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.

Friday, May 27, 2005

in the park...

I am beginning five days of rest today. I have been working a lot of long days and weekends for the past month or so and it has been catching up with me. I finally told my boss I just had to take a little rest time off. You might see a few more posts over the next five days as I have a little time to recover and reflect. Hope you have a great weekend! Now, here is in the park...

in the park…

This past Sunday afternoon, our church participated with people from four local churches from other “tribes” and “non-tribes” to hold a day in the park at Central. But it wasn’t church-focused. It was neighborhood focused. Billed as a block party, we had Christian rap artists driven by a whole lot of watts, a low-rider car show, two bouncy houses for the kids, hot dogs, chips and drinks, and an inflated pool with maybe three feet of water in it. The kids loved it. It was a warm day.

I don’t know how many of these were South Chester neighbors, but I have never seen our parking lot so full, and my wife and I came towards the tail end of the party. The crowd certainly reflected the diversity of our neighborhood. Lots of tattoos, lots of machismo, lots of smiles from fellow followers of Jesus representing all races and socio-economic levels, heads and bodies swaying with the strong, vibrating beat of the rap music. Not your usual church gathering.

I never could have dreamed of such a thing when I was younger. A congregation affiliated with the Church of Christ associating with and ministering alongside congregations coming from other perspectives. And all of it focused on our lower-class neighborhood. It was a wondrous thing!

And, we had a kind of merged theology of salvation process and this is where the pool came in handy. I was told some 14 or 15 people were baptized. Music to a Campbellite’s ears (Alexander Campbell was one of the “fathers” who began the American Restoration Movement from which Churches of Christ sprang). Guess I’m not a true Campbellite, though. I was actually fearful, overburdened with the sense that we may be leading these people down a path that promises them all their problems are gone, they’ll live in heaven with Jesus forever when they die and they need no longer suffer with guilt for what has come before. While all of what I said except for my first statement is true (and I’ve heard that first statement way to many times to pretend I am raising up a “straw man”), there is more to the story without which even the true parts of that statement become things that lead away from God and not to him. I’m not arguing for a works-based theology. It is a story of a journey with God, one on which they have taken only the first faltering steps. I fear that these who have responded need someone to walk alongside them on the uncertain path. That the path of discipleship is a difficult one, I’ll not argue. It is not a path for unaccompanied children.

At the same time – and please hear this – I sensed the seeds in this event for the discipleship that needs to come next. Seeds among his people that are ready to sprout. The Jesus-following that people need to be called to. And accompanied along the path with. The unity of his followers was one of those seeds that can make this possible. Encountering where people in our neighborhood truly are and what they truly are. And now from this point, continually encountering the real needs and lives of those in our community, instead of retreating to the safety and calm of our church walls as we think ourselves successful tools in God’s hands, is what he is calling us to, I think. The greater and harder and truer work is ahead. God lead us that way and empower us for the work!

But, even given all of that, thank you, God, for the moment. Now help us and possess us to walk the suture zone with those who surrendered to you last Sunday.

I sensed an awful lot of Jesus in Central Park last Sunday.

And it was glorious!

Grace and peace!



Anonymous Marshall said...

Hi, Owen, et al,

I'm taking a break toward the end of a busy morning to share a few thoughts, not inextricably related to yours above, Owen, but on the suture zone.

I have a poem that ends,

...I obtuse,

Am half-aware, high tide and low, that God,
Barefoot or shod, intrinsically is odd.

I had a "morning after" not long ago. I am so little able to live up to Christian ideals. And I am possessed of such a restless, sceptical mind. I am upset these days with the biblical command to "fear" God. Why must a loving father rule by fear? I ask. How can I sympathize with the weak while knowing it is my job to tell them to fix their lives - which they... Etc.

So last night I sat studying philosophical Taoism. Before I met my now-ex over 20 years ago and became a Christian, I was tottering between hedonism and the Tao Te Ching. Now, post-divorce, I find myself re-booted, and tottering between hedonism, the Tao, and now Christ.


Given my current struggles with the Bible's worldview(s), I admire the "old guy's" teachings on the Tao being the motherly wellspring of all existence, unknowable yet knowable, the nuturer of all that is rather than its judge. I hurt. Perhaps I am losing my Christian faith, despite my having been deeply moved by The Case for Christ, etc. Or perhaps I may have it again more deeply than ever next Tuesday at 3:15. I'm tired. There's so much...

Yet this morning, I find myself spending a good 40 minutes talking outside class with a young student named Becky who fears she is losing her Christian faith. I recommend Strobel. I tell her that I think honest doubt is more spiritually healthy than fearful fakery, a truer road to maturity, although it's painful. I tell her than Nathaniel is commended for his honest, open doubt, and that Thomas is helped, not condemned. In short, even as I admit my current struggles, I help her maintain and build her relationship with Christ.

Meanwhile, I am not terribly bothered by my "morning after" (bothered, but not wrecked). I want to be healthy, kind, sincere, wise. I'm a mess.

But have I been used by God even so?

It's not in the Bible, that line about "mysterious ways," but it certainly seems true.

Lotsa love,

12:03 PM  

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