Thursday, January 29, 2009

Koinonia Foundation

I have been encouraged by the Chairman and others to join the Board of Directors for the Koinonia Foundation. This foundation is an inter-denominational Christian agency that offers services, counseling, and referrals to the needy in a 5 zip code area of Northern Virginia, and has been doing so for over 40 years. Koinonia has a food pantry, a clothing closet, and offers limited financial assistance for things like rent, utilities, and prescription drugs. They also do special outreaches each year that include Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, food drives, and Christmas presents to needy children.

More recently, Koinonia has attempted to integrate a more well-rounded approach to serving the poor. In addition to focusingy on the kinds of tangible assistance mentioned above, they have begun to integrate equally essential intangibles such as financial and employment counseling that equips the poor with skills to help break free from ingrained dependency on social services to get by. They also Christian witness and community for those who desire it

Like many other charitable and ministry organizations these days, Koinonia faces significant budget challenges, as well as serious spatial challenges (their present facility is far too small to be able to offer the expansive outreach Koinonia believes it is called to, and which the community would no doubt benefit from). Those who have served in the trenches of mercy ministry far more than I have know all too well the almost constant difficulties and challenges that come with the territory of doing ministry along the breaking point of desperation and hopelessness in the lives of those created in God's image. The work is tough, and can be heartbreaking. But like many others who toil in this particular vineyard, Koinonia is doing good work and offering hope to those who most need it.

The Koinonia facility is located on Franconia Rd, just east of Franconia Elementary behind the parking lot of Franconia Methodist Church.

To those who live in this geographic area and are in need, please visit Koinonia. There's no shame in seeking assistance, and the volunteers at Koinonia are helpful, compassionate, and friendly.

To anyone regardless of geography who is not in need and is in a position to give, Koinonia could certainly use your support, both prayerful and financial. There are many very good ministries and organizations that one can donate their time and treasure as they feel led. Koinonia is not special in this regard. But it is a most worthy organization for those who feel led to partner with them in serving the poor. Might I ask anyone who reads this blog to prayerfully consider exploring how God might be leading you as you read this post.

I encourage everyone to visit Koinonia online to find out more about what the Foundation is doing, how they're doing it, what the community's needs are, and how you can either avail yourself of their services, or contribute to their work.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Jesus - Life-Changing or Life-Enhancing?

A fellow Elder in my church passed along a comment made by the current Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, which is worth reflection:

The scandal of the church is that the Christ-event is no longer life-changing; it has become life-enhancing. We've lost the power and joy that make real disciples and we've become consumers of religion and not disciples of Jesus Christ.

Now obviously, the issue of life-changing and life-enhancing is not necessarily an either/or proposition. But the manner in which Sentamu frames the issue is nonetheless instructive, because of the way in which he seems to define 'life-enhancing' in consumerist terms.

Like Sentamu, I fear that a considerable number of Western Christians view Jesus and religion through a consumerist lens. I don't think it's entirely intentional. I just think that very few of us have a level of self-awareness that seriously reckons with the degree to which our entire outlook on life is often framed by consumerism, including our religious attitudes and beliefs. To the extent that anyone, Christian or non-Christian, approaches the Person of Christ and asks, "What's in it for me?", that person is a consumer who views Jesus as a commodity. Their evaluation of Jesus is then a question of whether (and how much) Jesus is enhancing or will enhance one's life. And when this happens, Jesus is a utility to be assessed similarly to how we might assess a job change with a pay raise, or the pros and cons of putting an addition on our house. The problem is that while pay raises and home remodelings might enhance our lives, they rarely change our lives. And that's because in the end, they lack the power to effect life change.

In many ways, the basic problem is that the question, "What's in it for me?" is a completely reasonable question for anyone to ask about almost anything in our consumerist culture. And this question isn't completely illegitimate when it comes to matters of religion either. If it was, the Bible likely wouldn't contain the many promises and assurances that it does in order for people to know the truth about this Jesus person and what it means to follow him. When describing the marks (and costs) of discipleship, Jesus didn't withhold information because he thought it was illegitimate for people to want to know what they were getting into in following him and his teachings. It's when this question is reduced to a purely utilitarian assessment of the worth of Jesus, as defined by the consumer and measured in consumerist categories, that Jesus stops being the life-changing Savior of the Scriptures and becomes a glorified COTS item to be tried on in the dressing room and bought off the shelf. And like most everything else that can be purchased in a big box store, this kind of Jesus will at best enhance one's life, but won't change it, no matter what kind of marketing slogan is employed to convince the consumer that such a purchase will change their life forever.

When asking myself whether the Jesus I follow and worship is the life-changing Jesus of the Scriptures or is merely a life-enhancing Jesus of my own consumerist making, I always try to ask myself a basic question. Instead of asking, "What's in it for me?", I ask myself, "What are the beliefs, attitudes, and practices that I now hold dear and actively live out that were unthinkable to me before the 'Christ-event'?" Or conversely, "What were the beliefs, attitudes, and practices I used to hold dear and live out that I can no longer uphold in good conscience since the 'Christ-event'?" The extent to which I can answer these questions with specifics rather than vagueries or even an "I don't know" is the degree to which I can say with some confidence that the 'Christ-event' has indeed been life-changing, rather than merely being something akin to a spiritual pay raise.

This assessment is not something to be asked and answered once, and then scratched off the list. It is something to be examined constantly, precisely because the consumerism that surrounds us and inevitably affects us is neither neutral nor passive. It doesn't take a day off. Yet, I fear that Western Christianity, both evangelical and liberal, has, in its desire to make Christianity palatable to culture, adopted consumerism and commodification in ways that are critically unstable and are unlikely to survive long-term. Such a practice may have worked in a society where people were doing well and had the luxury of consuming at will, or at least operated with that mentality. But our current economic crisis is already stripping the luster off of this way of life, so that people are beginning to rediscover that clothes, cars, money, shopping, and keeping up with the Joneses isn't life-changing (or even all that life-enhancing). This crisis will, at least temporarily, provoke folks to return to more basic themes of what makes a life truly meaningful, and does my life count for anything. These are the kinds of questions Christians want people to be asking, and these are the people the church needs to be reaching. But it won't be able to do it by offering a life-enhancing consumerist Jesus rather than the life-changing God-Man Jesus.