E-pistle November 12

Are There any Unintended Consequences in the Kingdom of God?
We all know about the Law of Unintended Consequences and we often think of it in terms of its negative outcomes. The well-intended ladies of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union did plan on aiding and abetting organized crime. They just wanted to be away, away, with rum, by gum

I’m just back from Richmond, Virginia, where I participated in a mission symposium we called STM 2.0, Short-Term Mission 2.0.  One of the goals of the symposium was to wrestle with the how we’ve arrived at a brave new world of international mission and how it impacts the life of a local congregation.  I was pleased to be with some old friends from Brazil as well as some American friends new and old.

In my presentation I suggested that one of the reasons we are where we are with a whole new way of doing missions – people from the pews heading to places like Guatemala, Brazil, Zimbabwe, the Ukraine and a thousand other places (with some wonderful and not so wonderful outcomes) – is an unintended consequence of something that is now nothing more than a footnote in the history books. 

On October 26, 1958, a Pan Am Boeing 707 left New York City on its first trans-Atlantic flight. When it landed in Paris a few hours later, the world had been changed forever.  Among the unintended consequences: steamship companies would go out of business, new terms such as “jet lag” would enter our vocabulary, international diplomacy would be conducted in as never before and Presbyterians from the pews in places like Langhorne, Pennsylvania, would, in time, discover that bearing witness to Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) no longer needed to done by proxy. They could do it themselves.

A 16-person team from LPC will leave for the villages around Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala on February 5 of next year. One of the unintended consequences of the first flight of a Pan Am 707.

The holy catholic church has not been the same since October 26, 1958. Oh, there are some people who wish the church and its mission work had not have changed since 1958, but it has. For the better, I’d say.

I think we ought to declare October 26 to be a Presbyterian Holy Day. We’re not very good at holy days, but we’ll figure out something to do.

I was seven years old when that first 707 lumbered down the runway at what is now JFK International Airport (then Idlewild) in New York.  That seven-year old boy in San Diego, California, had no idea and no way of knowing that something happening a continent away would, in time, change his life forever. That’s the way the law of unintended consequences works.

I thought about that first Pan Am flight as I sat is a church meeting room in Richmond, Virginia, doing my best to translate from Portuguese to English the impassioned words of a Brazilian pastor to a group of American Presbyterians he has come to love – even as they have grown to love him. I was thinking about being the beneficiary of an unintended consequence.

I wonder which of today’s headlines – footnotes, at best, in history books yet to be written – will have unintended consequences for the church and the way we give witness to the resurrected Christ – in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Perhaps for the way we raise our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

But, then, maybe there are no unintended consequences in the Kingdom of God.