There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks. We packed up our house and then I drove from North Carolina to Texas in a 26 foot U-Haul moving van–just me with my almost-four-year-old daughter and 14-month old son, traveling over 1300 miles in 2 1/2 days. Packing up everything you own is a good spiritual exercise. It makes you realize just how much stuff you’ve accumulated. For me, it’s somewhat depressing, as I like to think of myself as freer from materialism than the average American–and I probably am, but “less materialistic than the average American” is kind of like being “less murderous than Ted Bundy.” You can meet that standard and still leave a trail of bodies in your wake.
So, blogging has been set aside while we moved into our temporary headquarters, AKA job search central. I know I want to settle back in Texas, nearer old friends and family, but exactly where depends on where my wife or I find a job and perhaps what jobs are close to a school where I can train for a post-ministry life.
While I’m doing all this soul-searching and stock-taking, I’ve been thinking about the major ways that my thinking has shifted over the years. I probably want to think and write a little more about each of them over time, and it’s already late tonight, so think of this as kind of a place-holder for content that may or may not follow later. Even this is subject to revision. But I think my major shifts have been:
1. From a static Bible-based faith that sought to preserve and maintain the first-century church to a stance that sees the Bible as one part of a living, breathing tradition that grows and changes as it engages God freshly in each era. Part of this shift has been my acknowledgment that the Bible itself is far from monolithic, and itself models wrestling with existing traditions and adapting practices to new situations.
2. From an emphasis on orthodoxy (believing the right things) to orthopraxy (doing the right things.) Both are necessary, but I feel like I grew up in a church culture where doctrinal correctness and “chapter and verse” Bible knowledge were expected, but whether anyone ever actually fed the hungry or clothed the naked was completely off the radar. Frankly, a lot of the minutiae we studied was either pointless or actively harmful, and kept us from going out into the world and being Jesus for the dying.
3. From looking for the work of God in the congregation alone to seeking Him at work in the world. I think that 12 or 15 years ago I pretty much thought that anything I should do for God would happen within the context of the congregation, with the possible exception of personal evangelism, but even then, the point was to get some, ahem, “unchurched” person to join my church. But I don’t want to “church” people–I could stand a little less “churching” myself. I think the hardest part, for me, about trying to be a deeply devoted Jesus-follower and a minister in your standard American religious congregation is that Jesus has this tendency of calling religious leaders on the carpet for burdening people with the legalism, for caring more for like-minded insiders than struggling outsiders, and for missing the radical love and grace of God even though they had memorized so many verses. I kept seeing myself and my tradition in the people that Christ excoriated. I spent a lot of time asking myself where Jesus would be if he were incarnated in the 21st century, and no matter how I ran the numbers “in ordained congregational ministry” was never the answer. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it, or that some churches aren’t doing a wonderful job of forming people into ambassadors for Jesus. There is and they do. But I do think it’s harder than most folks think to be a preacher and to be like Jesus. He won’t be bound in church life. But this is more biography than theology, perhaps. What I mostly mean is it’s a lot harder for me to radically follow Jesus from the context of a staid ministry position than I realized until recent years. He keeps pushing me out among the pagans, and I keep finding Him already at work there.
I feel like there’s something more kicking around in my brain. Maybe it’ll crystallize in a day or two. Time for bed.