Friday, December 26, 2008
I knew the topic of the book before I picked it up to read. I expected to be informed, inspired, and affirmed. I am not disappointed after the reading.
Reimagining Church is readable, well organized, and thorough on the topic of the Body of Christ experiencing itself as an organic gathering in communion with the Holy Spirit. Divided into two parts, "Community Gatherings" and "Leadership and Accountability," Frank Viola discusses the spiritual and practical aspects of church as organism versus organization.
This morning I woke knowing among my projects for today was writing this review. Two words popped into my thinking as I reflected over my thoughts and inclinations from the reading of Reimagining Church: wholesome and holistic. Allow me to clarify those terms as applied here.
By wholesome I mean healthy and sound. The words of the book are beneficial for the spiritual health of a body of believers. Even those who strongly identify with an institutional church but recognize the validity of a small group gathering will profit from thinking through what Viola discusses in the chapters on the "Family of God" and "Church Unity." Those of us who no longer seek out fellowship in the IC also will find ourselves guided in healthy ways to a fuller understanding of the relational way our Father both initiated and supports the growth of koinonia among believers.
By holistic, I depart from the original coinage of the word in 1926 within psychology and choose it here more in line with a broader meaning currently of emphasizing the organic or functional relation between parts and the whole. This is, in fact, the nature and thrust of the book: a discussion of the mystery of the Body of Christ as an entity built on communion between individuals who grow in a corporate communion with the Holy Spirit; in other words, the church as the dwelling place of God and vehicle whereby believers pass through this life as aliens on our way home. The discussion is supported by a plethora of scriptural references in fair hermeneutic interpretation, a breadth of quotes from Christians revealing a consensus of thought among brethren, and substantive documentation verifying the book is not merely conjecture.
I recommend the book for anyone who desires a greater depth of love between believers than is currently experienced but is unsure of how or where to search. The book is also highly recommended for those who have launched into a such a journey already but need a refining of purpose and direction. I have received just that by my time spent in the pages of Reimagining Church.
Monday, December 22, 2008
On an individual level, our soul is shaped by nature and nurture in ways we may partially understand, but my observations are that most of us understand very little. We live an uneasy peace with our own soul. One thing I have noticed among Americans, the condition of the soul and discussions both from and about the soul's phenomena are often reduced to basic recounting of what it is we think motivates us. Our relationships are tied around labeling love of something outside of self and are thus built from an identified mutuality: "You love sardines!! I do, too!" Finding others who like what we like and joining together to share in that soulish experience would appear to be the chief end of humans. Sometimes, this mutuality takes on high-stakes consequences and appears to be of substantial importance, patriotism or its next of kin, nationalism, for example. In the course of history, I would guess there has rarely been a time when so many defined life simply as a function of the desires known within the soul and the corollary of building relationships on such.
From a secular perspective, life can be seen as centuries of development wherein humanity works first to gain security from and against nature, then to increase wealth and all the while experience love. I think the driving rationale is a mixing of the exercise of intellect for material ends and simultaneously seeking the longings of our hearts in the process. Art has long been the place where humanity is analyzed and articulated juxtaposed with the progress of man materially. Artistic expression expresses the state of the soul, both individually and communally, within the ever progressive cultural framework of intellectually achieving what the world has to offer of wealth, fame, and glory.
Consider the implications of the two following examples:
Dan Fogelberg wrote a song which was released on his 1985 album, High Country Snows, entitled "The Higher You Climb."
The higher you climb,
The more that you see.
The more that you see,
The less that you know.
The less that you know,
The more that you yearn.
The more that you yearn,
The higher you climb.
The farther you reach,
The more that you touch.
The more that you touch,
The fuller you feel.
The fuller you feel,
The less that you need.
The less that you need,
The farther you reach.
How succinctly he captures the human experience. In the first stanza, he describes our soul's yearning and the impossibility of ever being fully satisfied. This quest for satisfaction is a common human experience of the soul. The second stanza appears to answer the endless yearnings. When one's reach, reaches to others, therein lies the source of the only true satisfaction known in this life. Such connection and its fulfillment reduces our need and its yearning, which extends our reach. I interpret Fogelberg as intending his words express a nobility which may be found within said quest for satisfaction when one reaches out to others.
Emmilou Harris's "Deeper Well" from her 1995 album, Wrecking Ball, also explores the yearnings idea with an opposite metaphor, a search within the soul sought through personal life experiences.
the sun burned hot, it burned my eyes
burned so hot I thought I'd died
thought I'd died and gone to hell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well
I went to the river but the river was dry
I fell to my knees an I looked to the sky
I looked to the sky and the spring rain fell
I saw the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
I was ready for love I was ready for the money
ready for the blood and ready for the honey
ready for the winnin', ready for the bell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well
I found some love and I found some money
found that blood would drip from the honey
found I had a thirst that I could not quell
lookin'for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well I did it for kicks and I did it for faith
I did it for lust and I did it for hate
I did it for need and I did it for love
addiction stayed on tight like a glove
so I ran with the moon and I ran with the night
and the three of us were a terrible sight
nipple to the bottle, to the gun, to the cell
to the bottom of a hole of a deeper well
well lookin for the water from a deeper well
well lookin for the water from a deeper well
I rocked with the cradle and I rolled with the rage
I shook those walls and I rattled that cage
I took my trouble down a deadend trail
reachin' out a hand for a holier grail
hey there mama did you carry that load
did you tell your baby 'bout the bend in the road
'bout the rebel yell 'bout the one that fell
lookin' for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
well, lookin for the water from a deeper well
In the end, we must express a truth that is evident throughout the ages:
The quest to satisfy has been at the root of productivity, philanthropy, altruism, war, and crime. All that is good or bad has been explored. The answer is in the spirit known only through the second birth Jesus describes.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Ephesians 4:11-13 instructs us on the purpose of the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the Body of Christ are for the equipping of the saints "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
Here in the Bible-belt, one might infer from attendance at many, if not most Sunday morning services that this scripture is expanded to say, "and of the knowledge of salvation through the Son of God." Certainly, I agree that salvation of the souls of humans is a main thrust of the NT writings. Further it is clear, such is a commonly held belief among Christians and as such is a part of the "unity of the faith." I wholeheartedly agree it is an important component of the message of reconciliation we bring to those who perish spiritually. Yet, in and of itself, salvation of souls as the core meaning of the work of the Anointed One on the cross and the supernatural consequences of the resurrection is at best limited in its articulation of the supernatural intent for humans in the Father's heart; and at worst, it is incorrect and artificially binds those so taught in less than the full power of the knowledge of the Son of God.
The focus of teaching on the salvation of souls is, in my estimation, a product of the focus of humans on their soul existence. I observe we are largely concerned with our "body" experience throughout our lives, and thus, we focus our contextual understandings and development of our mind and hearts around the natural reality of our physical existence. Our intellectual constructs are highly developed but limited to knowledge of life as the soul within the body. Without the illumination of the Spirit of God, humans are trapped in the soul, build all understandings from that limited vantage point, and cannot see Jesus as the Christ.
There are differing semantics for the soul. Some are concerned with psyche, and an entire branch of knowledge called psychology has become a science (science as a term rooted in a word meaning "to know") in which one may be credentialed. This knowledge seeks to understand and provide therapy for the mind/body connection which is estimated to be at the root of human behavior.
My concern for searching out the topic in discussion is intended to push the envelope a bit. Is there a lack of unity in our traditions of faith? Is this lack a function of soulish constructs which result in disagreement and division? Is it possible that a supernatural experience of spirit, in and through the living Christ, is the unifying feature of Christian perspective?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
I accept these words as distinct but inseparable by human understanding. I base this on the word of the Lord Jesus. We must be born a second time of spirit, hence the phrase "born again." I think that being born of the spirit marks the beginning of our intimate relationship in spirit with God. I cannot argue effectively from the scripture there was no spirit in a person before being born of the spirit, but I think that is the case. Even if that is not true, being born of the spirit must mark the start of something new based on spirit. This event marks the divide between soul and spirit.
I accept the soul is the vital force that is our eternal being. It is known by us as we experience our thoughts and feelings. These two, mind and heart, are a function of the soul. The soul is tied to the body. The body holds the soul temporarily during this life. The soul embraces spirit to draw upon the life therein.
The Holy Spirit is a like a wind. The soul is so structured that it needs "spirit" to be full of life. The soul is born of the Spirit of God or it remains attached to the only other spirit-like entity that exists, the spirit of the anti-Christ. These two opposed spirits are all there is to animate the soul fully.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Soul and Spirit.
How do you think about these two words in relation to faith?
Are they synonymous?
Are they related but inseparable?
Are they distinct from one another?
I hope you will comment.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
In the mean time, if you like side-splitting laughter, check out Frank Viola's latest post here.
Be sure to go past the first little bit. Look for the excerpts from high school papers.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"...The answer to our present dilemma is not to continue down the path of castrating the Gospel of Jesus with insistency upon getting our hands on the mantle of political power. It is to return to the way of the Master. It is by renewing our Christology in a zealous pursuit of his heart. It can only come by taking another look at Jesus and rethinking the doctrine of the two kingdoms. It will call for a fresh interpretation of Scripture within its historical-grammatical context and a discovery of the indwelling Christ. And it will come with great sacrifice."
"It is only the Person and the work of Christ that our entire faith is built upon. No level of human wisdom and ingenuity is relevant to issues that faced us yesterday, face us today, and will be facing us tomorrow. If we want to understand the heart of Christ who is God, we must be willing to abandon human reasoning that is not first captivated by the words of Jesus. Are we willing to lay aside our preconceived notions and our cultural conditioning in order that we might receive the word of Christ? Would we be so bold as to allow the Holy Spirit of Christ to invade our space and reveal to us the “foolishness” of the Gospel that Paul wrote about (1 Cor. 1:18-20)?
May the Spirit give us the ability to say, 'Yes!' to Christ."These words ring true to me. What do you think?
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The beautiful gift of a wife in my life clerks at the front check-out of a nearby drugstore. She interacts with a wide variety of people. Just prior to the election, she engaged an older couple in conversation. She used over-heard comments about a candidate as her lead-in for personal conversation. Before long she knew the two people as US citizens, though the man’s accent and brief story placed him in Europe much of his life.
He commented he really didn’t understand the American emotional reaction across our society to politics generally. In comparison to our culture, elections in Europe produce much open even passionate debate over issues; but in contrast, people’s differences are accepted as natural and do not end friendships or even discussions. The give and take of disagreement are an accepted social discourse. Whereas here, speaking up for an issue or candidate is likely to cause an immediate and often awkward end to a conversation.
Even allowing for some faulty memory on his part, the point is obvious: we fail our own value of freedom of speech. Why? Perhaps we are so spoiled that being emotionally able to handle disagreement is beyond us. We are selfish in this country to want everything to be like we think it should be including the way others think. And in my view, we Christians are very willing to use a cold-shoulder or worse, condemnation and shunning, to enforce our view as the correct one.
It is ironic and pitiful to hear people on the one hand espouse the wonder of a political system which guarantees freedom of speech and religion–intended undeniably by our fore-fathers as a protection of the right to function according to one’s own conscience–and on the other to berate the choices of others in demeaning and disrespectful terms. Or maybe, just become quietly dismissive of the other person.
For those who espouse Christ and mouth words of being an alien on earth to do such strikes me as much more than irony, but a symptom of a lack of faith and a large infection of hypocrisy. These folks need to take two prayers, one of repentance and one begging God to reveal His love in their hearts for all those in the "enemy" political camp, and get a good night's rest.Reality check: when was the last time a conversation with a "politically" different acquaintance or friend ended with a heart-felt affirmation of the person regardless of their views? A kind of statement that assured the other person of a love true to all that 1 Corinthians 13 describes. Counter possibility: when was the last time a conversation with a "politically" different acquaintance or friend ended with a personally held concern for the moral failures of the person evidenced by their views? The conversation ended with keeping one's thoughts veiled under empty but socially accepted niceties.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
The word estate emerged from English/French languages roughly of the 12th-13th centuries. A noble of the day owned a large house amid an expanse of land and from which common folk would gain purpose and security. Working the lord's lands provided food, a hovel in which to rest, and in many cases military protection. The Magna Carta was forced upon the English king by nobles and the church as a guarantee of the rights of Englishmen (read land-owners) in 1215. England thereby entered a time of transition from the feudal period and toward a constitutional monarchy established in 1688. During this period the estate system developed into codified laws around land ownership and thereby became a legal term still used today.
The church has become an estate to be managed. Literally holding real estate, the church estate includes leadership as lord of the manor, a taxation system supporting the structure of governance, resulting assets needing to be managed, and a common people who serve, support and receive from a controlling elite. This organized system evolved from a simple format of association of believers into a structured hierarchical authority system which became formerly state-sanctioned under Constantine. From pre-Reformation to today, ecclesiastical authority has functioned as part of a three-pronged force in culture: a balance of political and religious authority often in conflict over the economic production capacity of human labor. Political and social thinking of Western culture moved from monarchy to democracy; so too the organized church mirrored this progression. Thus, organized church currently includes constitutions, church charters, whole books of instruction, and/or simply accepted practices of governance. These established codes uphold the shared beliefs and doctrines about God and serve to recognize the interests of those whose labor supports the whole. This strikes me as a logical consequence of the historical development of church experience within changing social/political thought over time. That church thinking and expression forms a corollary to human social and political development is predictable. This is not a charge of failure against the institutional church, but an observation of a consequence of the church's historical development.
Along that developmental line a basic theme of the Bible was lost. In Genesis, our Lord warned Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to only eat from the Tree of Life. God did not want His creation to attempt to establish moral codes of right and wrong. No such code could honor Him, as our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags. He intended Himself as the source of life and the fullness of the goodness possible within the human experience. The sum of the story between the Fall and now includes the revelation that righteousness is by faith, and that faith is in Jesus Christ alone. He is the Tree of Life. He intends His perfect conscience to substitute for our fallen one by the guidance of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.
I recently read there are about 33,000 identifiable Christian denominations around the planet! Within these are variations and thereby extrapolations of church governance among this plethora of groups. However, I suspect a common denominator. In most, the leader or leaders function with authority over church direction generally, teaching of accepted doctrines specifically, the application of moral codes of conduct usually, and to greater and lesser degrees leaders exercise authority over the lives of believers. This circumstance, a splintered faith yet a fairly common view of authority is a direct function of the passage of time coupled with a knowledge of good and evil. Which of the 33,000 organizations produce life in the spirit as a function of faith in the Presence of the Holy Spirit and which do not? How shall we judge the good or evil of any of these? However, I contend our building of communities of believers into earthly estates with Christian moral codes as the organizing feature fails the plan of God. God is not pleased by moral codes. Examine His correction of the pharisees. Faith pleases God. Our complete trust in His governance, provision, and guidance in life honors Him.
(This post now extends past a usual barrier I have set for myself of length. However, I am going to finish these thoughts as one post. Apologies to those who prefer posts of more nominal length. Here is a good spot to which one could logically return, depending on level of interest, at another time.)
As I examined my experience both with authority and as a designated authority within a body of believers, I found myself lost in a very complicated maze created by the scriptures, the practice of my particular group and the practices generally of the larger church historically. The execution of authoritative practice became an issue for me as previously narrated.
I confronted a huge dilemma.
1.I knew the world and individuals to be lawless. I had fully proven that point in my life experience. I knew personally both as victim and as agent, the pain caused by selfish human decision-making. I had recognized and accepted God's solution to the rebellion--Jesus, crucified and resurrected.
2.However, the entity which held out Jesus to me, the church, had proven to be seriously flawed in practice. I held not just my particular group as faulty. I regarded the historical system as equally culpable.
Among the questions I needed to answer:
- Why do men jockey for position within church leadership and other body life, while faulting others for the same?
- Why do men trust manipulation as a tool?
- Why did submission to church authority as taught from the scripture become onerous to me? And its corollary,
- Was I just re-entering the rebellion?
- How could a group where love had seemed to flow so honestly become so misguided?
- Why did the larger expression of church often produce leadership that could not be personally engaged in the simple human act of eye contact? And its corollary,
- How did some believers manifest personal authority when leaders didn't?
- Does one group represent the Truth of Jesus more fully than the next? If so, why and how?
The solution I came to realize that answers all of the above and more:
God is love.
God's love is the order rebellious humans need.
God calls humans out of the rebellion against Him. This is an authoritative act.
God's love established the spiritual means for humans to escape the power of the rebellion—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
This is an authoritative plan on the part of the Father, which is entered willingly by Jesus as a personal choice of His in response to both the expressed will of Father and the joy it will bring. Jesus thus exercises the human will in an act of personal authority fully in line with the authority of the Father.
Jesus fulfills the passion of the act itself motivated by His love.
Therefore, God's love is the basis for His authority, and His authoritative actions have love as the end purpose.
God is love is authority.
Jesus taught not to call anyone rabbi (honored one), teacher, or leader (guide or master) for you are all brothers. This is recorded in Matthew 23:8-12. Just prior to this instruction, when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked that her sons be lifted into His authority sphere by being allowed to sit at His right and left in His Kingdom, He summarized His answer with
Matthew 20:25. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them...”
Authority here and in the companion recording of this incident in Mark 10:42 is the only use of katexousiazo in the NT, which means to exercise authority, wield power. This is in stark contrast to the dominion reign of Jesus in context.
Most uses of the term authority in the NT as already noted are translated from exousia, which bears the first meaning of power of choice. It is a very interesting exercise to read the places where this word is translated as authority and substitute the meanings of
- power of choice; leave or permission
- physical or mental power
- power of authority (influence)
- power of right (privilege)
- the power of the rule of government.
Where I had identified three areas of authority
Within a body, I believe we need to shift understanding elders from “those in charge over the flock” to “those who know the authority of the familial love of God and lead others by example.” When I think about ones of more mature love simply regarding all other believers as brothers to be served, questions I asked on the nature and execution of authority all find logical and reasonable answers.
How the suggested model might function is the stuff of more posts. This lengthy one is ended.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Here's what I have found:
There are seven words in Greek I have been able to identify which are translated "authority."
I list them here as a basis for stating my conclusions from my personal experience, feedback I have had from others, and a brief study of the Bible (for a list of scripture references click on the word):
1. exousia -- 93 uses
- power of choice; leave or permission
- physical or mental power
- power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege)
- the power of the rule of government
2. huperecho (v) -- 5 uses
- to have or to hold over
- to stand out above
- superior in rank
3. huperoche (n) -- 2 uses
4. katexousiazo -- 2 uses
- to exercise authority
- to wield power
5. kuriotes -- 4 uses
6. baros -- 6 uses (once as authority, most often as burden)
- one who with his own hands kills another or himself
- one who acts on his own authority/autocratic
- an absolute master
- to govern/ exercise dominion over
- All authority ultimately begins and rests in God.
- Creation was an act of His authority.
- Further, He established authority as a condition of the human experience.
- There is an intent on His part expressed in establishment of authority and a thwarting of that intent, as
- These three categories of authority are expressed within our human experience and reflect the spiritual divide between the Spirit of Jesus Christ and the spirit of the age, the anti-Christ.
The topic becomes, for me, a function of a question. How shall a disciple of Jesus understand his/her life experience, and thereby, fulfill the Father's intent in living under authority? This question leads to other more specific questions, which I think divide as follows:
- What level of personal authority does an individual carry; how is it established and matured; and toward whom is it manisfested?
- What amount of responsibility is required of the believer in responding to societal authorities; what development of social authority within the world system should be supported by believers; and consequently, when is civil disobedience called for, if ever, against authority that clearly is directed in a rebellion against God?
What presuppositions would you add or delete from the above list?
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
First was parental authority. For a great majority of us, we understand authority from what we know firsthand growing up.
Second, the police in that picture are a symbol of earthly authority in the form of government.
The chaotic, angry behavior of my dad despite his authority illustrates the Fall of man into sin; the rebellion against God is a rejection of His authority. Understanding this turn of an earthly authority toward that which is not of God is a dynamic that must be sorted out.
In the next installment of the story I related joining a Methodist church as a teenager. I meet and begin to be influenced by ecclesiastical authority.
Taken together then, the memoir begins with four expressions of authority. Authority exists on earth which is ordained by God. These are are parental, governmental, ecclesiastic, and an anti-authority expression which is the rebellion against God. This reverse or negative authority is part of our natural human experience and needs consideration in understanding the other three.
What do you think? Are there other natural authority structures shaping our lives which you think should be part of the analysis?
Somewhere in what I just narrated, I realized I threw scriptures at situations based on my human insight of what was happening and according to an accepted interpretation of scripture. To use an analogy, it is a bit like an algebra student with a rudimentary mastery of the subject facing off with a word problem. Sorting through the words constructing the problem using faulty reading skills leads to a complete misinterpretation of what is needed in algebraic applications. Nonetheless, the student has no idea the problem is misread and plows ahead. Applying true algebra knowledge in his/her command, a wrong approach to writing a solution is selected. In the end, the student finishes believing a reasonable solution is achieved. When the work is evaluated by the instructor, the answer is wrong, but the instructor notes in the margin, "Even though you applied an incorrect algebraic principle which didn't fit the problem, your actual algebra was correct. Glad to know you have learned how to do that algebra function. Now work on better insight into the problem. Once that is mastered, we will move to more elegant solutions."
I realized I was that student as a Christian. I lived my walk of faith according to my human insight, which included my emotional baggage of the old nature, and the perspective inherent in my group's interpretation of the scriptures. Thus my reading of the scripture and understanding of its applications were continually slanted by other factors. I needed to address the cause of the slant before I would find the freedom in Christ the scripture described. I was waking up to how I relied on my religion about the Father, while not fulfilling His elegant solution to life--living it through His in-dwelling Spirit.
Yet, the story I just narrated of coming to faith in Christ and living within a body I labeled GCC is my common connection with others. Using our commonality is the basis for communication and understanding. What happened to me, is one little, little piece of a much larger picture. The story has no real importance or value except in its use to describe the bigger picture.
The bigger picture, His Story, is God's creation, the resulting rebellion against Him, and His answer to the rebellion. The story has pieces: our role in that rebellion, the force or authority supporting our rebellion, and the grace of God to fully overcome the rebellion and enter into His dominion under His authority. The part of the story my narrative illustrates is a set of solutions man has developed to achieve God's grace. Though well intentioned, this solution set is less than elegant. In fact, many current practices are often not even a correct application of principle though technically appearing correct.
Hence, I write this current series. I do not write to describe my solution. I seek to share my thoughts to develop and further an elegant and true solution which will be finally described in the putting together of our knowledge and love for the Father.
May the peace of His reign be yours.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Also, I am not vindicated in the telling of these events. Removing the log from my own eye became my goal in the first months following the end of my grieving process, and grief is the word for how my wife and I felt for many months. Had I not joined, willingly and in good conscience, with many of the behaviors I now had experienced on the receiving end? Was I not a sinful man just as they? After six months, or so, conviction came on me that I had been impatient with them and had reneged on my commitment to love them as people, while I had traversed the woods of error in authority and fellowship we created trying to find my way out. I had fallen into the error of self-protection against them, even as I was waking to the Father through the Holy Spirit as my all in all. Thus my own condition of heart was often against God even while I sought to renew my walk of faith with Him more fully. Irony! Thank our Lord for the wonder of the righteousness of Christ covering all our failures of sin!
Interestingly, the head-pastor of my story would end up leaving GCC about four years later over the same issue in reverse! GCC moved him out stating it would follow a more pluralistic leadership. Six years after that, all but two elders would separate over issues of authority and fellowship between brethren being undermined by a controlling spirit. Can we doubt that we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities and powers?
Monday, October 20, 2008
1996--My mother moves in with us in January. The why and how are detailed and not important to the authority discussion. The consequence, however, is. My wife had several chronic, health related issues, and my mother was no easy roommate; as a result, my wife spiraled downward into a serious depression. In October, I do something I had never done since 1979: I ask for help from the leadership. Two elders and their wives meet with my wife and me. They listen to us and our emotional reactions to the current circumstances. They conclude, we simply need the support of friends through our current life situation and commit to meet with us weekly for an undetermined amount of time until we see a turn around, whatever that would be, in my wife's depression. A week passes, and I hear nothing from either of these elders. On the day we are to meet, I call one and we talk for about ten minutes. No one meets with us, and I feel more like I have checked in with an overseer rather than a friend providing me emotional support. I wait another week. No one contacts me again, and I decide calling them is not my responsibility.
I was not angry or hurt. I was sharpened to examine the facts and think. I asked for help. It did not materialize. Why? The elders involved were over-burdened themselves with responsibilities in the system. Also, I see the evidence we use the term friend at GCC without experiencing its reality. If an elder as deeply connected as I could not find support in Christian family/friendship during a personal crisis, how did those who followed experience support from the leadership? Also and for the worse, I confront memories when I realize the words of elders proved empty, including my own. I walk through the crisis alone. In early 1997, a second crisis will pull my wife and me together and start her rise above depression.
1996--Sometime in this year , GCC starts a third service on Saturday nights to handle our growth. This service is very relaxed and many find it refreshing. However, the reduced crowds on Sunday mornings make these meetings seem less vital. The head-pastor is concerned and brings up the topic in an elders' meeting. He indicates he wants to stop the Saturday night service. The eleven elders disagree over what is to be done. In a seven/four split in favor of keeping the Saturday night service, the discussion is tabled. At the next elders' meeting, the head-pastor states he strongly feels stopping the Saturday night service is God's direction. He determines this is what we will do and gives his head-pastor responsibility as the basis for the decision. His position is in line with our tradition and obligates me to change my position if I have any integrity of consistent practice. We concur as elders, though I am left seriously examining the substance and meaning of how we function as a governing team.
1997, January--While my wife and I are out of town, our eldest son uses a key we were entrusted with to enter the summer home of a neighbor and host a party for high school students. We receive a 3:00 AM phone call from the town police that our eldest son has been arrested for illegal entry. An elder who is a friend accepts custody of our son for us and puts him up until we can return home. We are grateful. Our son is 14, and the neighbor lovingly chooses not to prosecute, labeling it a young person's poor judgment. Recognizing finally, that my family suffers from the hectic pace I live as an elder, principal and teacher, I take a sabbatical from being an elder for one year. The only call I receive from any other elder, asks me to make sure a next door neighbor, who is aware of the break-in due to the police questioning him, receive an apology for my son's behavior. No elder, however, seeks to pull alongside our family to ask what we are experiencing, how my son is handling the circumstances, or how my wife is handling our situation in light of her depression brought to two elders' attention just three months prior. I admit to myself that my personal circumstances seem to bear little concern for these I have considered to be family that loves me.
1997, April--I am given a book to read by a brother written by Gene Edwards, How Then Shall We Meet? The book speaks of several practices of the modern church and suggests organic meetings in homes without titled leaders is healthy and biblical. I put the book down and realize his words crystallize something I had been avoiding: I no longer believe in a head-pastor, a major tenet of church governance among our brethren. I have no idea how to bring up the subject and commit it all to God in prayer.
1997, June--I am asked to attend the semi-annual leaders' retreat even though I am on sabbatical. I agree to attend parts of the retreat and use the forum to announce my altered beliefs. I am told my thoughts are illogical and unbiblical by the "apostle." I look at him quizzically but do not respond, believing most of the elders will follow his lead rather than speak openly. No real discussion ever develops on the issues.
1997, later in June--An elder I consider a friend asks to meet with me. We talk for two hours and determine that the busyness of church has caused us to lose touch with our friendship. We commit to work on our friendship, and I feel encouraged. The idea of leaving GCC has not ever entered my mind to this point.
1997, July--the elder of the previous meeting invites me to lunch at his home. I agree and arrive to find a third elder is also part of the lunch meeting. I am confronted as an elder in error and told I am hurt and need help. I experience much anger at a system that so clouds truth in the eyes of men, that they speak of friendship and love while only taking action to protect their authority. I clearly see by the words used in this meeting, I am now viewed as a threat to the security of the body. I lash out at the system, but manage to keep my words from attacking them. Debriefing my wife on this meeting, we talk of leaving for the first time. We are devastated at the thought, but have no confidence the elders will be convinced that the head-pastor government is the problem. We expect no honest hearing of our hearts or thinking, just manipulation and/or outright pressure to try and alter our thoughts. Memories surface of relationships over the years brushed aside by the elders when circumstances required GCC exercise "authority" in protection of its theology and practice.
1997, one week later--I am called to an official meeting at the church building. I am asked how I feel this week. I announce my wife and I have talked and are agreed, we will leave the church. The two staff elders are clearly unnerved and speak of the damage this will do our body. I explain how I cannot stay believing what I now believe. If I remain silent, I am dishonest. If I speak out, I will be labeled as a factious man fomenting dissent against authority. I commit to leave as quietly as possible, and that I will not encourage anyone to follow me out. The meeting lasts ten minutes or less.
It takes nearly four months for the elders to announce my resignation to the body. Many meetings with individual elders and the whole group of elders ensue in the time period with both harsh and kind words. One man, who will become an elder a week before my wife and I are officially removed, works to maintain his personal relationship with me and try to bring peace, though he never seeks to understand my new perspective on leaders. I am asked by the elders to present my beliefs with scriptural support. I write a four page compilation and turn it in. No one ever asks to discuss it in any following meeting. It appears to have only been a stalling tactic. I never hear any position from their side except that I am hurt and in error. No one ever attempts to listen to what I am thinking. All try to change my mind or convict me of the sinful pride in obstinance.
In the end, they feel betrayed by one who lacks the commitment to love. I am confronted as one lacking relational integrity and trying to manipulate them. Two elders encourage me, and I decide not to attend the meeting where the announcement will be made. When the content of the meeting is verified by several different witnesses including the elder now designated to deal with me, I discover I have been misrepresented and characterized in terms that malign my character.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
1990 -- Following a series of events and speakers, the elders publicly repented for being controlling. For several months of meetings in that fall, we were full Sunday after Sunday at around 4oo people. Somewhere in this history, we went to two services and more home groups. We felt a joy-filled momentum heading into the new decade. In January of 1991,the elders were at a semi-annual retreat together over a weekend. These retreats served as praying and planning over direction. I had reflected inwardly the control had not simply affected those who followed but had impacted our communion as elders, as well. I felt to encourage something among us and took the opportunity of that meeting to speak out.
I noted to the brothers, the public repentance and break with our past "controlling spirit" as elders was an opportunity we might maximize. I asked that we devote a discussion to our views of leadership. I believed we viewed elders differently. We should openly place our thoughts on leadership in view and discover differences that might hinder and insights in support of our team growth. Specifically, I felt the Lord would reveal His direction for a better team of leaders. Acknowledging our agenda for the rest of the retreat was full, I asked for such discussion to be soon. Each man quietly looked back at me and nodded his head thoughtfully. The discussion never happened. I did not know it, but this meeting was the germination of my awareness of and focus on the dynamics of authority within a group of believers, and the beginning of the events that would lead me and my family from the church.
(Back ground info: our basic approach to governing had always been the elders discussed issues until decision by consensus was made; the head pastor, however, was ultimately responsible before God for the direction of the church. Therefore if a decision had to be made and a consensus could not be reached, it was the head-pastor's call. Further, in application of this principle, head-pastor initiatives based on him stating he sensed God's leading carried significant weight and usually gained plural approval. Within this principle, I understood through teaching and practice my role was a support to the head-pastor, helping him lead the church. Personally, I trusted God would verify by the Holy Spirit any elder's initiative which was His plan in the hearts of enough other elders to cause His will to be achieved. When something I said did not win the favor of anyone else, discussion over leadership perspectives for example, I determined I had not heard God.)
1994 -- A guest speaker with wisdom and experience in building local bodies becomes involved in our church family. He visits several times and eventually relocates to our town. He comes to be understood though never officially ordained as an apostle to our group. He travels the world to meet with many churches he helps guide and is at "home" with us. A euphemism that has been used publicly since 1991, "killing the pastor-centered church" which meant the focus was off one man and on all members being equipped for ministry is still used, but behind the scenes I note a shift back to "strong" leadership particularly on the part of the head-pastor. The counsel and guidance of our apostle has become something that guides our decisions sometimes even in his absence. Some topics are tabled until his opinion can be heard. This strikes me as a move from pluralistic review by the elder brothers to a need for one man's view. Head-pastor autonomy now appears to have strengthened but is dually shared in an undefined way.
1995 -- A discussion in an elders' meeting concerned our youth. The topic: hiring a college-age man to lead a youth group. The candidate was a trusted member of our college group, a high priority ministry of our church. I felt we missed the step of seeking God's direction to even have a youth group. I stated I felt this group would pull young teens from the home's influence when such time together was essential and powerful in the development of relationship between parents and teens. I asked if we could pray for a week or so and return to the topic. I got concerned looks, and the decision went forward without a designated time of prayer to seek God. (I think the elders were so conditioned by my supportive nature, that my words neither struck them as disagreement nor even a difference of opinion. For whatever reason, my voice carried no weight. I was left scratching my head, doubting myself as little more than a yes-man, and scrutinizing deeply the interactions/influences of various leaders within our "power" structure.) My wife and I would not let our eldest attend youth group meetings when he turned 13 later that year, creating dissension between parents and child. We relented after a few months time.
(Background info: We had on-staff elders, four including me for several years, and multiple self-supporting elders. I fell into a unique spot. On-staff elders met ad hoc at work and discussed much. Self-supporting elders were involved at designated meetings. My Christian school principal/teaching duties meant staff elder discussions excluded me. Digest versions were often relayed separately, therefore I had more access to these discussions than self-supporting elders. This dynamic and its ramifications could not be avoided, and it often seemed counter-productive to leader-group cohesion. The youth group initiative described above was likely spawned in discussions among on-staff elders. In 1995, the school had relocated to its own building, and I now was understanding first hand what self-supporting elders experienced.)
The rest of these events tomorrow.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
This past two weeks at school blew through like a hurricane. Days of rising expectation, harried and increasing work to prepare, and moments of trepidation over what will be when the wind and water stop. This followed by two days of storm.
Two weeks ago, the announcement flipped open in an e-mail. First term grades were due. The red flags were up. The storm itself, parent conferences, would make landfall October 16 and 17 .
The work load at school intensifies immediately with that e-mail. Days of paper work and computer spreadsheets, setting up conference times, continuing to manage regular duties of school until...the teachers meet eye to eye with parents over grades and behavior. These conferences are back to back, thirty minute conferences from 12:30 when the students are dismissed until late afternoon for two days. Breaks come unexpectedly with last minute cancellations or conferences that finish in twenty minutes or no breaks at all depending on the vagaries of the storm. Managing calm emotions in the face of a relentless, hours-on-end edginess (mine and the parents'), while waiting for one or two "gusts" to be overwhelming brought to mind the hurricane metaphor.
I have been a bit distracted from finding time to write for the blog recently but have been reflecting on what to write next. I have decided the memoir format has ended. I will finish my separation from the group in a simple listing of some key events tomorrow, which is my anniversary as a blogger. About Tuesday, I'll begin the authority discussion. It would appear timely. This topic is all over the blogosphere! Several recent books on church government and related issues are causing much discussion.
(Wow! I never thought I would manage blogging for a year. Yeah, I know I took a four month hiatus...as my son tells me, don't cloud the issue with facts.)
I am making the switch back to plain old talking from story-telling for two simple reasons. I want to write the next events without a context of characters. I started the memoir thinking real people would create a relational element that is part of the larger discussion in the end. I am now feeling a check about telling my version of the following events, which involve brothers/friends whose versions are not being mutually brought to light. That it now feels unfair is a warning like those red flags above. I also tire of the work of attempting to compose this series as a writer instead of just a talker. It isn't fun anymore, honestly, but has become a burden. Since lack of commitment here holds little consequence (and may, in fact, bring regular readers some relief from my limits with prose), the decision is done.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Around the table, I could make eye contact with the founding pastor of the sending Alaskan church, his expected replacement-an eldest son, and the head pastor's right hand man. From our side were the head pastor, and four other elders including me. The head-covering issue launched five years previously had zig-zagged through pulpit preaching in both churches and precipitated other issues of accountability and authority between the two churches. I had heard our side and understood the other side considered us loved renegades. Now the tension and pulpit jockeying would be confronted straight-up.
I listened mostly. Among the youngest of the men present and an elder longer than only two other men, I couldn't escape estimating myself as a novice in leadership matters and understanding the Bible. The discussion was cordial, even warm, and occasionally light-hearted. The exchanges across the table shared and analyzed scripture and perspectives on the same. In the end, the planting church ceased to be an over-seeing church.
I left the meeting a bit confused. Had I just witnessed a simple dynamic centering around group-held values versus local church autonomy as it was labeled in the discussion; or had I seen something broader and more far-reaching, a microcosm of what has shaped denominational differences for centuries? My view that Truth was a solid set of values revealed in the scriptures through hermeneutic study thus guiding practice was shaken. As a local church, we were freed to enter into a loose association of churches across North Carolina and Virginia, in which several also preached head-coverings among other shared perspectives.
Who is accountable to whom, for what reasons, and with what implications? In one night, my Christian experience of a body of believers responding to God-ordained authority had transformed from solid scriptural tenet providing me spiritual security into a giant Rubic's cube of who is right? Catholicism considered Protestantism a break away from the direct line of authority begun with Peter. Eastern Orthodox considered Roman Catholics a break away group. Protestantism was sub-divided almost unendingly.
Inside the splintering somewhere was my group, whose accountability to authority was now redefined in a few hours of talk. Furthering the complexity of my thoughts on the practice of faith lurked teachings that many of the older traditions included a scholarship suspect because of tainted theology built on man's knowledge (was scholarship really wrong?), while my group extolled revelation in the spirit. This included a strong emphasis on the practice of the spiritual gifts enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12, such as prophetic utterances and tongues with interpretation during meetings. These phenomenon we labeled the "power" gifts, and I held this as important truth to the Christian experience. How did all the conflicting ideas fit together? Was one group more of God than another? If so, why and what was the scriptural evidence? In the weeks that followed, no matter how I twisted the levels of this puzzle cube in my thoughts, none of the sides came close to forming a solid color integrity. Not even my church.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The every word Christian reference Terry had just used, attracted my thinking. The term, in part, had engendered my respect for this group. Its use drew great hunks of Christian practice into a circle of inadequacy and helped explain my lack of interest in things Christian for those many years I rejected Christ. Further and more personally, that some Christianity was not every word, resolved why I had wrestled as high school youth through college freshman with a lack of power over sin. Such lack convinced me at my then age of nineteen, Christianity wasn't viable. Inevitability I would sin again because I wanted the sin. I decided sinfulness was practical, irreversible fact and my true identity.
Now and for the previous three years, I accepted GCC theology as a greater insight into the Bible than was known among denominational churches. Every word had expanded to include the phrases sold-out, hearers and doers, and spirit-filled. Whenever a GCC practice or interpretation of scripture was at odds with traditional theology, one of these three phrases helped distinguish the why we did or didn't do what they did or didn't do. Tying our tongues up being our distinctive difference and, for me, the profound evidence of my connection with the source, the Holy Spirit, which enabled me to resist sin. Resisitng sin was not just the path to holiness in an abstract way. I understood it to be the only way I could enjoy the life I had found in Christ.
Resist I had. Everything about my new family in Christ held meaning for me and supported my rapid growth in spirituality. The teachings expanded my thinking of the nature of God and His work. The worship released my bottled-up emotions in expressions both exhuberant and satisfying; I found a connection with authentic joy. The substantive fellowship was emptying insecurity from the well of my soul, a shaft in my heart formerly filled up by a wrecked, alcoholic family and my years of sinfully manipulating others. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, and church attendance I adopted gave me needed structure. Most wonderful of all, God strengthened me to choose marriage in faith, and the fruit of that union lifted me all the further into adoration for the Lord Jesus. This incredible woman who loved me sat beside me. I reached for her hand and gave my attention back to the passionate teaching.
The rationale of being every word Christians and hearers and doers of the Word once again reached its logical conclusion. GCC would now do something the unlearned of Christianity had yet to see as significant spiritual practice. Terry explained the elders (he and three other men) were leading the church to adopt I Corinthians, chapter 11's description of women wearing head coverings when they prayed or prophesied. The elders had determined women should abide by this scriptural instruction if they prayed silently or vocally with men present and included whether the gathering was church or a meeting in a home.
Spiritual authority over our family of believers had taught, requested, and I felt so moved. Freida questioned a bit as we drove home. She stated some misgiving with the teaching. We were silent a moment. I was often not sure of what to say in our limited eighteen months together. My father was no example to draw from and teaching from the pulpit created my only framework for decision-making in this relationship where I had a husband role to play. I suggested perhaps her reaction to Terry's words was in part made more intense by her advancing pregnancy. Silence.
Gently I said, "We're sold out, right?" Nothing. I drove through the last stop light before the turn into our apartment driveway. "Sin is more than resisting temptation; isn't refusing to move in obedience to commands in the Word a sin, too?"
After a moment she answered quietly, "Yes."
Exiting the Chevette my wife brought into the marriage, we shifted talking to our growing excitement with parenthood just three months away. I was thankful God helped me know what words to use leading my wife!
Learning true authority seemed an important backbone of life.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
My wife and I met in 1980. I had spent a year in the church as a single man; she had attended the church during her college years, then spent that same year away in another city teaching in the public schools. The church hired her in August to teach in the private school they launched in fall of 1980. We began dating in November, were engaged in December and married in March of 1981. Yeah, it was a bit fast; but that is another story beginning as we tell one another on our second date, we believed God had marriage in our future.
The first of five children born during the 80's came on July 1, 1982. In 1983, I went to work teaching in the Christian school. In that same year my wife left teaching in order to mother our children.
I finished college and was ordained an elder of GCC in 1985. I was thirty years old.
The pace of those years feels almost surreal now when looking back: Marriage, building our first and only home, five children in seven years; I taught in and was principal of a small Christian school and part of the leadership team of a growing fellowship. Those twenty-five families and multiples of college students grew ten-fold in that time.
My wife and I grew in love for God, for one another; and oh, how we loved (and still love) our kids! We grew in love, also, for a wonderful community of believers, many of whom still seek out and spend time with one another today. Our organized gathering waned piece-meal over the second and third decades since, but in hind-sight these folks note something wonderful took place between us in those years.
That our strong community faltered is the rest of the story coming up.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Lee, a university student a few years younger than me, pulled off the road in an eight-year old, blue, road-hogging Buick. "I'm headed for church but I'm early. I'll take you where you're going, if it's not too far," he assured with a broad, disarming smile.
"Not exactly sure. I was looking for a church called Graceland Christian Center."
He reached his right hand for mine, "You're headed there now! That's my church and it's only a mile over that hill."
That first morning I was amazed. Graceland proved to be a passionate, dedicated, and lively group of about 25 young married couples, some with small children, a smattering of middle-aged couples, and a bunch of college students. They called themselves non-denominational and "every word" Christians; the pastor was from a Bible school in Alaska (Alaska has Bible schools?); and when they worshiped, the radiance on their up-turned faces competed with the sun streaming in the big, plate glass windows of the converted pool hall.
The meeting literally rocked with excitement. People spoke in tongues and time was given for individuals to stand and share. This is church!? I realized after thirty minutes or so, that I had been fully engaged emotionally without ever determining any reason to be so.
For two weeks I attended everything these people did: three meetings a week, S.T.Th.; nursing home visitation, choir practice, building maintenance, hiking with college students and dinners-hanging out in homes. On my third Sunday when Terry the pastor--only four years older than me--gave the altar call, I faced my first quandary. Was I saved in that Methodist church at fifteen? Did I need to respond to the altar call? The music played softly; he beckoned winsomely for decisions for Christ and my thoughts deepened into a theological musing over what is "salvation." He moved on to an invitation to be water baptized. My hand shot up! Saved before or not I wasn't sure, but the sprinkling the Methodists gave me no longer seemed adequate. It didn't meet the every-word criteria I quickly embraced. I saw a question in Terry's eyes and knew he probably felt I had missed a needed step, yet he smiled and offered up praise while my new family clapped.
Baptisms were held immediately after the service at the local in-door swimming pool. Half the church put off lunch to be part of this spiritual-family moment, as well. Terry and another young man in swimming suits (his baptism had been planned, Terry was just always prepared), and myself in shorts provided by the church stood at the pool's edge. Terry read from Romans concerning why we gathered. He spoke briefly to my compatriot in the dunk, then faced me. With one eye winked shut (too bright in here under a roof??), his other eye never wavered while he asked me directly about my salvation. Though I wasn't really clear about this question, a lengthy description of what I had been through and how I came to raise my hand for baptism seemed an unnecessary hold up. I answered a solid affirmation, he nodded without smiling and we went in the pool. I brushed off his winking eye, as I'm sure he brushed aside concerns he had never heard me pray the sinner's prayer.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I just thought I take a moment to brag on my wife. Today she turned what's not been eaten of the two bushel of apples that grew on our backyard tree (it's a young tree and this is its first year of significant fruit) into seven quarts of canned apple sauce. If you have never had home-canned apple sauce, don't even think about the stuff under the Mott's label on the grocery store shelf. That would be like comparing the Statue of Liberty to a Lego block tower.
Anna made an apple pie with homemade crust and French crumble topping. Been good eatin' round here, folks! I haven't had time to think about a next post. Maybe tomorrow.
"Yeah, Hon. I hear you!"
Gotta run. The Roman apple cake is out of the oven soon.
Monday, September 15, 2008
During the first month of my stay in this town, I read that pocket testament daily. I visited a few steepled buildings, but couldn't settle into a religion where it felt like people hid. I visited a priest, thinking a tradition of leadership wholly different from the little I had experienced might have an insight I hadn't heard. He listened carefully to my tale of life on the night streets of American cities and a now growing desire for God from this point in my life. His answer mushed up in my head as psychological banter and theological words. I left his office confused about the parameters of Christian society. Acceptable society and the more colorful levels of social strata where I had lived stretched farther apart. I needed God but could not see clearly to enter a world of glancing eyes and disconnected mental constructs.
July was idling itself away in long hikes. I quit visiting churches and priests. My aloneness was becoming loneliness...again. I read of a commune in Tennessee that wasn't too far and decided my basement apartment would probably be too cold for the winter. I planned a move to the commune but not a date to go. A little more money saved before I made that journey seemed the best idea.
Late in August, my Bible reading had slipped to infrequent, and I was restless for a change. In four and half years of drifting, I had only twice stayed as long as six months in one spot. More often, in about three months time I would reach $500.00 saved, and that was enough wind in my sail to untie from the dock. Walking back one afternoon from my breakfast-cook job, a poster placed by Graceland Christian Center invited me to a concert presented on the universtiy campus. I don't recall anything about the poster other than my attention was drawn by a Christian message that didn't include the word church.
On that Saturday afternoon, I flipped back and forth about going. The stirrings of "go" confronted a high wall of "Don't Go!" The loneliness had four years of failed attempts to connect with others as evidence this would be more disappointment. Such feelings rooted beyond memory in never connecting with my dad. (I asked Mom once, had Dad ever held me as a young one. Without hesitation she replied, "Yes, the day of your christening, he held you in church.") I had been letting a homeless guy sleep on a cot in the basement without Ms. Bluefield knowing. He planned on the concert, as well--something to do. When the time arrived for walking across the street to the campus auditorium, his restless energy overcame my reluctance with a motivation I understood, "Just do it! Why not?"
We climbed the stairs navigating greeters placed about welcoming folks. I didn't want the false handshake routine again, but there was no going further without that social touch. While I looked left, a young man placed himself in my path. Before I could counter away, we were face to face. I reached for his hand and locked on his eyes. My street life had taught me much about reading what people held in their eyes, and intimidating people away when necessary with walls. A genuine, steady look struck my being like a NC lighthouse pierces a night fog off the coast! He never wavered from an honest care held in those lamps of his soul. The light there pulled on the longing in my chest.
I went in ready to listen.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I reached my hand and looked into the pastor's face to make a connection. His eyes clearly focused on my forehead. He's hiding, too! The brief excitement evaporated. I found my place in the pews for announcements before everyone sorted out for Sunday school rooms. I cared little for the sick being mentioned nor the planned mid-summer vacation Bible school that needed volunteers. A scene from my stay in rural Georgia replayed in my mind's eye.
I recalled the afternoon sun chasing summer-like heat into my friend's rented house. The month was May, and already the landlord's field across the dirt road brimmed with waves of green hay. I imagined a breeze while I waited on the porch for four o’clock to send me to work. A white, four door sedan pushed along by a billowing dust cloud moved down the road and turned in the driveway. Three men emerged.
One man in a simple striped tie and white shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, climbed the stairs to greet me. The other two men, matched in garb but minus ties, warily hung back on the porch steps, watching. Three heads of closely cropped hair and the pocket testament held against a full-sized black Bible in the first man's hands told me what was about to happen.
"Hello, Son." He reached to shake my hand while his eyes scanned my forehead looking for a place to land; I reached back. "I'm Pastor Dell Griffin of Bethel Church out on the highway." Pastor Griffin broke our handshake to gesture toward the men behind him. "These men here are deacons of our church."
"Hello," one man muffled while both nodded.
Pastor Griffin turned back to me and focused directly on the my eyebrows. "Concern for your eternal soul has prompted today's visit, Son." Pause. "Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" Glancing back at the other two men, I had an impression of this pastor on a deacon's leash.
I considered personifying my eyebrows clearly holding Pastor Griffin's intent stare and answering, "Yes, we do." I knew he wouldn't get the joke. Seeking to chase this threesome away quickly, I simply said, "Yes."
"Well, very good." Pastor Griffin seemed relieved to be able to give me the last line. "On behalf of your brothers and sisters at Bethel, I wanted to give you a little gift." He passed me the New Testament. He mentioned times for Sunday school and the main service, and they left.
The opening prayer pulled me back to the present. I studied where I was, how it felt, what it meant to be here. In me were a tumble of conflicting feelings. I had been reading that little pocket testament off and on for a year. I occasionally attempted to sort out whether or not God would take me back. That brief moment of something-different-here excitement lay as a small pile of broken glass shards inside me. I was ready to sweep that away and move on, but walking down the hall looking for a door labeled "Young Adult Class," I realized that lost excitement bothered me. I found my class, and anger's heat steeped my feelings into a strong brew of resentment. Why do some pastors hide?
Friday, September 5, 2008
Authority within groups of believers is the pre-quel of sorts to Jesus Christ, the living Truth reigning from His earthly throne over the hearts of all the redeemed of humanity at some point in the future. While the rebellion of man against God yet continues, so do our stories of living out Kingdom life as pockets of Jesus' authority on a planet populated by the rebellious. (I am not trying to raise a discussion of eschatology, just setting the parameters of meaning I intend to address. Though readers are invited, of course, to comment on any tangent topic any time.)
Like all of humanity, I am a lawless person. My coming under the authority of Jesus and growing up spiritually within a community of believers is next.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
From the depot, I walked a block to Burger King, ordered a fish sandwich, and picked out a table facing the day's end. On this June, Thursday evening the BK was empty. I laid my remaining cash on the table by the steaming sandwich. I had never been so low on money and in a strange town with no job lined up. In all my drifting, I had never been this close to nothing.
Steam from the sandwich soon to be supper caught the last rays of the sun in delicate swirls. I have about that much substance, crossed my mind and a stillness took over. Contemplating what faced me was more than running out of money. The muffled noise of traffic faded. I tuned the world out again, a trance without meditation. Silence, the ease of quiet settled over me. I was familiar with moments like this: restful in a sense but unnerving. Always I faced an absence of ... of ... what to call this quiet hole? Self? Soul? My own thought broke the reverie: For the hundredth time: Who am I? I ignored the question because I couldn't answer it. I began eating the sandwich. Despite my emotions, I savored that sandwich. I hungered for fries or a soda or an apple fried pie or all three, but I needed the bit of cash to last until I had a job.
I chewed that last bite and fantasized a futuristic form of entertainment. Rather than watching a movie, you lived it. You paid your money and spent two hours feeling and thinking like the star with a script--a nightmare of someone else but good for a thrill. Only trouble for me was the theater never closed, and I was locked inside. Scripted lines never stopped. I was an act, rehearsed and ready, depending on the scene around me.
Trashing the paper from my meal like a good citizen, I shouldered the backpack containing what I owned at 23 years of age. I had sold first the car, then the motorcycle for cash to spend. I had given the ten speed away. For the last two years, I lived out of a portable closet. I headed for the university a BK employee told me was a mile or so down the road. Maybe I could charm my way into a dorm room for the night. As the day's light mellowed to soft glow, I found myself between the entrance sign of the university and a boarding house named The Beckonridge. (really!) The hair on the head of the lady answering the door had been gray for years.
"Yes, son?" she asked me.
"I noticed the rooms-for-rent sign. How much?"
"Come in. I have one available for one week. $25.00."
I never agreed. Her authoritative tone had done the deal. I entered the house and in a matter of minutes was watching TV with my landlady and her 55 year-old daughter. She invited me to church on Sunday.
"Sure," I said while thinking to myself, What does another hypocrite in church matter? Mrs. Hardin played a hymn on the piano after the television program, and I excused myself as being very tired before she started a second. Maybe by Sunday I will have a job, and that'll give me a reason not to go.
I turned off the overhead light which glared against the pea-green walls and lay back on the over-used mattress. After paying for the room, I had a little over thirty dollars. If a job didn't materialize in a week when this rented stay ran out, I'd have to move on to larger Asheville. Hunger pains from the too-soon digested fish sandwich gave me a second opinion of the situation. I could probably get some cash by ... all my ideas were illegal.
I had little money and no options: nobody to call, no dope or booze, nothing in the past to anchor against, and no plan for tomorrow. Mrs. Hardin on the other side of the sheet-rock wall waited to haul me off into Bible-belt religion, and all my ideas indicated life was over the edge farther than ever before. Considering how close the edge had been in Atlanta, that left me no more lines in the script. I sweated myself to sleep.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
It boiled down to frightening confusion over where was I headed with my life. I didn't know. A very large issue for me was whether or not I could remain a Christian. I struggled with whether or not Christianity was the answer. Two experiences guided me. One, I had a serious sexual sin problem that I never felt safe to expose to anyone except others who experienced it. Reverend Dunlovey and Reverend Williams both helped me, but I never framed their help beyond the paradigm of "they did their job." I liked the youth pastor, but something about that relationship never made me feel safe to be honest about who I "really" was.
Second, what was my moral obligation to God anyway? I had taken a course at school on comparative religion. We studied Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. I determined there was a common thread in each, the Golden Rule. Chewed up by confusion, I cast my future into "whatever happens." I applied for and was hired for a summer job in Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park. The "whatever happens" had turned into a job offer across a continent and required dropping out of college at the end of my sophomore year, second quarter. I plunged deliberately into whatever.
For the next four and half years I drifted around the United States. I lived from one job to the next; I stayed with people randomly; I hitch-hiked and slept on the side of the road several times; I rented rooms or shared houses or apartments with friends and acquaintances. I was a law unto myself in New York, San Francisco, DC, rural Georgia, and Key West, Florida.
In Key West, during the last hour of daylight, the pier facing west morphed into a stage before an enormous ocean auditorium stretching past the wharf. The hot tropical sun was the only patron of an epic circus: clowns and jugglers and balloon sellers; people wanting to be made by people on the make; tan, hunky young men in rough clothes who worked the shrimp boats and those in designer duds who rarely worked, but both were drinkers with a Hemingway angst angering then eating their youth; rich and strong, beautiful, high-brow women, who were loose, lonely and despised by the men who feared to approach them and the dour women who envied them; children with a parent; people openly toking joints striving toward the next relaxed high; and the low folks with no brow at all plowing the gutter's wash. A huge family reunion of the varied types inhabiting the island, dancing their dance, with curious tourists watching from the wings both appalled and fascinated before the now orange and bulging sun.
The sun tired of the show, then silently slivered on the horizon's blue-steel edge abdicating the rule of day over to a waiting, lusty night. The rumbling tremor of the crowd carelessly rattled higher. As the last slip of sun hissed out, the colors of the ocean and sky abandoned normality for a momentary, frenzied abstract of the spectrum. Darkness reached claw-like from the east, and the people on the pier erupted into clapping whoop-cheers, the banging of drums, the kissing of lovers and the kicking of dogs. Night in Key West had begun.
In lawless Key West, I felt normal.
We discussed briefly the tenets of the Christian faith on which my decision turned. We marked the Sunday, a month away, when there would be room in the order of worship for me to be accepted in membership of the church and baptized in the name of Jesus. Pastor Dunlovey pulled a book from a drawer and asked me to be reading it. It was the Book of Discipline for his, no our!, denomination. So I was introduced to the many schisms in the Christian faith, though I was oblivious. The other churches were just other churches, nothing particularly special about that. I chose Fairburn Methodist because friends I had from school went here.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I was six years old, and remember going to sleep fairly easily only to be awakened in the middle of night. The police escorted us back home. We entered the front door of the house. Smashed furniture was in four of the six rooms. The radio, a 50's lime green and plastic, now had a shattered front dial, and all its guts could be studied through the holes created by splintered away pieces. I remember standing where we usually sat as family listening to radio programming of the period and being fascinated by the red light from the police car traveling across the wall repeatedly ever few seconds, while mom and my oldest brother talked with the police. Dad had been arrested.
I was beginning to learn about authority.
Friday, August 29, 2008
The thoughts I have on this topic are formed from three sources. First, my own church experiences. These are a denominational church from age 13 until my graduation from high school, an organized church for 18 years best labeled charismatic, and the gatherings of believers in homes. Second, my reading of Christian compostion on authority and exegesis from scripture on the topic. Third, thinking it over.
I am going to take a memoirist approach. (Thanks, Chip, for the idea!) I will relate real events and how I reacted within a loosely remembered construct. Details of the real people are not necessary as none of this is a record of others, but a story of my journey.
Graceland Christian Fellowship is a fictitious name representing 18 years in a charismatic church.