Friday, January 26, 2007

Boundary Marker Spirituality: A Story

(musical theme: Dahn, da, daaahn; dahn, da, dahn, da, daaaaaaaaah...)

"The following story is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. My name's Frye-day. I'm a cop. It was late Wednesday night in the city..."

Okay, okay, enough with the Dragnet motif.

I was with a group of people and as the conversation unfolded, I presented a brief summary of bounded-set spirituality versus centered-set spirituality (click here for a more thorough presentation).

Bounded-set spirituality relies on "markers" to identify who's in and who's out. For the Jews in Jesus' day, it was circumcision, dietary code, Sabbath law, racial origin and the like. Bounded-set spirituality when I was a teen included no smoking, no drinking, no movies (in a theater), no dancing, no playing with "devil cards" (though you could kick butt playing Rook). Centered-set spirituality defined by Jesus was loyalty in following him as he demonstrated the life of "the great commandment" (what Scot McKnight presents as The Jesus Creed).

Brent, a man in the group, told me the following: When he was a teenager, he violated a boundary-marker for spirituality. Growing up in a strict religious home and church, it was drilled into him that he could not buy anything on Sunday; he could not even enter a store. It was against the law of God, and severe judgment would result. Christians never bought anything on Sunday.

One Sunday night he was with some friends and they decided to go into a supermarket. He felt jittery, but went along. Here is his description as he walked through:

"As I walked down the aisle, I was really scared. I was afraid, not so much that I was breaking the Sabbath, but I was alarmed by all the people I saw. They were all pagans. They must be, because they were in there shopping. I clutched my wallet because only very degenerate people would be in the store--robbers, drunkards, low-life types. There would not be any good people in a store. I was shocked at how many pagans there were. I was afraid for my life. I didn't want to look them in the eye because I thought they would hurt me and my friends. I felt so relieved when we got out of there."

Because of a religious boundary marker, this man recalls defining a mass of people that he did not know as degenerate, dangerous, and hell-bound pagans. He felt very threatened by them. He knew they were "out." He was "in," even though he was feeling guilty. Boundary marker spirituality turns people into fear-driven, judgmental, character-assassinating homophobes.

I am thankful that Brent told me his story. It helped me understand the fear and hostility that Jesus generated in people by his boundary-breaking love. Boundaries create bubbles and everyone outside the bubble is contaminated. It's not a safe be a lover of God and a lover of people.



At 1/26/2007 3:54 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...


I can't tell you, brother, how you felt like a cool breeze on my face today whenever you chimed in. Regardless of any differences we might have on this issue and others, I felt you standing there with me, not necessarily agreeing, but just there and not trying to be so... RIGHT!

I enjoyed your post here. I grew up in the exact same kind of world as Brent. My parents still live in that world, so a lot of what I got today online is what I get when I go home as well.

Who in their right mind would "choose" to have to put up with this?! For me, it's not a choice, it just is.

Thanks, brother. :)

At 1/26/2007 5:11 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Too much damage has been done in the name of "rightly dividing the word of truth." I admire the way you hold your own in the conversation. I am grateful that you are my sister in Christ.

At 1/29/2007 12:18 AM, Blogger Alex Tang said...


Thank you for the "Boundary Marker Spirituality Story". It was very insightful.

I agree with you that "It's not a safe be a lover of God and a lover of people."


At 1/29/2007 6:39 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Alex Tang,
I am honored that you have visited the Jesus the Radical Pastor blogspot. I am blessed that you were encouraged. I will pray for you and your ministry. The world will know that we are dsiciples of Jesus by our love for one another. Shalom!

At 2/03/2007 9:29 AM, Blogger Bill Kinnon said...

Thanks for this. As ever, your post gently teaches. And this brother appreciates it.

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