The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 3

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Leaving L’Arche was – but for my matriculation at The Citadel – the dumbest decision of my life. At our house on Greenwood Ave in Toronto, I lived into community with core members who lived with disabilities and compassionate, diverse people from Europe and North America.  In the midst of the daily rhythms of waking, sleeping, cleaning, cooking, laughing, and prayer, I felt more centered than I ever had before.

I was honored when the community invited me to stay for several more years since, as Melvin – one of the core members in our house said – “I have a lot left to teach you.” After a week or so reflection I chose to exchange this community for a half-scholarship at Gordon-Conwell. Although I met a few lifelong friends at the latter institution, the MDiv experience had such a minimal influence on my formation that is not worthy of additional consideration.*

Quite unlike seminary, my experiences within the church were incredibly influential. After tooling around North Shore Churches with she who should not be named for a month or two, I found a home at Manchester Christian Church (MCC) in late 2000. Although I was already starting to react against the reductionistic tendencies of megachurch worship – i.e., I questioned the value of sermons on The Prayer of Jabez and was hesitant to clap my hands and glibly sing “show us your power O Lord, our God” – I knew and respected the pastor and had an immediate opportunity to serve in the small groups ministry.

So it was that on Wednesday nights for 2.5 years I had the privilege of reading scripture and praying with the 20-somethings from MCC. Since Sunday morning worship was content-lite, we explored Romans, Luke, James and other books passage by passage and wrestled with the implications of the text. Since I was in the verge of embracing Reformed Theology at the time, I used the exploration of Romans to bounce Calvinist arguments off of the group and challenge the cultural accomodationist approach and Arminian tinged preaching at MCC. The 20-something group was one of the most diverse and intriguing I have walked with before or since. Missionary kids sat next to townies who dated strippers.** Manic depressives walked beside passionately devotional South Koreans. Occasionally a MCC intern from Lincoln Christian College would stop by and would assess the experience after with enthusiastic statements like “it is clear you are gifted in this context of ministry,” perhaps implicitly suggesting that I had found my level and should not compete with them for more responsibility in the congregational community.

I will always be thankful for my time at MCC and especially for the people who I walked beside in the 20-something group. However, after a brief encounter at yuppie pool hall in Manchester, I started to realize it was time to go. If memory serves, one of the occasional attenders of our small group asked the Associate Minister at MCC – who was and continues to be a trustworthy friend – why the church let LCC interns preach but never extended an invitation to me. The minister replied, without malice, that “the church can’t trust what Gentry will say.”

That floored me and, when revisited, fills me still with a teary rage. At that time and up until now, I have been committed to preaching sermons that are shaped by the content, tone, and apparent intent of specific biblical passages – no pick-a-passage topical sermon shit from me – and have sought not to import a foreign agenda into my sermons. Yet, in the land where acontextual glosses on The Prayer of Jabez were considered appropriate, I was not trusted to respeak the scripture within the community I loved.

I know the pastor well enough to know that the intention of his statement was instructional and true. The same pastor had invited me to Soularize 2001 in Seattle and paid my way. He had also introduced me to the concept of home churches, welcomed me into his backyard to learn about this ecclesiology at the feet of Joe Boyd and Kevin Rains, and was doing careful pastoral work by helping me find a new trajectory.

Shortly thereafter, I left MCC and set out with James and Brooke Wilcox, who would subsequently become closer than a brother or a sister, to start a home church confederacy with some displaced Southern Baptists.

Since then lots of water has raced under a bridge I have tried desperately not to burn. I know I’ve hit this time and again, but the Christian Church, Church of Christ tradition (CCOC) that I cannot seem to live within and cannot seem to tolerate me is the tradition that I cannot seem to leave.

Kevin Smith Clark mentioned in passing the other day that his interpretation of the CCOC is probably frozen in time from when he left the tradition 11 years ago. I haven’t practiced within the tradition for almost the same amount of time, yet I’m still finding it so hard to let go.

Is the salvation of a contrarian constituted not only by burying “truths” and traditions that are no longer tenable, but rising to a life of characterized by tension those he loves, contradicts, and cannot find the courage to leave?

I don’t know. But me and my bleeding asshole*** sure think so. I do know that after years of deeply meaningful ministry in small, diverse, interdenominational churches, our family is on the cusp of incorporation into the Anglican**** tradition, and I am deeply conflicted about a tradition that left me before I left it almost a decade ago.

* GCTS flacks, before you ask the answer is yes, you can definitely quote me for the promotional brochure. You can even double the impact by juxtaposing the quote with softly lit shot a smiling minority student.

** Sounds like a Hold Steady song doesn’t it?

*** Fortunately only hemorrhoids and nothing worse.

**** I’m referring to the communion, not the ACNA and AMIA churches primary populated by fellow exiles from Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and “Independent” church traditions.


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