Today I am pleased to have Dustin joining me. You can find him on Twitter at @dustinbagby. He has a very clever blog entitled Dustball Galactica http://dustball.blogspot.com/ I encourage you to check it out as well. He has some great insights to share.
“I’m a Pasture” by Dustin Bagby
I used to live by a Vegan coffee shop that offered gluten-free (what I refer to as flavor-free) pastries and were only open on days when they felt like opening. Over a short period of time I got to know the owner, who was a young woman, probably in her mid-30’s decked out with dreadlocks and vintage clothing. She was very friendly and liked to discuss ideas. One day she asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I usually dread this question because as most pastors know, there are usually two responses: either the conversation abruptly ends or they ask, “so what do you think about homosexuality?”
I was bracing for the worst and said, “I’m a pastor of a young community that meets in a pub.” I was trying to give the impression that I was somehow different than what she may have experienced in the past from the church by placing a strong emphasis on “meets in a pub”. As soon as I said that, she said, “Really? You’re a pasture?” I didn’t have the heart to correct her and say, “No, a pastor.” She said it a few more times, “You’re so young to be a pasture.”
Internally I was cracking up at both the “pasture” comment but also that I just assumed that this woman had a negative experience with church before I even knew anything about her! Especially when it turns out that not only did she not have a negative experience in the church, but had NO experience at all! Amazing! As someone who grew up in Illinois, this wouldn’t even be a possibility. There it seemed like you either went to church, or you had a good reason why you didn’t go to church.
The conversation continued and she followed it up with an assertion of her own beliefs. She said, “Well, I believe in goodness.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I said, “I LOVE goodness!” Goodness seems to be some firm common ground. Then she said, “I’m an earth-first-er.” I said, “Oh, nice” pretending that I had some (any?) idea what she just said. I of course pretended to know, as she pretended to know what a “pasture” was. I had to go home and look up what that meant and apparently it’s a philosophy that the earth isn’t here to serve us, but we are here to serve the earth. Therefore, we have to prioritize what is best for the earth even above what is best for humanity. I had never heard of this but found it intriguing.
Unfortunately, soon after this hilarious interchange we soon moved to a new neighborhood, had a kid, and with the major life transition have not been back to that coffee shop. But what I realized is that I knew about as much regarding her beliefs as she knew about mine. I have never lived in a place before where there were so many ideas I have never even heard of. In fact, where I grew up, if you did believe something that was out of the mainstream, you just kept it to yourself in fear of being ridiculed or mocked as a looney. But that isn’t the case in Portland. I heard a pastor say last week that what he’s observed in our city is that we pride ourselves on independent self-expression, and that very much includes what we believe.
I’ve also found that as someone who loves to interact and engage with ideas, the city of Portland is a wonderful place to live. While none of us has a completely “open mind” (we all believe something, right?), I have found people are willing to engage and consider new ideas and have candid, honest discussions about anything and everything. In contrast, in the “bible-belt” there was a suspicion and hesitancy to even THINK about new ideas and so we were sheltered from them by parents and pastors alike.
While people talk about the lack of racial diversity in Portland (which is something I only hear people say who stick within 20 blocks of where they live on Hawthorne), there is an incredible diversity of ideas and beliefs. There are witches, Christians, druids, Muslims, charismatics, Buddhists, New Agers, Scientologists, and Earth-First-ers all living in very close proximity. I have been in a group studying the book of Ephesians at the Lucky Lab Pub sitting next to a Polyamorous group, who was sitting next to a Bird-watching club.
The City of Portland is populated with people who are seeking and searching for something that transcends easy answers and religious ideologies. And in that sense, it’s a fantastic and challenging place for the gospel to be incarnated amongst the diversity of ideas that exist within such a small place. And as a “pasture” of a small community that meets in a pub, I’m honored to be serving and living amongst these people.