Friday, September 29, 2006

Apologizing: the new apologetic

Last year our friends from Sinners and Saints ran a confessional booth. It was based upon an idea which came from Donald Miller's book "Blue Like Jazz." James brought up the idea, and I loved it, because it fit with my belief that the best apologetic the church might offer today is an apology.

The confessional booth is a reverse confession. People walk into our booth nervously anticipating giving a confession of their sins. Instead they experience a person dressed as a monk confessing the sins of the church through history, and even their own shortcoming to them.

This evening when I returned from showing "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" at The Vault, I found an e-mail in my box asking asking me what things I believed the church needed to apologize for. Below is my response;

"...where to begin...?

Sexual Misconduct
Repeated historic acts of Greed, Violence, Dishonesty, and Pride

but, today it is not much different. Even in my own heart, I sometimes judge other people by what I see, or what I hear them say without taking time to know why they do and say what they do and say. We still pass judgment and determine who is in or out of our little club on the basis of personal preference, or ease of relationship.

Sometimes the church sounds like they know it all. We do a good job of preaching without having learned to listen. Protestant preachers speak of the priesthood of all believers, but their believers still sit in the pews voiceless. We speak of grace, but we often judge people on the basis of fairly petty issues, and chase them away from the church. We exercise heavy handed leadership which may be fine for running an army, but is no good for creating the family which we are supposed to be.

I can not express deeply enough how these things break my heart, and how sorry I am that anyone has experienced a heavy hand of oppression from the very community which should have offered liberty.

This is not to say that the church has not done good things in its history, or that it is not doing good things today. It is merely the acknowledgment that we are far from perfect, and that we have hurt people - people who need to be told from someone in the church that we are sorry.

Every time I roll my eyes in frustration at someone who is peculiar by my opinion, every time I prejudge someone's politics without hearing their story, every time I feel an urge to suggest that someone doesn't really fit with us, I have the seed of deTorquemada the Grand Inquisitor rearing up in me. So the apology is not some distant disconnected issue, but an issue of every humble follower's heart, and it is quite personal to me.

Does that make sense?"

We will be doing the confessional booth again this year. I think it may become a regular part of our lives.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pagans, Preachers, and Free Hot Cocoa

If you've never been to Salem, MA during the month of October, specifically the last two weeks, you've missed a carnival of religious experience.

We have half a million visitors in October. Some come because they anticipate Halloween fun. Some come just for the Witchcraft and Pagan based events. A few come to witness. Witnessing is something Born-Again Christians do to non-Christians. Well sometimes we Born-Again Christians do it to people who we think are not born-again, even if they are Christians. It's called evangelism, and people don't like being evangelized most of the time.

Some of the witnessing Christians bring big signs, and lots of little propaganda papers called tracts. Most of them come from far away places like Louisiana, or New York - which really isn't that far away. The big sign people sometimes cause quite a stir, but they don't mind being yelled at, because it is proof that they are "sold out" for Jesus. We Christians might be the only group who think that being a "sell out" is a good thing. I only thought of that just now. I'm not sure I want to be a sell out. I might have to think of another way to say I want to live my life for God completely.

So we have Prachers with big signs, and one or two with megaphones, and we have Pagans of various kinds - you know Witches, Druids, Shamans (or is that Shamen), and the like. We also have people who just want to have fun, but are interested in all the spiritual stuff nonetheless. Then we have us.

We put up the big stage in the fountain by the museum, and provide live music for 7 days. We give away some free hot cocoa. We do that to draw a big crowd, and on most days we can keep a crowd for a long time. I think the crowd is good for the businesses too, because any business near us gets a larger crowd from being near the happening spot.

Then we have our tents. In the tent you can have your Psalm read (note: P-S-A-L-M not P-A-L-M), or a Dream Interpreted (Daniel in the Bible did Dream Interpretation - it was around a long time before Freud.) We also have a confessional booth, but the confessional booth comes with a surprise which we can't tell. You have to try it. We will do all of this for seven days.

Sometimes people think that the preachers with the signs are with us - but they're not. Other people think that Tarot, or Palm Readers are doing the same thing we are, but it's different too. Some people are expecting us to preach on the stage, because we're a church, but we don't. One year a church helped us on the stage for one night. They preached on the stage, and we got in trouble for it.

We don't preach on the stage. We just try to make a party which everyone wants to hang out at - but no beer. Then we have our tents, and you can stand in line with all the people who want to go in, or you can stay out and watch the music - whatever you like. We don't really preach in the tents either. Well maybe a few guys do, once in awhile, but we try to just talk about life, and God, and Jesus, and how God might be working in your life with your dreams, or your experiences. Then we try to help you understand what He might be saying.

Our approach is kind of simple, and without a sales pitch. God's not for sale, and if He was He would be too expensive for you to purchase even a toenail clipping, or a strand of hair anyway. So we do all this stuff for free. Except it's really expensive for us to do it. So this year we have some really cool shirts with our name on them, and people seem to really like them, and then we'll have a classic horror movie in the late evening. Something like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein - really scary stuff, and it's $5, unless you live in Salem, then it's a buck.

Oh, and there's a nice guy named John. John is letting us use his hotdog cart, and we'll sell hotdogs, and sausages to make some money to pay for all this too.

Now, with all this some people think we are really cool. Others think that we "sold out" - in the bad sense, because we don't preach from the stage. I try to tell them that we wouldn't have the stage if we preached there, but they don't seem to understand. Others are scared of us because they think that we are going to get preachy. So we've got all the Pagans, and the Preachers, and the people trying to figure out who's who. I hope you'll be one of them this year, and that this helps you understand what we do at Halloween.