Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smelling the roses…

Ever since arriving in Minnesota, folk have said, “Shane, go to Duluth!” “Sure, I’ll get there…” But I didn’t understand the hang-up. As an ignorant outsider- Colorado born and raised- I assumed northeast Minnesota was unwelcoming; frigid in winter, rather campy in summer. I imagined something like many Colorado mountain towns- good access to National/State Parks/Forests and a small ‘Main Street’ catering to cabin owners, hikers and flyfisher-folk. But in terms of robust local industry or culture (beyond what catered to big city tourists), nothing doing.

I now know why folk were so adamant. And how ignorant my assumptions were! My family spent last weekend camping near Duluth, and, WOW, I loved it. Thursday night, we pitched tent in the midst of a beautiful forest, just fifteen minutes from downtown Duluth (though, it felt more isolated, thankfully). The next day, we took Fawkes the Dog to Duluth proper. Ate a tasty brunch of locally grown food. Wandered the wooden boardwalk along Lake Superior, dodging bikes and surreys-with-a-fringe-on-top. Again, we ate. Then, took a scenic drive along the North Shore. Magnificent. I loved the unique blend of seaside culture and Pine Trees, especially in eighty-degree sunshine. During the drive home Saturday, we hiked in Jay Cooke State Park. I couldn’t have been happier.

When I worked in Lexington, KY, my boss told me something memorable. “Shane, at every church, the context is very important. The Gospel always comes alive through the local environment.” To make his point, we attended an important local venue- Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing Track (yes, to make me a better pastor, my boss took me gambling). I lost five dollars, but the point was made. In Lexington, many jobs and activities revolve around horse breeding and racing. So not understanding those industries meant ignorance about the lives of our people at church. And if you don’t understand another’s life, it’s hard to say, authentically, how the Good News of Jesus Christ can make a difference.

Sometimes, Christians forget that, right? Have you ever heard someone describe Christian faith as a one-size-fits-all religion? I have. Usually, the idea goes like this- All fall short of God’s glory, so the only thing Jesus cared about was getting us to Heaven by forgiving Sin. Nothing else matters.

And that’s a good idea. But it’s incomplete! Yes, God’s grace will wrap us in God’s loving arms into eternity. But I believe that’s something God offers all people, so to my mind, it wasn’t Jesus’ main message. The New Testament, in fact, talks much more about building God’s Kingdom and receiving New Life than it does Heaven. They’re related, but primarily, Jesus was concerned with God’s desire to make a huge difference in our lives now. New Life is a gift for this life; Jesus asked us to pray, and work for, God’s will be done on earth. And while that will always have Everlasting, Unconditional Love at its core, how that plays out changes from town-to-town, and person-to-person. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

For instance, I imagine that many in Duluth suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder. Summer seems wonderful, but sunlight is limited in winter, and some probably don’t get out much. I’d like to hope Christian communities in Duluth make efforts to keep people connected with fun activities during winter, so that “Light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). Or how about Twin Harbors, just north of Duluth? I only drove through there briefly, so perhaps I’m way wrong here. But it seemed that the Twin Harbors economy has seen better days. Downtown appears more vacant than it had once been. If it’s like many American small towns, trains probably run less often; less youth stick around because less jobs are available. I’d like to hope churches in that area remind each other that, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” (Lamentations 3:22), and that Jesus’ final promise was “Lo, I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). Or think about this: What’s Good News to an addicted woman? An unemployed manager? God’s Kingdom for a homeless child? Context always matters.

Or put differently- God is always in the details, if we have eyes to see.

Grace and Peace,


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