Glass-and-steel skyscrapers piercing the sky like glistening giant redwoods from inside the vast urban jungle. Loud admonishments in Mandarin, to wear more clothes and drink hot water. Days when the smog is thick enough to completely conceal the iconic skyline. Four years in, and I’m still met daily with things that remind me that I’m not in Georgia anymore. Sometimes, they come in the form of discussions at bible study.
Once upon a time, I was part of a church where controversial topics might include the two possible interpretations of Romans 7 or whether double predestination is biblical, or some other minutia. Most members of that church would have taken issue, in fact, with the statement that those things are minutia.
Here, where it isn’t possible to pick one’s preferred flavor of Christianity, election isn’t assumed, and no one even cares to debate Romans 7. Everything, save for the exclusivity of the gospel, is up for discussion. And people feel safe to debate and share their opinions, even if they may not be held by anyone else in the group. Lively debate is healthy and good, and nobody’s identity is tied up in secondary theological distinctives. To be fair, just as my own faith has changed quite a bit, I’m sure the same can be said for those back home. But from the other side of the world, I don’t have much to go on besides my memories.
This has been a good place for me. It was in the midst of my faith crisis last fall/winter that I joined my small group. I was in a fragile state then, irritable and ready to lash out at what I felt were straw-man arguments that Christians easily knocked over while giving each other congratulatory pats on the back. And when I did argue the other side, I don’t think it would have helped me to hear another scripted answer, the same things I’d always heard. Thankfully, I was met with a group of people from various backgrounds coming from different perspectives who didn’t feel the need to swiftly answer my objections and close the case with a poignant bible verse.
Eventually, I did work out a lot of my issues, but I did it in part, in the context of patient community where I was allowed to be a Christian in a process, able to grow at my own pace. I don’t think that such an environment is impossible in a church community that is unified by more than the essentials. But the only place I’ve experienced it is one that isn’t.
Perhaps in the long run, such an environment isn’t the best for my family and me. Maybe it’s not really sustainable. But for now, I’m glad I’m not in Georgia anymore.