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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to oneีs culture.

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Name: jrichard

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church

For our third stop, we decided to stay local and try the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church.

Following the Presbyterian liturgy, the church added a "Ned touch," as many of the community members (and even the Pastor), grabbed instruments at one point and played some interesting renditions of familiar music.

The church itself seems rather comfortable. The presbyter, Donald Dexter, delivered a sermon marrying the burning bush story from Exodus 3:1-15 and the story of Jesus revealing his plan to the apostles recounted in Matthew 16:21-28 in order to ask the congregation "Who sent You?"

As the church struggles to walk the line that divides social conformism from social irrelevance, how can Christians struggle to be in the world but not of the world?

I understand this tension, though it is not one that has particularly plagued my own soul in some time. I have been a part of too many congregations that formed their own worlds, leading members to live apart from the culture on Sunday, but conformed to the culture (and all too often without any distinction whatsoever) during the week.

I believe my life is about serving my fellow man in both spheres, and I do not recognize the privilege assumed by many Christians. We are called to work in the world, and any movement away from that tenant of truth violates the very point of trying to live by these principles.

That said, I did not have a negative response to this church at all. Every church I've ever been a member of struggles with this question. It's just not a struggle with which I personally identify.

Bethany cooled to the idea of returning here. From here view, should we move to Boulder in a year, we would be better served forming our communal ties there, so as to not be forced to restart this process next year.

But going to church 1 mile from our house would have been awfully convenient, though ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Atonement Lutheran Church

Although I was raised in the Church of Christ tradition, I have always held a fondness for the Lutheran and Presbyterian movements. While I was in Austin at University Avenue Church of Christ, I had involvement with each movement through ministry work, and was impressed with the call for social justice I found among the Lutherans.

Their history of basing political activism on spiritual principles does resonate with me.

During our house search last May, we had looked at a house across the street from Atonement Lutheran Church. We decided to make this church our second stop on our journey for a church home.

Like all Lutheran congregations, Atonement follows the Lutheran liturgy. It is inspiring to think about the fact that all Lutherans across the world followed the same passages and sang at least some of the same songs.

The pastor, Rev. Debra Enquist, delivered an impassioned, yet informal sermon, mixing in equal parts of modern vernacular with her theological terminology. She struck me as a cheerful warrior, someone who always brings a radiant smile to the table, even while calling for transformative change and justice for those who are hurting.

I enjoyed the service, perhaps more than Bethany (whom I believe still found it a bit formal).

All things being equal, I could find a place here. Bethany might find it a bit too comfortable.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Boulder Valley Church of Christ

We began our search with the familiar.

After months of searching different churches in Dallas, we had settled on Skillman Church of Christ. Through our connections there, we had learned about Boulder Valley Church of Christ and had located their information on their Web site.

Unfortunately, we caught them on an odd Sunday. Though their Web site did not appear to mention a different schedule, the church holds an annual sunrise service that began over an hour before we arrived. So we caught only the tail end of the service.

BVCoC appears to be a warm church that honors the convictions and traditions held by the CoC movement, though with far less formality than I had experienced in Dallas. The same friendliness we had come to expect was present, but with less of a "high church" atmosphere.

Which is nice. I suspect we will visit again.

I am reminded that we initially caught Skillman on an awkward Sunday during our search in Dallas and that it took a repeat trip to find our place there.

Who knows?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Unsettled Business

So here we go again.

New home in Colorado, new search for a new spiritual home.

Tonight Bethany and I had dinner with Bethany's aunt Lisa. Among the topics we discussed was church culture. As Lisa explained, it might be easy to find a church home in the Bible Belt, where church life is ingrained the social fabric of the larger community, but in Boulder church life is quite different.

Regular church attendance is not normative among the Boulder population, and to attend church is to "live against the grain," she said.

Lisa and her daughter attend Boulder Valley Christian Church. We will likely attend in the coming weeks, but we plan to attend many churches to see what resonates with our own purpose.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Grace is shown, not defined

Grace.

This is a word that I casually use to describe what I think churches need to consider when approaching their communities.

I am a strong advocate of social justice, probably due to the fact that my own movement, the Church of Christ, has been silent for so long on so many social injustices (the most glaring to me is race relations). And when you boil it down, social justice is rooted in grace.

Certainly there are causes and cases in which people DESERVE more than society provides, and those battles are worth fighting. But I never cease to feel that we should never let some of those struggles get that far: we should be providing for people whether or not they "deserve" having their needs met.

But this weekend, we witnessed the kind of grace for which our movement and our church has shown unswerving ability.

Because our move occurred in such disarray (LONG STORY for another blog), my wife and I spent nearly a week without sleeping. The two-day marathon to pack up our entire house yielded to the three-day push to pack our vehicles and clean the house we were leaving.

The night before we were to pack up and depart, we had dinner with some of our dearest friends. Exhausted from the day's efforts and delirious from the lack of sleep, we met with Robert and Alys Foster and commemorated our time together. We laughed a little, cried a little and generally appreciated each other's company for what would probably be the last time for quite a while.

When we departed, it was late and emotional. And that's when the drama really began.

I had noticed as we had arrived that the check engine light had turned on. This wasn't as alarming as it could have been, for the light has a history of alighting with no significant problems. This time proved different.

Less than one mile from the Foster's apartment, the temperature gauge began to climb. Soon, we smelled smoke and the vehicle trembled with a rumbling vibration.

We quickly pulled to the side of the road. We were low on gas, so I put a few gallons in (thinking we might have some bad gasoline), and started again. The vehicle resumed its troubling behavior.

We quickly called the Fosters and limped one mile to a Pep Boys in the nearby area.

The Fosters soon arrived and took us home.

We thanked them and set out to make plans for the hitch in our moving schedule. The following day was Sunday, and the day we were supposed to depart on our move to Colorado. Our first priority was to see what could be done about the Jeep and the second was to figure out the impact not having the Jeep available for loading would have on our departure schedule.

We travelled to Pep Boys minutes after they opened. They agreed to look at the Jeep and we decided to stay in the area. The lead technician called roughly an hour later to explain that the shop would not be able to look at the vehicle today, for the only technician capable of running the diagnostic equipment needed to troubleshoot the problem had called in sick.

After grunting several choice words under my breath, I travelled back to Pep Boys and managed to get the Jeep across the street to the local Firestone. Which turned out to be a God-send (perhaps literally).

Not only did the shop quickly diagnose the problem (a burned out computer chip had led to the destruction of one of the Jeeps valve assemblies), but they could repair the Jeep by 2 p.m. the same day (which meant a two-hour turnaround on a Sunday).

The cost was nearly a thousand dollars, and I authorized the work, not knowing what else to do (we had budgeted tightly because Mayflower had increased the price of our move after they truck had departed, and we were still anticipating about $1,000 in gas costs moving both of our loaded vehicles to Colorado).

My mother arrived to help us organize the remaining property and haul the cast-offs to Goodwill. It was after the first such runs that I received a startling call from Robert.

We had, because of the vehicle complications, decided not to attend church that morning. We just couldn't figure out how to make that work with all the other time pressures upon us.

Robert had apparently spoken with the church leadership and they had authorized him to offer to pay for the vehicle repairs.

I was dumbstruck. On a day that we had skipped services, on the day that we were planning to leave them, the members of our church home were offering to help us leave.

I cried for quite some time as the waves of meaning washed over me.

Robert offered to put our repairs on his credit card, and the church has offered to reimburse him the following week.

So that's what we did. And it turned out to have saved us, for we maxed out all of our credit cards in the first two weeks of our arrival because of unanticipated expense (such as our house not being available, pushing us into a hotel room, additional service fees and deposits for utilities, etc. Longer version of the story posted in my other blog).

I am still in awe of the turn of events: that the eve before our departure, our vehicle broke down, that we were in such despair, that we were rescued by those who had been lamenting our departure ... and somehow the word grace fits, but seems inadequate.

Grace is receiving blessings and care without deserving or earning the contribution. But to put it this simply belies the powerful emotions that come with being saved from forces beyond one's control by people who are not legally responsible to make the effort. Grace is how we show that our morality transcends the finite concepts of justice.

Grace truly is a wonder to behold.