Toward a Hopeful Future, pt. 2
It’s no secret to you that I grew up in an evangelical tradition. It was a place marked by its commitments to evangelism, orthodoxy, and rigid ethical standards (which, I might add, were accomplished through peer pressure and silently-supported judgmentalism). I moved on from my conservative megachurch to a denominationally affiliated university just a stone’s throw (thanks, Vance Randolph) from home and even drove home every weekend to work as an intern in my old youth group.
Shortly after moving to college, my youth pastor retired and the associate was forced out of the youth ministry. I ended up working for a new guy, an outsider—a dangerous thing to be in both the Ozarks and in a youth group. Our professional relationship didn’t last long. As I was learning more about hermeneutics and biblical criticism, I became more and more discontent with the way my church was run. This was, in large part, for two reasons. First, I was being educated, a process that seems to typically bring with a certain smugness. As popular author Donald Miller just tweeted, “Knowledge makes a secure man humble and an insecure man arrogant.” My days in Bolivar, MO were nothing if not riddled with insecurities.
The second reason for my break with evangelicalism was that I was beginning to see the importance of corporate identity and social justice. I had been raised to believe that the individual experience was the essence of Christianity. The only time one truly considered the Other was when one needed someone to compare their own faith to. In other words, other people existed solely to inspire or to be judged. I know that I rant and rave about the horrors of my upbringing often on this blog. And I want to clarify that I hold no one responsible for the person I became except for myself. I should have realized what actions and attitudes I was choosing to take on. The church staff, the adult sponsors, and even the other kids in my youth group were not—and probably still are not—bad people. But as I began to see more of the world (which is the point of higher education, isn’t it?), I realized that my own narrow perspective and actions were leading me to become the complete opposite of who I wanted to be.
By my senior year of college, I had all but given up on church as an institution. I hardly went, and when I when I did manage to get up on a Sunday morning, I sat in the back and criticized everything. I hadn’t given up on the idea of church, I had just come to realize that I was disenfranchised with nearly every expression of it I had seen myself. I guess those feelings make it sort of ironic that my first job out of college was at a church that embodied nearly everything I disliked about church. Luckily, I was just the daycamp director and only heard about these struggles in the life of the church from the secretary. But after a fleeting three-month jaunt into childcare, I found a job as a campus minister for the Methodist church, something I figured would be ideal for me. College was where my world had been shattered, and I was just getting some of the pieces back together. And that’s how I ended up a mainliner. There were certain things about the Methodist church that were appealing to me: they ordained women; they generally leaned slightly more to the left politically; they were radically committed to inclusivity; and they were even occasionally open and affirming. But, the church had all the same problems I had seen my whole life. So, I fought to find beauty in the theology and politics of a system that was no less broken than evangelicalism. I did a lot of reading about the Church, the idea of “church,” and even postmodern philosophy. And that discontent is how I became emerging.
Coming back to school and to Springfield this year, I didn’t have any honest expectation of finding a church that would allow me to express myself for who I was, who I am, and who I will be, regardless of the dramatic schizophrenic mutations I go through every day. So, Hilary, Beth, and I intended to start a church. And we nearly did. It was sort of a flopped attempt that consisted of overdoses of awkwardness and cheap wine. Luckily, we were accidentally led to Brentwood Christian Church, and I found a place of welcome and conversation that suited both my conversion to mainline social concern and emergent theology (if such a thing exists). It was at Brentwood that I met Phil Snider and Emily Bowen, who have co-authored a book about the meeting of mainline progressivism and emergence. Toward a Hopeful Future is expected out this March, but I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on an advanced copy (one of the perks of being listed in the acknowledgments, I suppose; and yes, I will be signing autographs when the book hits the shelves), and I’m going to spend some time blogging through it, as promised.
All I have to do now is actually read the thing.