Tuesday, March 6, 2007
The farthest back I can remember places me in a parsonage of a small church in Everett, Washington. I was born in Bremerton but my family soon moved to Everett where my father would pastor Pinehurst Community Chapel. Much of this time period is foggy to me, but I do remember several incidences that contributed to my early socialization as a Christian. Activities in the church such as Awana and Vacation Bible schools stick out as the main events that I remember from this age. I can only assume that this is because they had a deep impact on the beginning of my moral formation. Yet, amongst these important activities something very strange sticks out in my mind about Pinehurst Church.
Being the first home of my memory, one might conclude that this place would rise as a place of comfort in my remembrance. However, I distinctly recall never feeling at home at this place. From flashes of church services to playing in the back yard, I always recollect an unusual uneasiness about the place. This perhaps could simply be my frail childhood being intimidated by what I perceived at the time as traumatic events such as the police raiding the next door neighbor in a drug bust, the squirrel that getting fried on the power lines, or the burglar alarm going off. But, my intuitive side tells me that my uneasiness arose from something inside the church. I was far too young to be disturbed by misleading theology or debates about worship styles. There was a feeling around the people at Pinehurst that never made me feel comfortable or nurtured.
So the question that this now poses to me is: did this early experience somehow scar or deter me from the fundamentalism that was embodied in the church? This church was a bit more fundamental than that which I am used to and comfortable with now. I always become restless and tense when I encounter more legalistic church. It is possible that my experience at Pinehurst has made me associate negative feelings with this type of tradition.
By the time I was five years old, we had moved to Port Orchard, Washington, and were attending Harper Evangelical Free Church. This is where I would spend the remainder of my life until I moved away to college. Here I finally found a home. The people at Harper nurtured me through daycare and Sunday schools. Harper built the foundation of my faith as I was socialized in the beliefs, sacraments, and norms of the Evangelical Free tradition.
The Evangelical Free Church came from the Lutheran tradition and derives many of the same beliefs and rituals. Harper’s sacraments include communion but only held once a month. Communion for me never felt incredibly sacred, but rather felt more like a celebration than a remembrance. Harper Church baptizes adults but does not baptize infants. I recall a desire to be baptized when I was very young because my best friend Justin did it. My parents wisely advised me to wait until I understood what it meant and I agreed. One aspect of the church that has changed dramatically since I have been there has been the worship. When I was young the worship was largely done through hymns and occasional guitar-accompanied songs. Through the years, the church has adopted more and more contemporary styles of worship to cater to the younger demographic that it is surrounded by. This issue has been heatedly debated in our church and has left much of the older generation unsatisfied. As a result, the background of worship that I grew up with is contemporary, with a full band.
Many times I view myself as a very postmodern Christian. Growing up in a world that is personally defined and where truth is relative, I feel that I have incorporated these values into my faith. If this is so, Harper Church was the beginning of this integration. The teachings by the pastor and even the Sunday school teachers subtly reflected these principles. One time, in regards to Jesus requiring his followers to sell all his possessions and giving all to the poor, I recall teachings that this can be interpreted as relative. I have been taught that not everyone is called to give up all material belongings but everyone is called to give up their “life” to God. This clearly demonstrates Christianity reflecting postmodern ideals.
The first school that I can remember attending is South Colby Elementary in Port Orchard, Washington. This setting comes with many warm memories of my first great social interactions outside my family. It’s hard to piece together the social climate and impacts of a period like this because I was not paying particularly close attention to it when I was there. I can, however, recall several relationships that obviously had huge impacts on my life. My first close friend at this school was Javan Miner, a friendship that started on the first day of kindergarten and lasted for the next four years. Javan was from a local Presbyterian Church so I had the occasional exposure to this tradition. The most I can recollect from these visits is that I was always quite uncomfortable and nervous. It is here that I can begin to see a pattern of pessimism throughout my life with things that I am not familiar with. When I get into a situation that I am not accustomed to, I begin to feel very negative about everything associated with it. This demonstrates the ideals of a pessimistic outlook and belief that situations are relative to different people that I share with the postmodern movement.
There are other instances in South Colby that affected my early faith formation. For instance, in my fourth through sixth grade years I was part of a multiage classroom setting. In the beginning, I was part of the youngest group in the class. I had to learn to be mentored by older kids and work in teams to get projects done. Then, as I grew older I learned that it was my responsibility to teach younger students coming in all that I had learned. This classroom dynamic is a great model of discipleship in Christianity. It helped me understand that I need spiritual leadership to help me grow in my faith. However, it is also imperative that I teach and nurture other new Christians.
My family has been the most important influence on my life. My parents have been happily married for almost 30 years. I have two brothers, one older and one younger. Being the middle child reinforced my ability to both learn from my older brother and teach my younger brother. The first major “growth spurt” in my faith occurred when my brother returned from Challenge a youth conference that our denomination puts on for the whole nation. Bjørn came back from that experience as a completely new person. He and his friends had learned that they were not living the way God wanted them to. God wanted them to be different; to act, talk, and think differently. Bjørn and his friends took on this challenge in their schools and at our church’s youth group, changing them in many ways. It may seem like I am digressing from my own story, but this tangent had a tremendous impact on my life. Like every little brother I always imitated my older brother. So when he came back completely changed it meant I was in for an overhaul as well. However, it was mostly just imitation. I would later realize that I was just doing the “churchy” thing to look like my brother and his cool friends.
My extended family has also been quite significant to me. My father was born and raised in Nigeria to missionary parents. He later moved to the United States and was raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition in a small Dutch town called Lynden, Washington. The Christian Reformed background of my dad’s family always struck me lightly. I would attend the Reformed services and hear the beliefs of my opinionated grandfather, but most of it seemed pretty removed from me because I knew I was being raised in a separate tradition. Still, the Christian Reformed ideals that remained imprinted on my dad surely have impacted me in subtle ways.
My mom’s family also grew up in Lynden, Washington. The Eides live on an unused farm that I spent several vacations living on. Throughout these constant visits, I have become very close to my two cousins Zac and Mikal. The three of us have battled between our mischievous desires and our Godly parents, aunts, and uncles, to form our moral foundation. The time I spent with the Eides was a time to question my moral, ethical, and social values because I was out of my normal context. Of course my loving aunts, uncles and cousins always steered me in the right direction; at least, according to our evangelical background . . .
The youth group at our church was called Crosshold Ministries and was led by Pastor John Snell. Youth group helped form the basis of my Christian faith but also contributed to my postmodern ideals. Pastor Snell’s messages often focused on how we need to be different in this world. He always encouraged me that I could change my high school if I could begin to see halls through Jesus’ eyes. John Snell’s general message has implanted the importance of being in the world but not of the world inside of my mind. As I moved on from this youth group, I saw that much of my focus of my Christian faith was merely making myself appear to be different. In a world that believes that everyone has the right to personally define himself, I felt that the appearance of Godliness was the most important aspect of my faith. As a result, I paid very little attention to what was going on inside of me.
My youth group faintly affirmed the postmodern ideals of relative truth and personal definition. Pastor John did not teach these so much; rather, I got these ideas from the students attending. Like me, these students were being told every day that truth is different for every person. Our non-Christian friends heatedly told us that it is ok to be homosexual or of any religion as long as it does not interfere with others’ lives. Confused, we would take these thoughts and try and fit them into Christianity so that we could appear to be like everyone else. In retrospect, I should have enjoyed the opportunity of having different beliefs and used it to show how Christianity offers a better alternative. The people at youth group also asserted the postmodern value of the world being personally defined. Discussions on the role of prayer, the implementation of love, or the complexity of the trinity revealed that our generation holds the personal view of the individual in high regard.
After South Colby, I attended John Sedgwick Junior High School and South Kitsap High School. The culture of both of these institutions had major impacts on me. My junior high school had over 1000 students and my high school was the largest in the state, with over 2600 students for just three grades. The massive sizes of my schools had a unique affect on me. In schools this big one often feels lost and insignificant. To find identity, one usually has to find a subculture within the school and cling to it. Fortunately, I quickly identified with the people from my youth group. Though not always exclusively, our youth group stayed together and tried to support each other through these difficult years.
My conversion as a process of socialization can clearly be seen in my junior high years. During these years I began to test the ideals that I was imitating from my older brother. I would experiment with sharing my faith, prayer in school, and Bible study, practices I learned from youth group and my older brother and his friends. However, I often found that actually expressing your faith in school was not very “cool” and some people even went as far as to make fun of such actions. In such a large school, there is a lot of pressure to make yourself fit in. So I was extremely hesitant in exhibiting behavior that would hinder this. So, for most of junior high school, I kept my mouth shut about Jesus, but tried to appear spiritually active while at church.
The tension between my faith and my acceptance only amplified as I entered the huge high school. At South Kitsap High, my reserved nature was met by apathy that let me fall between the cracks of the social ranks. Feeling slightly unidentified, I poured myself into my friends at youth group who became the main source of my striving for approval. Because of this my focus became appearing spiritually and academically healthy. In the midst of high school, my faith became quite stagnant. There was not much backslide in my faith, I did not take up smoking or drinking, but there was not much growth either. I joined my massive student body in the static pursuit of acceptance and conformity. This period reflects my conversion as a process of socialization because there were no specific points of rededication. Spiritual growth, when it came at all, was a slow process because I disliked change and wanted to stick to the status quo.
Every summer our youth group would either go to a youth conference or on a mission trip. Throughout junior high and high school, I went to two 'Challenge' conferences, put on by the Evangelical Free Church for the whole nation, and three trips to Tijuana, Mexico. The 'Challenge' trips were the closest experience that I have had to conversion as a personal choice or rededication. The speakers had very compelling messages that, with their wit and urgency, engaged the students and caused them to seriously consider the call to follow Jesus. With a whole week to focus, it was quite easy for me to be encouraged to take my relationship with God seriously, however, the excitement of these trips often wore off rather quickly. The lasting impact that these trips really had for me is that they expanded my understanding and liberated my expression of worship. With thousands of Christians crying out in genuine adoration, I learned quickly the meaning and significance of authentic worship.
The trips to Mexico also helped accelerate the rate of my spiritual growth but also display my postmodern attitude. During these trips, our group went to different churches in the poor suburbs of Tijuana and put on bible schools for children, classes for women, and provided a game of “football” for anyone who would play with the inept Americans. Along the way, members of our group would give testimonies and we tried to communicate that we were trying to spread the news of Jesus. These trips encouraged me to be bolder in sharing my faith. Seeing God’s word spread is a powerful matter and caused me to begin to take my relationship with God more seriously. This further exemplifies my socialization in Christianity because each trip gradually built on what was learned in the previous year. These Mexico trips also reflect the postmodern ideals that I encompass. The organization that we went with explained that the people we were serving were mostly in their psychological state because of social conditioning. This mostly helps us feel sorry for them, but I am afraid that it may hinder us from loving them in the way that we love our friends and family. Furthermore, my thought as the world being relationally defined was confirmed through the awesome testimonies of the community within the small churches.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Switching from living at home to a Seattle Pacific University was difficult for me. I loved my home above the ferry in Southworth and did not want to leave. I yearned to stay and live at home, but I felt God calling me, through my parents among other things, to live on campus. Trusting that God would allow me to be uncharacteristically bold and outgoing and that He would bless me with friends, I moved into Moyer Hall. At SPU, God endowed me with a warm environment that was completely different from my previous school experiences. Finally, it was acceptable and even encouraged to discuss and practice my faith. However, I sometimes feel like such a Christian environment can also cause me to get far to comfortable with my faith and could cause me to become stagnant. Fortunately, SPU has been a source of rapid growth in my spiritual life. Through classes and groups, I have been heartened to practice regular bible study and prayer.
It has been a long journey since birth until my new university life. My faith has been a continuous process of growth. SPU has been a great place to bring my ideas about faith and religion and discuss these ideas with others. To combat my reservations of being in a dominantly Christian community I have strove to take advantage of ministry opportunities. For instance, in February, my floor pooled money to buy socks. One Saturday we went downtown and met some awesome homeless people, talked with them, and tried to explain that we care for them and feel called to serve them. Then, we offered them the socks as a gift. This experience helped me witness the love of God and encouraged me to grow closer to him. I hope to continue to serve God by serving the people of Seattle.