Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A parallel universe

Dear Future Pastor,

One of the most enlightening decisions I have made in the last three years is to distance my faith from the culture that has been created by it.

While I would hesitate from turning my experience into a step-by-step handbook, I will offer to you how I think it has helped me, and if you find some kind of inspiration in it, all the better.

For years I was immersed in a parallel culture, one that glided alongside a similarly functioning secular one, only smaller in scope. Like any tribe or people group, my religious culture had a language, values, mores and traditions that made perfect sense while I lived among it, but now that I have moved to another place, I look back and scratch my head at certain former ways of carrying on with life.

I pulled out some old “worship” CD’s today and listened to what I was captured by a mere few years ago. The songs I considered cutting edge seem so different now that I am outside the culture that created them. Please don’t hear me saying that they are bad, inferior or that I have somehow become enlightened and superior in judgment over them. It’s just that I have a different point of view.

As the music played, I recalled with fondness some of lyrics that I sang and even wrote, but asked myself why they don’t hold the same meaning now. I believe it’s because I have learned to speak a different language now, and vernacular of the religious culture doesn’t translate very easily into my new life.

The Church as We Know It holds its own language in reverence. But does your average outsider have a category for terms like King of Kings and Lord of Lords or Lamb of God or I want to touch You, I want You to hold me, I need to feel your arms around me, draw near and caress me with Your embrace?

Now that I am an outsider, these don’t seem to make as much sense to me, either.

Future Pastor, I’m not trying to throw you into confusion, but you will have to take into serious consideration these kinds of changes you will inevitably face if you decide to take seriously becoming a pastor of The Church of the Future.

Guilt is one of those paths you will likely have to walk. Prepare to ask yourself, Am I doing the right thing? Am I walking away from the core of my faith? Am I abandoning orthodoxy? Am I ashamed of the gospel or even my profession? I went through a season having to answer these questions. But I eventually have come to accept the wrestling match with guilt as a part of the process of becoming who I was made to be.


Maria said...

Heaven help us if "I need to feel your arms around me" is considered a core part of orthodoxy! Seriously, you make a very good point. I find myself questioning a lot of things I hear in church just at a "does this make any sense to anyone" level. Quite often my answer is no.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Is not the point of the incarnation that Jesus took on the language of our world? How ironic that, in response, we create one that keeps us apart. I wrote something a week ago that was feeling some of the same things, in a sermon on the shocking sheep and the goats parable:

Consider our songs of worship as a measure of what matters to us. Here are some titles and first lines. See if they reflect this passion for dishonored sufferers Jesus has been preaching about:

1. “How beautiful!”
2. “You are my hiding place.”
3. “You are here, among us.”
4. “Jesus, you are the one, gives me hope when the day is done.”
5. “I’m trading my sorrows.”
6. “We want a new passion for Jesus - one that will burn in our hearts, like never before.”
7. “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord - I want to see you” [especially amusing, given today's gospel story about how the good guys were the ones who served without seeing Jesus]
8. “I’m here, to meet with you. Come and meet with me.”
9. “Lord, I lift your name on high - Lord I love to sing your praises” [why?] “I’m so glad you’re in my life - I’m so glad you came to save us.” [I'm so glad I work for Honeywell - or whomever]
10. “You-ou are, forever my friend.”
11. “This is the air I breathe - your holy presence, living in me . . . and I’m lost without You.”
12. “Every move I make I make in you, you make me move Jesus.”
13. “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee.”

Nope. They’re about ooey-gooey with Jesus, as if no one else on earth existed. [...]

But wait - didn’t Jesus picture himself standing at the end of time dividing the gentiles sheep from goats based upon how they cared for wounded people? Would you think that would at least appear somewhere in our hymnology? [...] I wonder if our theological bias has displaced our Jesus?

The sermon's at Jesus, ooey-gooey, and The Onion, if you like.

Where to go from here is a constant bafflement to me. But I am grateful to hear another voice saying, "Hey wait! Does this even make sense?"

Les said...

I would frame this a bit differently. The Church as we Know it does "Crushes" on Jesus very well. Crushes require a unique language. Everyone who is initially in love uses a language that outsiders to that relationship find... let's say annoying. This is not unique to the Church.

What the Church as We Know It does not do well is intimacy with Jesus. This is especially true if you are male.

The language required for intimacy is much more action oriented, much like marriage. As I grew out of my Crush, the Church offered me very little ways to express the new intimacy I had found, and the initial language I held dear become less meaningful.

The more I moved away from Church (but not community) the more I had to rely on Jesus and The Father to teach me how this works.