14 November 2013

Church shorts

This past Sunday, we arrived at Moscow Friends Meeting at about 5 minutes before the start of meeting for worship. This is normally plenty early; hardly anyone arrives before about ten minutes after the announced time. One person consistently arrives at about five minutes before the worship time ends.

This time, when I stepped into the meeting room, I was startled to see that the room was already almost full. All but one of the people were visitors. And the visitors included people whom many of those on our meeting's list would have loved to meet, but attendance at worship is not a high priority in our community. Should this change? If so, how? I wonder how we'd even begin to discuss it, when most of those who might benefit from the discussion would not be there to participate.

One of our friends in the USA, a Quaker pastor, reminisced with us once about his checkered pre-Quaker past. He became a drug addict while in the military, then became involved in very radical circles. As a Christian convert and Friends pastor, he never lost touch with the world that had yet to encounter Jesus. His own son, in contrast, grew up in the church. Here was an interesting difference between father and son: the son spends most of his social life within the church, but the father is more likely to be found with those outside the church--including those who assume that they would never be good enough to be in a church.

Sounds to me like a team.

I have wonderful memories of our own young children at First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana--in the old building that has since been torn down. It was a dignified meetingroom with row upon row of respectable pews, but our children treated that room with no exaggerated deference. They crawled under and over the pews as if they were in an extension of their own living room.

That sense of total belonging was something unknown to me in my childhood. Our alcohol-fogged family lived hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. We were allowed out to go to school, but otherwise the world was held at bay by tacit rules of family secrecy.

Among those rules were taboos on any mention of religion or mortality. My own Oma--my mother's mother--broke that taboo when I was about seven years old. She had come from Stuttgart to spend time with us in our home near Chicago. On Sunday, she asked whether we would be going to church. Suddenly my senses were razor-sharp as I waited to see how my parents would reply to her question. There was no reply, just a long silence before the subject was changed.

If I go further back in my memories, back to the years I lived with my Oma and Opa in Stuttgart, I have this tantalizing memory of Oma teaching me to tie my shoes and talking to me about the "Good Shepherd." She died before I became a Christian; I never found an opportunity to talk with her about this incident.

I think for some of us, setting foot in a church is like a second conversion. When I had my own dorm-room conversion at Carleton University, it was enough that my whole inner world was turned upside-down; setting foot in that alien world of "church," given all the allergies my parents had instilled in me, was the farthest thing from my mind.

Two incidents helped me over the threshold. One involved the Canadian relatives I was living with, who were charismatic Anglicans at the time, attending a small charismatic congregation, the Maranatha Fellowship, that met in--of all places--Ottawa Friends' meetinghouse. Like many such charismatic fellowships, Maranatha's meetings were informal and very lively. They didn't fit the ignorant stereotype I had of "churchy."

Ottawa Meeting entrance. Source.
The second incident took place at the bookstore of the Anglican Book Society, Canterbury House, on Ottawa's Bank Street. Little did I know when I walked in the door that some day I would work there. I was actually visiting the store to see if they had any information about Quakers, as I was building up my courage to visit Ottawa Meeting. To my great surprise, the sales clerk said, "Oh, our bookkeeper is a Quaker!" She took me to the back room and introduced me to Betty Huggard, who greeted me with a wonderful combination of tact and warmth and answered my questions about the meeting. She gave me hope that it might actually be safe to cross over into this alien territory called church. One or two Sundays later, towing my uncle Axel (one of the charismatic Anglicans) for safety, I showed up at meeting. A barrier came down that day. I knew I was home.

Since those incidents, the sense of church-as-family has been of central importance to me. But I hope I never forget what it's like to be on the outside.

"Learning from Kuyper, Following Jesus: A Conversation with Richard Mouw." And the conversation continues.

Mouw mentions John Howard Yoder, the problematic figure discussed in this tender article by Andy Alexis-Baker. (Thanks to Margaret Fraser for the reference.)

I'm sure this article "On being 'divisive'" will eventually end up prompting some thoughts of my own. Having been brought up in a cult-like atmosphere of secrecy and obedience, as I noted above, I probably over-react against the voice of caution. I understand what Lewis Benson meant when he said, "I don't have an ecumenical bone in my body," even though theoretically I don't agree with him. Anyway, more on being "divisive" in the near future....

Evans's post on being divisive links to this article on the low proportion of women speakers at most evangelical Christian conferences. Honestly, whenever I see a conference announcement, I make a snap judgment based on scanning the names and photos. I'm probably not the only one who does this! If I see the usual overwhelmingly male lineup, I conclude, fairly or unfairly, that it's just the religion industry doing its usual thing.

If you read my post on Mary Fisher last week, you'll understand why I was delighted to see this.

"Murder or mercy?"--or just a bad headline? "Headlines are blunt instruments," begins this thoughtful article.

"Thoughts on Cultural Humility."

Another treat from Hans Theessink. (Song itself begins at 1:10.) "Walking the Dog."

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