May is my busiest month as I work to put in our 900 square foot garden and finish reading the last stack of term papers, and as it draws to a close all of my routines change. I move away from teaching and ramp up my reading and writing, I transition from using frozen strawberries in my morning smoothies to cutting fresh rhubarb (no, I promise, try it!), and here in Canada we can finally open our windows. Summer is upon us, and no one appreciates summer like folks here in the frozen north where it’s summer three months a year, and winter lasts from October 1 through the end of April. But to be honest with you, there is one other thing that really stands out as a sign of summer: the pews are empty: at least I think they are since I’m rarely there to notice. Yes, the Daniel-Hughes family is entering our season of church hooky.
I have taken up the annual task of running our men’s retreat. I began doing this when my wife returned from a women’s retreat with all kinds of fun stories. They drank wine, read books, kept journals, shared, cried, and cried and cried and then shared and cried some more. I deliberately organized our men’s event so as to keep all sincerity and sharing to an absolute minimum. Journals and books are forbidden. We don’t even stay indoors. We hike into the Adirondack mountains to smoke cigars, drink scotch, get bug bites and eat fatty and salty foods without guilt. The friendships are the point, and we drive this point home by refusing to call what we’re doing “fellowship” or “bonding.” I love it, and take pride in running a trip where there is a very real chance that someone ends up needing first aid. But I’m beginning to prattle: the point is that once the annual men’s retreat is over, church is pretty much over for us for the next few months. We’ll be there 3-4 times, off and on, but once my son is out of school, we’re simply not in town during the weekends. The mountains are calling, and as a red blooded American, I’m duty bound to take every opportunity to cross that border and get back into some good old American wilderness. Sorry pastor, but unless you’re moving the pulpit to Saranac Lake for July, I won’t be seeing you much.
Here’s our family’s rule-of-thumb/compromise: If we’re in town on Sunday, we’re in church, but if we’re in a tent, or lean-to, or hotel, then we ain’t (see even my vocabulary changes when summer arrives). Now I know what my Pentecostal grandparents and great-grandparents would have thought of this, but I’m asking you dear reader, what do you think.
Since I’ll be in the mountains teaching the boy to do mountainy and manly type things, and trying to convince my wife that an inflatable mattress is not a necessity on a backpacking trip, I won’t be blogging much, but I will post a few thoughts that I’ve been developing these last few weeks. Now get out there and twist some ankles and drink some questionable water. And remember, if you carry a beer in your backpack for at least two miles, all of its calories magically disappear. Here’s a short preview of what’s to come:
Churches aren’t Corporations and Christians aren’t Customers
In my business (academia) there is a constant tension surrounding the ways in which we think about students and accountability. Yes, we’re there to serve them, but providing an education is not like providing a sandwich. Who is our ultimate “customer?” To whom are we responsible? I’ll turn this question around and ask similar questions about our churches and we’ll think about whether or not the customer is always or ever right.
Every fourth of July I end up thinking about this topic, knowing full well that lots of Evangelical churches across America are reveling in “Old Glory” and hosting “God and Country” Saturday night revivals, even as Liberal churches in the same towns cringe and argue about whether it is even appropriate to have an American flag in the building. As a LiberalEvangelical I come down on these issues in some unexpected ways: (that’s called a tease).
Why I care very little about the fact that my minister is a heretic
Well, he is. There’s no denying it if you heard his sermon on Pentecost Sunday. He’s a confirmed modalist, and I have very little doubt that most everyone reading this blog is as well. And I don’t care at all about your heresy either. Heretics make better Christians and leaving room for heresy is one of the most important virtues that LiberalEvangelicals can cultivate.
How can Liberals “make” their kids go to church?
This is the big one that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I used to run into this question all the time as a youth minister. Put simply, bribing teenagers with pizza only works until they’re old enough to drive and buy their own pizza. The parents have to “make them go to church.” So why, liberal readers, does that very idea make you cringe? This one will be pretty hard hitting, so I’m giving you most of the summer to prepare yourselves.
Summer is here, so put on some shorts and flip flops, make yourself a rhubarb margarita – is the Canadian Rhubarb Council [CRC] sponsoring this blog? – and come see us every few weeks or so.