I’ve always loved the word “conversation”. I prefer it over other words like “dialogue” or “movement” (depending on which end of the spectrum one is in whether activism or quietism or whatever pole one chooses.
Happy Birthday Bangsar Lutheran Church! It’s fascinating after all these years, I find myself returning to the basic questions and ongoing reflections that landed me here in the first place.
Someone asked me the other day, “Do you think a lot?” Well, I guess I do. But the thinking and the doing – the reflection and action process is not far from each other. It’s more like a unending spiral which is ongoing. Apart from my own personal journal, this blog has served the purpose of documenting some of the results of those reflections or simply the process of asking fresh questions again (and again . and again).
I stumbled on this book by Anthony B. Robinson the other day. Changing the conversation: a third way for congregations doesn’t come across with an impressive cover or a hip presentation, but somehow the words, “changing”, “conversation”, “third way” leaped out for me.
I’ve never managed to do a series of blog posts through a book. But as a Birthday present to Bangsar Lutheran Church, I would give it a try . ok! It’s more than a try, it’s training myself to walk through a book and sharing my reflections with others based on my own conversation with the author of the book. This has been my practice for years, i.e. seeing reading a book more like a conversation with the author over a mere acquisition of skill or knowledge.
So here goes.
Changing the culture of organizations, groups, and institutions – and even societies – is about changing the conversation. Those leading change use new language (or rediscover older language), introduce different topics, formulate new agendas, and offer alternative ways of framing issues and situations. One might understand the Christian faith itself as, in important ways, an ongoing effort at changing the conversation and thus changing the way we understand our lives and the way we live in the world. (p.1)
I recall my first attempt in this was in my wrestling with the whole “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and “speaking in tongues” piece in my journey. I was never comfortable with the term even as a teenager who experienced the phenomena and speak in tongues(perhaps the Lutheran DNA was stronger than I thought). I was also never sold on the idea that everyone must speak in tongues whether as an initial sign or a symbol of spiritual advancement. And yet, I did not and still do not deny the powerful experience this was for me personally, and the helpfulness of the spiritual language during a phase of my own spiritual walk.
It was John Wimber and authors linked with the Vineyard movement which provided some new way of “framing” the experience, and reading some Lutheran Charismatics which helped me out. In a way, I wonder whether that small step itself was already an experiment in learning to use new language in one’s faith journey?
Another highlight was of course my three favorite courses in Seminari Theoloji Malaysia, i.e. Church History, Christian Theology and Christian Spirituality (I’d throw in Christian education too as a bonus!). Apart of introducing me to the how wide and deep our Christian heritage at its best was, it was fascinating to discover how those who have gone before us have understood and practiced what it means to follow Jesus in their time and age. This was when I began to understand what words like “Ecumenical”, “Evangelical”, “Catholic”, “Pentecostal”, “Charismatic” means in their historical context, and also my horizons on what are the nuances for today. Of course, most of us in Malaysia are more muddled when it comes to these terms, and some might even feel what’s the point of knowing all this. But for me, it expanded my vocabulary and in a strange way, I believe made me more open and yet discerning at the same time.
One more which I think moves one more to the future. I believe credit must be give to the “Emergent”/”Emerging” conversation which to me helped to connect the more personal struggles between polarities, as well as theological wrestlings with the church and world realities. Brian McLaren and Todd Hunter were and still are wonderful models whom I’m tremendously grateful for. And the main thing I learnt from them was the importance of stepping back, explore the possibility of reframing the questions before us, and in conversation with others experiment with new ways of working out what we intuitively and imaginatively are talking about.
In Malaysia, the proximity between mainline denominations (of which I’m part of through the Lutheran Church in Malaysia), Mega-churches, and Independent Charismatic churches as well as those who are under Pentecostal denominations are much closer. In fact, I think the reality is most Christians in Malaysia would fall more under the Evangelical-Charismatic spectrum (for lack of better terminology). The fact that I’m using such language demonstrates how trapped we are by these categories.
But hopefully, as a student of history I’m smart enough to not ignore that reality. But as one who seeks to move forward, I’m not satisfied with being imprisoned by framing our spiritual journeys, and faith communities, and common witness in this way. Good for understanding, but there must be a better way.
That was at the heart and most central (apart form 101 other factors) to why officially BLC started on April 1, 2000, and on the day Sunday April 2, the small worship gathering started in our living room at No. 4A, Jalan Utara, Petaling Jaya.
Last night, I was asked if I had a choice to go back in time or continue where I am going now, which would I choose? The answer was obvious, I would never go back even though there were many fond memories, precious lessons, and treasured friendships. It’s never been easy, and there has been substantial grief as well in the process of taking baby steps forward. In short, the experience of the promise of freedom is mixed with heartfelt pain. Even the experience of the lows are part and parcel of what changing the conversation involves. Moving towards a third way can be lonely at times.
But one is never really alone.