The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

tisdag 20 maj 2014

Where is your breaking point?

There is a famous movie from the 80's or early 90's called Point Break. It's about surfers who also rob banks and the FBI agent who finds them but gets seduced into the "surfing" way of life. Point Break refers to the point where the wave breaks and you can surf it...or something like that. The epic surf of a giant wave in the end is classic.

It is a movie about two paradigms colliding. One is the laidback and careless/illegal world of surfing and bankrobbery to support it. The other is the strict and law abiding world of the FBI. In some ways it is the classic tale of conservative vs. liberal, right vs. left, Reagan vs. Clinton, bohemianism vs. yuppyism.

The clash of two paradigms usually brings pain and a lot of head-scratching. In the movie we see the FBI agent, played by Keanu Reeves, struggling to keep his paradigm intact while also embracing its complete opposite. He begins to question why he is doing what he is doing and what he gets out of it. Eventually he is converted while undercover with the surfers. In the end, when it becomes clear that the surfers are going down, Reeves lets the leader of the surfers loose to go and surf the wave of a lifetime (that will kill him) instead of prison time. He holds on to his sense of justice before the law but he does so in a different way. In a surfer way.

As a pastor my paradigm is an unusual one. As a free-church pastor it is even more unusual (here in Scandinavia where I live). Add my fairly conservative beliefs to the mix and it becomes even more unusual. I will never get many "likes" on my FB wall because the paradigm that I am surrounded by is very different. Sometimes these two paradigms collide and it is unpleasant but it can be rather profound. I guess I would be the "FBI" agent and the world around me the "surfer culture". I don't know. But as soon as we ask whether or not people believe in Jesus we see two paradigms emerge very clearly and they don't mix so well. Anymore.

Paradigms are interesting. They cross boundaries we people set up all the time, sometimes for the explicit purpose of keeping one paradigm alive/safe/pure. Take your pick of a Christian denomination. It is supposed to have one paradigm (otherwise it wouldn't be one church but several). Funny thing, it usually doesn't have one paradigm. This is why we have all these different churches.
Paradigms often have statements of belief that summarize what the paradigm stands for. However, over time that statement is interpreted in different ways and eventually two paradigms arise. When that happens people often experience what I call a "breaking point", a point when they feel/believe that their paradigm is either good and true and rational...or not. When they switch sides...or not. One obvious example within the paradigm of the Christian church is the Protestant revolution and Martin Luther's role in it.

At its foundation it is about identity and where we feel at home, although I would also add that it is about why we feel at home in a certain paradigm. After all, we all have our reasons for belonging where we do and "just because" is not good enough.
I think that a lot of people within the Christian church are dealing with this issue right now and I think it is a very important question. I recently saw a guy post on Facebook that "I want the heritage of Jesus, not the church". It's kind of like saying that we belong "in Jesus" when we share our stories or paradigms (read churches or denominations). Of course we do! The point is, which Jesus paradigm do we belong in? Do you feel at home in the paradigm that makes up Westboro Baptist? Methodist? Catholic? Quaker? Greek Orthodox? Faith movement home church? Missional? Organic? Seeker sensitive? State church?

We all belong in and with Jesus but we all belong in and with Jesus through his church whether we like it or not. The question is, to be very practical (my wife would be so proud!) which church? Which paradigm?

But wait a minute. I just said that paradigms can vary widely even within churches. So is it possible to pick a paradigm and a church or do we have to pick one but not the other?
This is the crux of the matter, the breaking point that can cause profound disillusionment. What do you do when you find that your church and your paradigm aren't "jiving" although they absolutely should?
I read many articles that talk about this within my own church, the worldwide United Methodist Church. Currently, it is the LBGT proponents that struggle with where they belong and what to do about the clash they perceive between their church and their paradigm, especially now that the possibility of changing the official church position seems small. That is usually what happens when somebody perceives that the church and their personal paradigm start to clash. You start to fight the clash and bring harmony to the two (and it is a lot easier to change an institution than it is your own beliefs/paradigm) but it is tricky. It didn't work for Luther and it doesn't seem to work in the UMC (although it has, intriguingly, worked in many less global churches).

It seems to me that many people are reaching a breaking point within the UMC over this clash between their paradigms and their church. People aren't necessarily leaving the church (or its rosters) but the passion and the involvement slowly fade away. The LGBT paradigm is so radically different on so many important points than the opposite paradigm (let's call it the traditional paradigm) that the disharmony and ensuing struggle seems inevitable, unless radical compromises are put in place (but how can either paradigm compromise how it perceives truth?).

Personally, it isn't about the LGBT question even as I understand how important and wide-ranging that is. It is more about about this point-break thing and when paradigms and institutions clash. I'm guessing that most of you who read this may not actually worry about this and feel quite comfortable with the paradigm and church that you are in even if they don't jive perfectly. Does that ever happen?
I, on the other hand, can't help but wonder if it has to be this way or if there is a way to keep my paradigm of faith and my church together without clashing. Without political strife. Without ever-lasting arguments over what we believe (our paradigm). Without the theological equivalent of Verdun (the Image of futility). Without wasting our time with our internal struggles while the world slips away.

I hope so. I pray so.

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