Monday, April 30, 2007

Pepsi, Sex, Elevation...& Mission Trips That Are Actually Missional

"... I have seen and been a part of many mission trips that have a stated purpose of helping the people they are going to minister to. Churches raise $50,000 to visit an exotic country or flock across the border into Mexico. Team members feel good when they return home because they have served, but missionaries often report that the groups they host are loud, arrogant, culturally insensitive and often more trouble (to the missionary or national pastor) than they are worth. I wonder if the best thing that happens in Mexico over spring break is that American churches stimulate the Mexicali valley economy by buying tacos and Pepsis. Our spirit of outreach is a veil for self-absorbed religious tourism. But we feel good about ourselves when we come home."Our spirit of outreach is a veil for self-absorbed religious tourism. But we feel good about ourselves when we come home." (source: Occasio blog)

Thanks to St Tim Neuefeld for this articulating of my frequent feelings, and providing architecture by which to analyze my frustration with many a short-term mission trip. Why do I hear so few questions about such a huge potential problem with this standard curriculum of "growing up evangelical?" I know Tim's tongue was partly in cheek in that line about tacos and Pepsi; but if "the best can be said" indeed is that, in going, we support Mexican pepsi-salesmen, God (literally) help us; let's not go. Pepsi--though not inherently evil as baptism certificates--- is brand name incarnation of Western capitalism/democracy/ empire. And in addition to such unhealthy stimulating of a foreign economy; Pepsi is well-known as a stimulant in other areas as well..

"Pfizer Corp. announced today that Viagra will soon be available in liquid form and will be marketed by Pepsi as a power beverage suitable for use as a mixer " is an urban myth and joke (from a serious article here); and whether the apparent spelling of the word "sex" on Pepsi cans was intentional or not (story here, and photo at top of page); what is "on purpose" and no myth is the sexuality of Pepsi ads for a product that is a sexual stimulant.

Which brings me of course to the topic at hand: sex.

I hate to risk sexualizing everything, but I have no other language but "quickie" for what some of those mission trips default to, and no other term for "rape" for what we often offer to the culture we visit.

The first mssionaries to Latin America were colonizers; and many were womanizers. And maybe those are both the same thing.

I do know that I have been tempted to be a pimp rather than a pastor on such trips...providing and ushering my "clients" into sexualized relationships with locals; as in "Cool! You just lead somebody to Christ, be sure we keep count of converts."

But I refuse to not defuse that sexualizing before it starts.

And it starts in me; as the rabbis and Bono have reminded us, in the prayer-mindest the Chasidics call 'elavation.": being honest about my own lusts, particularly for power (a more insidious version of lust than the obvious sexual variety; though the two are related indeed:
"Mine is bigger than yours," is spoken between the lines whenever pastprs at a conference "share" worship attendance stats).

More on elevation prayer here

In our church's quest to plant (organically, of course) spiritual formation communities that are monastic and mystical; yet also missional and marketplaced; we are seeking to build into the DNA of such new entities a culturally-sensitive version of the clasic three monastic vows: poverty chastity and obedience. That doesn't necessitate that one must literally become the first (though it worked for Jesus) to live out the third. But it does demand that we embrace the middle vow in its fullness and faithfulness (recognizing that the term originally meant "purity" and not merely celibacy (yes, married misionaries can have sex(:.....).

We also hoping to be insistent in praying against the creeping koinonitis that inevitably seduces a koinonia of the Spirit. Yes, the term "seduction" is key here (it's often the pastor who seducer...see this) Such breeds the spiritual incest, and a jost of sexually trasmitted diseases.

I meant that figutatively. But more often than we like to admit, due to Pepsi and/or advertising-addiceted young people, more than one Christian college student has nade pilgimmage to a Mexican brothel while building a church during spring break.

Ask any youth pastor.

Here at home, we have used sex (read this on Video cafes, and this on swimuit issue church) to get people in the door; so we are stuck: only more sexualization and sexiness will keep them in the door.

As if we were ever called to get people in the door to start with.

No wonder weinvoke Aphrodite in the name of Jesus. Our imaginations have been tainted.

So without realizing it (uusally!!), we sexualize outreach as well. Conquest. Score. Notches on belts.

"Story provides a vison, which then transforms character, resulting in evanglism," according to evangelist Leighton Ford's intriguing equation.

I like his math.

Too bad it doesn't always add up when we try to live it out.

If the stories and visions are formed and filled by conquest, machismo, and sublimation (for rabbis, the inverse of elevation); we never realize:

"Sex is never an emergency."

That sage advice from a Jewish doctor (Jerome Levin, p. 164) specilizing in sex addiction is particularly relevant to (gulp) Protestant pastors, and unheeded explains why "spirituality is not (their) strong suit" (165)


As if that were not indicting enough:

"(I had to tell one client that) trying to get help for sexual addiction from his church was like trying to get his shoes soled at the dry cleaners." (173)


There's more.

As a board-member for a sex-addiction recovery ministry, I hear again and again how many clients are there because they tried to follow the advice of sermons: "Just pray and read your Bible. If that doesn't work, try harder."

Don't hear what i'm not saying: prayer and Bible study are not important.

But working those two steps, and trying harder approach is exactky what an addict doesm't need. Trying harder is just trying and harder.

The goal is "elevation." That only occurs in a context of honesty and hard work...and a variety of off-road disciplines.

"My own experience with recovering afficts is that two tasks seem to help them the most..", Dr. Levin says..

By now you know what the two tasks are not..

Write them down, pray about them, join an authemtic avvoiuntably group to struugle ober them before risking andy shirt or long term mission trip. To risk nothing more than a quickie, whether Pepsi-induced or not:

"(these two tasks are)...mourning losses, and getting aggressions out front." (234)

Leave it to a Jew to call us back to mourning. Another Jew, of course, also commented here: "Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be the only ones comforted."

Most translations offer the word 'confort' here; and elsewhere where versions of the Greek word 'parakaleo' show up. Especially when we translate Jesus' name for the Holy Spirit as "The Comforter," this can be quite misleading. (Tramslation is always both "messianic and betrayal")

The term often implies not quite "comfort' as we envision: nice cozy blanky, warm fuzzies, and a promise of safety....but almost the oppposite.

The clasic illusration of the Grerk and Old English word for 'comfort' is the painting "William Comforts His Soldiers." As you can see, the means by which William the Conqueror "comforts" his soldiers a none-too-mild motivating tip of the sword aimed at their too-comfortable bottoms; kicking tje, into their calling and battle.

It may be too much of a shift to call the Holy Spirit the "Uncomforter". but often that is precisely his job.

Especially if we want to recover from our obsexxed Western mindset; and masturbatory church culture.


I need a Holy Kick in the butt. to not stare at a woman's butt.

The house of prostitution is literally across the street from our church in Hauncayo, Peyu. I was videotaping a sister from our Fresno church speaking in the Huancayo church, and I panned the camera behind me to capture the brothel window, where the male customers were within earshot of the gospel.

That's where churches need to be.

A visiting speaker once said of our Fresno church, "this is one of the few places i know where a prostitute and a businessman can sit next to each other at a church dinner":

I shot back: "Praise God..I just hope those two know each other from outreach,and not business."

But is the church's, and the Father's business... to move into authentic mission.

Sans sexual fantasy, and with Holt Spirited motivation and uncomfort; kicking us out of the box and building,...out of our sexualitis and denial of grief , and into an unsafe safe place.

John was right...commercials are sexy:

Commercials sell sex. Sex sells gods. The Spirit, though, uses sexual beings to re-present God.

And, Tim, I don't want to "feel good about myself when I get home" from a mission trip anymore. Unless I have been radically uncomforted enough to "empty myself and become nothing," knowing that the gospel I have enfleshed on the"field" has been non-commercial.

All commercialism and commercials are about sex; are sex.

Whether they feature Pepsi or not.

"Demoracy, whiskey, sexy"

Intiguingly, that triad of proposed virtues is not only the stiking antithesis to the three monastic vows; but a chilling reminder of what much of the world assumes Western civilization...and Christainity is all about.

And it's my fault.

Those are three words that were uttered by an Iraqi citizen, when asked by a New York Times reporter why he was waving at the American troops of the 101st Airmored Divison in April 2003.

That story is told in the vital book, "The Future of Freedom" by Fareed Zakaris (257).

It is also unfortunately the story of the church's default three products.

God, deliver us from seeking and selling products at all. But lest I think its instead all about charity; I close this post, Lord, in the same way Tim closes his post; quoting Bono;'s homily:

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad. Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.


  1. Dave, love the post! Way to connect the dots (dots I didn’t even know were on the page!). I agree; sellers of goods and services, that’s what most of us have become. Might be time to clean out the temple.

  2. Jars of Clay shares your feelings and composed an excellent song of rebuke titled "Light Gives Heat" found on their Good Monsters album.

    I think what we are stumbling upon is the difference between missions trips and missional trips. "Missions trip" in its own words implies a reachable goal of completion or finality, which ironically is only possible if the one being served is the missionaries. A "missional trip" in my mind is one that serves others (meaning other than the missionaries) without the arrogance of believing the great comission has been completed in a single short span of time. And it isn't part of the Mutual Pat Each Other On The Back Society.

    Speaking of stimulating the Mexican economy in miniscule ways, I have been indulging in Mexican Coca-Cola lately. Unlike American Coke, it's sweetened with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Much better taste. You find the imported glass bottles at Costco and some of the smaller mom and pop convenience stores. The less upscale the neighborhood, the more likely the convenience store will stock it. And the more likely that they too need economic stimulus.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!