First Posted 24-July-02014
We’ve made a mistake at our church. In gathering some information about our neighbors, we ended the assessment with, “Tuckahoe Tom and Grove Avenue Gladys have yet to realize that the only way to ultimate joy and fulfillment, and to eternal life, is through Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Shouldn’t we tell them?” Our explanation for why folk don’t come to St. Giles is that they don’t know Cheeeeeezus. Oy. Really? Are we serious right now?
Back in the day, I was closer to the collective worry among Pentecostal Christians that we had not saved enough souls. The big emphasis was on gathering the unwashed and bringing them to heel at the altar. Somehow, it was our problem that there were still people vertical, warm & breathing who had not yet confessed their faith at the First Pentecostal Non-Denominational House of Cheeezus. It pissed me off. It still does.
I am still annoyed at the noisy minority of Christians who tally saved souls on the inside back cover of their Bible. They talk of quotas, of bonus programs, threats of fire & brimstone of all the tactics sales managers use to increase sales. All well & good but day 2 and they are in the wind, a new heathen in their sights.
It’s a stereoptype, I know. This guy, the one with the white shoes, tropical tie, plaid pants, striped blazer, big Tootsie sunglasses, and impressive, leather-bound bible on the corner on a milk crate predicting the end of the world today so we all had better come to Cheeezus. He’s there on the corner reliably from 8am-5pm every weekday. What bugs me about him, and this is also a part of the stereotype, is that the same guy could be found in a strip bar, puke drunk, in a track suit throwing tithe dollars at strippers. All he wanted, all he needed, was for you to come to Jesus so he could get back to her, to Aprhodite, the 30-something blonde strine sheila who has been promoted as a nubile 18-year old freshie stripper for over a decade. The illusion works on stage. Off stage Aphrodite’s years of crystal meth addiction are obvious. Pastor Weenie isn’t throwing tithe dollars at the truth.
Pastor Weenie will never be found serving food in Monroe Park or on Missions in Honduras. His neighbor’s marriage worries are only interesting if they will help Pastor Weenie collect [cough] tithe dollars for, uhm, poor starving children in, uh . . . Bosnia, yeah, Bosnia, that’s right. He’s all about getting a confession of faith. After that he’s still aching for Aprhodite.
We do this as Christians. We don’t listen. We assign to those we encounter a back story made entirely of our own hurts, habits & hangups. Out of that we push a stream of sales rhetoric intended to get the target to agree with us. We sink energy into good intentioned and doomed to fail evangelism and missions projects because we launched on false premises. Pastor Weenie needs to get outed by Aphrodite. My hope for Aphrodite is that she’d go back to rehab and stick with it. We’ll get to the “come to Jesus” part in due time.
The first thing we have to start doing is shut up and listen. Start by being neighbors, by surveying gifts instead of serving perceived needs. (Yes, Lupton again.) My church is not immune to this thick-necked approach to evangelism & missions. We are not as bad as Pastor Weenie. We are still rather pig-headed.
There are a half-dozen churches within a mile of our building near Grove & Libbie in Richmond, VA. It’s such a useless idea that we have landed on the shores of a nubile pastoral utopia ripe for evangelism. One huge problem with Pastor Weenie is that in seminary he absorbed a false idol of the New World that should have died a long time ago. St. Giles shares some of that same delusion. We treat the Upper West End like it is the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in 1607. Nobody is served by 400 year old ideas of manifest destiny pasted on to our Upper-West End neighbors.
It’s hard to testify, to converse, if we start by telling other folks what’s wrong with them before investing in a relationship and open communication. Even those who don’t know Cheeeeeezus and seek Jesus are put in a tough place when faced with evangelism done this way. It’s the sort of thing that gets a “Well, bless your heart,” here in the capital of the South.
What happens to Pastor Weenie? He gets outed most of the time. There is a kerfuffle that blows across the airwaves for a couple of weeks then falls out of the news cycle. There are consequences. In the case of Jimmie Baker there is a period of quietude and rebuilding of the empire. My fictional Pastor Weenie is outed. His ordination is from the Universal Life Church. He lands at The Healing Place where he is kicked out for fraternizing with Amber Lewis (Aphrodite) and failing a piss test. He’s still a denizen of Monroe Park, still in & out of recovery meetings, on a merry-go-round of programs promising to finally get it together. Lewis is 3 years sober, reunited with her kids, living at an Extended Stay hotel, and working at Bob Evans. She’s got a restraining order on Weenie. She goes to church but asked me to not say which one because Weenie is still being a jerk.