Friday, December 11, 2009

Does Your Marriage Strengthen Your Faith?

I think the idea that a shared faith life can strengthen your marriage is pretty common, but I've been musing about the reverse:

Do you intentionally look to your marriage as a "platform" from which you pursue your faith? Put another way, is your primary life partner your primary faith partner?

I came to this from a curious direction. I think a lot about small groups and house churches. More recently I encountered suggestions for "Three is Enough" groups as well as "Church of Two." One thing that seemed to be in common across all of these is that you have to begin by finding one or more people to team up with, and then spend some time building a significant relationship of trust. With that foundation established, you can work together to pursue your faith with support, encouragement and sharing of ideas, insights etc.

Eventually, I wondered why not start with an established relationship of trust that a great many of us already have in place: our spouse? And I'm not talking here about sharing a life of faith as a way to strengthen the marriage, though it certainly will. Rather, the focus is on intentionally turning to the marriage relationship as a resource for pursuing faith. After all, there we hopefully already have someone who knows us well enough to "speak into our life" as they say. Hopefully, with enough trust built up to be able to "speak (and hear) the truth in love." And generally, someone you can get quality time with fairly easily (even though we often don't.)

Wouldn't that be easier than trying to find someone, find a place and time to meet, and start building a deep, faith-based relationship?

I'd love to hear from others who have though about this, or better yet begun to live that way. What have your experiences been? What kind of practices have you found helpful (or not.) What challenges have you encountered?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How My Mom Introduced Me to God

Part Advent craft for the family, part spiritual autobiography - how's that for a multi-purpose blog post?

One Christmas season when I was a child, my mom had the family do a special activity at home. She set up a little doll-size manger with a small pile of straw next to it and invited us all to "prepare a place for the baby Jesus." We were to add straw one piece at a time over the weeks of Advent. And we were to only add straw when we had done an act of kindness for someone, anonymously.

These good deeds were to be kept secret. It was just between us... and God.

It was a nice activity, and fun in a way that appealed to a young boy who got permission to be sneaky for a change. I don't recall that we ever did it again in the years after that, but by the 25th I do recall there was a decent amount of straw in the manger for the Jesus doll to lie in.

Looking back, it has seemed to me that something really significant got catalyzed in my spiritual life back then. The experience of sharing a secret with God - and essentially engaging in this "spiritual practice" over several weeks - was, as far as I can recall, my earliest clear encounter with God as an actual "other" I could relate to. My first sense of the "Thou" in my "I-and-Thou" relationship (thank you, Martin Buber, for giving me that language some years later.)

So this year, I decided to bring back the manger. I made a little video of how to build one with my daughter Rebecca that you can find below. I think she's already got a stronger spiritual sensitivity that I did at her age, but if this helps to encourage her growth (or mine, or any of the rest of us in the household), well, it's all good.

And anything that encourages more intentional acts of kindness is worth a shot!

Blessings on you and yours this season. May you all share good secrets.

How to Make a Manger from Timothy Thompson on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Sticking Point: Social Density

A Facebook group I belong to associated with Luther Seminary recently started a discussion on this question:

What are the sticking points of your community of faith that keep you all from becoming a missional congregation?

I thought I'd take a crack at that and here's what I posted:

The sticking point? If only there were just one! I see a host of impediments to the emergence of a missional culture - everything from clericalism and Biblical illiteracy to the hyperindividualism and consumeristic ethos of our civic culture. But there does seem to be one factor that exacerbates all the others and is the place I keep coming back to when I try to decide where to invest my energies.

There is a general lack of substantive relationships.

You can easily unveil this by looking at the one-anothers that describe healthy Christian community. For example, how common are relationships in our churches that are substantive enough to allow people to actually "admonish one another?" Not very.

Culture change - like faith itself - travels from person to person like a virus. You can stop a virus cold (so to speak) by isolating people from each other. Similarly, our community relationships are generally too distant to support a culture-change epidemic. We don't "breathe each others air" enough to transmit anything.

Our primary gatherings may look like good places to catch something - Sunday services are something of a crowd scene. But there is very little relational contact that can take place in that setting. You may catch a cold by passing the peace, but you won't catch a missional culture that way.

Invest in small groups? Of course. But that's typically done as an add-on to Sunday services, as icing on the cake of everything else that's already entrenched in conventional congregational life. Most of our time & energy goes towards the large gathering which tends to have a small impact on a large number of people. Small groups, that have a larger impact on a smaller number, get the leftovers. That's a fundamental mis-alignment. (To see it graphically as a napkin diagram, go here:

To switch metaphors from infection, think in terms of a nuclear chain reaction. To make that take place, the atoms have to be at a high density, packed very tightly together. Then as the neutrons fly, they release even more and the reaction multiplies.

Our "social density" is not high enough to support a "chain reaction" of missional culture change. In contrast, that's just what you see when the Church is "packed very tightly together" under persecution, often resulting in "explosive" growth.

So if I had to pick one factor above the others to focus on, I guess it would be social density. That's why I continue to be drawn to the house church movement - an eminently Lutheran expression and a subject for another time!