderstanding of both Paul and Luther (although Martin does blur the distinction from time to time) comes because we fail to see that the Pharisees tried to put a hedge around the Law, then kept books on everyone to make sure that they kept their sin and transgressions on the periphery of the hedge, and away from the Law.

As time went on, the breaking down of the hedges on the periphery was seen as heinous as breaking the Law itself. This is also why the Pharisees had long, drawn out discussions on what was work and what wasn't.

All of this to say that that Torah (law) refers to the way that God shapes the human soul. And as far as that path, verse six states the situation very clearly:

for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The path desired by God is one where he watches over those who desire to follow him in their journey of faith, while an alternative is introduced with the word "but."

As always, it our choices that lead to our destiny.

And as such, Psalm one reads more like a love letter than a rule book.

03 September 2006

The times they are a-changin'

The countdown is on, we are getting closer everyday. We leave for France 9/21/06 at 1803h (6:03 PM). Just spent the day packing boxes, get books ready for "M Bags" that my daughter can ship to us in France. I also loaded my truck with a dryer, two books shelves, and a Macintosh G4 computer for my grandson (he's not getting the dryer or bookshelves...). And I still got in a nap!

Had a real interesting talk with my neighbor. He shared a discussion he had with some friends who challenged him about his part in advancing the kingdom. The gist of the conversation was that God advances the kingdom, but we are his hands and feet. We are the body that Christ uses to minister. I guess it is just one of those things we look at everyday and never see.

The three cartons we are shipping to France are setting in the garage, waiting for the forwarding company to pick up on Tuesday. If everything goes well, we will get there about a week or so before the boxes.