By definition, a paradox is a statement or situation that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. This is becoming more a daily awareness on my part as I press-on in my journey, reflecting more often now upon my 40 years as a Christ follower. Much of which is now challenged both by culture and common sense.
Yet, when I review the last four decades, I find deeply anchored cause for holding onto my beliefs, as well as the necessity of letting go of some of my prior evangelical cautions, for the sake of engaging others. Without openness to others, who would otherwise have no natural or spiritual reason for engaging in mutual conversation, one runs the risk of loss of opportunity to share their life story.
One’s unique life story may be the only significant contribution left on this earth, other than our off-spring; by the way, I’m excited about the upcoming birth of a child, whom if male, will be called John Luther, which I find interesting. If female, Caroline Elizabeth and I get to relive the beautiful moments I spent with my daughter!
Yesterday morning, I began reading a phenomenal book, entitled: “American Grace, How Religion Divides and Unites Us” by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. Only a few chapters into the book and already my mind is awash with the realities of not only the changes occurring in America, but as well, the changes that have occurred in my own life.
For the new reader, I am a fourth generation Pentecostal. Why does that matter? For those unfamiliar with Pentecostal denominations, they are varied and in some areas of doctrine strange, if not errant. Historically, my roots sprang from such movements as the Azusa Street revival of the early 1900’s; and, though of black Protestant origin, this movement influenced similar revivals, forging new denominations, to include the Church of God (Cleveland) and the Assemblies of God, both instrumental in grounding my life journey.
Interestingly enough, Putnam and Campbell would include me in their charts of those with the highest “religiosity,” implying a passion beyond the typical. My lot in life has been to serve within an array of denominational bents to include those whom today would be categorized as the “nones,” having no preference, to include “faitheists”: those defined as “ ‘soft’ on religious belief, and tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion.” 1 This by the way has been a great privilege and hardly likely for someone my age. With my fundamentalist background, I would more likely be deeply embedded among those known for “belonging, behaving, and believing.”2
My first 25 years of life were spent quite recklessly though hardly to be blamed on my parents, perhaps the most reverent of people I know. However, somehow, church just did not take for me early in life, though the voice of God was ever present in my life, which says a lot about God’s faithfulness. I thank God for the moments of intervention in my life that perhaps kept be me close enough to grace to allow survival until, I could surrender my life to that grace.
Once that occurred, my earlier engagement of church and church folk naturally implied that church attendance was a necessary next step. We immediately began a search that took us through quite an array, from my wife’s identity within the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church to Methodist, Presbyterian, Independent and finally, because of her experience with God at a small Assembly of God Church, we anchored there.
It was only a few months until I was clearly on track to answer a call that had become very fresh upon my conversion. From state leadership to an actual appointment by the congregation, I became an assistant pastor, though bi-vocational.
As I continued my formal education, addressing what had become a passion for community, I began to find opportunity for administrative leadership within the public school system. Some of the best years of my life, it would seem that retirement as a school superintendent would be where God was taking me. I adjusted my call to better fit the market place. Little did I know, that the second decade of my new life would lead me headlong into full-time ministry at a large church in my hometown.
By the late 90’s, I would be reengaged in my hometown, serving on the Planning Board, directing a new 501c3 and providing resources for families across a broad area of the city. The role of pastor would diminish once more in favor of service to the community, and that would open doors into areas that few mainline Pentecostals have privilege to pursue. That is not to diminish my church affiliation, for in reality, as I interfaced more often with people of diverse belief systems, I only came to realize how privileged I had been in my exposure to the Divine, and my deep penetration within the institutional church, warts and all!
The next decade, would lead me to serve three terms as a local mayor, again a most rewarding season of service, though I soon learned that balance of truth telling and timing are critical, especially in an economically threatened and polarized political climate.
What will this next season involve? This morning’s scripture read was from Deuteronomy 1:6 and God’s word to Moses: “You have dwelt long enough on this mountain.” Ironically that seemed to speak volumes to me given my now even broader exposure and community preparation, the current book I am reading, and a recent invitation to deeper involvement in the interfaith movement. Not only is the political climate in America ultra-polarized but so is the Church, as well as more than ever, a pluralistic society. Perhaps my calling to the community has just begun?
Can we talk?
2 Putnam, Robert D.; Campbell, David E. (2010-10-05). American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Kindle Location 177). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.