Sunday, March 18, 2012

On the Church

When people ask me about Spring Creek Baptist Church, I have a difficult time communicating what kind of church we are.  As soon as you label yourself a "Baptist" church (or just "church" for that matter), all kinds of assumptions arise.  And yet, few of those assumptions are true to our identity.  No label accurately describes us.  We do not fit easily into any category.  We have people from all walks of life.  Some Spring Creekers are conservative (theologically and politically), and they contribute to the life of our congregation.  Others are liberal (theologically and politically), and they do likewise.  Many others fit somewhere in the middle- once again defying the labels.  We span the age spectrum, are throughly ecumenical in backgrounds, and would hardly fit into one social class.

Truly, there are times I wonder how we will ever stick together, much less truly love one another, given the variations of people who fit in our pews.  Sometimes I wonder if we would be better off sharing some affinity like cowboy churches or biker churches.  Sometimes I wonder if church would be easier if we declared one political platform or social ideology as the gospel norm and ostracized any who disagreed.  I would assume more homogenous churches have less occasions for arguing.  Sometimes I am tempted to cater to one generation or another, either appealing to younger generations through novelty and crass marketing or targeting the older generations through traditionalism and precious memories.  What gets lost  in much of our ecclesiology, however, is Jesus- the very one who makes the church the church.

Spring Creek's motto has long been "A Place of Grace," and that slogan really does describe who we are. Everyone has a place at the table.  Everyone is included in the family.  No one is left out.  Our common purpose carries more weight than our variegated backgrounds.  Our shared practices overwhelm our differing theologies.  Our commitment to love and community overcomes differences of perspective.  I don't mean to sound utopian.  This manner of church is difficult.  It means you have to go to Sunday School with people who cancel out your vote in the local election.  It means you actually have to listen to differing opinions and respect them even if you don't agree with them.  It means you cling to the Christ in one another because that's about the only glue holding the thing together.  Sometimes I feel as though we are hanging together by a thread- the thread of Jesus in our midst.  Yet, what other thread can be more sure?  What other thread is there for the church?  If the thread holding us together is something other than Jesus, are we really the church?

I have come to value the diversity of people who fill our pews on Sundays.  Their perspectives have broadened my own.  Their love and lives have inspired my own.  Their stories have enriched my own.  Their views correct, deepen, and add nuance to each other.  The diversity of voices in our church keep the gospel deep and wide, lest it become narrowed to fit nice, neat partisan platforms.  The various opinions protect the mysteriousness of the Kingdom from being imprisoned by agendas of other sorts.  In short, the diversity within our church enriches the life of everyone involved.  No matter what difficulties arise from doing church this way, the benefits outweigh the challenges.

When people ask me about Spring Creek- sometimes I say we are a Baptist church.  Other times I say we are progressive Baptists, moderate Baptists, or historic Baptists.  To some people who think in terms of labels, we are liberals.  To others we seem like fundamentalists.  To others we are an anomoly in every way.  But to us, we are just trying to be the church, a place of grace- where all are welcomed because Jesus is about the only glue we have.  Thanks be to God, he's about the only glue we need.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First Steps

And so, it begins- my journey into the blogosphere.  I am taking the first step with a bit of fear and trepidation.  As a pastor, I have resisted blogging for several reasons.  First of all, I've thought the pastor's time was better spent doing tasks other than blogging (like sermon prep., praying, visiting...), and by the time you finish those chores you don't have much time or energy left for blogging.  And yet, I have also come to believe that the gospel belongs in the marketplace of ideas, even if it rests on the shelf of subversion.  Also, the longer I pastor, the more I treasure communal wisdom and dialogue with others.  Thus, blogs have begun to appeal to me in those ways.  Secondly, I have been slow to blog because of the nature of the medium.  To blog, all one needs is a computer.  Wisdom, training, experience, factuality, and truth telling are all optional.  Many blogs are the child of a fool and a hard drive.  For quite some time, I've wondered if blogs- along with other forms of social media- are truly conducive for meaningful dialogue.  Can the keyboard convey our passion?  Can Facebook articulate the nuances of our beliefs in one wall conversation?  Is a cyber-community more cyber than community?  While I have no answers to these questions, I have been moved by other blogs which opened like oases in the desert.  Dr. Roger Olsen, Rachel Held Evans, Dr. Tom Ogburn, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship all maintain blogs that have challenged my thinking, nurtured my faith, and guided my journey.  They have revived my hope that social media can be a tool in the hand of God.

And so, even though I step with fear and trepidation- I step.  My sincere hope is that you find this blog to be sacred cyberspace.  I hope this blog cultivates imagination while sharpening the rationale; illumines the culture around us while exploring the Mystery above us; and wrestles with deep questions while not settling for trite answers.  My requirement is that we all communicate in love, listening to alternative opinions and valuing the other (whomever the other might be).  As the old saying goes, "None of us are smarter than all of us," so let us value each perspective, recognizing that God's truth always transcends our grasp of it.

I have titled my blog, "The Bright Field," after my favorite poem of R.S. Thomas.  Reading Thomas loosens my soul from its grave clothes and calls me out into newness of life.  This particular poem is no different.  It reminds me to see the sacred in the ordinary and the holy in each moment.  To that end, I hope you find this blog as something of a bright field yourself.