Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Isolating ourselves to death

My bicycle was stolen this week - right out of my back yard. I should have known to lock it when I parked it there at night, should have known that people roam the streets sometimes, looking for that which is open, because open is sometimes translated as, 'here I am - take me!' But that's fine, I'll learn from it and move on.

The incident, though, started me thinking about some things that I read in Seattle papers over the weekend, in particular, an article by a pastor. This pastor was bashing the Seattle schools, and explaining why he'd be enrolling his children in a private school this fall.

The difficulty is that such posturing becomes a display of isolationism. "Don't like the schools? Pull your kids out. Go private." There are a couple of problems with a leader articulating this. By so doing, the leader overtly encourages wholesale withdrawal from the culture, and I'm left wondering how this encourages people of faith to be present in the world, as Jesus invited us to do. It is never the prerogative of one parent to tell another where their children should attend school, yet so often Christian parents are zealous that their way, be it public, private, or home-schooled, is the right way. Such attitudes are bad wherever they are demonstrated. When articulated by leaders, they are even worse, functionally becoming an endorsement for only one way of educating. When that endorsement leads to isolation, one wonders: How is this helping us bless our city?

In contrast to this, our church has a very close relationship with the public elementary school across the street, (which is easy to do in this case, as it is an excellent school) and have encouraged parents and children to thrive in that environment. This is part of what it means to live faithfully in one's culture, and to love one's neighbor: we must seek to bless the institutions of our city, working together for the common good, for only in so doing will we be what the Bible calls 'salt and light'. (towards that end, we are working to save our schools) To those who choose private school, spiritual leaders should encourage involvement in the broader culture in other forms, as should be the case with those who are home schooled. But make no mistake: It is not the prerogative of spiritual leaders to dictate school choice; rather our role is to encourage people to raise their children in such a way that they will love Christ and bless their world. Each parent must wrestle with that individually.

In C.S. Lewis classic book, "The Great Divorce", hell is described as that place where you have everything you want and nobody bothers you, but you are completely isolated. Houses are thousands of miles from each other and continually drifting further apart. It seems to me that statements which encourage withdrawal have the effect of isolating. And in the end, our bike won't be stolen, and our hands won't get dirty, because nobody will be nearby to bother us. But of course, since our heart is made for community and relationships, this wouldn't be heaven at all... it would be hell!

I like Jeremiah's word to us. Work and pray for the prosperity and blessing of the city (and the schools and the theaters, and the museums, and the galleries, and maybe even the sports teams) of the city in which you live. For in so doing, you will become the blessing you're meant to be!


At 3/5/05 15:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

salt and light... the 3 word reminder of one of our primary purposes here. I feel the Lord working in our lives now as we see issues in our public schools, and consider these choices for our children. Get involed, or isolate? Every where I turn, I see 'get involved'....

At 3/5/05 18:59, Anonymous paul Beard said...

Thanks for your words of support: I am involved in that school across the street and our community would be poorer without your church's involvement.

I find attitudes like the one mentioned -- of disengagement and isolation, informed by some sense of superiority -- to be inconsistent with the mission of a pastor.

I think his theology is more informed by Sartre -- Hell is other people -- than the Bible.

At 4/5/05 23:25, Anonymous Dave said...

Sorry to hear about the bike. Didn't know that was why you'd gotten a new one. Glad to hear you dealing with it so well ala Luke 6:30. Was that your Specialized? Maybe that explains why you're okay with it... :P

We definitely become more invested in that which we've prayed for extensively. A good thing.

At 16/5/05 21:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I want to say that I really appreciate that Richard was led to start his blog site. Also, I would like to say that this particular entry was one that I needed to read as I was feeling disappointed that our son and daughter-in-law are not seeing the need to send the grandchildren to a Christian school. The Lord was speaking through your blog to tame the prideful attitude that was prevailing.


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