The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

Church History & The Protestant Loss Of Time July 28, 2008

        I have become haunted by Christian history.  Now I don’t mean that in the way I assume you think.  I am not haunted by the ghosts of past Christian sin.  I am stalked by a realization, new to my protestant mind (or more precisely: my communitarian-baptist-evangelical-vineyard mind), that as the Church we have a history, that we are essentially a historical family. 

        This was new to me; I think growing up in evangelical youth groups and summer camps firmly cemented the implied notion that there was nothing of substance or value in any events after the gospels and before the 20th century.  When Christian history was spoken of in my above mentioned childhood contexts, it was mentioned in derision and lament at the mistakes of the Catholics, the Puritans, the medieval Christians, the post Luther Lutherans (for of course the only history I did know was that someone wonderful named Luther ‘liberated’ the Church so that we could today enjoy such religious ‘freedom’ and ‘spontaneity). 

           One got the sense, and I know I am unfortunately far from alone in this, that we were part of the Church that had finally got it right and prayed like the Pharisee, “Thank You Lord that I am not like your ignorant children of old!”  Acting and speaking as if there was nothing good to find in that time between Jesus and Billy Graham was, I am thinking now, a sub-conscious proclamation that there is no time, that now is the only moment, that even the gospel and Jesus and all the apostles are merely spiritual truths that have always been the same and are only now being grasped.


A Good Story Is Our Story December 19, 2007

Filed under: advent,books,ecumenicism,storying — Joel @ 10:57 pm
I am currently enrolled in ‘vacation part 1′ in Regina, Saskatchewan with my wife’s family (heading to Minneapolis in a week), lovely. Amidst many relaxing things, i have been reading and have just finished The Promise by Chaim Potok; i dare say it ruined me and put me back together again.
    If you have any interest in textual criticism, it is fascinating, any interest in Judaism, educating, any interest in the nature of human conflict, illuminating, any interest in the relationship between father and son, essential.
    Potok writes the characters and i believe they exist, i think about them when i am not reading, i almost pray for them. This is good literature, an art which brings the central struggles and joys of being human into that succinct and slidy pill we call a story. we swallow it not because we believe in its strategic inner message or because of some abstract moral intention but because we are entranced by the correct image of ourselves in the self of another.

I’d like to write a few in-depth essays about The Promise, perhaps exploring themes like the nature of truth as it relates to a person’s history, mentors, suffering, etc… In Potok’s book, he has shown me that these things must be investigated if there is to be any hope of ecumenicism (even though his context is Judaism and mine Christianity) or friendship while passionately holding vastly different perspectives on the same faith. I also have begun to fall in love with the strength of culture i see in some expressions of Judaism (actually, strengths in various cultures); i would like to tunnel into that further.

So if you have any interest in being human or becoming further human, read first The Chosen and then (after a break) The Promise. You will not be sorry though your emotive side may ache, it is worth it.


vocation-ism – thoughts on gracelets, the Church, and the can-can December 10, 2007

Filed under: advent,ecumenicism,public theology — Joel @ 8:04 am

    In my recent travels, it has been a joy to visit some Christian communities and talk with some of their leaders.  One of the interesting things that reoccurred was the situation where i found myself in one position surprisingly opposite to that of the community member i was talking to; in each case it was the same issue.  That issue is perhaps better phrased as a question: “is each community and therefore (to some extent) each member professing Christian faith called to grow in the whole gifts and fruit of the Spirit?”  This is what i have always thought, that denominations are an abstraction, making complicated, dumb, and simplistic the notions of the Gospel concerning unity, grace, and truth.

i was surprised to hear different community members, even leaders, espousing a theology of custom-fit, choose your own spirituality.  Though i rush to the front to affirm the many different gifts in human kind and in the Church, this does not mean that i think one group should be a “24 hour prayer group” and another a “social justice group” while yet another clings to its ‘grace’ of contemplative living, this strikes me as a sneaky blasphemy, or perhaps more clearly as a whole group of people doing something that humans down through the ages have often done: excuse themselves from service by virtue of being occupied elsewhere.

the only problem is that Jesus never asked, in his parables or the stories concerning his actions, for each disciple to find their gift (which again i think is important and good) and then quickly found a movement within the Church which focused on that gift.  Paul’s own disgruntlement with the people’s unhealthy association with Apollo or himself makes this point nicely.

It seems to me that this method of custom fit spirituality is a can-can dancer to our cultural saloon, sporting a tattoo that reads ‘for specialists only.’  In some church somewhere, pretty much anyone can be a leader, a star, a professional, a knowledgeable one, the reason for this being that when many different options are available, the number of people in each option decreases, increasing the chance of those remaining being seen as intelligent or wise.

I have been in the Vineyard family of churches for awhile now, a couple years in Minnesota but mainly here in eastern Canada (if your interested, check out one expression of community here and i have on the whole enjoyed my time, grown, been challenged, faced suffering with the help of friends and the Holy Spirit, etc…  Now in that whole time i have never been to an expressly stated ‘ecumenical’ meeting before last week.  I was amazed at both the difficulty so apparent in the meeting of different expressions of faith and my reaction to it.  The latter one is of relevance, it came as a shock and an awe (emoticon wink) that the Vineyard was not the whole Church, it was merely an expression of it.  i always knew in my head that the Church was vast and wide but i had simply never been confronted with the reality of the body of Christ before. (in a way that made me face it – billy graham crusades don’t count, neither perhaps do meetings based not on ecumenicism but on celebrating unity)

This experience left me yet again without an excuse.  It’s not that i think God needs or even wants me to go to every church, to love every expression that calls itself church, or to be in dialogue with every one, it’s not that at all.  What i do think God is calling me to is a recognition of the reality of the situation.  the situation is not a controllable, mappable one.  the reality is a fractured Church trying to proclaim peace.  the only thing funnier to me than this is when a movement acts as if it is the remnant, citing some prophetic reason when really they are crossing their fingers for the biggest bluff in history.

sorry boys and girls, we’re all tied together.  so implications

– progress, though encouraging to see in one denominational level, is not really progress as eventually those ahead will have to come back and break down the same walls for others with the same amount of sweat.

– in every community that seeks to follow Jesus, that community must seek all that the kingdom is and endeavor to NOT make that vision out of its own desires and natural passions (gifts)

– there will always be those communities which excel in certain areas and this should be acknowledged.  however, when this acknowledgment serves only to bolster the pride of the ‘talented’ or ’emergent’ or ‘worship’ communities and drain the dreams of those communities who are slower, then it would be better for the gift never to have been celebrated at all.

God is supposed to be glorified, not in our quarantined fireworks of denominational specialization but in love, unity, service, humility.  Perhaps when we grow more humble, we may ask our pentecostal neighbors, “why do you believe so strongly______?”  and put the kettle on, let them stay awhile, break bread, forget about doctrinal correctness and love like the doctrine says love, listen like the doctrine says listen, listen in that person for what makes them human, their heart song or cry.

so i’d love to hear any thoughts on these ramblings above.