Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confessions of a recovering Evangelical

As we were driving down the interstate toward San Antonio, my two friends and I noticed a lot of mega churches. This sparked a conversation about the Evangelical world of Christianity. With great hesitation, my told us the following: "I hate to admit this, but I once drove from Florida to Houston to attend a Beth Moore conference." This sparked much laughter from the car. We all started to confess our former dabblings in Evangelical Christianity and what brought us back to the mainstream.

As I was cleaning my apartment today, I came across a lot of books from my past, particularly my 3 year stint in Colorado Springs, home to the religious right. I found one book about Evangelism and how to go about converting everyone you encounter. I thought back to the conversations I had with a mentor during my final year of college and how she was encouraging me to map out my dorm floor and devise a plan to convert all of the residents under my care. Eek.

A few weeks ago this video was shown during Manna, which is our school's weekly community gathering.

Four years ago I would have said "Amen" in response this video. Today I cringe. For those of us Presbyterians who follow the theology of Calvin and Barth, we believe in Total Depravity which means there is nothing we can do to reach out to God - God is the one who makes the moves. That whole business about accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior doesn't jibe with this theology. So, in response to this video, our theology professor Cindy Rigby teamed up with a student and wrote a rap in response. This is what they came up with:

I’ve got just a second to get you to see
Some problems within your the-ol-o-gy.
See: I can rhyme too! Oh, look! It’s so cute!
But my observations are way more astute.
Let’s have a talk; let’s lay it all down
So you can stop teaching some stuff that’s unsound.
Jesus, we know, is the Way, Truth, and Life,
But he didn’t come to add to your strife.
It’s not you who choose him; it is he who grabs you,
He will come to your place; he knows just what to
You are so loved, but you don’t seem to know,
So it pains me to hear what you said on that show.
As if our whole purpose is just to get saved.
Dear sister, I tell you: you’re totally faved.
I get it: TV isn’t always the best,
And my preaching won’t stand up to Joel Osteen’s
But trashing pop culture and crying “Deceiver!”
Won’t get me to be a Christian believer.
Or setting a rule to get us to Jesus
Or planning out worship in order to please us.
Salvation is not saying some special prayer.
You can’t find your own way to the heavenly lair.
It just seems like you’re hosting on “Let’s Make a
Forgetting God’s presence is steadfast and real.
And the phrase, “getting saved,” doesn’t sit well
with me.
It’s talking like this that makes Jesus plan B.
But John says he was there from the very beginning.
God knew, when God made us, that we would start
So crack open your Nestle or BHS,
And reflect with fresh eyes on what Scripture “says.”
God calls us to praise and profess what we’ve seen,
Even before we know all it must mean.
Isn’t it great we are called to proclaim
While we’re infants too young to know our own
You talk about hell and you want us to fear it,
But not once in your speech did you mention the
The Spirit is Wisdom; the Spirit will bind us;
God’s love never leaves us, the Spirit reminds us.
In this lies my hope we’ll both join that great host –
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Clearin' out the junk

One of the books we are reading for our Intro to Preaching course gave me an idea that I want try out. This book offers perspectives from women who preach and how it is they go about preparing sermons. One of the preachers said that she has a daily process of "getting all the junk out of the way." By this, she means she sits down first thing in the morning and writes for twenty minutes straight about whatever is on her mind and heart. She does this so she can clear her mind and get herself out of the way of the sermon. I think this is brilliant. I'm going to try that practice - probably not every day and probably not always here on this blog - but from time to time you might read some junk that I'm getting out of the way. Get ready to read some random smatterings of thought...

I wish I had started this practice two weeks ago when I gave my first sermon. There was so much junk on my brain that was getting in the way of the process. One result of that issue was that I gave an illustration in my sermon that didn't really communicate what I wanted it to. I had meant to talk about the smear ads on TV during election season and how we struggle to decipher the truth. I wanted to draw a parallel with the church in Thesselonica and how they were struggling to figure out what was true. Instead I couldn't stop thinking about a story from when I was an AmeriCorps in Boulder. My favorite memory of that election season was driving kids home from the after school program. The kids would roll down the windows and shout "Vote for Obama!" I couldn't stop thinking about that story and I worked it into the sermon, though I don't know if it worked. Maybe the Holy Spirit was a work and that story needed to be told. Or maybe the junk in my brain was getting in the way. Who knows for sure.

This week I'm working on my second sermon. All my exegesis is complete and I'm ready to sit down to write. I don't want the same problem to happen this go around, thus the reason I'm blogging in the middle of the day when I have 10 other more important things I should be doing. But I think this activity is good. If nothing else, it is warming up my fingers and starting the process of writing.

I've been thinking about Bobby, the medical tech at the plasma center. He doesn't belong in my sermon. Yes, my interactions with him are a gift, but I don't need to figure out how to work him into the message that I will proclaim this week. Maybe I'll file him away for some future sermon. Just not this go around.

That story about the kids in Boulder really makes me miss the dreamers. I've only been back to see them once since my term was over in July 2009. Unfortunately I won't be in town while they are in school, but hopefully I can see them next summer. They must be giants by now. Those sweet little second graders with their runny noses and perpetually untied shoes might even be taller than me by now. That might be an exaggeration, but I'm sure they've grown a lot. I made a prayer jar. I painted their names on stones and every once in a while I get it out and pray for them and reminisce on funny old stories.

I miss those kids, but I don't miss Boulder. It is a great place, don't get me wrong. I just have no desire to live there. A friend of mine once told me what it was like to grow up in Boulder as an Indian-American (as in India, not Native American). It was heartbreaking. She was ostracized and bullied and it is clear that she is still pretty broken by that experience. Boulder is quite homogeneous and for anyone living on the margins, it can be a tough place to live. I gained more perspective on that matter when working with low-income Latino youth. I saw the city through a different lens and was bit appalled by what I saw. Certainly made me more aware of my privileged experience.

Welp, 20 minutes are up...time to sermonize.

Friday, November 5, 2010

No better than the tuna

I run into theologians in the strangest places. Today it was at the plasma donation center.

Most of the medical technicians who work at the center are rather quiet and keep to themselves. At least the ones I've encountered.

All except for one. Let's call him Bobby. He has drawn my plasma a few times and each time we have the weirdest conversations. One week, as he was sticking the heinously large needle in my arm, he said "Sociopath, psychopath and?" I had no idea what he was trying to communicate so I just stared at him blankly. He went on to explain that there was a word on the tip of his tongue, but he just couldn't figure it out. He said it is related to the other two words and ends in "path." I had no idea and apologized for not being able to help him out.

Since plasma donation takes about 45-60 minutes, I always bring a book to read, usually one for class. I think I've brought a different one with me each time and Bobby usually makes some remark about them. When I brought in A Social Theory of Religious Education, his response was: "Wow, that looks really, really boring." I just smiled in response. Another time I brought in Living Religions. When he saw that book he told me about a documentary that he once watched and then somehow moved on to talking about the Bay of Pigs. I'm not really sure where he was going with that statement.

Today was by far the most interesting interaction with Bobby. I brought in the book Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process. He took one look at it and said "I'm in the medical field and all, so I shouldn't be weirded out by birthing stuff, but that book looks weird." Rather than talk about the book, he complemented me on my tattoo and said he was thinking about getting one. I love the topic of body art so I asked him what he was thinking about getting. He said he wants to get one on his back that has the percentages that make up our body composition. I just stared at him for a moment because I wasn't sure if he was serious. Before I could respond he said he was also considering getting the barcode for tuna fish. Now I was completely baffled and started my questioning with the body composition one. He said he doesn't understand why people think that some people are valued more than others. For instance, he doesn't see how the person sitting in their luxury sedan, judging a homeless person, is worth more than the guy sitting on the street. We're all made up of the same stuff: bones, muscle and fat. So his tattoo would be a means of reminding people that we're all equal. I was pretty impressed by this.

So then I asked him about the tuna barcode. His response to that one: "Well, we all eat tuna fish and we're no better than the tuna."

I don't know what that means. I'm thinking it is something profound, but I just don't know for sure. What I do know is that I like Bobby. He has a unique view of the world and he makes the plasma donation process entertaining.