Engaging Culture

Engaging Culture

Certain words overtime become less and less useful. There has been a great deal of discussion around the word “Evangelical” in Ireland and in the US as many think of it referring a certain brand of politics than a certain type of Jesus follower.

Missions is another of those words. For many, missions is about people who move overseas, or into a specific people group to share the good news. There is often a “romanticised” notion of the the word that proves unhelpful. For those not in the church, missions often conjures up the idea of one civilisation imposing its culture on another. 

Thankfully many parts of the church have begun recapturing the idea that God is a God of mission, and if we are followers of his…regardless of where we reside, we are part of that mission. Missions and missionary seem like words it might be time to retire.

When Elizabeth and I first moved Ireland, we made a conscious decision to take at least two years to learn Irish/Dublin culture, explore the city, and simply become part of the neighbourhood. We could have tried to start a church like the one we planted in Ithaca, but we knew it would be something that would likely never connect to the larger culture in Dublin. It would always be ‘foreign’. 

In the recent Christianity Today article on Netflix and missions, the author argues that things like Netflix and Facebook (among other technologies) were new challenges for those who want to connect to a new culture. (I agree).

But, that desire to connect to a new culture has been one of the biggest, and most positive shifts over the past few decades. The simple desire to connect with and become part of a new country and culture hasn’t always been a priority.

Let me share two stories.

In 1990, we were part of a short term missions team in The Philippines. At one point the pastor who was hosting us took us to visit a church led an American pastor. He pastored a poor church in the Cebu area. He himself lived in a gated community some distance from the people in his church. And while most of his congregation spoke no English, that was all he spoke. The host pastor wanted us to learn something from that experience. 

Flash forward twenty years. 

Shortly after moving here we met an American family who lived near us. They were part of a of team trying to church plant in the same area we were. One night Liz and I went to dinner with their team and while we enjoyed our time, we left with a few concerns about the team leaders. 

The wife told Elizabeth that everyday she has to tell herself, “TINA”. This Is Not America. She explained that nearly every encounter she had in Ireland made her wish she was back in the States. As you probably guessed, they moved back to America within a couple years. On the one hand, she was clearly correct. Not only is Ireland a small island in Europe, they do many things differently they are done in the States. Having just gone through getting a mortgage and buying a house, I would much prefer the American system. And don’t even get me started on Irish banks. But when it comes to the medical system…specifically when you have a kid with special needs…I’m picking the Irish system just about every time…And our kids will graduate from Iris universities with no student loans. 

There is so much to love and enjoy about Irish culture. But imagine moving to a place and every day your focus is on how much better you think the old place was rather than looking for the places of beauty in your new home…simply practising gratitude. You’ll simply be miserable…until you leave.

That is one of the ways things like Facebook or FaceTime can make enculturation difficult…it allows us to stay connected…although tangentially to our home culture…which can make it less necessary to fully live in your new home.

The organisation that Liz and I are part of, Communitas, is a good example of the transition that has taken place. When Communitas began 50 years ago, their vision was to plant international churches (English speaking) in major European cities. They did and many of them grew. Not a bad thing, but if you are an American, think about it in reverse. A group of Germans move to your town and plant a German speaking congregation. How do you see that going? Who is drawn to them?

Currently, while Communitas still plants churches, they place now place a much larger emphasis on embedding in culture. Learning to listen and engage with culture, and become a part of it. It was actually that idea of embedding that drew Liz and me to Communitas…We often struggled to explain to people why we wanted to take a couple years to learn the city and the culture. This gave us language for that.

Embedding in a culture is an ongoing process. You always have more to learn…and culture is always shifting. At times it is a challenge, but it is rarely boring!

Posted by bob in culture, 0 comments

Out of My Mind

Liz and I have each had two interesting chats of late that give an interesting picture of religion in Ireland.

Conversation One:

About 3-weeks ago, we were at Friday Cricket Club with Méabh. Many families from Clontarf and especially Méabh’s school attend. Well, that night some moms got into a chat about where the kids will go to secondary school. The school Méabh goes to now is an Anglican school, so the likelihood is that many of her classmates will end up at the Anglican secondary school, Mount Temple.

One woman in our missional community (who was not at Cricket Club) does a lot of religious education with the older kids, including retreats. One of these girls told her mom she wanted to go for confirmation. Her mom replied that she didn’t need confirmation to get into Mount Temple. Her daughter replied, “I don’t care if I get into Mount Temple. I want to make my confirmation.”

The mom is upset. But eventually, the daughter was confirmed.

Many people of our generation in Ireland have given up on the church, are angry with it, and want to leave it in the past. Sadly what the church has done makes that understandable.

It will be fascinating to see what happens with this next generation, especially when so many of their parents want nothing to do with the church, or Jesus.

Keep younger generation in your prayer.

Conversation Two:

We were at a pub last night for an end of the year party for parents at Méabh’s school…although there are still two weeks of school left.

I was having a great conversation with I guy I was meeting for the first time and after about an hour the conversation rolled around to what we do.

Here’s what I’ve been saying lately,

“You know how so many people in Ireland are angry at the church and want nothing to do with it? We create safe spaces where people can explore faith and talk about Jesus.”

He looked at me and said,

“When you tell that to people, do you figure the average Irish person is looking at you and thinking ‘you are out of your f- – –cking mind’?”

It was only as I was writing this that one of my favourite passages of scripture came to mind, 2 Corinthians 5.

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

2 Corinthians 5:13

So, at least I’m in good company!

The rest of the conversation went well. We talked about Jesus for another 10 minutes, and probably another hour after that. I may be out of my mind, but I at least I didn’t scare him off!

Please keep this guy in your prayers…I believe God wants to do something in his life.

Posted by bob in faith, 0 comments

Was it for This? – a brief review

As someone who is spending much of this next year trying to learn about all-things Ireland, I found Irish Times columnist John Waters’ new book, Was It For This? Why Ireland Lost the Plot, a fascinating read.

While he deals with Ireland over the past 100+ years, the focus is really on the Celtic Tiger years.

A few brief thoughts:

Clearly it was just one person’s take on how things got here…but extremely well-reasoned.

It was a bit meandering throughout, and at times it felt as though everything could be a bit more cohesive, yet I didn’t find that taking away from what he had to say. In fact I found it to be a pretty helpful history lesson.

Highlights for me were his take on: cynicism, on a lack of democratic discourse (if you speak the party line you’re commended for your wisdom & boldness…disagree and get ready to be unloaded upon), and who’s to blame for the current mess.

Rather that trumpet the “it was the bankers and the politicians who wrecked everything,” he talks at the dramatic shift in mindset that occurred in him, and most people who helped bring this about…it wasn’t just their fault…but we all bear some responsibility.

One of the themes he hits on that resonated with me, was how Ireland, and really the West in general, have worked to free themselves from God, and instead to end up ruled by “the (financial) markets.” And because of that we have to buy, and borrow, in ever-increasing amounts to create new kinds of hope in order to replace what we’ve lost.

And then he says this,”But it takes a hell of a lot of borrowing to replace God, which is fundamentally, so to speak, why our nations are now all virtually bankrupt.

Two more brief quotes:

In a capitalist system, misunderstandings of happiness are both inevitable and essential. When people seek happiness by buying things, it is probably that they don’t understand, or have forgotten, how life really works. Capitalism, indeed, depends on such misunderstandings.

And finally…

 This is one of the things our post-Christian culture does not elect to tell us about the consequences of present drifts. The increasing despair of our society is connected to this phenomenon. We have lost our sense of a Loving Father, and so wander blindly about a desert of sensation and adventuring which only teases our desires with the absence of what they crave. When it goes wrong, the advocates of this approach simply tell us that we have been doing things wrongly, too quickly, too greedily – never that the entire enterprise might be misguided.

If you’re wanting to get a handle on the current state of Ireland, & how things got here…it’s worth a read.

Posted by bob in Books, 2 comments

A Random Thursday

Seen while on a walk in St. Anne’s Park

It is a random kind of day.

  • Our first guests from NY (Mike & Karley Foster) are here visiting us this week. It’s been great to catch up, show them around the city, and just hang out. Heading up t the Giant’s Causeway tomorrow if all goes according to plan.
  • Got a library card today. And while I wasn’t planning on getting anything today (reading has been a bit of a trudge the past few months), I decided to look for a few books talking about the culture/climate currently in Ireland.  I started reading one, Was It For This? Why Ireland Lost the Plot, this afternoon. While I picked up the book more as a sociological/research exercise, sentences such as this one have jumped out: [here the author, John Waters, refers to the visit of the Queen of England, and President Obama in 2011.]

It is interesting to reflect that the main themes of both visits  were qualities – hope and forgiveness – that were not long ago recognisable as religious ones. And yet, for the duration of both visits, as in pretty much all public events in Ireland nowadays, there was not sense of a religious/spiritual dimension in any of the discussion or coverage of the visits. It is not I would say, that religion has been supplanted by sentimentality. Rather, it is that the secular discussion which hijacks and interprets everything in our culture now is tapping into the religious sense in human beings and appropriating it for ideological purposes, building a new language on top so as to imply that such qualities as hope and forgiveness are self-generating, self-standing, and self-sustaining. (emphasis mine)

Not sure where the rest of the book is going, but with what I’ve read so far, my interest has definitely been piqued.

  • I also learned a new Irish phrase by reading the book. He talks about someone showing up with “both arms the same length.” While you might think, that’d be a good thing…when you show up at someone’s home, you come bearing a gift, and one arm will be shorter because it is carrying something. So, you don’t want to be described as someone who shows up with both arms the same length.
  • I hear the baseball season is ending soon. How are the Red Sox doing? Ugh.
  • The job hunt is moving forward. At this point I’m limiting my applications to jobs where I can say I think I’d actually like to do this on a regular basis. Not sure the people reading my applications/resumes/CVs will see a fit…we’ll see.
  • Fresher’s week has started at Trinity and Hannah is officially a university student. She has joined a number of societies at trinity including the Phil.
  • It took 3 weeks, but I figured out how to open the sliding door in our dining room.
  • We’ve been moving our websites ( & to new hosting sites. Also trying to figure out our subscription services with them as they got very messed up over the past several months with some of the transitions at Feedburner. Hopefully we’ll get all that figured out soon.
  • I could use some dvd suggestions…seems like nothing good has come out for a long time.
  • I sat down and figured out how much petrol (gas) costs here…right now it is about €1.70 per litre which comes out to €6.43 per gallon. Add in the current currency exchange rate of 1.31, and you have a gallon of gas costing $8.43.  At this point, we’re finding food to cost about 2 times as much as is did back in Ithaca too.
  • Water is still free for now!

Guess I should either go hang out with our guests or help my wife with dinner.

Posted by bob in stuff in my head, 4 comments

Our Really Big News

This morning we shared with our church family something that God has been working on in our family’s hearts over the past several months. We sent a letter out to our church earlier this week explaining some of the details, and this morning shared the news that next summer we are moving to Dublin, Ireland to plant a Vineyard church.  [I am still at a point where every time I write or say that sentence, I think, “Wait, are we really doing this?”] This is something that we have been wrestling with for several months, and after a lot of prayer, fasting, some really good counsel, and another trip over to Ireland this July to meet with Vineyard pastors there, we have decided that this is in fact the next step God has for us in our walk with him.

One of that hardest parts of this whole process has been not being able to talk publicly about it until now. As you can imagine, telling something like that to the church, and then deciding, “never mind,” would not be the healthiest thing for the church. Even with our kids, we waited until things were almost certain before talking to them. Within an 8 day period of time, they learn they are likely moving to a new country, and then have a new baby sister (who ends up in the NICU for the first 3 days of her life).  Yeah, March was a little crazy around our place!

Being able to share with people the things I am excited about is one of the things I enjoy most about pastoring.  Often there is something God is doing in my life, maybe through a book I read, or a conference I go to where I hear something & think, “I can’t wait to talk about that!” It is similar with this blog. When it’s working well, it is generally me sharing stuff that I am excited about-things God has given me a passion for. So, as you might imagine, having something this big that God is doing in your life and not being able to share it has been difficult.

At the same time, talking to people about this for the first time has been pretty emotional. This is a huge move for our kids, and although they believe that this is what God has for our family, it was difficult news for them to receive. And while talking to our congregation today was also emotional (although I did make it through without crying :-), Elizabeth and I were both overwhelmed with the love, encouragement, and support we received from so many people this morning. This is simply an amazing church family that we have the privilege to be part of!

So now that the cat is out of the bag, I want to use this space over the next week or so to let you in on what God has been doing in our lives, and what the future looks like as we prepare to head to Dublin. Much of the next 10 months will be spent working to bring in the person that God has raised up to be the next lead pastor at the Ithaca Vineyard. At the same time, we will be working at raising prayer and financial support, and figuring out all of the stuff we need to do to land well in Dublin next July.

While I’m sure the topic of Dublin will come up more than a few times over the next 10 months here, for the next several days we want to share how this whole thing came to pass, and various other aspects of this process. If there are parts of this that you are curious about, please put them in the comments section and we’ll make sure to answer them as well.

We are excited (and still a little scared) about this next step that God has called us to and look forward to sharing it.

If you would like to keep up with everything Dublin (at least as it pertains to the Wilsons), you can:
• subscribe to this blog with your rss reader or via email
• subscribe to our monthly email update
Posted by bob in church planting

Friday Data Dump

It’s hard to believe how much work it is to get ready for some time off.  Elizabeth & I spent most of last night finding rental cars online, looking for hotels or houses to rent for the week or so we’ll be in the southern part of Ireland, and then we fall into bed about 2 hours later than we should have.  I’m pretty sure that one we hit about 9:30 pm, our ability to make good decisions began dropping exponentially.

Our plan once we are there is to have a little more than half of the trip be downtime, & the rest be traveling round & seeing the sights.  Over the past couple weeks we’ve decided to make one small change.  The last week of our trip we are leaving Ireland and hitting 3 countries in 6 days.  We’ll get to London on August 17, take the train to Paris the next morning, stay there for 2 nights and take the train back to London.  The next day we’ll drive to Cardiff.  At first for no other reason that to say that we’ve been to Wales.  However, last week we learned that the Dr. Who Museum is in Cardiff, and that just became the highlight of Erin’s trip.

But of course there has been a ton of stuff going on around the Ithaca Vineyard as well…

• First off, we’ve got some big news concerning the new Ithaca Vineyard Internship.  We have 3 people who are signed up and set to get started! Our new interns are, Darin LeBlanc, Erin Smith & Kevin Cornell.  Each of them will be participating in VLI, working part time in the church office and helping out on Sundays.  I’ll post a bit more of a bio for each soon.  We still have a possibility of one or two more spots opening up, and a couple more people who are considering this.  Make sure you congratulate each of these guys (guys used in the broad, generic way, not the gender based way) when you see them.  This is a big next step in their walk with God!

• Kinships.  Another big announcement we have to make is that we will not be having kinship groups meeting this summer.  Our current practice is to have each of our kinship group leaders lead for  2 semesters, and take one off each year.  This past year, nearly all of our current leaders led in the fall & the spring and we simply didn’t have enough new leaders for the summer.  We tried to come up with some various alternatives, but in the end decided that we simply couldn’t pull it off at this point.  With the move into the new building, a lot of our leaders have been putting in a lot of time, and we think a couple months of down tine will be a benefit for a lot of us.  (We’ll plan a few more after church

• Kinships Continued.  Our kinship groups will be starting up again in the fall.  And one of our plans is to invite a number of you who have been part of a kinship for a while to consider stepping up to lead one.  In September, we are going to hold a 4-week training for people interested in becoming kinship leaders, or even checking out if that’s something they’d like to try.  If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, email me or James Cherian and we’ll get you more information.

• Speaking of next fall, next weekend (Thursday to Saturday) the church staff and leadership team will be going out for a 3 day retreat to pray & plan for next year.  Please keep this in your prayers, that God would do great stuff while we are there.

• Speaking of our leaders, I just want to say that we have a great group of men and women that I enjoy working with a lot…For those of you who might not know who our leadership team is, let me mention briefly who they are & what they lead:  Wendy Williams (Vineyard Kids), Mike Heisler (Connections), Siouxsie Grady (Production Team), Brett Blanchard (Tech. Team), Steve & Laraine Clark (Prayer Team), &  Bill Williams (Servant Evangelism/Building/Church Council).  And of course James Cherian, (Pastor of Spiritual Formation) & Elizabeth Wilson (Worship Arts Pastor).  Maybe this week take a minute to let them know how much you appreciate all they do (don’t tell them I suggested it).  They put in a lot of time, effort & prayer to lead here well.  (Maybe even better than saying thanks this weekend, perhaps you could volunteer to join their team!)

• Couple quick interwebs items.  When facebook first let you pick a user name, I sat by the computer and actually got on the page so that I could pick bobwilson as my user name…Do you know how hard it is to get your name as a user name when you have a name as common as mine? ugh.  Well, I was so close, but made a mistake & didn’t get it.  Well, it took me several months but I finally picked a user name, which is basically the web address for my blog  (I’ve tried to get Not very exciting, but, if you’re ever checking out my facebook page, the address is

• Second internet thing. I’ve been trying out a couple of productivity web sites this week & think I found one I really like called  I’m using the free version., which has some pretty powerful tools.  The one I like best at this point is the ability to send someone a request to meet, and offer them various options of when your available to let them pick the one that works best for them.  I can even give people access to my calendar (, and they can look at when I’m free or busy when they need to request a time to meet. And it works with Evernote & my iphone, so that was a major plus!

• Don’t forget, this Sunday we’ll be talking about Growing into an Emotionally Healthy Adult…

• And for July 4th, only one service @ 10 am.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by bob in data dump, 0 comments

Friday Data Dump

Well, it’s that time of the week.  Within the next 2 hours I’ll be shutting down the computer, email etc, and starting Sabbath with the family.  So as we head into the weekend, I thought I’d take a few minutes & get all of the stuff that is bouncing around in my head out.

  • First off, just a quick reminder for all of you in Ithaca that we will only be having one service this Sunday due to the Memorial Weekend Holiday.  We’ll be starting at 10 am.  (I think this message will be a key one for everyone who is going through this series.)
  • Speaking of the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality series, I’d love to hear any stories of how God has been working in your life through this!
  • We are still working out what we’ll be doing this summer for our small groups.  At this point in time it appears that we will not be having our normal kinship groups this summer, but may do something similar to what we did last summer (an event at the church one night per week), but we would plan on having a few options.  We’ll keep you up to date over the next 2-3 weeks.
  • I can’t go into any details at this point, but I received an email today that I’m quite excited about.  I think it could have a very positive impact on me my, my family & our church.  (that doesn’t seem fair leaving that out there like that, does it?  Sorry, but I’ll let you know more when I know more:-)
  • Family things I’m looking forward to this weekend…hiking & going for a picnic with the family tomorrow (weather permitting), and another picnic on Monday.  We’ll probably do some additional planning on our trip to Ireland (Looks like we’re taking a bit of a side trip as well to include Wales & Scotland..we should probably figure out how we’re getting from the UK over to Ireland at some point too.)  I think we are also painting the kitchen this weekend, but that really cannot be included under “things I’m looking forward to.”
  • Over the past month, I’ve been working on, thinking about a “rule of life.” (more on that in a few weeks) One of the things that I added to my rule was reading at least one book every 2 months just for fun.  So I’ve been reading a spy novel I picked up at the Friends of the Library Book Sale this week.
  • It still seems weird to me that the main stars of the 3 big shows that ended this week were all named Jack (Sheppard, Bauer & McCoy).
  • When you come to church this Sunday, you should notice a bit of a difference in the dumpster situation.  Our landlord’s guys have been working hard on remedying the situation!

Well, I guess that’s it for this week.  Hope you have a great weekend & maybe we’ll see you on Sunday (@ 10 am).

Posted by bob in data dump, 0 comments