Monday, December 08, 2008

heretic, phreak & sufferer?

It all started on the way home from church this past Sunday. I was listening to This American Life. "Heretics: The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of Hell, and with it everything he'd worked for over his entire life." Pearson was steeped in the Pentecostal tradition where it seems a great deal of emphasis is placed on saving souls. I've always had a problem with this, but it was interesting to hear how someone who bought into this worldview had his world turned upside down. It seemed to start out innocently enough. He's watching a TV program about starving refugees from Rwanda and thinking to himself that these folks haven't been "saved". What does hell mean to them, because aren't they are already in a living hell. And how can he or 100 pastors or 1000 pastors or all the pastors or all the Christians in the world really go about "saving" everyone in the world. He finally realized that he can't and they can't and that God's probably not looking for that kind of help. So he did lots of studying and praying and decided that God was not the inventor of hell, "we do that to each other and we do it to ourselves." This got Pearson labeled a heretic in his faith tradition and radically altered his life. He's now pastor of New Dimensions whose tag line is the friendliest, trendiest, most radically inclusive worship experience! Sounds like a place I'd like.

Sunday afternoon the hubby and I went to a one-man play at The Gravity Lounge called Jesus Phreak: The Story of a Very Unlikley Disciple. This unlikely disciple turns out to be a "mixer", he wears mixed fabrics, which is prohibited somewhere in Leviticus. He grew up going to church, so he knows that "mixers" aren't welcome there. Even so, he seems to be relentlessly pursued by God. Every time he tries to move farther away, he gets nudged back. Reading the gospels, he discovers that Jesus has come for the outcasts and therefore for him.

One thing that really spoke to me personally in this show was the portrayal of a disciple being relentlessly pursued by God, even in the face of the disciple's doubt and skepticism and derision. That so feels like my journey, as I kick and scream all along the way.

There was also a discussion panel after the show and the topics that came up and the people who spoke gave me a sobering reminder about how the Church and my church have been so careless toward the well-being of LGBT people. I think our fear is really just masquerading as a cautious approach toward welcoming and inclusivity, as if addressing this issue would open pandora's box and all hell would break loose (see heretic). The closing words of this discussion were - what are you willing to suffer for the gospel?

On the way home from our date, we listened to a program called etown. A singer/songwriter named Steve Earle was one of the guests (hubby is quite distressed that I don't seem to know this guy). Anyway, something he said on the show stuck with me and luckily, it was reproduced on the website.
"I've been pretty heartbroken about the way things have gone politically in this country the last few years and I seriously considered moving someplace else…then I figured out that I didn't have to leave the country. All I had to do was come to New York. I needed really badly at this point in my life to see a mixed-race, same sex couple holding hands in my own neighborhood. It makes me feel safer."

I get that I'd be considered a heretic in some Christian settings. I'm cool with that. I reluctantly agree that I've become a Jesus phreak. Left to my own devices, I do not think it is the path I would choose to follow, but it's the path I find myself on. I'm not so sure about this suffering thing, but I guess whether I choose act or not, there will be suffering. If I don't act, I will suffer heartbreak at the way things are going for many churches and the people that get or feel excluded. If I act, I will probably suffer obstacles, injustices, frustration and humiliation.

So, what am I willing to suffer? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

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