Sunday, March 03, 2013

y'all believe?

I’ve been wondering where the subculture of lingering and hospitality is here in fast-paced Northern Virginia, and I think I may have found it at 7:30am on a Sunday morning at the Shopper’s grocery store.

All of the faithful parents in charge of our monthly donut breakfast fundraisers were out of town this morning, so it fell to me to do the donut pick-up (6 DOZEN is a lot of donuts, y’all). As I paid for my mountain of fried dough, the man in the cashier’s line next to me leaned over.

“You taking those to church this morning?”

“Yep,” I answered, “we do it every month.”

“Everybody’s doin’ it,” he said, “I’m from Manassas Baptist. And ya just missed the lady from Assembly of God.”

Actually, I’d seen the Assembly woman at the curb, loading what must have been 30 dozen donuts off an industrial wheelie caddy she must have begged from the deli into her mini-van. MAG is just down the street, and they’re so big that they also rate their own policewoman to direct traffic when service lets out. I suppose I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised at their donut requirements.

My newfound donut colleague continued:

“What are y’all like over at the Brethren? Y’all believe the same things as the Baptists?”

How, oh how, does one answer that question? If my assumptions (stereotypes, prejudices, judgment grounded in piles of amassed observable evidence) are correct, the answer is probably a distinctly defined NO. But of course, they’re assumptions (stereotypes, prejudices, judgment grounded in piles of perceived evidence), and we all know what happens when you rely on ability to assume.

Actually, I was just having this conversation. I spent an evening in DC this week with a bunch of Brethren young adults. We get together once a month for soup, fellowship and conversation, which is the basic form of ecclesial utopia. We started discussing creeds and confessions and their usefulness. One woman said that she appreciated the non-creedalism of the Church of the Brethren because even though she’s moved and changed and grown a LOT since childhood, she never felt like she had outgrown the church, or that who she was and what she believed would no longer fit there.

And, actually, I was just having THAT conversation. My NuDunker friends have been tossing these ideas around lately, about creeds and confessions and their usefulness. Andy has a post up on his blog, where he concludes that creeds or “any such efforts to constrain faith by means of written statements, regardless of the spirit by which they are written, find their end in imposing oppressive power over and against the other for the purpose of exclusion.”

I agree with Andy, and I agree with the young adults. Creeds that detail the theological boundaries of our intellectual assent can be helpful in conversation, but they function – today – more as reasons to exclude people than as the helpful tools they were meant to be (that is, if we’re being generous about our historical analysis).

It’s important to have something in common as a community, a congregation, a denomination, a Church. But I do not think solidly delineated boundaries of acceptable and non-acceptable thought any longer serve that purpose.

What if, instead, we chose as our guiding commitments a covenant of practice? I’m not talking about a list of immoral behaviors from which we all promise to refrain. I’m talking about a descriptive confession of the ways we all commit to relate to one another – how we’ll discern and how we’ll disagree, what we’ll do when we can’t decide on something, the ways in which we will deal with drama and pain, how we promise to care for one another and what it means to commit to long-term life together.

Caring about ideology only gets us so far. Doctrine can only define itself against something else. But commitment to people, covenanting ourselves into relationship – well, that sounds to me like something straight out of the Bible.

Which is how I got the Baptist guy to accept me, I think. He’d asked if we Brethren believe the same things as the Baptists and, not wanting to air all my theological suspicions and prejudices, I just said:

“Oh, it’s probably pretty similar.”

Except, he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more.

“But what DO you all believe over there?”

I don’t know what he expected, but I assume (ahem) it was a formulaic, soteriological affirmation that Jesus Died For Our Sins.

“Well, we have a saying that we continue Jesus’ work. We focus on relationship and peace a lot.”

His brow furrowed.

“Peace is…good.”

I could see his gears turning, pieces clicking together that hadn’t connected before.

“…yeah. Peace is good. I mean, He’s the Prince of Peace, right?”

“Exactly,” I said, as I wheeled my cart full of donuts out the door. “Y’all have a good Sunday!”

See? I’d much rather covenant to engaging with the donut guy from Manassas Baptist in the grocery store line, treating him as a friend and looking him in the eye – much rather commit my life to THAT than force my mind into the mental gymnastics required to compare, contrast and arrive at some simulacrum of similarity between our two theological systems before I can consent to call him Brother, before I can allow that he and I both belong.

He just IS. We just DO. Let’s start there.

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