A little over eight years ago, my wife and I rolled into a strange new town in a broken down van with $700 to our name and our asses in our hands. We were both unemployed and living in a woman’s basement, who my wife had only met for ten minutes in a Wall-Mart parking lot in L.A. six months earlier. We had moved to Portland, Oregon in order for me to attend seminary. Why seminary? The previous two years in L.A. had been utterly devastating for us – within a couple years, we lost everything and almost everyone in our lives: jobs, money, our community, children, our house, and damn near our marriage. I had this wild idea that I needed to go to seminary to find out what went wrong? I needed to know where I went wrong, how I had missed it, and above all I needed to know if there was any “good news” for people like us, people whose life looked like a Greek tragedy.
Two conversations from my first weeks at Multnomah seminary marked my entire experience at grad school and both conversations were with one of my seminary profs, Dr. Jon Robertson. It was my first day in school and one of my classes was Patristic theology (basically Christian theology from the early centuries – roughly the first 600 years). In typical fashion, the professor asked the students to introduce themselves to the class and tell the class why each of us was in seminary. When it came to my turn I introduced myself and then said to my classmates, “I’m here to find out what the gospel is.” Dr. Robertson interjected, “Well, of course you know what the gospel is. You are here to discover the deeper meaning of the gospel, right?” “Huh, well, actually, I would just like to know what it is.” Several weeks later, I was having lunch with the same prof and I began to share with him some of the painful circumstances that had precedded my arrival in Portland. Dr. Robertson asked me, “have you found a church community since arriving in Portland.” I told him that while I had attended several churches, some for several weeks, I hadn’t found a place to settle in. “The truth is”, I told him, “I feel like a spiritual orphan.”
Fast-forward eight years later with seminary graduation well in my rear-view mirror. We met some amazing people on our journey, several have become deep and abiding friendships – even dear family members have moved to Portland to join us in our adopted home. Now as I attempt to transition into “civilian life”, I wonder if I will ever find what I was looking for when I loaded up our old dilapidated Dodge Caravan and headed up to the NorthWest in the middle of winter. If I’m honest, one of the reasons that I have stayed off the “ecclesial reservation” all these years is because I was always secretly hoping that God’s “good news” might be that I did not have to be religious anymore (think, act and talk like a religious robot) in order to be loved and accepted by God. As for finding a “spiritual community” to live and share faith with, well I have started wondering if maybe the time has come to call off the search. When Christ was asked, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” He replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”
Okay, so this is the first post on a new site called, “the occasional congregation.” I would love it if this site became a place where people could participate in an “earthy” and honest discourse about things that really matter. My hope is that this site could support thoughtful ideas as well as unvarnished expressions of doubt and skepticism. If you know me, among my favorite forms of discourse is sarcasm and nay-saying. So welcome to the site. Visit often. Make it your own and help me make it a place where we can bring our friends!