Though I flirted the last years of high school with pursuing music ed. or history, the home for my heart’s deep gladness always led to vocational ministry. From five years old I had been mimicking preachers to my mom, attempting to copy their movements and speech patterns, and verbally waterboarding friends in church and school with my own terribly constructed lessons.
For better or worse, I was a pastor, the son of pastors. I could not be dissuaded or denied: my path led through religious education and into the Church – though to what end, I was not yet sure.
So I enrolled in a nearby Bible college. Both my fathers (long story) had graduated from this school and though I knew our church had some affiliation with them, I was still not fully aware of the deep ties connecting them.
The Missouri summers cut deeply into the fall most years, and well into my first semester we were still going outside for class. One of these beautifully warm mornings, my Acts professor, Dr. Moore (yes, I happily paid actual dollars to hear someone lecture 4 hours a week on a Bible book), held forth perched on a half-buried boulder and began addressing his eager pupils arrayed on the freshly cut grass below him.
I don’t remember the specific lesson, but at some point my attention was drawn away from the scenery back to the magisterial voice drifting across the lawn. The good doctor was giving an aside on the tradition our school worked within. He began to speak of the Restoration Movement as a stream of three parts and, stretching his arms wide, looked to his right hand and spoke of the non-instrumental Church of Christ, our highly conservative brethren. Then, turning his head, he mentioned the Disciples of Christ, who have spent the last half century drifting ever further left. But we, the simply named Christian Churches, resided somewhere in the center.
I’m sure this man understood quite well the wide generalization he was using, and I myself would later come to recognize the inconsistencies and lack of nuance (i.e. factual inaccuracy) in such a presentation, but at the time I cannot pretend this characterization bothered me. Not only was I drinking deeply of Dr. Moore’s Kool-Aid, but his explanation played into my elitist desires, vindicating my movement and proving that we had it figured out here in the middle; that moderate, semi-conservative centrism was obviously what Jesus would have wanted from His people.
(Because, you know, Jesus was well-known for his moderate views.)
For the moment however, I had finally awoken to the movement directing the deeper currents of my faith experience. A simple story, merely a vignette, but a memory cut deeply into my heart. From this moment on, I was no longer defining my church as “not ___”, but was embarking upon a journey down the rabbit hole of this particular tradition, and would quickly find that Alice’s looking glass had nothing on the mental contortions I would have to attempt in order to stay on the path of my youth.
But that’s for later. For now, I was discovering how good it was to be the correct, balanced ones in the middle.