Catching Up Stromateis

The last few days week have entailed so sweeping a list of distractions that I won’t even begin to recount it. As a result, however, my “ought to blog this” queue has approached Tolstovian proportions. Here’s a sample (some links surely fell out of my mind when I fell and banged my head):
 
IVP cites “five things pastors should know about first-time visitors.” I object to the marketing-ideology frame the author adopts, but I’ve long advocated the premise that clergy and congregations should hardly ever relax from thinking about how enter-able their communities and worship services are. If you don’t care to click through, here is my (more theological) translation of their five points: First, “Visitors make up their minds regarding a new church in the first ten minutes of their visit” (that one didn’t need translating); second, “Most church members aren’t friendly” (that one’s OK too, though I’d try to put it more gently and constructively); third, “You can’t assume that visitors feel any obligation to stay with you, your denomination, your theology, your liturgical style, or even your specific faith” (which implies at least two things, one being that everything we do ought to be done with an eye toward helping make it possible for people to understand why they should come back, and the other being that education constitutes a desperately important element in evangelism); fourth, “God has called the church to hospitality” (not, heaven help us, “is in the hospitality business”); and finally, “Every moment counts toward making a lasting first impression” (hence, the congregation and its front-line representatives ought to be fully, thoroughly, deeply, and temperamentally formed for welcoming people. Not everyone is or need be cheery, effusive, actively helpful, and so on, but the church betrays its calling if it encounters visitors who rightly perceive it to be aloof, insular, and morose). There, I saved you some bother.
 
• The estimable Alan Jacobs (I estimate him to be about 183, though I won’t stipulate what units those are 183 of) posts Andrew Hudgins’s “Praying Drunk.” This time I won’t quote it, because it will be good for your soul to go read it.I’ve often said that I’m not a good reader of poetry; this is an aesthetic and spiritual weakness of mine that for which I’m sad. I do, however, immediately recognise some poems as telling the truth, and this is one of them. Thanks, Alan, for citing it.
 
• Alan also pointed to an apposite passage from Kenneth Burke’s Philosophy of Literary Form that characterises not only “the materials of your drama,” but the conditions for participation in any weighty, historic conversation. This sort of narrated picture captures my sense of why modern theologians, philosophers, and participants in culture — even and especially those who encounter alien, alienating dominant cultures — ought (and stand to benefit from) imbibing deeply the sense of that culture before intervening to alter it. Some few very brilliant hearts can make such a revisionary intervention solely on the basis of their own insight and experience, but practically everybody else can participate more intelligibly, more persuasively and productively, more respectfully (and even our most wrong-headed adversaries typically merit respect in one dimension or another if we attend patiently to them) by knowing the tradition into which one is stepping.
 
Matt reminds us about the honourable legacy of St Thomas the Apostle, who became known as “Doubting Thomas” and who has been claimed as a sponsor by all sorts of skeptical types. I read John’s Gospel (the one which informs us about Thomas in a way that contributes to the “doubting” nickname) as affirming the expectation of evidence, unlike the Synoptic Gospels; that is, whereas in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given it,” in John’s Gospel Jesus is all about giving people signs. So Thomas ought not be seen as transgressively skeptical (as some of his self-justifying admirers proclaim) but as sensibly faithful — “Jesus has taught me to believe on the basis of good reasons, so where are the good reasons for believing he has risen?” Now, some people assimilate John’s Gospel to the “don’t put too much emphasis on visible evidence (it might lead to works righteousness!)” perspective, and I wouldn’t try to force the issue, but I venerate St Thomas (and his namesake from Aquino) as representatives of evidence-based theological thinking.
 
• Hmm, that one I oughtn’t to share. But it’s good!
 
• I’ll have more to say after I’ve spent a few days here, but I’m already surprised at how non-native I feel in the USA.
 
That’s enough for now. I should get on with things, and be more social. We]re here, we’re safe and in good health, and it’s a deep joy to see our kids and the McVetty-Harrises. You all take care, and we’ll look forward to seeing you, too.
 

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3 Responses to Catching Up Stromateis

  1. Dick says:

    Concerning the IVP comments on treatment of first-time visitors, I would add the recommendation that I picked up from a CHRISTIAN CENTURY article within the past year that we do well to discard the word “visitor” and replace it with the word “guest.” It tends to change our whole way of thinking and approach. There seems to be a tendency not to take visitors very seriously, they just come and go. When we treat them a guests, we assume a degree of responsibility for them and treat them quite differently.

  2. Neil Oliver says:

    Interesting post. Since moving to Scotland 18 months or so ago, I’ve walked into a lot of new churches whilst seeking a community of God that are willing to share and that I feel comfortable to share my life with. I’ve struggled to be honest and only a long patience with churches and their “welcome” teams has kept me coming back for more.

    I stepped into St Mary’s (ie your church) for the first time last month and again last Sunday. My first service was very abbreviated due to the heavy sonw that weekend and I was also late and very wet. After the service I was welcomed kindly if not enthusiastically and I was remembered over a month later although a I did remind someone that I’d been in previously and wasn’t local, but I don’t hold that as an issue I dare say he meets a lot of people. Despite the decorating getting under way I was attended to better and Cedric was kind enough to take a personal interest in me and my comments after the service.

    Churches neglect their welcome at their peril as an inward looking church is not one reaching to the community and is not one in service Christ (IMO).

  3. Mark J says:

    I think I understand how you feel about returning to the USA, though returning for me doesn’t mean geographically re-entering the US (I’m already here).

    It may or may not be the same thing, but going home earlier this year after nearly two years immersed in my present “culture,” I was surprised at how different things looked. And, frankly, some of the different looks I received, usually in response to some expression I used. I wasn’t even aware I’d said something unusual, yet the look seemed to say, “Um, where are YOU from?”

    It is interesting how the culture we live in changes us, often without us being aware of the changes. Copy?

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