Monday, May 2, 2011

I've thrown in my lot with them, and with that I'm still content.

(I wrote this in February. It's not about politics or the election today. I've finally got around to updating it and posting it tonight.)

One of the things I'm the most grateful for in life is that I've experienced so much variety. So many types of cities and towns, so many types of housing, and so many different types and expressions of church. I've lived rural and small city and mid-sized city and large city and suburb. I've lived in mid-rises and high-rises and dorms and above storefronts and attics and basements and semis and detached. I've regularly attended church plants, old churches, young churches - even worked at Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian.

One of the churches that's still closest to my heart is  FreeChurch Toronto. This church, in so many ways, just "gets" it in my mind. They embody it. They understand, but also live out: presence and love and creativity and truth and so much more.

I've spoken before how I made an intentional choice to finish my education and move towards ordination in PAOC because of their core beliefs and practices. I don't think anyone matches up perfectly with any denomination, but I think they've been a good choice and still reflect me well. As I told a friend, I've thrown in my lot with them, and with that I'm content.

Many of the people working in PAOC hold areas of strength that aren't necessarily a strength of the denomination as a whole, but I've seen that expressed well in a diverse range of churches, even if a lot of the large "backbone" churches often look fairly similar. There's a lot of interesting ideas being tried out. And yeah, there's a lot of similarities too.

I'm going to list a few. They're not all strengths of PAOC, but by and large they are. It may not be of much interest to those who aren't Christians, and even if you are it's a lot of reading... but as usual, it's always better to talk about these things than just to read them. For those who disagree, that's fine (and expected for many people) - just disagree with me in person instead of anonymous hater comments, if you would. (And that lets me clarify what my position actually is, especially if I haven't mentioned it here.)

Inerrancy of original texts, reading conservatively with an eye to "exegesis" and "hermeneutics"
In reading Scripture, I believe the original text is inerrant. Is every edit of it? Nope. Is every translation? Nope. Is there enough historical reliability, early copies, multiple manuscripts in early usage and extra-biblical sources to give assurance about the majority of the content? Definitely.

I'm glad to live at a time when we realize that everything we do is coloured by a particular perspective, that there isn't a way to stand outside and claim absolute knowledge of the right way. And specifically to understand Scripture, you need to understand what its original author meant to its original audience (exegesis) and what unchanging meaning applies to a different cultural context (hermeneutics). And there's ways to guard that - with what the church has consistently taught, with the Bible's internal consistency.

And I'm also very glad to live in a time and a country where it's possible to disagree about many peripheral things in the faith, but the core of Christianity is still the same, and cooperation between different churches is encouraged.

The giftings of the Holy Spirit, including baptism/tongues/charismatic gifts, being active today

Most who call themselves Christians  would agree with that. I find I'm even more historical/conservative than some people in PAOC on this. I think there's something special about the baptism of the HS. it's not just one potential gift among many. I think it's open and available to all beginning in the book of Acts and still is today. I think there's still value and power in seeking that for each person. Not so that we add to a list of spiritual tricks or build ourselves up for our own sake, but that we get better equipped to serve and God gives us power for living and serving Him and doing good day to day. That's a pretty classical/conservative position but I hold it pretty strongly.

Creation, fall, redemption, restoration (vs. creation, fall, redemption, BURN NOTICE, model 2.0)

More recently, I've ran into more and more people that hold a versions of this that looks like "creation, fall, redemption, and then God says "whoops!" pulls the plug, and says "don't take any of this seriously, it wasn't the real thing, time for brand-new everything now that the awful material world is gone!" That's jarring... and pretty Gnostic-sounding (if you're up on your history of popular beliefs). It's also inconsistent. Creation can't groan for redemption if that means destruction. That whole Romans passage needs to be taken together, in context with itself and the whole of Scripture (exegesis, again). (Same for the 2nd Peter passage).

That misinterpretation leads to misfires in a couple other areas - two that always hit me are care for the planet, and understanding of gender roles. If God isn't much caring for the way things are now, and doesn't care about restoring the original design -- then we don't have much of a leg to stand on in thinking God wants to make things right in either of those things. We don't have much of a reason to talk about the church being an example of the way God intended things to be in equality or care instead of just ploughing ahead with the same patterns that characterize the fallen world operates. We don't have much hope of changing anything, except praying more souls will be saved before the end...

And I think that "burn notice" model is incomplete... and we've lost something there if that's all we have.

Cities, incarnation, presence.
The suburbs has traditionally (within the past fifty years) been the domain of the church. and there are people aplenty who find that the best space for them. I wouldn't presume that telling everyone to live in the city among the poor is what they need to do. Then again, I would say that living in comfortable suburbs most poor  people can't get to because they're carless and just making an occasional donation or city mission trip is pretty suspect. And many, many people live suburban and do much  more than this.

By contrast, the church in the urban areas of cities has often been 'relief work to those in poverty'. Alone, that's also incomplete. Whether we live suburban or urban or rural,  we need to be building more permanent solutions to poverty. And many people do. That includes making sure elementary and secondary schools are equally funded, safe, and academic across boundaries (not just in the suburbs), advocating for transit that actually works, and building churches in cities and suburbs accessible to everyone (much harder to do in rural areas). What if the church got involved (again) in creating banking solutions again that were fair, and operating credit unions? What if we took more cues from the Mennonites in employment programs? What if skilled tradespeople in each suburban church committed to taking on an inner-city or small-town apprentice who wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise? What if suburban college students who drive the family car committed to picking up and carpooling every day with a rural student to school? There's so much that's possible here.... amazing opportunities! (I haven't yet read Tim Keller's Generous Justice, so don't take it as an automatic endorsement, but he's coming from a similar mindset).

But hey (whoa, awkward!) there's also the whole matter of all the people who live in cities that (err) aren't poor, and don't live in neighbourhoods populated by traditional churches. And it's often difficult to talk about that. Unless you're already rich, the desire to be around rich people can have all sorts of interesting motivations.

What does that look like? I'm not one to know much that's fleshed out, (BC PAOC has some ideas.)  but it may involve a church renting office space in a condo building that the pastor lives in, and being able to use their meeting room for church. It may entail finding bi-vocational, second-career pastors who already are part of these neighbourhoods and cultures, and enabling them to keep living in them while starting up new ministry. It definitely entails finding new spaces in neighbourhoods built without churches, and advocating for religious space to be a part of it when we're doing city planning.

It may even entail a focus and call for professional dual-income families, where a single spouse remains at their decent-paying job while the second takes two years to church-plant. and then paying a pastor fairly, if you are going to at all.

One of the most interesting people I've met in the past couple years is a Toronto real estate agent who I met at a conference on urban religious communities.  He sells condos, writes about the city, and discusses the need for the church in these new communities that are being built entirely without religious buildings of any type. That's exciting stuff... and it's gonna take new models.

And with the mobility of those in cities, adaptive churches that constantly reinvent their form without forgetting their historical roots or compromising their message is going to be a constant.

I was talking with an old friend on Facebook a few nights ago. I haven't seen him in a few years, and we were just catching up. We want to do a reunion of everyone who went to our small group in Toronto as part of our church. We are now scattered from Hamilton to Barrie to Owen Sound to Vancouver. But the connection we had within that city was unparalleled. Honest, life-giving, friendship, prayer, love, support. Listening. Food. Real, lasting, deep deep change in our lives. I would give a lot to have that again.

Equal genders, equal giftings. we're different, but not unequal or unable.
Churches often equate or conflate cultural expectations with what the Bible teaches.

Again, this is exegesis/hermeneutics stuff. What does it say from beginning to end? What's specifically cultural and should be understood as such? What are the general principles at hand? And what's the constant message, vs. what are the "outliers" that need extra study and consideration? In a pre-fall world, there was no inequality, though there was certainly difference. Post-fall, it all fell apart. And just as we seek to mitigate the post-fall results of difficult working conditions or painful labor in childbirth, seeking to overcome inequality  (not sanction it or baptize it) is a part of being redemptive and Biblical. (Which is why me and Mark Driscoll's teaching or any of the Acts 29 "dudes" won't get along very well in that area).

You know... I have no problem sewing baby bunting or curtains, or making casseroles. It's relaxing, I'm good at it, yeah yeah. But I don't want to make a life of it. I have no desire to stay at home for months on end. The idea of having a home-based business would thrill some people. It sends shivers down my spine. Jarod and I are choosing our paths carefully to make sure we are able to both work and both stay home with kids and have childcare options too. (Though their usefulness is limited, I'm a classic ENTJ personality type and a Type-A leader.)

But so much more than that, there are issues from sex slavery to abortion that can't simply be legislated away. What does it look like to be truly just - and truly compassionate? Will a Mother's Day Baby Shower to raise money for the local crisis pregnancy center be a good start? A little one... but it juuuust scratches the surface. There is so much more related to justice and care and compassion that we can do. Again, exciting!!!

Possessions and space aren't mine. also... you've been given a brain that has a capacity for a lot of work, so apply yourself and work hard.
‎"'The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me." - Donald Miller.

It's not really about my individual story. It's not about my individual passion. I'm extremely privileged in some areas to know what my gifts are.. but on the other hand, when it comes to financing that, I'm also well aware that I can't just do something I'm passionate about or else I'll end up time-bankrupt and money-bankrupt.

I work hard now, and I think about money now, specifically because I want to think very little about it later.
(I know it's a traaaaap, Admiral Ackbar.)

But the way I think of it is:
- For someone without savings or a wealthy relative, loans were the only option for education. I'm okay with that.
- I owe a lot - a LOT - in student loans.
- As such, when Jarod and I are both back to work, one-third to one-half of our post-tax, post-tithe income will easily be dedicated to paying those loans off.
- Because of this, our consumption and standard of living won't be able to rise significantly aside from buying bigger housing. Even that, though, is because having a larger space means we can open up our house to a more communal model of living that we've wanted to do for a while.
- I struggle with the knowledge that two cars may be a necessity for us. I don't like driving much, to be honest. But I also see them as a huge money sink - what else does anyone sink thousands of dollars into a year, that's useful for a while but completely depreciates and wears out? The idea of a car as a status symbol is so beyond me. But if it means we cart dozens of people around every week and take teenagers amazing places and do good with it. That's something else.

But.. wait!!! Now it gets exciting and amazing and encouraging!!!

Now think about when those loans are paid off.. Do we start suddenly spending money on ourselves? Uh, I don't think so. Do we cut the amount of work we're doing in half? That doesn't seem tenable either for the two of us who (a) really like working and (b) hopefully will already have built smart schedules where we spend enough time with each other and our kids and (c) workable budgets.

So that leaves us with the pattern of earning sufficient money, fair wages. We are in the pattern of not using a serious chunk of that. And if we stay with that mindset and don't make "me-first" changes, we suddenly have a couple thousand dollars a month that are free for us to give away and finance things with. We could set up a charity to give two people affordable, interest-free mortgages on houses with that! We could sponsor multiple single mothers through college. We could enable missionaries in the Majority World. We could easily transition, with a minimum of effort, into being people who financially provide deep, long-term, empowering solutions to poverty and help spread the good news of Jesus with our money as well as our time.

Or.... we could buy a bigger house in a nicer neighbourhood and two fancy cars and a larger TV and go on more vacations and get some designer clothes and a spray tan and Botox it up, but I think you probably realize by now that's nowhere near as exciting!

(I am going to get that Rancilio Silvia espresso maker though. One day. One day.)

More centrality of communion and baptism in Christian practice than we usually see + respect and use of historical things in church, not just the newest and best.
Earlier this fall, I visited a church with Jarod. The first service had a guest speaker who made  a bunch of sexist jokes and generalizations throughout his sermon, and we were like "whoa... this is terrible!" 

I think we actually walked out and said "Well, at least we know we can cross that church off our list!... Bleeech." Then we figured "Okay, let's come back when the actual pastor is speaking and give them a a fair shot." So we did. And that was fine. And they were baptizing some folks that Sunday. As a part of the service.

I like churches that make it a regular thing. (Also, we talked later with the pastor about our first visit experience. He was well aware the guy that week was "off," in his words).

I've constantly been in awe about how every sermon at FreeChurch Toronto could tie back to communion, every week could end with it, and it was always about Jesus in the end (not in a shallow or surface way, but drawing deep parallells and tugging out true connections).

I think these have often become "one thing among many" we do, and they don't occupy the place they deserve - as two of the church-specific practices commanded by Jesus. I'm ok with being part of PAOC and knowing that it will probably never be a once-weekly thing in another PAOC church that I go to besides FreeChurch - but that once a month or however regularly often it happens is important. And not just to me.

Lasting practices and classics are that way for a reason... and many of them are still valuable today.

In 2005, I was sitting in a class in midtown Toronto, and the professor made a comment that really struck me. His comment was good, but I found it hard to understand the mentality he was addressing. He said (essentially) "Just because a book hasn't been written in the past ten years, don't immediately dismiss it. Some classics are classics for a reason."

My reaction was that I thought the exact opposite way. It's hard to find anything new that's much good! Maybe my appreciation of the classics is a leftover from reading Aristotle and Plato and Socrates and the Bible and Shakespeare and all that.

Seriously, though, where would I have been in 2003 working 60 hours a week at Tim Hortons and the Buck or Two without The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence? (And without having Whose Line is it Anyway? to watch for a half hour and relax enough to sleep at night.).

How would I understand community if not for Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together (written secretly in Nazi Germany)?

Without these giants behind me, how would I presume to read anything as recent as The Cross of Christ or Courageous Leadership or The Irresistible Revolution and have any context whatsoever?

We need to learn from those who went before us. There's a reason that many forms and words are tried, tested, and true. And while there's a lot out there that isn't helpful or is too far out culturally, I would be so much weaker without Chrysostom's Easter Sermon or the Apostles' Creed.

Even within the PAOC, I see a lot of people who grew up in wonderful, strong, and fairly traditional churches -- and I've been asked many times by them why I'd choose intentionally to identify with PAOC. Well... PAOC hits these marks. Do they emphasize some more and others less? Of course. But if I'm looking to affiliate - and be held accountable - by a denomination, this is a good one for me. I can still say, now, that I've thrown my lot in with PAOC and I'm still really, really content.