Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Theological Death of an Alaskan Virtue

Though there is much that I don’t remember from my first year at Multnomah Bible College in Portland Oregon, there is one thing that stuck with me. We were sitting in philosophy class with professor Lubeck, talking about ways that people view the world and he made an observation. “Here in the Northwest, we are probably the most independent people on the planet… except possibly Alaskans.” To which I promptly agreed and responded with “Except definitely Alaskans.” Alaskans know what I’m talking about. There seems to be something about the “Last frontier” that attracts people who want to live independently. Not only that but the spread out, often rural, lifestyle seems to promote independence. To apply a little bit of generalization, it’s every Alaskan man’s dream to own his own snowplow, 4-wheeler and hunting gear so that he doesn’t need anyone else to help him live the way he wants to.
Ironically, it was in another of Lubeck’s classes in my last semester at Multnomah that this Alaskan cultural virtue of independence took a serious hit. The class was Advanced Bible Study Methods. One in which our method of learning was to dissect the book of Ephesians with a scalpel to the point where that frog that we dissected in my Jr. High science lab looked healthy by comparison. I ran across a problem in this process though. I found that dissecting Ephesians was remarkably similar to attempting to fillet a bucket of tar with a Swiss army knife. It has these annoying sticky themes that run all the way through it to the point that every time you take a slice at it in order to pull of a chunk, you glance away only to look back and find it inseparably interwoven to the pieces before and after it by an annoying theme like unity and togetherness. It was that unity that wouldn’t let me separate anything.

One of the first things Paul does is lay out the master plan:

 “…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
And if that weren’t bad enough, he goes on to built and incredibly robust theology of the church saying things like,

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for he church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

And then give it even more significance by saying,

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:21-22 emphasis mine)

And in case that were not enough, he goes on to say things like,

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:3-6 emphasis mine)

Are you getting the idea of oneness yet?

There’s also this annoying term “together” that is used 16 times in many different ways to show that everything we do as a church must be together.

But why, what is it that is so important about being one, being unified and using our gifts together? Well, in order to help us see this, Paul backs off and asks us to look at the church from a high orbit where we can see what Professor Tom Kopp recently called, “The forgotten middle.” Us westerner’s have an easy enough time believing in humanity and things made of mass, and we do ok at believing in God, but for some reason we like to ignore the spiritual realm in-between.  Paul, however, had no problem treating other spiritual beings as a reality and thus we read about the mystery of the Gospel that is now revealed.

“His intent was that now, thought the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (3:10-11)

Can you see as I have that the unity of the church is not just so we can all have warm fuzzys and a nice comfortable place to go on Sunday where people will like us? It seems that the church is more of a cosmic thing and her unity is how God has chosen to display his superior wisdom to the spiritual rulers and authorities that we can’t usually see. So we can talk about the social gospel and how we need to show the world God’s nature by our love for one another, but do we realize that in doing so, we are also displaying God’s wisdom and nature to the rest of creation that we may or may not even be aware of; something beyond the limitations of physics and mass.

It aught to be enough motivation that our neighbors all around us are thirsting for the living water and without unity our living water looks like just another mud puddle. But if that’s not enough, we aught to remember that as Christians we have been made a part of the Church, God’s plan to show the world, including the spiritual realm, his grace, mercy and love. If we do not stand firm and fight for the unity of the church against the spiritual forces that face us, (The armor passage in Eph 6) then we are doing a poor job indeed of reflecting the nature of God.
Thankfully, Grace is a part of that nature.

So here I am a white Alaskan to the core with the cultural value of independence ingrained deeper in my bones than their own marrow. Then this annoying guy named Paul starts telling me that in order to fulfill my ultimate purpose in life, it is not an option, but in fact it is required that I become as interdependent in the church as a catcher’s hand is with his eye while intercepting a 100mph fastball.

I am learning interdependence as I have been raising support for the past few months to go and serve in Port Alsworth at Tanalian Leadership Center. As I rely on my support team, I am able to go and they rely on me to carry out the work that they have committed to being a part of. It’s a humbling experience, knowing I can’t do it alone. Yet I something tells me that the money and prayer are only the start of a long list of areas that God wants to apply this lesson to. I will have much to learn as I integrate into the TLC staff team, Lake Clark Bible Church and the community as a whole.

I also expect to learn from the students who I am supposed to be teaching since native culture as a general rule is much more founded on community values and interdependence. While I’m at it, perhaps I should learn a bit about “the forgotten middle” In fact, why don’t I just re-define what it means to be Alaskan based on some of the cultural values that existed in my beautiful state long before us white people even got here.