Except it was actually an Apple Store
And I fudged on the other identifications too.
Ok, so the monk was real. The other two weren’t official clergy in any sense, but it makes a good headline and the general flavor of the conversations I had with each of them stands.
Three Fascinating Conversations and the Elusive Big Idea.
The first conversation was with a friend of mine, who, having just learned I was a pastor wanted to chat about his own religious backgrounds and particular theology. Turns out he is a Spanish Jew (often called Sephardic), who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Turns out he doesn’t like the term Messianic, because as he says, “All jews are messianic, in that they all believe in the Messiah.” I agreed with this, but pointed out that not all of them believed that Yeshua (using the term He consistently used for Jesus) is the Messiah. He agreed, but countered with his conviction that eventually all those waiting for the Messiah will see that it’s Jesus. Our theologies parted here a bit, although I can’t say with certainty that I know not all jews will received Jesus, it seems unlikely. He went on to talk with me about how the Holy Spirit that Christians believe in is different from the Holy Spirit of the Old Testament (and therefore the way he believed in Him.) It was a short interrupted conversation but the gist seemed to be that the Holy Spirit is a lot more feminine in nature than we credit. I expected a much larger difference from the way he was talking, but I was fascinated at the way this friend’s very serious and thoughtful theology didn’t quite fit any box I had previously known. I believe His faith and his salvation through Christ were real, but somehow very unfamiliar and different at the same time. Soon after this conversation, a man in a monk’s robe and cowl entered the store.
This second conversation with Brother Noah, turned out to be a delight. He had time to kill, and explained that he was here because the internet at the monastery was so weak. I don’t know why I was surprised that the monastery had internet at all, but I was. In the spirit of honesty which I try to maintain on this blog, I’ll also reveal my stupid bias when I say that I hadn’t expected a monk to be so full of humor and joy. This is stupid because if there is any truth in their faith at all, they should be exactly that. We had a long fascinating conversation amidst my helping him accomplish his goals which amounted to sharing testimonies. They were surpsiginly similar, not in actual content, but in our heart’s search, as I suppose many testimonials are. After I told him my story and my pilgrimage and fledgeling ministry, he said that he and the other Monks would pray for me. It’s a funny thing. Lots of people say that. I somehow felt an extra weight to his words. As he said, “That’s what we do…for hours.” That’s kind of cool.
The third conversation was with a fellow evangelical, not actually a pastor. I guess I was the pastor in this conversation. Anyway, he is one of the many sincere Christ Seeking believers who was questioning seriously the value of church. He said he’d seen a lot of church which just wasn’t working. As we talked I encouraged him that without a formal structure, commitment, accountability and intimacy are often low. He acknowledged that he has used his concerns as just such an excuse to avoid such things in the past. I know that his past includes some really bad, actually cultic, examples of church, so his conflict here is understandable. But the conversation bothered me, not for him, but for the number of other conversations just like it.
The Elusive Big Idea
So, during the Lifesong church plant, we had Six big ideas (which I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog and will discuss again, no doubt.) As I look back upon our half a decade together I am gratified that we did a reasonably good job at most of these big ideas. Discipleship happened, people’s lives were changed. Learning was active instead of passive. Grace was core to who we were. But there was one big idea that we completely failed. One that I knew at the time, and have unflinchingly acknowledged since them, we completely missed. City Unity. We wanted to create a church which had a new kind of teamwork and unity with other churches. We didn’t even get started on this. In fact, we probably did worse at this than our other church did, and ultimately failed even to maintain a working unity with our mother church. I don’t bring this up as some sort of self-flagellation exercise, but because I was reminded of this big idea by my three conversations. In each one, I found myself talking to someone whose perspective on church, theology and ministry was in some ways significantly different. There were aspects of each one that I would strenuously disagree with if pushed. And yet, each conversation was a blessing to me and I hope to them. The recognition that we served the same Lord with the same essential faith, despite significant doctrinal differences, was largely felt by me. The sense of companionship, of camaraderie, of together seeking the same Lord’s will, a better working out of our shared faith, in other words, the Unity among us was surprisingly strong for such short conversations. I understand in some ways that the brevity of our connection is part of what made it possible, and I’m not under allusion that this was a long term functional unity I was seeking in my Big idea of Lifesong. And yet, it was very encouraging and seems to have shifted my perspective in ways I cannot even identify yet.
Maybe less elusive
So I’ve also realized that I am regularly engaged in a functional unity. A small one, but a positive one, nonetheless. Every Monday night, several of us gather in a long term walk chronologically through scripture. WE started about seven years ago, and we will continue until we are done, and then, I suspect start over. It’s been a highlight of my last seven years and I love lots of things about it. I get to study scripture and teach it. It’s more interactive than most Church services and people actually ask questions and engage in exploration. It’s lasted longer than the Lifesong church plant did. It’s genuinely important, providing people with a big picture of scripture impossible to achieve by short cut. But one of the things I like best is that it’s turned into a truly united, multi-church event. There are currently representatives from four different churches who regularly come. It’s something I would have been comfortable inviting the Rabbi, the monk,or the house church evangelist too. It’s such a focused look at scripture. It’s kind of pure. This is not to say that all three of them would have agreed with what I teach, or even enjoyed it. I think they might have, but I don’t know. But it’s the comfort of the invitation. I think the local church is extremely important. I think church visions, agendas, follow up and pastoring are crucial. And yet, it’s somehow the lack of the need to do these things at our Monday Night Journey, that is allowing us to experience a kind of simple unity. A shared journey together through scripture.
I really don’t exactly know what the implications of all this are. It’s possible some of you readers will make too much of it, more than I mean to say.
Bottom line: It’s nice to be reminded we are all part of God’s household, sharing one faith, one spirit, one devotion and one Lord.
Second Bottom Line:I’d love to have more and more people from more and more churches join us on Monday nights at 7:00. We meet at Paragon Church, because you have to meet somewhere, and they are very hospitable and welcoming. Come join us!