Posts Tagged ‘idealism’

Growing Up

January 12, 2010

“Obsession is a young man’s game”

–Michael Caine in The Prestige

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months. Little of it is blogworthy, unfortunately, thus the occasional hiatus in posts. Well, some of it may be perfectly appropriate for sharing with the general public, but I just haven’t always had the time or the nerve.

In another movie, Michael Caine calls Idealism “youth’s final luxury.” I don’t know why both of these quotable quotes came from the same actor’s mouth, but they’ve both been in my mind lately. Idealism has always been a close companion of mine, but over the last year or so I’ve had to bid farewell to this dear friend. Life just hasn’t afforded me the room to keep him around.

Take the decision to baptize my third daughter, for example. Several months ago my six-year-old began asking to be baptized because she professes faith in Christ and could see no reason not to make that public. A couple of years ago I baptized my two older daughters in a swimming pool on New Year’s Eve. Back then, we were still meeting with the same house church that we called home for the last decade, and a swimming pool was the most logical location. Now, however, my family and I have joined ourselves to a (very) traditional Baptist church, and the question of baptism has become more complicated.

I wanted to baptize my third daughter myself, just as I had baptized my two older daughters a couple of years before. As her father, and as one of the two people who introduced her to a relationship with God in the first place, it just made sense. But now that we attend a church with more than a thousand members, I have had to come to grips with how things work in that world. In this world, only the ministers do the baptizing. If I want to do it myself, it’s back to the swimming pool — only now, we’re no longer meeting with our house church, so whom do we invite to witness this event?

A month ago I spoke about this with the ministers of the Baptist church we joined. The preacher was gracious enough to agree to let me do the baptizing, right there in the baptistry, despite their usual tradition of “ministers only.” I guess he trusted me and we have some mutual friends, so I’ve got credibility with him. But a week before the baptism I learned that two other fathers spoke with one of the other ministers and were denied this same request after my conversation with the preacher, unbeknownst to him. This was a dilemma. In order to stay true to his word, he was willing to take the heat for letting me do the baptism. But I couldn’t do that to him. In the end I thanked him for his willingness to accommodate but told him I’d just let the guy who usually does it baptize my daughter. That was a very difficult thing for me to do, but I knew I had to do it.

That’s called growing up. Like obsession, idealism is a young man’s game, I think. Lately here alot of my decisions have been about choosing to do what makes sense under the circumstances rather than doing what fits my ideals. Does that mean I’m compromising my values, my beliefs? I dunno. I still believe the same things, still have the same values. I just realize now that I can’t always have things the way I think they should be, not when they affect other people negatively. In the end, the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever demonstrates love. That may or may not coincide with what I think should be done. But that’s where I’m at these days.

Growing up is scary. It involves changing into somebody you weren’t before. It requires putting away the toys of your youth and handling things that weigh more, that can do more damage to more people. I only hope I handle them wisely.

The baptism was yesterday, and it went great, by the way. Both sets of grandparents drove across two frozen states to celebrate this occasion with us, and one friend from our house church even came with two of her children to be a part of the event as well. That meant a great deal to my family, of course. My wife made a couple of great meals for everyone and they all had a good time together. My daughter Catie felt genuinely honored by the whole thing, and she’ll never forget it. Things turned out great, after all.


Family Resemblance

May 12, 2009

My good buddy Bill Heroman, a dedicated biblioblogger, forwarded me an insightful article written by Ken Schenck, a New Testament professor at Indiana Wesleyan University. In it, Schenck argues against seeking to establish, recover, or reinvent The Ideal Church. He does an excellent job.

He begins by explaining how Plato taught that, behind every real-life occurrence of anything, there is an ideal “form” (or Idea) of that thing. For Plato, that required an alternative world underneath this one in which reside all the ideal forms of everything (horses, buildings, people, love, etc). From that worldview, it was an easy step for many philosophers-turned-Christian to equate Plato’s forms with the apostle Paul’s “spiritual realm.” In fact, the two are synonymous for many thinkers even today. Somehow this notion leads us to search for the IDEAL New Testament church, and it leads us to imitate it as best as we can.

But Schenck warns that this is a misguided quest, because even the New Testament provides us with no such example of THE ideal church. There are only actual churches, varied and flawed in many diverse ways. I’ll contend that they had some similar characteristics which we are to emulate. But we are not to imitate them in every particular. Schenck illustrates it this way:

Over the centuries, thinkers have improved on Plato’s theory of ideas, I believe. For example, how do you recognize a member of my family, the Schenck family? Certainly there is DNA for those in my family who are not spouses or adopted. But is there some essence of a Schenck, an ideal Schenck?

Certainly a number of us Schencks (not me of course) are quite free to share their opinions on things rather outspokenly–and not always with enough prior thought. Certainly many of us like to eat. A good number of Schencks have, shall we say, robust figures that perhaps betray a Dutch heritage filled with lots of bread and mashed potatoes. Some of us have biggish noses and others big ears. Some of my cousins at least seem rather tall to me.

But there is no ideal Schenck. Apart from DNA, there is no common set of characteristics we all share–particularly those who have married into this assortment of Schencks. There is no Platonic Schenck, just a loose set of Schencky characteristics and family resemblances. [2] Some of us have some of them, and some of us have others. But none of us have all of them. [emphasis added]

Well put. In the same way, there is no ideal New Testament church to imitate. Just some “New Testamenty” characteristics which bind together churches birthed by the same Spirit of God. They are infinitely diverse and complex in their particular expression.

Much like the human face. People often tell me that three of my daughters look just like me (the fourth takes after my wife’s family). They meet the first one and say, “She looks just like you.” Then they meet the second, who looks different, and say “Wait, that one looks like you, too, but in a different way.” Then they meet the third, who looks plenty different from the first two, and they exclaim, “Now that one really DOES look like you!” All three different, yet somehow each looks like me in different ways.

That’s what being the church is like. We are a family that expresses the life of our Father, but we are diverse in how we do it. And that’s okay. We may not be okay with it, but I’m growing more and more suspicious that the Father sees it differently. Oh, sure, there are things that clearly don’t express who He is, and we should steer clear of those things: Self-interest, self-preservation, spite, pride, etc. None of those things look like Him. If we allow those things to grow unchecked within ourselves, we end up looking like we aren’t even His.

But showing ourselves to be His involves showing His love, His mercy, and His compassion more than it involves meeting a certain way, structuring our leadership in a certain way, or even understanding the Bible in a certain way. These kinds of things usually occupy our search for the IDEAL church, but have little to do with really living out who we are called to be.

God is highly creative, and His work in this world is appropriately fresh and creative as well. So don’t be too stuck on the HOW part. If you want to see the church lived out “as it should be,” then look around and see how He’s actually doing it today, in our midst. Where do you witness those tell-tale traits of His presence? Where do you see the fruit of the Spirit showing up? What’s going on there? Maybe that’s what He’s up to right now. And isn’t that always where we meet Him? In the real-life “now”?

It was 19 years ago today that the Father called me into His family, and I’d have to say that this notion represents the newest discovery that I’ve made over these (almost) two decades. Right now I’m learning what it looks like to follow Him in the messiness of reality (instead of in the pristine perfection of my own theology). I hope it all makes sense in print.

Loving the Church

March 31, 2009

Scot McKnight’s blog directed my attention to this post by Tim Keel yesterday. In it he quotes a passage written by Carlo Carretto:

How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!
You have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you!
I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity.

I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.
And where should I go?

Keel says:

Anyone who has sought to live out their life of faith in the midst of a particular community, who has sought to be a Jesus-person with other Jesus-people, knows both the highs and the lows of true, as opposed to idealized, community.

True that. Those of us who pursue the ideal Christian community, especially out of a reconstruction of the New Testament story, tend to build up an ideal image in our heads. Then when we live out the reality of our dreams, we discover that real life is much messier, much less “glorious” than we had hoped. And it’s not just because of all those fallen people you have to deal with, either. Part of the problem is you.

Thus we find ourselves pursuing the life of the church and failing at it left and right. But you know what? That’s the way it is all over. Just ask around. Nobody’s getting it all right. Most of us can only get one part or another down at a time. Maybe the best we can do is to be faithful to that facet of God’s purpose that we know we’ve been called to, and to be as open as possible to His work in others who follow a slightly different mission, but all by the same grace and the same Spirit.

I’m becoming more and more aware that we need one another. Not only within the local community, but within the larger community of the whole Body of Christ.

I need the input and challenge that comes from rubbing shoulders with Christians outside of my own little group.

I need the input of Christians from other parts of the country, and from other countries of the world.

I even need the input of Christians from other points in time. Those whose time passed centuries ago still have things to teach me, and I intend to hear what they have to say..

I think growth in Christ over time should make you more open to the larger Body of Christ, not less. That, I think, is part of loving the Church, too.