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.