January 04, 2005
Meet the parent

I will soon pick up the discussion threads I left dangling here, not to mention finally blog the last chapter of Yoder. But meanwhile my mother is still in town, and on Sunday she went with me to Pasadena Mennonite Church.

My mother visited Christan Assembly with me two years ago, shortly after I started the seeking thing, partly out of curiosity and partly to make sure I wasn't tangled up with some wacky cult. I think she was satisfied on the latter point but wasn't terribly taken with the place. So she wasn't interested in going to church again until the Mennonites came along. She lives in rural Pennsylvania among the horse-and-buggy Mennonites (or Old Order Mennonites, officially speaking), so she was really surprised when I told her that I'd been to a Mennonite church full of people in bluejeans.

The sermon for Epiphany was on gift giving, which naturally segued into giving to the tsunami victims. (There was also a minute of silent prayer for them at the end, which I thought was a nice touch.) The pastor actually kept the message fairly nonpolitical this time around, or perhaps political in a more subterranean way. He explained that helping the needy wasn't just an act of charity but an important way to witness to the world what Christians are about, "especially to the Muslim world" (I assume because the Muslim world may be under the impression that Christians mainly want to destroy them). It was actually a pretty upbeat sermon, considering the subject matter; he emphasized how Christian pressure has kept driving up the amount of aid flowing to Asia, and how the government responded.

After the service I took my mother with me to the customary lunch. I was glad that she'd have the chance to converse directly with some members of the congregations, since I have my deficiencies as a go-between. There were some people I knew there, but a young couple that I'd never met before also came along. The husband had a harrowing tale of how he'd wound up at PMC.

He'd grown up in the Church on the Way, a Foursquare church that had been mentioned positively in Telford's interview with the Internet Monk (see the fourth question). When the young man was in his mid-teens his mother had died of cancer, and the church had decided this was due to lack of faith (!) and had excluded the entire family. The man was so discouraged he almost left Christianity entirely, but a teacher recommended PMC and he's been there for three years.

I was glad that my mother got to hear this story, actually, because it dealt with Christianity as she'd encountered it in the past: rigid, intolerant, clannish. All along, she's basically been asking me where those Christians are in my church travels, since I seem to keep meeting ones who are completely different. I've always figured those Christians exist, but I seem to be good at avoiding them.

Or maybe I haven't been. This all reminds me of a conversation I had a couple months ago with Telford. Something had brought to my mind how, when I was at Christian Assembly, people kept praising my honesty. Half of me appreciated their appreciation, but the other half wondered why this was so exceptional as to be noteworthy. I was, I thought, just doing what seekers were supposed to do: asking a lot of questions.

Telford's response was interesting. He said that every group has its taboos, and for evangelicals one of the big taboos is doubt. By being open about my own doubts and issues with God, I was breaking that taboo. As a seeker, I had a sort of permission to break it, so it didn't upset anyone. But I wonder now if one reason my questions seemed to please people so much was that I was saying what they secretly felt, but were afraid to speak.

The young man said, as I have heard elsewhere, that Christian Assembly is more laid-back than most Foursquare churches. But I do wonder if I would have been held to a different standard had I been born into the church as he was. From the sound of it, doubt and anguish in the face of an untimely death were signs of apostasy in his church, rather than normal and natural. (I wonder what their post-tsunami sermon was like.) Granted, I heard only one side of this story, but the signs are ominous.

Posted by Camassia at January 04, 2005 02:45 PM | TrackBack


Yeah, I'd agree with Telford that one of the taboos in the evangelical community is doubt. I think that's one of the reasons I still have some lingering uncomfortability among them--that sense that if you doubt too much, or share your doubt too intensely, they'd think there's something wrong with you. But it's interesting, because the evangelical taboo is connected to the evangelical strength--they may be hush-hush about doubt, which is bad, but a lot of evangelical communities (at least the ones I know) do a great job at stubbornly insisting that Jesus is Lord and that Christianity makes a positive impact on peoples lives. That's why Telford's church is growing (probably), and why churches like mine (the ELCA) are shrinking.

anyway, thanks for the good thoughts.

Posted by: Captain Inertia on January 5, 2005 03:40 PM
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