life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

…more on the name: the suture zone

This is going to be a long post. I hope you’ll bear with me on this. If not, just skip this one and wait for the next.

Life used to be very simple for me. It still would be if my parents hadn’t taught me to question.

I grew up in a good family that was part of a church in the American Restoration movement. The conservative wing. A bit too much to explain here if you aren’t familiar with it. But it was… well… modern.

Now that will sound strange to anyone who comes from this movement. Because in many respects the better term among some critical insiders might be “antiquated” or among the “faithful” the highest compliment: “first century”. But in true modern-era terms you might say the Churches of Christ were really hyper-modern… or hyper-rationalistic. One of the pinnacles of a cross between Lockean rationalism and early American frontier Christianity.

And in many ways, I was a child of that movement. I learned all the rational arguments about how we were the “true church” and about how all of our practices were “right”. I learned the greatest tool in our arsenal: reason. And I used it relentlessly in my pursuit of pure New Testament-era practice.

Funny thing about rationalism. It helped me see that not all rationalistic thought was welcome or appreciated in my denomination. I began to see holes in our doctrines and practice. And I am afraid I used my handy tool to put some people (one preacher in particular, as I remember) in a very difficult public position. I have nothing but regret for that now and see it for the expression of pride that it was. But I was heady with my intellectual and theological rebellion and, though my hair remained somewhat short, I was a true child of the 1960s.

I mean no offense to those who come from the same tradition. Truly, none at all. There were and are still many absolutely wonderful people in this movement and my memories of people during my growing-up years are, for the most part, wonderful memories of people bonded together by unusual beliefs… a real extended family. Very close, yet, a very exclusive family.

The university – one associated with our denomination, yet on the edge of it – added challenges to how I thought. I was taught by many of the “cutting edge” professors in Christian thought represented in my denomination, some of whom were not welcome at other denomination-sponsored schools.

And then I began to preach.

I thank God that he put me in a small town in the middle of nowhere. First of all, they were wonderful, loving people. They were gracious and let me slog my way through the swamps of modernity. By his grace, I became one of the town pastors and got to know many people from different Christian denominations. I preached on occasion at the Methodist Church in town. Sang with my wife for the Southern Baptists. Delivered a chapel to a Seventh-Day Adventist academy. (Talk about some nervous teachers and administrators in the back row!) Even participated in a Catholic funeral mass. I found faith in many places I never knew it existed and discovered people of profound faith outside my tradition, much of it stronger and deeper than my own. I came to realize that God was much bigger than I had ever imagined. No reason could ever wrap its arms around a God as big as the one I encountered in that remote and simple place.

That’s when I left my rationalistic tectonic plate and ventured onto the suture zone of the post-modern world. I wouldn’t have known to say it that way back then. But that’s what happened. I stepped off of the surface of my systematic ideas about God and woke up to the fact that he was here, involved in my life, and I couldn’t explain or control him. He just would not fit back into that box I had inherited. And he kept breaking out of every new box I tried to construct. He still does!

You might want to call it an epiphany that God is alive, near and involved in the world around me. Okay. It’s an epiphany. But while there have been times of wonder and praise and mystery and awe, there have equally been times of frustration and doubt and downright fright, too. The ground keeps moving. The landscape keeps changing. As Alan Roxburgh and Brian McLaren said at a recent lecture series in Fresno, Jesus keeps moving. And he expects us to move with him.

If you don’t come at this from the same perspective of Jesus (or with no perspective of Jesus), that’s okay. But can you identify with the wonder and confusion and fear and ecstasy of living in a place where everything keeps changing? Where your explanations of yesterday keep shifting?

Maybe I’m just strange. Let me know either way, okay?

Grace and peace!



Blogger Tim Castle said...

You are hurting my head, man. I get VERY lost VERY fast when talking about philosophy. Partly because philosophy is a science about the way people understand things; it attempts to rationally (there's that word again!) describe beliefs. These days, beliefs are much less describable, much more "impressionistic," if you will. I've never done a good job of nailing down words for my own beliefs, and since they seem to be changing on a moment-by-moment basis, I guess that's a good thing. It saves money on all those index cards I could have been writing the secrets of the universe on.

The fluidity of understanding where I've been and where I'm going drives me to find comfort in Jesus' words, "Don't try to handle tomorrow's problems today, 'cause you don't know what will change between now and then, giving you new and different problems to handle." (My paraphrase of Matthew 6:34) I am very comfortable with the idea of being a "living-in-the-moment" kind of guy. I'm not always good at it, but I like the idea.

If I don't have a system for my beliefs, what guides me? I guess it's my constant desire to understand Jesus' character, and to try to emulate it. Again, I'm not always good at it, but it's at least something to work toward.

10:29 AM  
Blogger miller said...

"Life is curly, don't try to straighten it out." (Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations)

this is good stuff Owen, i look forward to reading more.


6:15 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Hey, Tim. Sorry to give you a headache. I have that effect on people sometimes.

I think living in the moment may be the very best strategy for anyone to follow these days. Part of that involves living in the tension of the unresolved. If you think too much about it, it can really give you a headache. But I'm afraid that's where we are.

Part of me wants to resolve everything, solve all the problems. We'd be better off these days IMO to actually get to know the problems real well by engaging people who think differently than we do. (I know... more headaches!)

Finally, your point about understanding Jesus' character and emulating it is well taken. Not that you said this, but such an approach to life is not a poor substitute for having "definite" answers on life's questions. I think it is the only way to live no matter what age you live in. Even more, it is recognizing that there is Holy Presence at work in each of us to not only emulate Jesus, but to be Jesus if we will allow it. Now that's holy!

Hope your headache feels better. You seem to be thinking pretty clearly to me.


11:14 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Miller... loved your quote. Welcome.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Clarissa said...

I found you, Owen. Glad you're posting. I may not comment much, but I'll wander by and soak in the ideas ... sounds like I grew up in the same world you did, albeit a few years later. Still navigating my own way, which, for me, is painful at times.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Clarissa -- so glad you visited. I'm honored that you would take time to read these ramblings, knowing how busy you are as a beyond-full-time mom. Feel free to drop by anytime.

Also, I'm excited to hear Zoe's rendition of your songs! Thank you for being willing to share your gifts with the rest of us.


2:00 PM  
Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

I don't know where you are from or where you grew up, but while I grew up in as conservative a wing of the "Restoration movement" as you could find out in a little West Texas town, my parents always taught me to question, too, and did so themselves once they were removed from the environment we were all in while I was growing up.

They moved to a large congregation in Tucson, Arizona while I moved to Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D. C. What changes!

But, I don't see my life in flux at all any more as a Christian, and have long felt that way, although I continue to change and experiment and grow. I see God as being the one absolute, concrete, fixed entity in my universe, contrary to what you seem to be expressing.

It's me who continues to change, not God. Does that make sense?

Especially in the past couple of years as I've faced a lot of physical challenges have I come to really understand the magnitude of God's unchanging and un-"dying" love for me, a "dying," if you will, lowly physically health racked person.

I think you and Tim Castle have totally nailed it on the head, though, in thinking and believing that what we MOST need to be doing is emulating Jesus. That is the secret (in my humble opinion) to Christian living.

I pretty much sum up "The Gospel" in Jesus' words in the "Sermon on the Mount" and in Matthew 25, where he talks about the day of Judgment when we all shall stand before him and the Father. To me, both of those passages set forth and define what it means to live as "Christ follower" and what we shall be held accountable for when we die.

(See my blog entry for March 11 for a strong opinion on those kind of things at ""). (Sorry I'm not "html" literate enough to know how to leave the actual link here.)

When it comes down to the nitty gritty, there is no shifting or doubting at all in God. As I said, it is ourselves we need to be working on and changing.

And may God richly bless you in your journey through the "suture zone." It's definitely a journey worth making. Not that I've arrived, but I share what I've learned with you as we journey along together. May God richly bless us all.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Thanks for your post, Dee. (May I call you Dee?) I am happy that you have found such stability in your faith, especially since it appears that you have faced some significant trials. I suspect that is why your trust in him has grown. One thing I know from my own experience is that God can be trusted, though sometimes the path is a rough one.

I see the same good news as you with a little different emphasis. Roughly paraphrased (by me)... "Jesus came preaching the rule and reign of God ... 'God has come near, right here, right now; change the way you are thinking about him; acknowledge his presence and live in this good news.'" IMHO, the Sermon on the Mount and the end times monologue you mentioned proceed from such a viewpoint. So that it is not so much what we have done in our lives that is weighed in the balance, but rather whether the passion and character of God, the passion and character of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, has grasped us and changed the way we live and treat others. It is entering into relationship with Jesus and, in that, seeing Jesus in the one to whom you give the cup of water. I've said this much too inadequately. But perhaps the idea comes through. And I hope to explore this more over time on this blog.

You said..."I see God as being the one absolute, concrete, fixed entity in my universe...."

I am happy that you do. That is a good thing. Please don't misunderstand what I was saying. My faith is very much in God, too. I have a few stories myself and will be sharing some over time. But I also have some significant questions as well that have certainly challenged much of the way I approached my faith for years. And I don't have all those questions answered, probably never will.

One could say that God never changes. While that may be true, I can certainly also say that my understanding of who God is and what he is about is skewed, imperfect, inadequate and lots of other adjectives. My view of God has changed significantly and continues to change because my understanding of God is imperfect. Perhaps that is what you meant by "It's me who continues to change, not God." In this context, I would very much agree. I'm just saying my view of God changes in the process.

And I can also say about myself that I am incapable of fully comprehending the mind of the one who created the universe with a word, who loved enough to give Jesus and who accomplished the rescue of rebellious humanity (and the world itself) by the death and resurrection of his son (who was himself one with God, if we are to believe the doctrine of the Trinity, which I do). If I could fully fathom his mysteries, that would be a frightening thing indeed. For all of us.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that in my childhood and young adulthood, I somewhat thought I had God and Jesus and church and the world and our mission and "the system" pretty much figured out. I was terribly wrong. Now he has been revealing himself as to who he really is, who Jesus really is, who the Holy Spirit really is, and what God is about with the people I interact with every day. Such as the young lady I met tonight with pierced nose, spiked orange and auburn hair and a beautifully crafted multi-colored tatoo of a bouquet-covered knife on her left forearm with "What goes around, comes around" inscribed there. Or Jerry the heroin addict who just keeps coming back to church. And many many others. You live near D.C., so I imagine you know what I'm talking about. This raises a lot of questions. That's what I'm hoping to explore here.

If what I've said leaves you scratching your head, don't worry, I'm scratching mine right now, too. I just think that in dialogue, in community (even online) we can discover and be more comfortable living in the questions that seem to characterize today. I hope to ask a few of those questions in the coming weeks. First, some preliminaries.

Again, thanks for sharing the conversation. And forgiveness, please, if I have misunderstood. I think we have a lot in common.


11:48 PM  
Blogger Tones said...


I love the suture zone metaphor. As a person who had never even been to California I was terrified of earthquakes when I moved here. Give me a tornado anyday over an earthquake, at least they blow that loud siren before the thing trades your roof with your neighbor's. After I had been here for about a year and a half, I felt my first little shake. I got to tell you, I went nuts. I tore into my house waving my hands in the air and raving like a lunatic. "Put the kids in the car, we're leaving. Don't worry about our stuff", I said, "I'll buy you new stuff when we get there."

Fortunately, I had on that day, a wife who laughed long and hard at me. I think that is the reaction (trying to flee) of a lot of people when they first realize they are in the spiritual suture zone. The thing that I love about you, Owen, is that you are willing to explore a lot of different ideas on how best to deal with the shift in theological plates. A lot of people (myself included) first instinct is to just forget the way it was, forget the changing process, let's just begin new. I think that attitude is what fuels the anger with the tradchurch (traditional church) you hear in a lot of young voices. So, blog on, I say! If you figure out how to deal with an earthquake let me know, because I still feel like taking off whenever the ground begins to move a little.


8:48 AM  

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