Mission Midwest

So as regulars to this site know, one of my primary goals in attending seminary was to learn to live a missional life style in the midst of Western culture. Now I’m residing in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and trying to put some of what I’ve learned into action. I’m not doing to well.

Why? Part of the answer is time, with a new son and long work hours, there isn’t much time left for being involved with the community. Another is a lack of discipline. With all the new stuff in my life, I forgot, or actually I should say chose, (not purposefully) to set aside the more important things, the spiritual disciplines, worship, acts of service, Bible reading, fasting, and the like. That's changing now, but I’m still struggling to get my arms around the “culture” of the Midwest, and specifically La Crosse. I’ve met some interesting people so that’s good. And I’ve gotten my co-workers to start recycling so that’s cool, but on the whole, I’m behind the learning curve.

One of the things that is important to living a missional life style and is important to me, are those in need and the relationship between rich and poor. Part of what I’m trying to understand is the relationship between rich and poor in La Crosse. One thing that is true, is that compared to Los Angles, and large cities in general, the distance between the two is smaller in La Crosse. Generally speaking, the poor around here are not as poor as they are in the city, and the rich are not as rich as they are in Los Angles or other cities. Another angle on this question is: what is the relationship between those in La Crosse and those in the nearby large cities, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. What I’m getting at is the fact that we are all part of the larger American culture. If the poor aren’t in my neighborhood, as they were for me in Los Angles, or in my county as they are even for the rich in LA, than what is my responsibility to them and they to me? I’m back on track now in terms of the spiritual disciplines, but I’m just beginning to get my arms around the local culture.

So with all of that being said, I'm wondering what you think. Do you have any ideas about missional living in the Midwest and small towns in general? If you do I would love to hear from you.


David Baxley said...

Although I am not sure I have a great answer for you I have two thoughts. One: Props on realizing the need to engage a culture as they are not as you would want to be, and looking to see that. I have run into to many who want Lacrosse to be California and then wonder why their outreaches or ministries fail to succeed. They were more concerned in doing their thing then reaching the culture.
Two: I can not define Midwestern culture, either from a philosophical or religious perspective because there is much diversity but one thing I see is a constant value, tradition. Now the problem is every one has there own traditions.

I have done many types of ministries in the area. Some designed for the church and others for the unchurched and other just for the lost in church. Wow I now have so much respect for denominations and different churches doing things differently. I value the big mega church all the way to the small church and what they are doing to reach their community.

Mx5 said...

Hi David,
Nice blog. Great questions. I think it's particularly difficult for someone to analyze and engage the culture in which they were raised from an unbiased point of view. Being a La Crosse area native for most of your life, you've seen for yourself the rich vs. poor dichotomy, as well as other social or economic or religious barriers. I think you're right when you state that the classes, per se, are closer together than in the neighborhood in which you resided during your time in seminary. That's not to say this is a better place, just a different place.

For me, being "missional" in this area is being real in the Gospel. Living out the love of Jesus, just as we walk and breathe. This won't look the same for every person, and IMO it certainly won't happen via some kind of "program". Sometimes that will mean rocking your crying baby so your wife can get some rest - other times it may mean giving a guy you see at the side of the road your coat, or helping your neighbor pay an electric bill. All bring not only comfort to others, but glory to God. So, to me the key to being truly missional is to be truly Spirit-led. Too few know how that fleshes-out in real life. I applaud your heart in these matters.

You are in a strange season of life. There's nothing quite like that first baby to literally rock someone's world. You will find as your son matures that your views on many things may not change, but may become refined or focused. Some ideas may be temporarily placed on hold by life. I know this doesn't disappoint God. By the way, your son is beautiful... and this is your pastor's wife posting.

David Best said...

Mx5, good words. Thanks! Having left La Crosse for a time, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to approach it a little more from an outsiders perspective. But your right, no anthropologist would ever consider technically analyzing their own culture, yet that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

David Best said...

David, I agree that La Crosse has a diversity of sub-cultures, but it also has it's own culture. As an outsider to southern California, I could identify that culture, in spite of the fact that there are a lot more sub-cultures in socal (huge understatement). Having said all of that, many people identify more with their sub-culture, (punk, mother, prep, evangelical, etc...) than with any of a number of larger cultures. (Midwestern, American, Western)

Mx5 said...

True, David (Best). Sub-culture alignment is a key component of understanding any given location's spiritual demographics, or at least trying to understand certain given sub-cultures as the Lord brings them across our paths. If I listed the certain subdivisions with which I tend to align myself on a discussion board, those who didn't know me personally would get a very different image of myself than that of whom I am in real life. Evangelical, conservative, homeschooler, 5 kids, pastor's wife, white, lower middle class - what does the average person think I would be like, given those sub-culture tendencies of mine? Many would think of Saturday Night Live's "Church Lady". But you know me personally, and I am no church lady (at least not in the Dana Carvey style).

I get frustrated with assumptions and stereotypes, but I realize that they tend to be part of the human experience. I tend to gravitate toward edgy people... I like to find out who they are, what they are like, what speaks to them. What I've found, though, through what I believe to be the prompting of the Holy Spirit, is that I need to be more open and inviting to those who aren't edgy (which accounts for what, 97% of those in our church and community?). Again, it's my sense that being truly Spirit-led should cause me to care for those people around me in such a manner that they don't flatter me but give thanks to God.

It's a lot to think about. Fun to theorize over. Difficult to implement.

Anonymous said...

Dear David, David, and Lisa,

Good points all of you. Bax, I like what you said about people trying to make their program fit La Crosse, rather than seeing what La Crosse is/has etc.

Lisa, you hit the nail on the head when you said that it's the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Oh that each one of us would be more in tune with our Lord.

Blessings to you all


David Baxley said...

Lisa just so you know... I never thought of you as a nice church girl. I always thought you were edgy. Maybe you hold back in front of some who may not be cool with edgey. Or maybe they just don't see cause they don't want to. Just wanted you to know I never saw you as you think others might. You are veru edgy to me.

Mx5 said...

I'll take that as a compliment, Bax-Man, I think? **laughing** I am who I am, but I will say I have learned to better discern when to speak and when to smile a lot and not say anything. I learned quickly at this little church that I was kinda like that song from Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn't belong..." Remember that song? I figured it out when, at a ladies meeting I asked everyone to share their fav. movies, and after 12 or so chick flick recommendations someone remembered that I hadn't stated my fav., and asked me. My favs are "Independence Day" and the LOTR trilogy, which seemed pretty edgy after all the "Sleepless in Seattle" type movies.

I think one of my fears is that as the younger folks come into the church (our church) they may push to try to transform our older members into something that is culturally foreign to them... not missional thinking at all!

David Baxley said...

Very interesting comments at the end there... Were is the mission feild for your church. Many people assume the younger generations are the mission feild but that is not the case... Good thoughts. You have me thinking

David Best said...

You guys are hitting on one of the key presuppositions of missional thinking. People should not have to cross cultural boundaries to come to Christ. This should be true for people of all cultures and age groups. Ethnic groups, postmodern urban types, conservative/rural, the elderly, whomever.

Please understand, to say that people should not have to cross cultural boundaries is not to say that we take in the entire culture cart blanch. Rather, we ask, what about this culture glorifies Christ, and what is antagonistic toward him and his values?

Going hand in hand with this is another presupposition, that the Spirit is at work ahead of us. Not just in particular people but in the culture as a whole. If this is true, we are better able to look for the aspects of the culture that are already glorifying Christ.

Mx5 said...

"People should not have to cross cultural boundaries to come to Christ." True. That was one of my biggest issues about the prosperity gospel so popular some years back. Name it, claim it, you're a child of the King! I used to think, "Yeah, go preach that in Haiti and see what happens."

Naturally we cannot take all of any given culture carte blanche. That's where it's critical to have something to which to compare any said culture. The only standard I know of is the Word of God. I know it sounds simplistic, but hey I'm a simplistic gal. What I don't like about the church as a whole now is the same thing I see in the Word as being an issue in the early church. We cannot all be eyes, can we? Sometimes we wish to be so culturally correct that we are ashamed of the gospel, which is by its very nature offensive.

Good thoughts, guys.