Two Worlds of Dialogue

Since being to university I have been able to hold two completely contradictory thoughts in my head at the same time and not go insane. To many, that sentence probably sounds insane. Here is what I have noticed though. On paper, by choice and by my life lived I am a Free Methodist (FM), a pastor and a husband. I am currently in the process of getting ordained by FMCIC and theStory where I am a pastor is one of their church plants. Philosophically and in my head I am all over the place. I am constantly reading books that are against and completely contradict everything I’ve assumed, what feels good or what I was told to believe. I read books from theologians of all faiths, people from all faiths and people who are straight up opposed to my faith. I constantly mess up my marriage through selfish moves, because I’m changing or through miscommunication. I teach wrong things at my church, I hurt people and I give wrong advice sometimes. Somehow I’ve been able to live in this tension fairly peacefully. Others usually become skeptics and/or stale. They end up being paralyzed with options and never actually evolve and grow. So in cautiousness, I have decided that it is best to pick a movement that I can connect with and give it my all. This doesn’t mean I understand everything and can cognitively explain the systematic doctrine of the Free Methodists to anyone that asks. It does mean though that I am committed, submissive and willing to do what it takes to make this relationship work. In the same way that I have chosen to be with my wife, I have chosen to be with the Free Methodists. This doesn’t mean I won’t screw up, say wrong things, but it does mean that I’ve entered into a relationship where I’m held accountable and I have chosen be submissive along with all sorts of other perks.

The only time this way of living every becomes problematic is when I allow the philosophical side of me seep out. Coincidentally, this blog is an outlet for that, as has the many social networks online. I’ve used my blog for a place of wrestling with ideas, not where I list off what I’m supposed to think. This has caused all sorts of issues. I’ve had numerous people accuse me of not being a very good Free Methodist, and I’ve had people accuse me of being a heretic or tell me I’m out of God’s will. If I was to use this marriage analogy again then I can see why this is both healthy or problematic. If my blog was a place to constantly question my marriage relationship, marriage in general and flirt with the ideas of starting relationships with other females then I can see why my marriage might not be that healthy. However, if it’s seen as building relationships, seeking to understand and appreciate the other and hoping that my wife joins me in this journey then I can see why this would be an important thing to have. The latter is how I see my blog.
There seems to be two camps of readers on my blog. There is my one world where I am supposed to be a good pastor. Teaching people in the way of Christ, giving answers not asking questions and directing people to solid doctrine. Half the people that read my blog or interact with me online have this expectation for me. They have a certain standard of what a good Free Methodist should think and believe and I obviously fall short of that. So they make no qualms about calling me out, disagreeing or straight up getting involved with my relationship with the FM’s.

The other half of the people want to and do engage in the academic/philosophical conversation. Somehow this half is able to juggle the two realities along side of me. If I ask an offensive question or link to an offensive article their first instinct isn’t to judge and figure out my intentions and compare to me the FM standard. Rather it is to jump into the dialogue, seek with me and see what comes out of it. The conversation flows better with these people, it’s more honest and their is less baggage.

The problem is, most people inside the church fall into the former category. They all want to make sure I know what the right answer is, what the right thing to believe is and what the right way to act is. They don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to dig deeper or wrestle, because they already know what the answers are. There is no part of them that understands or wants anything to do with people or thoughts that fall into that second category. While I was in school, it was all about the second category with very little room for the first. Now that I’m back in Sarnia, everything is switched. Somehow I can be a good pastor, hold to the Free Methodist doctrine and yet still struggle with, read about and consider contradictory thoughts and theology. Maybe I’m just lying to myself but I like to think that I can decide to submit and sign on to one theology yet still have the freedom to seek and learn and grow with others.

This is the problem I’ve always had with statements of faith. I felt like they limited you where you were allowed to go with your reading, thinking and exploring. It was like a boundary that you were punished if you dare go outside of it. I had to stop seeing statements of faith as restrictions and more of identifiers. A statement of faith to me is an identifier of a community of people who have decided that this is who they are and this is what they are striving to be. If it just says what everyone thinks, then I think we are truly limiting the creativity and growth of everyone who is under that statement. I can still hold to a statement of faith that says I am a Free Methodist in one hand and with the other be seeking and evolving and growing and stretching in all sorts of directions. I don’t know of any other way to identify myself with anything rather than looking like what they say they look like and making a choice to say “I am that.” Identities aren’t decided by abstract theological ideas or disillusionment. They are chosen and then lived out.

So I’m struggling to live in these two worlds. Since leaving school, I am much more accustomed to living in a world of asking questions, reading books, landing in uncomfortable places, being challenged and having great dialogue. Yet the deeper I get, the more I see that many people are just not interested and many are straight up opposed. How do these two realities co-exist without one despising the other? I’m still learning what that looks like. One side thinks the other side is sheltered, weak and indoctrinated and the other side thinks the other is irresponsible, prideful and heretical. At some point, somewhere the sides have to seek to understand each other and co-exist. I’m just not convinced yet they can have great conversation.

6 Comments

  • Great post, Nathan. The idea of accepting paradox is an important one, and it’s awesome to see that you are willing to wrestle with it enough to become ordained through the FM. Really encouraging.

  • Nathan:
    It’s been some time…
    I am happy to hear that your are making a commitment of this nature. I have been a little surprised by the number of people in my age bracket that are unwilling to make a commitment to church membership. I’m not sure that it’s as restricting and binding as perhaps it is often perceived.

    As for your writings:
    Your commitment to digging, discussing and taking a lot of heat for it, will definitely pay off over the course of your ministry (as it has already, in many respects, I’m sure). I am convinced that asking questions and dialoguing over (and through) differences is a powerful witness to the Spirit’s work inside of the Church. The Kingdom of God is with us when we challenge one another and disagree with one another and, at the end of the day, live at peace with one another.

    It seems that many Christians are not able or willing, for some reason, to arrive at a place of peace – where disagreeing is ok. What an irony when we look around and see the diversity of perspective, opinion and tradition right inside of the church! May God open our hearts and minds to the beauty and diversity of his creation.

    I loved my five years with the FM Church and, if I could, I would have continued to work from inside its churches. For now, I will be content to be your co-labourer from the church next door…

    Grace to you Nathan, and peace, and love…
    Jay

  • Jason, thanks for this comment, I appreciate it immensely. Titles or not, we’ll work together.

  • At times I wish to delve back into the where the easy answers are. However I believe God calls us to question deeply. I once read Thomas Merton ” Lord I do not know if I please You but I believe that my desire to please You does in fact please You”.

  • On my best days, I’m in category two. On my worst days, category one. I think there’s a bit of Romans 7:21-25 at work in me. (Okay, more than a bit…)

  • hey dude. sweet writings.. never stop asking questions. even if you gotta ask the questions to the people asking the questions. maybe your just not getting your answers from the same places as you used to. no longer being spoon fed but gettin up and puttin on your hunting gear and fighting for your meals.. HAHA. harder i think. but somehow more rewarding, knowing that your providing more meat for the family. i always used to think that the first people were the same people who crucified christ, and took on this religious mantel. but i’m super glad that Gods’ giving you a heart to merge relationship between both. I know that God’s the first to forgive, and the last to point the fingers. he sets me free, and out of love I am compelled to do what he asks. OH HEY.. lookin for a drummer if u know one whos free let me know on FB.. chow man

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