Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taking a Spiritual Perspective

One of my professors in seminary, Dr. John Frame, introduced me to a concept he called triperspectivalism. Dr. Frame is a very intelligent fellow who focuses on theology and philosophy so if the word "triperspectivalism" seems a mouthful at first, you're not alone! It took me a number of years, including one as Dr. Frame's teaching assistant, in seminary and then a couple of years teaching bible before I think this philosophical concept sunk down deep enough for me to really get it. Once I "got it" this became a great tool to help me in all areas of life, so I hope you find it helpful as well.

Triperspectivalism is basically looking at things from three, hence the "Tri" like in "Tri-angle", perspectives or views. When we typically approach a subject, a person, or ideas we have one perspective based on our history, our own views, or experience. However, as we all know, it's helpful to approach objects from different angles to get a complete view. This three-viewed approach is a good starting point to help us consider multiple views, or angles, from which a topic or situation can be evaluated. Since there are three perspectives, or views, graphically this type of approach can be represented with triangles.

The basic format for any of these triangles is as follows: Normative, Situational, and Existential. You place the topic of focus in the center of the triangle and then you consider the topic from these three different views or angles. The Normative approach is the "normal" approach which includes the dogmatic or usual approach. The normative considers the topic from the view of whatever our ultimate authority is. The Situational approach is to consider the external circumstances, or the topic within the context of the world, while the Existential approach is from a more internalized place. Here are a few examples of how this practically plays out:

Our God is a triangle God. He is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet also they are all one substance, being God. In our triangle the topic, God, is placed in the center of the triangle and the we examine the three perspectives. Our normative or normal understanding of God, the dogmatic approach to God, is God the Father. He is the primary perspective considered in the Old Testament and He is from whom the Son and the Spirit proceed. Our situational understanding of God is God the Son. Jesus is God in our situation. He is sent by the Father out into the world, and into our context. Our existential approach to God is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the internal experience of God, the Spirit that resides within us, empowers us, and guides us in all wisdom. Clearly these understandings have a degree of overlappedness (the triangle is connected) and yet each perspective is distinct just as each person of the trinity is distinct yet the same God (traditionally stated 3 persons, one substance).

Another great theological example is Jesus and his offices. So in this case the topic is Jesus, particularly the roles of Jesus. Jesus functions as Prophet, Priest, and King, these are often called his offices. There are people in the bible who fulfill these offices at different places in redemptive history but only Jesus fulfills them all. The existential approach views Jesus as Priest. He is the one who cares for the people, the individuals, and ministers to them by being the mediator between them and God. He is able to be our High Priest because He fully shares our humanity with us and has suffered temptation as we have (see Hebrews). Situationally, Jesus has an effect on the world. He functions as King and Lord, who sees his Kingdom come in tangible ways to all nations. Normatively, Jesus is Prophet. He came from God bringing the Gospel, the good news from His Father.

This prophet, priest, and king structure is the theological basis for our form of Presbyterian government made of shared leadership between teaching elders, also called pastors, (prophet), ruling elders (king), and deacons (priest).

This three pronged approach to viewing ideas isn't limited to theology. How should I consider raising my children? Normatively I should be concerned about their physical health and well being, situationally I should consider how they will function emotionally and socially in the world, and existentially I should consider their spiritual health. How about hiring someone? Normatively do they meet the requirements for this job, situationally how will they preform, and existentially what is the spiritual and personal dimension? What should my life group do? Normatively we should study the bible or do other studies, but situationally how are we affecting the world, are we going out in any way, and then existentially are we collectively praying for each other, doing soul care and fellowshipping?

I hope this makes sense and can help you as it has helped me take multiple perspectives on circumstances and decisions. At the very least it will help you consider things not only from a material perspective but a spiritual one as well. I'd be excited for any other triangles you might come up with! You can click here to see an example of how a triperspectival approach to the gospel helps give a fuller view of the gospel.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Scott's Story of Haiti

I agree with so much of what my teammates have shared in their portions of the Blog. But it’s probably no surprise that I want to focus on worship. Of the many powerful and moving experiences I had in Haiti the one that comes to mind was one of the first experiences I had. On Sunday morning we left the CODEP compound and rode 40 minutes up the mountain to an Episcopal church for worship (see John’s Blog for more on the church we visited). As a worship leader I was interested to see what the differences and similarities of a worship service in Haiti and back home would be. Of course we stood out from the rest of the worshippers for obvious reasons: we were blancs (creole for white) in a group of dark skinned Haitians, and we didn’t understand creole. But the worship service was still very moving. I knew several of the melodies to the hymns that were sung and could even manage to recall the English words as I hummed along.  So I could join in praise to God while not being able to actually sing along. I could recognize the Apostle’s Creed by the timing and meter of how it was recited, and again tried to recall the words in English as it was spoken in creole. While their service length was something I don’t think most Americans would warm to very quickly (3 hours); there were two parts of the service that spoke to me in a particular way. During their “Greeting” time each and everyone one of the 200 plus worshippers greeted everyone else who were in attendance; including the 8 “blancs” sitting on the middle of the right side. We were welcomed and touched or embraced by everyone who was there for worship that morning. The other thing that really spoke to me was during the offering time. Our mission partners had given each of us one Haitian Gourde (the Haitian currency. 1 US dollar = 43 Haitian Gourdes) to give during the offering time. (Kind of felt like I was nine years old and back in Sunday school with the quarter my mother had given me for the offering). Instead of passing a plate or basket, worshippers bring their offering forward and place in on the altar. Since we were pretty close to the front we were some of the first folks to take our offerings and tithes forward. As I turned to return to my seat I noted the hundreds of worshippers who were behind us almost running forward to give their offering.  With great joy on their faces they came and I had to dodge quit a few folks who in their excitement to bring their offering forward, almost ran right over me. I prayed; “Lord give me that kind of joy to give back to You what is already Yours”!

I was blessed by many other things as the week progressed. To have the opportunity to come along side our Haitian brothers and sisters as they build a better life for their families and generations to come.  And I have paused every Sunday since returning and thought, “I wonder what they are hearing or singing in that church in Haiti right now”. As I remember them I thank God that we have fellow believers all over the world worshipping the one true God and the same time we are here at home.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Other Stories from Haiti

I shared a little of my own perceptions of our recent Vision Trip to Haiti in a previous blog article.Since then more of our team has been able to put down something about how they felt about the trip from their perspective. I encourage you to follow the links below and listen to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ describe their experience in Haiti.

 Tricia Jordan

Lila's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

The next time you begin to plan a memorable vacation, I urge you to consider Haiti. You can start by visiting your church’s mission department. You simply do not want to miss the opportunity to visit a county that albeit a nation of poverty… a nation full of life. The people I saw and met clearly were filled with the Holy Spirit! God’s presence was unmistakable. Haiti was a vacation for me as our work in Haiti would be some of the easiest work I would ever complete, except for the mountain climbing. Don’t let that scare you, for most of you it would be a cakewalk. What I perceived and insisted was a ten-mile hike, my “MacGyver” teammates joyfully revealed to me that I had barely hiked a mile! I’m not really camping material and for those who know me, know exactly what I’m talking about. The breath taking mountain views and all that I would experience was certainly worth the “ten-mile” hikes. I treasure the seven days of being told where to be, what to do and when to be at the dinner table! Moms know that family vacations full of fun things to see and do don’t just magically happen. 

Our devotion time was an incredible learning experience for me. Samuel was clearly born to teach! He is oh so wise for such a young fellow! Admittedly, when the opportunity to be part of this team was presented to me I was nervous. So many of us allow the black cloud that looms over Haiti to keep us from what could be the experience of a lifetime. Reasons...aka excuses to back out of the trip crossed my mind until I received the email from Samuel that the tickets were purchased. Arriving at the CODEP compound and settling in I found myself obsessing over why God had led me to Haiti. I forced myself to stop and just enjoy the time with my new friends, besides God would reveal to me when the time was right and as always when I least expect it. 

Our work in Haiti was not what I initially expected. We were not going to build a Ti Kay (house) or build a school for children. We were there to build relationships with the Haitians and walk with them, not for them. Sounded pretty simple until I tried to understand and speak Creole. Thankfully, a smile is a smile and that was how I did most of my communicating. Throughout the years I have returned from a vacation or trip with thoughts that I would never forget that trip. I do remember the trips but I don’t always remember the people I’ve met, until Haiti. Trinity is blessed with incredible covenant partners and I’m grateful beyond words to have been given the opportunity to form closer friendships with Samuel, John, Katherine, Scott, Trisha, Tom and Brian. They are indeed a dynamic group to have as brothers and sisters in Christ! While at the CODEP compound we were blessed with wonderful hosts Jesse and Cassie, whose leadership was priceless and of course we all enjoyed spending time with Maria (our Zanmi) from Costa Rica. The Haitian children (my new friends or Zanmi) who stood at the compound gate calling my name will forever be with me. I will see their faces for a long time and if I start to lose their image, I can pull up the photos and view once again the sweetest faces I’ve ever seen. 

That black cloud that looms over Haiti is such an injustice to the Haitians for so many reasons. The media floods us with so many sad images of Haitians. I would like to share with you the happy images. I have never seen so many beautiful men, women and children. No make-up, no fancy hairstyles just flawless beautiful skin…natural-born beauty everywhere! I was equally astounded by the pride they displayed with their clothing. People everywhere were dressed in clean, crisp, beautiful clothing.  Not what I expected due to preconceived ideas. Haiti living conditions are indeed troubling yet their love for God is inspiring. There is so much more to write about and I look forward to sharing my experience with as many who will listen. I am happy to tell you that while dressing for church this morning and quite unexpectedly, God indeed revealed to me one reason I spent time in Haiti. That’s it, time! God helped me understand that like him I too, desire a deep, personal relationship with him. Learning to walk stronger with him so I too, can become a better teacher while serving him. My time was all I really had to share with the Haitians, especially the children and that was all they desired from me! Our time is the greatest gift we can give. God gives us what we need all in good time. There it is again…that word time, it’s everywhere! I will certainly take the time to strengthen my personal relationship with God and in time I will know what to do! It was so simple, I sure didn’t need to obsess about it!

Tom's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

As time passes the strongest memory of my trip to visit the CODEP project and the people of Haiti will be the way I emotionally responded to the Haitian community, starting with trepidation and remorse then changing to love, joy and hope by the weeks end.

Landing in Haiti and driving out of the city was an overload of sensory and emotional input.   The heat and smell of body odor in the crowded airport gave way to seemly endless views down narrow allies of trash and rubble filled streets lined with tents.  The rivers we crossed every 5 minutes are filled with trash and people bathing, there is no sanitation infrastructure, how can this be?   As we drove further towards our destination the city gave way to rural areas and small towns, less crowded, but still very poor, the town streets lined with simple vendors selling one or two items, such as a bowl of mangoes and some handmade brooms.     As a few days passed and I learned about the history and spirit of the Haitian people I began to push myself to open up to them, learn their language and engage in communication- however flawed or simple.  Doing this and spending time alongside the Haitian working or learning about their projects it became very obvious how joyful the people are, even in their lifestyle of living hand to mouth.  I was additionally drawn to the symbiotic relationship they had with their land, although through deforestation much damage has been done, the Haitians had a purpose for almost every plant, eating its fruit, using the flowers as a medicine or the wood and fronds to make homes.  I think this is what God intended. I felt a deep sense of joy after working and hiking in the mountains of Haiti especially while riding in the truck back towards our bunk house each day, with views of the mountains and simple farms in all directions.

Ultimately as the week drew to a close I had grown relatively comfortable initiating conversation with Haitians in the country, I shared simple facts about my family and life back home and even some advice to one young man about attending trade school in the US.  Leaving Haiti I shared hugs and honest thanks for getting to know the few young men who escorted us each day.   Flying home I sat next to an elderly Haitian lady who could not fill out her US customs card.   With hand gestures and a couple Creole words I offered to help her, something I wouldn’t have done the previous week. 

Brian's Story of Haiti

This is one of the many stories from our Vision trip to CODEP in Haiti July 2013. To read the main article click here.

Our family returned from a short vacation on Thursday afternoon and my wife and kids unpacked, repacked and then set out for the North Carolina mountains around 4 pm on Friday.  After they left I began the task of unpacking my bags and started focusing on a task I haven't done in nearly ten years, pack my own clothes.  As I thought about what I should bring for the week long adventure to Haiti, that started bright and early the next morning, my mind began to fill with several "what if" scenarios.  What if the worn out "play clothes" I laid out on the bed weren't the right clothes to bring on this trip? Should I pack a few of my Columbia shirts?  I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the unknown so I quickly typed "what to wear on a Haiti mission trip" into the Google search bar, surely there would be several adequate articles to choose from that would tell me all I needed to know so that I wouldn't offend the Haitian people or misrepresent our group.  I found an article written by a long-term missionary that sharply pointed out several of the mistakes we "Westerners" make when visiting Haiti. After laughing through the article, I quickly unpacked my Columbia shirts and a few other items and stuck to the basics making sure I brought something dressy for the church service.  

The book When Helping Hurts was our assigned reading before we arrived in Haiti. Admittedly, I am not much of a reader so I downloaded the audio version and "read" away.  It wasn't until we reached the ticket lines at the Miami airport that I looked around and realized the truth in not only that book but also the blog I had read the night before.  There were several other mission groups/teams headed to other countries all around us; they completely stuck out in their "missional uniforms".  I wondered if their good intensions were going to make a significant impact or if they would just complete a few tasks from the "to do" list and head back home.  I was thankful for having been exposed to When Helping Hurts, it changed my perspective on what being missional means, how to be effective and to be conscience of any impact, intended or not, resulting from my actions.  

While in Haiti, we came across a construction site. There was a man using a very rudimentary tool to bend steel rebar; from what I witnessed it was extremely labor intensive and time consuming.  I noticed that there was a tool laying near the man that was specifically made to bend rebar.  Through a series of hand gestures I asked him why he wasn't using that tool. He returned the waving arm and hand gestures to me in a way that said "Oh yeah? Show me how to use it." So we began by placing one stick of the rebar into the tool and successfully bent the bar.  We did this a couple more times to show him how it was done. The smile on his face, and those of the other surrounding workers, encouraged me to try bending two bars at once. Once I did that I looked up and everyone was watching me bend these bars.  Then I remembered the book we had read and realized I shouldn't be doing the work for them.  I quickly stepped aside and gestured for the man to give the tool a try.  He complied and seemed genuinely happy that he could complete the bending of the stack of bars himself (and much more quickly).

One of my bigger realizations was how similar our countries were. I noticed we have both impoverished communities that suffer from the same struggles. Although not usually  to the extreme as what we witnessed in Port Au Prince. Our countries also have much beauty too. Haiti had an abundance  of smiling faces and beautiful scenery. There was a since of community there that I would not have noticed had it not been for my readings. It was evident that they had community because it was a central requirement  to the success of their rebuilding efforts. I have a much better since of the importance of community and the community of Gods people. Its apparent  that even in the worst conditions, unshaken faith, community efforts, and working for Gods glory, can over time, accomplish (positive results).