Thinking Out Loud

July 5, 2012

The Paganization of Daniel Surrey: A Short Story

Ten years ago a fresh wave of new authors and speakers breezed through the Evangelical landscape. With the seeker-sensitive initiative now entrenched for two decades, the discussions about how to do church accelerated, along with a renewed look at what exactly constitutes a church.

Emerging, Emergent, Missional, Post-modern; words that might have been foreign-sounding in the ’90s became part of the broader discussion in the new century, and the movement was not just a crusade of words; there were changed lives to back up the new approach.

None of this was lost on Daniel Surrey. With just enough counter-cultural DNA to resonate with the new movement, Surrey was a deep thinker whose relationship with his conservative church had possibly always been fragile. While the new breed of writers and communicators may have been missed by those part of the Evangelical status quo, Surrey jumped in with both feet; attending the conferences, buying the books and downloading the audio teachings.

To know his past, it was quite a change. Daniel and his wife Bonnie had raised five children in the Sunday School, midweek kids ministry programs and finally the youth groups of their groups. They had been bus captains, ran the car washes and been chaperones on the junior high winter ski trip. Bonnie was part of the women’s ministry and Daniel had served two years on the church board and was a relief teacher for the largest adult Bible study class. You don’t do all that and then expect to simply go off the grid and drop off the radar.

Their church attendance record suddenly plummeted as they took in house church meetings, alternative worship events, and even did the backyard “we can worship God better in nature” thing during the summer months. As the fresh look at ecclesiology gained traction, it became increasingly easier to find people of like mind. They finally wrote a letter to the Evangelical church in which they had invested a quarter of a century and half their lives, and requested their names be removed from the membership rolls.

Since part of the missional ethos involves being incarnational, they quickly joined a number of community groups involving everything from woodworking to organic gardening to roots music. But their greatest personal investment was in the area of social justice projects. Anything that reached out to the marginalized was fair game, and they gave countless hours of their time to just about every charitable project going.

One particular project particularly energized them, to the point where Daniel eventually took on a leadership role. The housing projects in the south end, next to the coal-fired power plant were home to people who had no aspirations for living elsewhere. Abuse, addiction and chronic unemployment gave way to various types of health and financial problems, and also left the people in those projects as prey for unscrupulous landlords.

While the south end projects outreach had its beginnings with Christian people and church support; with Bonnie’s constant encouragement, Daniel was determined to expand the scope of the project, to the point where partnerships were formed with individuals and agencies from the broader community.

Soon, the work began to downplay its Christian origins and intentions.

With each passing day, something changed in Daniel Surrey. He met a lot of good people waging this battle for social justice, because when you’re giving help to people who are poor or disadvantaged, the people who tend to join in that fight are indeed good people. They are good because they are created in God’s image, and they reflect that nature in their desire to spread compassion and care.

Their beliefs, however, take a variety of forms. One can still serve in this type of environment, but it’s also true that a house is known by the company it keeps, and before too long, Daniel was being influenced more than he was influencing. His personal belief system at this point was more the product of syncretism than any one particular systematic theology. He had been absorbed into another world.

Which is where I last saw him, through a broadcast on the local community access television channel. He and Bonnie were there at the dedication of a new triplex to house three families, and several representatives of aboriginal spirituality were banging drums and passing some kind of large pipe, while a New Age Shaman conferred words meant to impart some measure of financial blessing and fertility — he mentioned fertility ten times even though all three families had children — to the homes’ new occupants.

And then they all shared a vegetarian potluck meal which centered around deep fried cauliflower, which may have offered some theoretical health benefits in its conception, but those benefits had been diminished by the degree of breading and deep frying. But before they ate, they paused for “a word of thanks” and Daniel Surrey, the former Evangelical Church board member began his “prayer” with an address to “the great spirit of the earth and sky and sun and moon,” at which point I completely tuned out whatever words folllowed.

And I listened to the drumming and watched the passing of the smoking pipe and thought, ‘The secularization of Daniel Surrey is now complete.’

The cable television reporter then did an interview with Daniel, where he talked about the amazing things that can happen when people lift themselves out of their own pain and peril and circumstances by self-will and determination, and my mouth formed the words, ‘You’ve come a long way, Daniel Surrey. A long way.’


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