Do you know what it means? What do you think its definition is? What should it be? If you were to guess its meaning, what ideas does it conjure?
The word mission has clearly been a big part of my biographical lexicon. The whole idea of missions appealed to nearly everything about me as a young twenty-something: to be a blessing to the nations as God has blessed me (us); to do the most noble, rightest, goodest, truest act, not for money or even for this-world's glory, but for God, for eternity, for truth (and to keep decent human beings out of eternal flames and gnashing of teeth) - well how could you beat that as an ENFP? The only better combo is mission and Irish rock star. (Freaking gorgeous....)
The point is (where were we again?) that the ideals of "mission" appeal to an innate desire to be of good use to others. Today's missional Christians have expanded the mission of God to global warming, the environment, voting for the occasional democrat, serving the poor, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, giving away groceries to the poor, free ESL lessons, day-care for single mothers and more. They've added a social justice vision to the idea of missions, but the heart beats the same blood.
The insidious side of the missions appeal is the need to be the one bringing the help, ergo, the one who is doing the glorious work. When the task is combined with an unwitting sense of superiority (no matter how humbly cloaked) the experience of mission Dei (I can use Latin too) can lapse into dangerous territory: the land of "I know more than you, what you need for you."
Keren, in the comments in the previous post on the "pursuit of happiness" pointed to an article by John Barlow where he states:
Having a sense of mission has served me extremely well, even better than I thought it would when I wrote Adult Principle Number 15 and bound myself to purpose rather than its by-product. Often I would have been hard-pressed to define mine and it has certainly taken on many different manifestations in the course of my careers, but I have taken a lot of happiness from a sense - often grandiose and sometimes illusory - that I am, by my various actions, helping create a future that will be more free, more tolerant, more open, and more just.And herein lies the rub. We do take a lot of pleasure in being of use (grandiose and illusory even). Bono knows that absurdity better than the rest of us (which is why he is so cuddly and adorable).
Still, for recovering mission-aholics like myself, the danger of "seeing" self in a role of Significant Helpfulness is that I mistake my happiness in helping for real help. In other words, I don't know how to be content when others lead the way, shape the future, change the course of their lives nearly as well as when I have a hand in doing it for/with/to them.
For me, the Gospel and postmodernism have flipped all that on its head. The addiction to being of use, to being in a role that changes lives, that brings love, that serves, that acts as change-agent, that "embodies the heart of God for all peoples".... all of that feeds a dangerous self-concept that says "my life has meaning insofar as I impact yours for the better." That means I have to determine the better for your life and be about impacting it.
Grad school showed me how addicted I've been to mattering, to being important in someone's universe. I recognized what a truly lousy listener I've been in a "global" way, in a specific way. I show little interest, for instance, in what Muslims are doing to make the world a better place and think about them in terms of their deficiencies, what they do wrong. I thought my role in racial reconciliation was to be a leader, to figure out how to fix race problems in my city. Then I found out that blacks would like me to shut up and listen for a change... and let them take the lead. What a notion!
Here's a thought. Instead of white churches attempting to create churches that "welcome blacks," what if those whites closed up shop and attended black churches? They could be members and let black pastors and congregation members lead. That would be a whole lot different than having a mission of "racial reconciliation... over at my white church led by my white pastor."
Postmodernism requires us to see that our angle of vision cannot be the only and right one for everyone. The formerly silenced get to lead, speak, take the initiative. We deliberately make space for that to happen in our own lives, if we are to be true to the values of tolerance, openness, generosity. I don't know how to do that and be a change agent in other people's lives at the same time. Postmodernism encourages us to stop teaching and start learning.
So I ask: What if serving and loving and giving meant giving up my right to have a mission? What if the detox program for junkies like me (in order to get a glimpse of what Jesus might have been about) is to give up my right to matter, to make a difference? Maybe letting someone else be in charge and figuring out how to fit in is more "missional" than planting a church or starting a dialog group or leading someone to Christ? Wouldn't it be a total flip if we let someone lead us to yoga.... really lead us not so we could find its errors and use those as opportunities to pounce with the 'good news' but so we might grow and be benefited by that person's gifts? Period.
I don't trust the word "missional" in the hands of Christians because Christians are hooked on power. Power makes mission into a drug that feeds self-importance, no matter how many toilets you scrub to show God's love in a practical way.
The Gospel is about divesting oneself of power. If we give up our right to change the world and instead find those nooks and crannies where we can shut up and listen, learn and be changed, support and admire the good works of others, we might not only find happiness, but get the heart of the Gospel tossed into the bargain.