Church Incognito; An intergenerational, literal and KJV only church; my experience at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church

A few Sundays ago my friend Rameel and I attended the church of a woman we met at the Open Mosque. We both arrived a little late, but we were greeted warmly nonetheless, and we found our way to our mutual friend’s pew.

During the time we stood and sang hymns, I took time to get a feed on who made up Valley Baptist Church; a somewhat diverse group ethnically speaking, but there were multi-generational families gathered as well. Most of the hymns I recognized, so I followed along while those gathered sang.

During the meet-and-greet portion of the service, I ran into a guy I have known for a very long time. I talked to him about how long he had been going to that church (as I know him from a church we once attended together). He told me he had been attending there for close to 3 years, and he liked it better than the church we used to attend together because he much preferred reading the KJV only and he liked hymn books over Powerpoint slides.

The message Pastor Hemphill gave that Sunday was on contrition, that is repentance. It was a good message in and of itself, but at times the language found in the KJV threw me off; not that it was off-putting, it’s just not my lingua franca and consequently I got lost in a sea of thee’s and thou’s.

After the service, my friend Rameel met with the pastor because he had some questions. While I don’t know the full nature of their discussion, I was greatly encouraged by pastor Hemphill taking time out to talk to my friend. During this time I talked to Rameel and my mutual friend, and she filled me in on some addition in’s-and-outs of the church, I was encouraged to find out more from her.

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While my views differ from what’s presented at Valley Baptist Church, I was greatly pleased by the hospitality of those my friend and I met, especially by pastor Hemphill. It’s one thing to have doctrines, theological perspectives, and beliefs, but it’s entirely a different thing to put them into practice. What I observed and experienced firsthand was practice over doctrine, and that has made all the difference to me.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

There’s no place for bad theology

Occasionally my students will ask me religious / God questions, as I’m known by way of my BEing that I am a follower of Christ. I take all their questions in stride, more often than not I will answer their questions with even more questions.

However the questions gravitate sometimes to something dark, something more personal than not. It is evident in some of the questions that my students ask me about God and matters concerning God that they’ve been sold that God loves them with conditions. I have also addressed questions concerning the love of God, which sadly someone of my students believe God doesn’t love certain people.

When I address the question concerning God’s love for them I let them know why they think that, quite often they believe it’s what they do that earns God’s love, and if what they’ve done or what they are doing now isn’t good then God doesn’t love them. I do what I can to encourage them to do good, for themselves and for others, but I bring to light that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more or make God love us less. God’s love remains the same whether we make good choices or bad choices, but that shouldn’t deter us to do the right thing when we need to.

When I address matters about God not loving certain people, I usually get several things about this question:
1. So often it’s someone in their own lives, past or present.
2. It’s something they may have heard often, at home or at church.
3. The moral highroad is taken. That they of course are loved by God, but x person isn’t.

Depending on how heated the conversation is, because sometimes it is and sometimes it’s a matter-of-fact statement made, I usually say the following;

There’s no place for bad theology

I let it be known that some views of God are really destructive, especially when marginalization and exclusion takes place. I bring it back home to them if they’re having issues with my thoughts, I bring up would they like to be the ones perceived as being unloved by God? It’s amazing how quickly NO is the given answer, and sometimes “but…” is followed with a rebuttal in tow, but that is rarely the case.

I have been affected others by bad theology in my life, I have also been the victim of bad theology, and I realize the ripples it has caused on my soul and for those who have been a victim to my bad theology I am truly sorry.
If you’ve been a perpetrator or victim of bad theology, it’s never too late to make a difference in the lives of others by sowing seeds of good theology. How does one go about sowing these seeds, I like the following acronym called THINK;

Sometimes…
A lot of the time…
ALL the time, we need to THINK about what we’re putting out to others and unto ourselves. It can be a laborious process, but I think (see what I did there?) with practice it’ll become habitual.

So be an agent of change,
be a THINKer,
and as Rob Bell so eloquently put it; “everyone should be everything they’re here to be.”

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Allow room for change, allow yourself to be changed

I grew up in an environment where  systematic theology was  commonplace; that if you did spiritual act x + y you’d get spiritual result z. But while there is some weight to  systematic theology, like a lot of things, formulas don’t always give the results we’d like. So what becomes of a faith guided by formulaic methodologies? We can lose faith, we can throw in the towel, we can grow jaded and cynical, and so on.
So I propose holding faith with an open heart and open hands. That we hold up our faith with the intention to allow room to change and even more to the point, allow ourselves to be changed.

***

I find myself aligned to following Christ by way of being a Progressive Christian. And while part of myself is negated when labeled, I find it to be a healthy way to engage others in matters of faith & other ways as well. It is not beneath me nor is it a point of weakness to utter up a “I could be wrong” because my open-handed faith gives me space and grace to question, to doubt, to wonder, among other things.
So I urge you reader to allow God to mess with you, to allow your faith to  transform from black and white thinking and doing to seeing the bright colors God has made and engaging them with open hearts and minds.

~Nathanael~

Thank God I am changing; reflections on looking at my older blog posts

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Job-Change.jpg

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple Inc.

I have been a writer for a long time now, and time to time I look over what I’ve written, especially what I’ve written on my blogs. THIS blog is my primary one nowadays, but I know…and I won’t disclose the web pages…where my older blogs are (I’ve been writing online in some way since 2001).
I once stated I was horrified about what I wrote, both subject-wise but also grammar-wise. I think I am beyond being horrified, and if I’m to feel anything about it all I would say I am grateful to God that I am changing. I’m not going to say I’ve changed straight out, because I am still going through the process of change; where I was in life is not where I am now, and I know that in time I will change yet again.

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One thing that captures my attention time and time again with my writing is (and I partially contribute it to being raised Evangelical) my language smatters of exclusive black-and-white truthiness. I had questions and I was obsessed to finding answers to them, and I thought if I have the answers that is all I will ever need, I don’t need to learn more than what the questions and answers entail, but I was wrong for thinking that. Life is so much more than questions and answers, it is more beautiful to live in a world where gray exists instead of just perceiving things in black-and-white terms only. Michael Kimpan recently wrote on the subject of “addiction to answers” and I’ve got to say, that was me to a T.

So here I am, some 13 years into the blogging game, and I still don’t have it altogether…but you know what? I am okay with that. I am okay with changing though it can be painful and scary at times. The vast unknownness of some / a lot of things still creeps in sometimes, but I realize I am embracing community and God even more so in these times than I used to. I used to want to hide in my room, crash on my bed, and sleep the day away…but I’m out of that funk, and even when I am in that funk, I find a way out to doing things in a healthier manner.

Deo gratias for change and changing, not only for myself but all of humanity!

~Nathanael~

One river, many streams; I love theology (and so can you!)

https://nathanaelvitkus.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/a7cf0-braided_drainage.jpgTheology is defined as, according to dictionary dot com, “the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.” I agree with this definition, and more to the point, I love theology.
The thing is, theology isn’t limited to terms solely in the here and now, but across the entire expanse of human history! With that being said I enjoy learning about theologians had to say across that expanse of time. From the early years of the church; the desert fathers and mothers in their self-imposed cloistering away from community brought so much to their community (not how I would handle things, but it worked for them) to more modern contemporaries such as Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, Brian Mclaren, Frank Schaeffer, Rachel Held Evans.

Yet I also look for truth of who God is from individuals outside of my faith tradition because I truly believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that grace and beauty reflect creation as well as Creator so the universe of theology is that much more bigger as a result. I also look for God’s truth in varied mediums apart from what people have said and what people have written, but also what people have created, what people have drawn. It is humbling for me to be in the presence of others and where they have found God and decided to share it with others, it also leaves me enamored and grateful for God making God’s self known in so much of creation. And with that in mind all someone has to do is be receptive to seeing / experiencing God to find God, although there are times where I “see” or “experience” God in a limited way, as Nadia Bolz-Weber put it- “I once was blind, and now can see’: it’s more like, ‘I once was blind and now I have really bad vision’.

You might be wondering, how can I love theology? Well, I would say since the streams are many, find one of interest to you! There’s queer theology, feminist theology, process theology, liberation theology, et al. Maybe you connect with one because where you’re at now, and if you happen to jump into another stream as it were, there is space and grace to do that…progressing and evolving is all part of the process, and I’m led to believe that God doesn’t want us to be a stagnant stream, to state out loud or not that “this is what I believe in, this is what I have faith in, this is what I doubt about…” Sure there might be some things we carry over to the new steam we’re in, but I encourage eating the meat, chewing the fat, but spitting out the bones.

~Nathanael~

P.S. Here are some resources:
Queer Theology
Feminist Theology
Process Theology
Liberation Theology