I’m Not Dead, I’m Resting… or Perhaps Pining for the Fjords

If you’re a Monty Python fan, you’ll get the reference. If not, there’s always YouTube.

The last six months since I have posted have been quite eventful in meatspace for me. Our family made the decision to attend a new church, a big church (but not quite mega), a church with great teaching, a lot more resources and a more generous orthodoxy than the old one. But without our friends. It was a pretty heart-wrenching decision for us, but in the end I think it was the right one for our growth as a family into Christ.

I’ve also spent much of the last six months struggling with depression, going back and forth between a feeling that it’s all too hard and I should get over it and just live a “normal American Christian life” and a longing to follow Christ with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the end, Christ always leads me back. Most recently, he has used the Daily Office to bring me back. One of my goals for the year was to pray the morning and evening office each day, and at least for the last week, I have been back on that track. And it has made all the difference. May Christ have mercy on me to let me continue.

The next goal on my list that I hope to tackle is to serve the poor at least once per month as a family. My new church has a weekly ministry to the homeless, and I hope to start by attending that with my oldest son one per month and then go from there. Our hearts were made to serve the lost, the least, and the wounded, and we need to take this small step to start acting like the citizens of the Kingdom of God that we are.

It’s not easy to follow Christ with three children and a job that when combined with commute takes up 50-60 hours per week (my prayer is that God would lead me in time to a new job which no longer requires the long commute, but with the economy as it is, I will need an extra portion of his grace to find it!). But I’m back on the wagon, trying. May Christ have mercy.

A Vision for the Future

What’s that scripture about “without vision the people perish?”

That’s pretty much how I have felt the past several months – like I am perishing. There’s been a war going on inside myself between the easy path – just go with the evangelical flow and live the typical American Christian lifestyle, which with three young kids is – trust me – very tempting, and the deeper path I believe God has revealed to me over the course of the past couple of years through any number of his servants who are already walking down that path.

But instead of choosing one vision or the other, I have been basically adrift – unwilling to “settle” for the easier path, but afraid that the deeper path is too difficult for a family to pursue. So I’ve been stuck in neutral, and in-and-out of depression because of it.

This is, of course, compounded by the fact that no-one – not my wife, not my church, not my pastor – no-one – is really thinking about the same kinds of things I am right now. It makes no sense to them. Why would I want to go to an Episcopal church on occasion? Why do I find the communion administered at my church lacking? Why would I choose to recite rote prayers at regular intervals? What’s with all of the candles and the sign of the cross? And am I crazy to suggest that perhaps we should be trying to find a way to live in community with other followers of Christ?

Perhaps I am crazy, but it doesn’t help that I’m the only one with this particular brand of craziness in my church.

And yet online I’ve found so many other fellow travelers. Through teachers such as Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren I’ve learned a great deal about the wealth that exists in the broader church, outside of the parochial confines of evangelicalism which largely rejected tradition in the 20th century. Which, of course, helps me feel a little more sane.

So rather than just perish, I figured it might be a good idea to try to construct a vision for what this “deeper path” might look like in my and my family’s life. To start, I wanted to lay out what it might look like in the 5-10 year time horizon. So here are my dreams:

In five to ten years, I would like to be living in the same neighborhood with a number of other families and others who are committed to a common rule of life – centered around a spiritual rhythm, engagement in the missio Dei in our neighborhood, and the pro-active embrace of Christian community for both those inside and outside of our community.

I would like to together start non-profit businesses which could act as “third spaces” for our community and the neighborhood in which we live. Instead of making people come to church, we would have the church come to them – both through these businesses and of course through our interactions with our neighbors.

I strongly desire to have my children see a faith that is active in the world – loving the poor, caring for the hurting, passionately coming to God in prayer, contemplation, and worship. A faith that welcomes all to the table, and that while seeking actively to understand the truth, is humble enough to accept those who may have different understandings without judgement, condemnation, or a need to be “right.”

Now, I can’t see a path to there at this point. I don’t know anyone else who shares this vision. I can’t imagine myself having the time to pursue this and still have any semblance of a family life. And, to be honest, I’ve had Christian community blow up in my face so many times in the past that I have a hard time believing something like this is even possible.

But for the coming year, I would like to start small.

Try to find a way for my family to serve the poor at least once a month.

Consistently pray at least the morning and evening office every day.

Find time at least once a week to sit in silence before God.

Have an extended time with God at least once a month.

Find a way to start sharing the spiritual disciplines I am learning with my wife and kids, and anyone who will listen, to be perfectly honest.

Perhaps if I just start small, then next year God will give me some more steps to take. And maybe that 5-10 year vision will have a chance of coming true after all?

When the Spirit Speaks…

As a follow-on to my rants from the past couple of posts – and perhaps as God’s response to them in a certain way. I just bought a new “album” (of MP3s) from a band called The Ember Days – which is very good, by the way. While of late I certainly have found myself drawn to the theological heft of hymns and the contemplative mystery of Taize, I still have a soft spot in my heart for a well-crafted bit of emotional praise music. And while The Ember Days mix things up with a bit of indie, atmospheric, rock, this album is clearly a praise and worship album.

In any case, while reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (the chapter where he discusses concepts such as hell and purgatory – completely engrossing) and listening to The Ember Days, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and compelled to cross myself (another one of those “strange” post-evangelical practices I have taken on).

I can only say that the sense of the Lord’s presence and his peace was overwhelming as I prayed through the remainder of the song – “you’re holy… you’re holy… you’re holy.”

Maybe there’s a way to reconcile all of my contradictory feelings about Evangelicalism after all. Certainly, the Lord seems to be willing to combine my evangelical past with my post-evangelical present in surprising ways!

Living in Fear

A while back, I wrote a post where I said that “I basically live in weekly fear that people will find out what I really believe about God.” This is the real root of what I wrote yesterday in response to Richard Cizik’s forced resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals. His resignation is exactly the scenario that I was pondering when I wrote those words about living in weekly fear.

And it’s not an idle fear. It’s a fear which is rooted in the facebook profiles of my fellow church members who link to stories condemning people who see the scriptures as I have come to. One based in conversations with members of my church who cannot fathom that anyone who was a “born again Christian” could vote as I have voted in the last election. One founded in the ways that I have heard members of my church question whether the Pope is really a follower of Christ.

Unfortunately, as God has been leading me to embrace what Brian McLaren termed a “generous orthodoxy” – in essentials (the creeds), unity, in non-essentials, liberty, I find myself stuck within a movement which is known for its imposition of extra-credal requirements: inerrancy of scripture, believers’ baptism, and at times such things as support for the legal outlaw of abortion and gay marriage and a mandate to vote Republican.

It’s quite a sad situation, actually, as there is so much about Evangelicalism that I truly admire. The commitment to scripture study, the passion of its members, the willingness to contextualize the gospel for the sake of reaching groups of people who would otherwise never hear what Jesus really said – these are all strengths of Evangelicalism as a movement.

But there are a few things that I have to say which would probably make about half the people in my own church consider me to be unsaved:

  • I strongly doubt that scripture is inerrant, even in the original texts.
  • I believe the cross brought forgiveness of sins for everyone, whether or not they become a follower of Christ. This means that at least I believe that anyone who finds their way into hell will do so of their own choosing, not as a punishment from God, and quite possibly that everyone will be saved in the end.
  • I do not believe in pre-millenial theology. I don’t actually think we need to look around for the anti-Christ because he already came, almost two thousand years ago, in the form of the Emperor Nero. And while I do believe that Christ will come again and renew the heavens and the earth, I don’t think he will do so by destroying the current ones.
  • I don’t think the scriptures make an iron-clad case that homosexuality is a sin. In fact, I believe the case is so weak as to imply that it probably isn’t. I support gay marriage and wish that my church did not keep pushing people away from Christ by opposing it.
  • I believe that Catholics love Jesus as much as Protestants do and believe that I have much to learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters.
  • I believe that the devout of other religions love God just as much as Christians do and that God will save many if not all of them whether or not they confess Jesus as Lord in this life.
  • I don’t think outlawing abortion is the right way to stop it from happening; and that appointing right-wing justices who will allow the President to torture our enemies is definitely not the right way to stop it.

Those are just a few of the things that I wish I could say to certain members of my church without having them, at least in their minds, de-church me. But, alas, I can’t.

Which is why I still think I have to leave.

The End of the Line?

In college, I was introduced to Jesus – the real Jesus of the scriptures, not the one who wages culture wars and wags the finger, by a group of Christians in an Evangelical college fellowship. I am thankful for that face of Evangelicalism.

As a young adult, I was lifted into the stratosphere by worship that reached me musically and emotionally. I was blessed by the friendships of fellow believers who accepted me, the token white guy trying to cross racial barriers by attending an all Asian-American church. I am also thankful for that face of Evangelicalism.

But today’s news about Richard Cizik getting canned from the National Association of Evangelicals for suggesting – horror of horrors – that perhaps it isn’t the end of the world to have civil unions (we’re not even talking about marriage here) for gay couples – may be the end of the line for me and Evangelicalism.

Please know that I am not sweeping all Evangelicals under the same blanket. But my comments here are directed at the mainstream of Evangelicalism – the very mainstream that makes it difficult for me to continue being associated with Evangelicalism.

You see, I don’t want any part of the culture war.

When Christ met the woman at the well, he did not wag his finger. He became her friend.

When Jesus ate with Levi the tax collector, he did not tell him he was working to get laws passed to outlaw his profession. He accepted his offer of table fellowship and enjoyed his company.

And when he found the woman confronted by crowds legally justified to execute her, he refused to condemn her and convinced others to do the same.

This is the Christ of the New Testament. In many ways, the gospel can be boiled down to a few words he directed to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you.”

The Christ that I have come to understand from the scriptures and from the indwelling of his spirit is not the Culture War Christ. He is not about making people follow a list of rules to work their way into heaven, not about checking a bunch of boxes to ensure that politically you are on the “same side” as him, not about pointing the finger and waging political jihad against his “enemies.”

No, he’s the Christ of the cross. The Christ who loved the world – all of it and every person on its surface, not just some of them – enough to wipe the slate clean through his greatest act of love. The Christ who walks along side of us while we are still sinful people and helps us come after him.

I can’t find that Christ in Evangelicalism anymore. And that’s why I think I have to leave.

Random Questions About My Church

Perhaps its the meds that I’m on to get over this cold, which have been anecdotally implicated in causing mood swings in people, but I’m pretty down on my church right now (most of which probably has less to do with my church and more to do with it being part of the larger subcategory of evangelicalism). In no particular order, here are my current gripes:

  • Can I continue to be a member of my church when I question one of its articles of faith (inerrancy) and absolutely reject another (punishment of non-believers)?
  • Can liberals and conservatives actually worship together in the same church? During a contentious election? Really?
  • Not that I haven’t said this before, but I am really bothered by the way we do communion.
  • I basically live in weekly fear that people will find out what I really believe about God. How generous is my church’s orthodoxy? And if I ask that question, do I risk getting tossed out on my ear?
  • I would really like some liturgy. Please? And a few hymns as well. I think I’m the only one.

I think it’s probably just the meds.

Playing Church

When I was in college, I joined with a bunch of naive, new and newly-energized Christians in my first experiment with applying the teachings of Jesus in a community setting. And while we made a ton of mistakes and went quite off the deep end in many ways, I do believe that we managed to take the priorities of Jesus and the early church and contextualize them for our college experience.

We spent time together.

We broke bread together.

We shared our possessions with one another.

We became good friends to those who had not yet joined our community.

We gave to the poor of both our time and our money (what little we had).

But, unfortunately, then I graduated and was forced away from this unique community into the “real world.” After two failed attempts at trying the same thing in this new environment, I gave up. And began “playing church.”

Sure, I go to church every week. I meet with a small group as well. And to be honest, after a period of struggle with my faith, I find myself closer to Jesus now than at any time since that college period – and perhaps even including it.

But my life doesn’t look a whole lot like the lives of our church fathers (and mothers). And in fact, in many ways, it looks a whole lot more like the “American dream” than the Kingdom of God.

This is a problem.

Now, I don’t believe this is a problem the way I would have when I was in college. My college self probably would have looked at my present self and been quite convinced I was going straight to hell. I believe God has taught me that he’s quite a bit more gracious than that.

But instead, I am convinced that it is a problem for myself personally and the church in general in that it is stunting our growth and development. God wants to give us the entirety of his kingdom, and yet we settle for the American dream where we can receive but small portions of that kingdom.

So given that I want more of the kingdom of God in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters in the faith as well as my friends and neighbors who may be at another place in their journey, how can I get past settling for “playing church” in order to really live out a missional gospel which transforms the status quo?

The barriers are tremendous. I live in a city where a one hour commute is considered reasonable. I live in a relatively suburban area, where each family keeps to themselves in their own walled-off fortress. And I have two young kids, with a third on the way, which obviously places a strain on my time and resources.

It’s pretty easy, given these constraints, to just do the church thing and live a normal life.

But could there be more for us? Could we actually give up our “right” to choose the neighborhood in which we live, and the schools to which we will send our children, in order to live closer to a real Christian community? Could we open up our schedules and plan our activities in such a way as to maximize time spent with our community? Could we choose to work closer to home so that we can be closer to our community and have a lighter environmental footprint? Could we make the tough choices to simplify our lives and share our resources in order to have more to give to the world’s needy?

Each of these choices is possible, but hard. The question is, do I really believe that the payoff is worth the cost?