Glimpses of my Spiritual Pilgrimage

My Application Letter to George Fox Seminary: June, 2005

“Truth is the opposite of grace,” my pastor began this morning’s sermon. I jerked my head up from the church bulletin and looked around to see if anyone else seemed bothered by the statement. I must have said, “No it isn’t!” a little too loud; the woman next to me leaned in and said, “It’s really profound when you think about it. Truth keeps grace from going too far!”

Going too far? Grace? Does God want to keep grace in check? Should we make sure Jesus doesn’t extend more than is reasonable? I bit my tongue and tried to sit still. Impertinent questions rolled around in my brain all morning, and while my pastor was only trying to demonstrate the need for both in a balanced Christianity, his verbiage placed grace and truth in direct conflict with one another.

I attend the closest thing to a “megachurch” in Albany, Oregon. First Assembly of God boasts about 1,200 members and often 2,000 attendees on Sundays. The church has a state-of-the-art sound system, dynamic PowerPoint presentations, and nine full time pastors. Lately, I have left that massive building every Sunday filled with frustration, sorrow and an increasing sense of disenchantment.

By most accounts I have achieved what any church status-seeker (admittedly, me at my worst) could hope for: I am recognized by everyone in our congregation, I volunteer in a successful youth ministry, I lead drama ministries for all ages, I sing with our praise and worship team on stage each Sunday… I am popular!

But each day brings a desperation for authenticity closer to my lips. Every Sunday coaxes my frustration nearer my tongue. I’m afraid such indignation will eventually move me beyond balanced critique, toward radical rebuke. One day I’m afraid I’ll be too honest, and lose all the respect and esteem I have amassed in the last few years.

I know Jesus found little esteem in His life. And respect? His closest friends and family didn’t fully offer the honor and reverence He deserved. God, help me never come to think that I deserve respect or esteem in light of the life of Jesus Christ!

I think my journey begins and ends with more love. I guess that’s my nonviolent battle cry. I find myself getting caught up in pseudo-intellectualism and endless exegesis, and then look up from my books and notes and realize how long it’s been since I sat with old non-Christian friends over a beer and listened to the stories of their lives. How long has it been since I sat in a tight circle of young men from my church and poured out my heart, in turn receiving theirs; all of us growing and supporting and praying for one another? Sometimes it’s only been a few days. Other times, it’s been weeks, and I know I must return to more love.

Genuine community: that is where Christianity manifests this love at its best. Sharing and caring. Sadly, I often feel that Sunday mornings become the greatest enemy of authentic Christianity. It’s hard for me to get into others’ lives when their cautious response is always, “I’m fine.” Big plastic smiles, nice cars, clean homes... whitewashed refrigerators filled with non-alcoholic beverages.

Now, before I come across as overzealous or unstable (is it too late for that?) I want to talk about why I love my church and why I could manage to keep participating with the same congregation for another ten years without having a meltdown. It’s easy and it comes back to loving people: more love. I love the Body of Christ. On Wednesday nights I have the incredible privilege of leading a Bible Study for high school youth. Over the last six months we’ve been venturing through the life of Jesus in four different translations/interpretations. I’ve found that it’s not so much the profundity of newer translations that give these kids a better view of Scripture. It’s merely hearing things in a way their ears are not accustomed to. By breaking through cultural and generational walls, I’ve watched young eyes light up by wisdom and truth canonized in the Gospels. It’s exciting and validating, and it keeps me going back to church on Sundays, just so I can maintain the privilege of leading on Wednesdays.

I don’t know where my spiritual pilgrimage will take me. Sometimes I expect to find myself behind a pulpit. Other times I think the monastic life looks pretty appealing (though I would desperately miss my fiancé!). Always, I am trying to run from the extremities of fundamentalism, dodge the temptations of universalism, and reach toward the audacity of unconditional love. And I can never move from certainty that all the inherent fruits and textures of unconditional love converge, in every way, with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

10 comments:

BruceD said...

Thanks for sharing, Peter. I'll look forward to watching your journey progess.

Peace

Godchick said...

G'day Pete

Sounds like you're on an exciting journey. Scary, challenging, bewildering. I can relate.

There's more fellow journeyfolk out there than you might think.

Keep dreaming, keep listening, keep sharing.

Anonymous said...

sounds like you're speaking alot of Strength into those young people, keep
chasing the Spirit, seeking the revelation. Be encouraged!

Pauly said...

In January 1991 I was in the same place. In an AG church, I was on the board, head of the men's ministry, minister of finances, head of the ushers, one of the elders... I was at church 6 or 7 days a week, and with little or no spiritual growth. I left after the annual church meeting that year because during my preparation for the meeting, I felt God move on my heart, telling me, "You know Robert's Rules of Order better than you know my Word!" 9 years spent there, working for a ministry that pretty much was there to support the pastor and staff. We never had extra money for benevolence or missions, unless we did a special fundraiser. The tithes and offerings stayed in the 4 walls of the church.
For the last 14 years, my family has been part of a network of home churches, ministering to the community. Roughly 85% of our funds go back to benevolence and missions. We are the single biggest supporter of the local food pantry, an orphanage, and an India Mission. We have no building, no paid pastor, and a plurality of elder leadership. It's not perfect, but we are able to meet people's practical and spiritual needs. I preach/teach/facilitate our worship service in shorts and tennis shoes. Do you think that the person whose electric bill we just paid, or that we just put groceries in their refrigerator is intimidated by an invitation to someone's house on Sunday?
I was just writing about community, because I still have some concerns. I'll be writing more, but here's the beginning: http://paulythebull.blogspot.com/2005/06/time-for-relationships-and-community.html

Maiken said...

Wow - flashback!!! When I read the opening of your post I was transported 2 years back, back to the days when I used to mumble a lot under my breath during the pastors sermon. Ahh so frustrating - I used to return home frustrated and depressed every Sunday. While I read your post I caught myself saying "Why doesn't he just leave?" - Well I finished your post and I understand, but I'll warn you now, if you continue on this journey of exploration you might not feel the same way about your church in a year as you do now, you might not be willing to spend another 10 years there. Or you might? What do I know as I'm sure your situation is totally different from mine.
What happened to me you ask? Well I did leave the church, I started reading all these emergent books, reading all these great blogs, my views have changed quite radically these last 2 years and am now preparing to study theology in September. Something I NEVER thought would happen 2 years ago. Things change so fast. Now I'm afraid I might have discouraged you to continue on this crazy ride... just know you are not alone.
Keep up the great blogging, and thanks for your honesty.

jedidiah said...

Peter,

Here's some questions for you man. First off, I read most of your blogs and I truly appreciate your thoughts.

Why the insistence on post-evangelicalism as a necessary development within Christendom?

Is it possible for the Emergent movement to bastardize the gospel for the sake of relevancy? If so, in what way must emergents guard themselves against this?

How compatable is the Christian message with post-modern constructs?

Just a few questions worth pondering. Keep on fighting the good fight.

2Pete said...

I want to thank everyone for your insightful comments. You're all truly a blessing, and such discussion is beautiful proof of the power of online fellowship. Maybe not as good as flesh and blood, but a relevant piece of my spiritual makeup today.

To Paul and Maiken: thanks for discussing your own experiences in this shared struggle of emergence. We're not the only crazy ones out there.

To Jedidiah: thank you for being intellectually and spiritually honest. These are necessary questions we must continually ask ourselves.

Is this still good? Have we gone off course? Are we compromising the message of Christ?

My answer, for now, is: not yet. I think that for many Christians, the fear of the ominous "slippery slope" that postmodernism can lead to is enough to keep them from ever engaging important questions. For the spiritual journeys of some, that's ok. It's enough to simply believe... but those who accept such faith (I hesitate to use the term "blind faith" because by definitition FAITH must be blind in some ways, so I would not use the term negatively) are becoming fewer and fewer.

I have a hunch that modernist or traditional evangelical Christianity is not answering the necessary questions our society is posing in any relevant way. These questions do not invoke a "better" Christianity or even a "superior" attitude toward God and scripture. They do, however, highlight inherent differences between Christian culture and 21st Century Western culture at large.

Heh heh. The word "bastardize" makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. And to whore out Christianity to the whims of pop-philosophy is, again, a valid concern.

I guess my insistence, ultimately, is not on post-evangelicalism as much as my priority is to the unreached masses who cringe and hide, not from God or Jesus, but from Christendom. Tbere is a marked difference.

Yes, my immediate loyalties are probably wrapped up in a post-evangelical/post-modern worldview (Godview), but I pray for the humility to lay that all down for the sake of the human individual in front of me - for the sake of Christ.

I've been confronted recently, more than usual, with the reality that postmodernism does not speak to every individual. Plenty of Americans, even nonChristians, are steeped in a modernist worldview. Not inferior to my own, but simply different.

I think the deepest question you ask, Jed, is: "How compatable is the Christian message with post-modern constructs?" I would say it is AS compatible to postmodernism as it was to modernism. In many ways, more than any of us yet understand, we have bastardized Christianity to a modernist worldview.

If Christ's message is true and universal, then it must be applicable to any and all cultures, relevant and understandable to all, yet it will ultimately go only so far in its appeal, for it will not be compromised.

On a semi-side-note, I was discussing the dreaded "New Age Movement" with a good friend of mine, far more orthodox than myself (often very enviable), and I suggested: "what if, fifty years from now, it is a commonly-accepted fact that the New Age Movement saved American Christianity?" We laughed, but I continued: "What if the spirituality proliferated out of New Age, albiet generic and pluralist, saves American Culture from the humanistic, antispiritual doom of Western Europe?"

I think, at the heart of my questioning, is a hunch that New Age spirituality, or whatever else comes to the table outside of orthodox Christian spirituality, can be viewed as a help to Christian evangelism - rather than a hinderance. We tend to view other modes of belief as enemies to be conquered, rather than languages, even opportunities, to engage.

Granted, a Christian who finds Christ out of New Age culture may not "look" like a Christian, but Eastern Orthodox Christians look nothing like American Pentacostals. In comparison, we must look like hyper-emotional-hippie-heretics. At least, maybe...

Tyler said...

Great to read some of these thoughts.

They are thoughts I pondered myself all the time, though not always in such eloquent language.

I guess what I come down to for myself is just deciding to live it as well as I can. To realize that I can only do so much by pondering where others are at...and realize what I can do is love.

One of the things I have loved for the longest time about this relationship with God is that it operates on many levels. We can go very deep with it...as I sometimes do...or we can go very shallow with it in realization that the gospel is summed up in sincerely loving God and sincerely loving people...because God loves people. Out of that comes all the thoughts of where balances lie in compromising one to feed the other relationship.

I remember days when you and I would hang out, ride bikes and whatever else home schooled kids did...and the world seemed much simpler. Funny that we have both become people that ponder theological and post-modern thought processes.

Hope your day is going great:-)

Anonymous said...

The AG is good at evangelization but after reading Charismatic Chaos by MacArthur I have made some changes in my doctrine.

Living on a prayer.

2Pete said...

Hmmm, I'll have to look that book up. Thanks for the visit "Anonymous," drop in anytime :)

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