Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Ask God to Give You a Heart for Africa...or College Students...or...



Reading this book, The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, by Halter and Smay. And while I still have serious misgivings about "incarnational" as an adjective applied to Christian communities, I am finding the book a good conversation partner for the kind of work in which I find myself engaged as a university chaplain. 
Most recently, I read a passage that beautifully (and humbly) challenges what I have perceived as the sometimes-passivity of evangelical language exhorting Christians to pray to be given a heart for a particular people group. Yes, pray. But/and...
"...[Our] heart only changes as we live among the people for whom we will eventually advocate."

"If you go to Africa and hang out in a village of starving children, you'll get a heart for starving African children. If you hang out with the mentally ill, you'll get a heart for the emotionally imbalanced. If you want an authentic heart for people outside the church...you've got to be with them. As they grab your heart, your posture will change, your angle of approach will change, and the kingdom of God will be a little more tangible."

Maybe this is what is meant by incarnational (though comparing the Incarnation of the Son of God to an extended travel trip to Africa seems silly and unnecessary to me). Anyway, two things that strike me:

1) The pro-activity available to each of us in our desires to live out a heart for a particular people. Go there. Be there. Also, with whom are you around now? How might intentional practices of being present to your present context open up connecting points for love in action? (Yes, I'm talking - at least in part and to myself - about putting the smartphones down.) A favorite prayer of mine from the BCP begins, "Be present, be present, O Lord, Jesus Christ..." How many times does he pray the same prayer for me?

2) The words of the first line: "for whom we will eventually advocate." Advocating is an unpredictable privilege that develops, not a starting point. Go there. Be there. Without the expectation of either reward OR immediate usefulness. If incarnational means anything helpful for describing the Church's ministry (and I'm still not sure it's the right word), it is in learning to trust and imitate the ministry of presence commended by our Lord. To be present is a gift that is not lost on others. You have other places you could be, and you are here. This already is something interesting I want to understand about you. 

Annie's godparents have this lyric from Mumford and Sons posted high above their living room: "Where you invest your love, you invest your life." This is descriptive, not normative; it's just the way things, in God's good order, are. But it's also a gift, an opportunity, an invitation...

"If you go to Africa and hang out in a village of starving children, you'll get a heart for starving African children."

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