The following is a post by Helen Stringer, who runs Kansas City Oasis. Helen and Mike Aus (the man who runs Houston Oasis) have agreed to become contributors to this blog where they will write about community building. Give Helen a big welcome! ~ JT
My husband and I bought our first home near a small quaint town about 40 minutes outside Nashville, TN. Our house was surrounded by acres of trees and overwhelmed by earth scents. Being miles from a familiar face is usually a difficulty, but it didn’t bother us because we knew we’d eventually get connected to a local church.
We eventually found a church, and oddly enough it was simply recommended to us by the local AT&T salesman. The church was non-denominational and the people were some of the most kind, loving and sweet souls that the south had to offer. We quickly became members of their tribe and soon life consisted of potlucks, game nights, and of course long conversations about what Jesus would or wouldn’t do. Having been involved with youth groups in past churches; we quickly plugged in as volunteers in their youth ministry.
One Wednesday evening, my husband Larry gave the weekly youth talk. I can’t recall what he talked about but during a time of open Q&A, a teenager asked about our view on God’s foreknowledge (there are various theologies about God’s knowledge of the future). We both knew this subject was potentially controversial, but we also thought that we should be able to discuss anything in these walls, I mean what was God afraid of? This was of course a mistake.
That Sunday, the head pastor and church elders pulled Larry and I aside and requested to talk to Larry privately. I was not allowed to be a part it. (Because us women just follow our husband’s lead or as one pastor’s wife put it, “the men might be the head, but the women are the neck, and sometimes we get to turn their heads in the right direction.” What bullshit.)
I sat on an old floral couch in the foyer and waited for what felt like forever to discover that what ensued was the leaders trying to convince Larry that he was, in fact, theologically wrong. There’s some irony here, we all had it wrong.
Nothing was resolved that day and you could feel the tension between some of the leaders in the church and Larry. Being the amicable people we are, we made one additional attempt to work out this issue by inviting the pastor and an elder over to our home. Unfortunately, this resulted in us being told that if we wished to continue at their church, we could no longer talk to any of the children or youth in the church about theology or questions. This leveled us, I mean, if you can’t talk about God, theology, or your questions at church, what the hell do you do there? We were still welcome to attend, but that was it. We opted out.
The very people we had grown to love and call our friends chose to push us out because we didn’t have the “right” beliefs. People we shared many meals with, laughed over game nights, camped with and shared our hopes and dreams with—people we’d grown close to over the years—gone just like that.
At Oasis, our first value is “people are more important than beliefs.” You can come as you are, be who you are and find true acceptance among an intellectually diverse group of people. A place where we encourage our children and youth to think critically and ask the tough questions—even if they challenge our own beliefs. Unlike that church, and most religious institutions, you won’t be rejected because you don’t share the “right” information about God, Buddha, or even the Flying Spaghetti monster. This one value creates an environment of trust and real acceptance.
I love knowing that no matter where my thoughts may travel, I will be accepted at Oasis. I’m building relationships that are not contingent on my believing the same thing as everyone else, or group-think. I’m accepting and I’m accepted in return, which is another Oasis value.
Sarah I., a Kansas City Oasian, once shared, “I went to a Nazarene church for years, years ago. I never felt so genuinely accepted there as I do at Oasis from day one; and I don’t feel Oasis would ever abandon me the way the church did when they judged my life decisions.”
Shouldn’t we focus more on what we have in common and allow our differences to make us richer and stronger as human beings?
Shouldn’t our culture overflow with respect and acceptance of one another, without strings attached?
That’s what Oasis means to me. Unconditional relationships not built on unity of mind and beliefs, but instead on our unity as fellow human sojourners.