What is your Quest?
I am continually surprised--whether I should be is another question--by the age segregation that is rampant in Christian church culture.
On September 24 I made my way over the Fremont Bridge to Quest Church. Outside were a handful of twenty-somethings dressed about like I was: not formally, in the classic Sunday sense, but with flair, because maybe this was a place to be seen. And not by God. I stepped inside and this trend was confirmed. This was as much a hip spot as it was a place of worship. I chatted briefly with a pleasant young woman and meandered over to a seat. I was prepared for any number of things.
What came next was a much more intimate, and therefore honest variant of the rock concert format you will remember from Mars Hill. Imagine a Bright Eyes show at Neumos as opposed to Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount. The song leader was passionate, and there was a heartfelt acoustic quality to all of his selections that hit the right chord with me. OK, I thought, after this will come a little sermon that could go by the name of telling everyone what to think and do. This assumption was only reinforced by the text for study, printed on the front of their program, Exodus 34:10-17, which includes choice portions like: "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going" and "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles", or my favorite, "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."
The values espoused by Quest:
one | JESUS CHRIST AND THE GOSPEL.
two | COMMUNITY - BROKEN, AUTHENTIC, TRANSFORMING.
three | MISSIONS, ULTIMATELY, IS WHY THE CHURCH EXISTS.
four | STRUCTURE MUST SUBMIT TO SPIRIT.
five | WE MUST ENGAGE OUR CULTURE.
six | CREATIVITY IS THE NATURAL RESULT OF SPIRITUALITY
seven | COMPASSION AND JUSTICE TO THE POOR AND MARGINALIZED REFLECTS GOD'S HEART.
eight | EVERYTHING MUST BE DONE IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE.
nine | WE WILL PRESERVE UNITY WHILE CELEBRATING OUR DIVERSITY.
ten | ALL CHRIST FOLLOWERS ARE SERVANTS WHO MINISTER, WHILE CALLED TO LEAD
I respect pastor Eugene Cho (who has a blog, if you're interested). One of the first things he emphatically proclaimed was to "understand context". I was intrigued and surprised by the way he deemphasized the political/moral implications that a literal reading of the passage might encounter and looked much more closely at the notion of our place in a larger global/cutural context. He spoke of Quest (and the whole body of Christians, really) as a "missional" church, devoted to honoring God's sending. For us, in our middle-class Seattle routines, there is a "danger of being rooted", and God's call is for a "freedom to move". "Jesus would have a MySpace account," he said, "I'm sure of it." But not--he was quick to clarify--to shove a belief system down anyone's throat. Like my dad, pastor Cho subscribes to a "Don't force it" philosophy. The missional project of the church is to bring its values out into the larger community in a way that is complimentary to various cultures present within it.
What pastor Cho wanted to highlight in the text was love. That's right, God's message here in Exodus could be construed as a narrow-minded genocide against foreign cultures, but in this reading is an expression of His love in a context where the pressure to stray was great. Jealousy according to pastor Cho (and coincidentally the therapist whose book I have been reading) is an integral element of passionate devotion. The irrational, vigorous desire that we feel for a beloved is inflected by jealousy because it is all-encompassing, unyeilding and uncontrollable. So God is looking for recognition.
Whether I agree with this interpretation or not, Cho's focus on loving relationships and a respect for a multireligious community that Christianity can operate within was refreshing. It was that much more refreshing as a call going out to a bunch of young people--many of whom probably grew up in less inclusive religious settings.
"'Quest is the expression of a vision and dream of a church where truth is sought, mystery acknowledged, compassion and justice embodied, culture and arts engaged, creativity and innovation fostered, diversity and multiethnicity embraced, authenticity and community pursued, and sharing the love of Christ is the great cause.'
On Sundays here at Quest Church in Seattle, a growing number of people--believers, skeptics, and even cynics--gather together for worship. There are college students, single adults, married couples, older members, and children. People in the congregation come from a variety of different nations and cultures. The congregation is a mix of those that are churched, unchurched, dischurched, and overchurched. One of them is "Jane", who had never stepped foot into a church before coming to Quest. She was raised as a Buddhist, and visited Quest through an invitation of a friend. She has been with us ever since, and continues to wrestle and rejoice about the possibility that a man named Christ was indeed the Son of God who came to die for our sins and reconcile us unto God. "John", who was living what others perceived a "successful" life, woke up one morning wondering to himself if there was more to life. His questions led him to Quest, and through many conversations (and many more questions), John understood and believed that truth was indeed personal in Christ. He was baptized into the body of believers last year."
Reading the statement of faith that represents Quest and its congregation, I see paralells both with communities like Mars Hill and some of the emergent churches like COTA. I would be curious to hear more from pastor Cho and assess the direction their beliefs take these fellow pilgrims.