Tuesday, August 24, 2010

At least I got a cowboy hat . . .

I went to church on Sunday. I rode my bike to a Baptist joint down the road. Made it past the professional greeters at the door and sat in the last pew (yeah, that's right, wooden pews, baby!). Was welcomed by numerous people, shook numerous hands. The congregation looked mostly like a retirement community, but with a scattering of the usual goatee and funky glasses types. An old gal played piano and we sang some songs I wasn't familiar with. One of them was called (something like) "I give my life to you," and the choir director (who didn't have a choir, so he faced us and waved his hands as we sang) told us to sing it like we mean it because God looks on the heart, which I found kind of baffling.

After that we heard a couple of testimonies from twenty-somethings who had done mission trips to Peru and Haiti. I liked that part a lot. That was interesting, and these kids were the genuine article. Then we heard a sermon from the guest preacher (the regular guy being on vacation). He was an apologetics dude, the head of an "institute" for apologetics (in rural Maine of all places). He proceeded to tell us we needed to be ready to face down the pagans and the New Agers and the emergers, etc. He warned that we would soon be coming under persecution of the Book of Revelation variety. He said beware the fine sounding message that is 98% Biblical, but 2% heretical. That's the most dangerous kind of message of them all, he said.

If I wasn't in a great mood that morning, I would have walked away scowling. Instead I was just mildly disappointed, like when you toss a coin and you call heads and it lands tails. Going to church is always a crapshoot, it seems.

Anyway, the morning hadn't been a total loss. Across the street from the church was a little boy who had laid out a blanket on the sidewalk and was selling his old toys. Things he now valued less than whatever it was he intended to buy with the money he raised from the sale. Well, I can't ever pass up a six year old entrepreneur, so I had stopped by before heading across the street to lock up my bike in the church parking lot. I bought a cowboy hat for a dollar. It didn't fit me, but there's probably somebody I can give it to. As I was making the exchange with the young dealmaker, cars were flowing into the church lot, and I wondered why more people from the church weren't stopping by to bless the little boy across the street.

Anyway, I stashed the hat in my satchel and went to church, and all the while that I listened to the guy talk about apologetics, my mind kept wandering to the cowboy hat in my bag. At least I got a cowboy hat, I kept thinking. Not a bad deal on a Sunday morning.


Adam said...

I am sorry you were not entertained. It is all about you, after all. Well,the boy across the street had a toy for you feel some form of gratification on that Sunday Morning. I gotta ask you...What did you bring to church that day?

Kirby said...

Adam, he didn't ask to be entertained. He was looking for an experience with God and His people working together towards the salvation of every man. He got a little of that, from the mission kids. But mostly he got religion. Religion is the same thing as "The Law". It doesn't give life. Religion doesn't change lives. Religion creates all the hollow people and empty churches across our country. It's time we give people what they need. Jesus. Flowing from each of us like a fountain of Living Water...

Bob said...

Adam. Whoa. I was trying to keep things light. Your assumption that I'm just some shallow dude looking for Sunday morning entertainment seems utterly unfounded to me, but maybe I'm missing something. I can honestly say that the gospel was not preached in that church that morning, but culture warrior stuff. That in itself can be very entertaining to some, but not to me. Given that there was no gospel, yes, i preferred the cowboy hat.

Kirby, I second everything you said, with gusto!

n. davis rosback said...

i found your story interesting.
from the kind of seating and the hand shaking, all the way to the boy and the cowboy hat.

but, now i am curious what will become of the hat.

Bob said...

The hat is sitting on my dresser. Surely there is someone I can give it to, some little boy or girl who really really wants a cowboy hat! That will be the ultimate "payoff" for Sunday morning, the reason in fact, in the grand scheme, that I went to church at all that day!

Jared said...

Bob, I linked to your post yesterday on Twitter, and JR Vassar retweeted it with a recommendation.

I think it's an important post. Not just because it is a "writerly" post -- and by that I mean reflective, insightful, and of course written like somebody who knows how to write -- but because it is a snapshot of the perspective of someone caught in the limbo that American evangelicalism has become. I could see this fitting in as a "testimony" in Michael Spencer's book.

But anyways, I guess I should raise my hand and take responsibility for possibly exposing your post to critical people who miss the point. Worth the risk, I hope you agree. PASTORS need to read this sort of perspective.

Adam said...

I agree with everyone, it is nicely written with great imagery. I felt as if I was there, really. So I intended no disrespect in that arena. However, I still do not see "the point" everyone else has. The post seemed to be more about you, your mood, and your lack of walking in or out of the church with anything but "me" in mind, and not Him in mind. Not what can I do for Him here, in a strange, new, unfamiliar church full of people I do not know. If the "experience" was not what you expect or hope it was or if the message was so off base, why not talk to the pastor or speaker? Why walk away with a scowl or "just mildly disappointed"? Why not take the communication of the Gospel on to yourself, rather than blog about it's disappointing representation at a small church somewhere or wait for the right person to say the right thing(s)? I am guilty as well of not reacting as often as I should in is Name, for His name, so do not look up at me on my soapbox, we are eye to eye. If Paul or even Jesus were in that church that day...would they simply walk out after hearing what you describe and go buy a hat and count the Lords day as a "win"?
My first post was more knee jerk than considerate, and I apologize for that sentiment. I just do not digest your post as others seem to have.

Bob said...

Adam, thanks for the explanation. One of the reasons you might not have read my post quite like the others is that you are not as familiar with my blog as they are. What lies behind this post and many others is my hunger for Jesus-centered and gospel-rich preaching.

As for staying to talk to the pastor, well, I'm not going to do that in most cases. In my own church, yes, but not in one I'm visiting. In this case, I'm familiar enough with the church to know that they go in for that-culture-war preaching, and I'm not going to try to change them. Besides, I'm shy!

And yes, the post was about me and my experience. No apologies. There's a place for autobiography, and there's a place for pointing out that the gospel is often glaringly lacking from our preaching. But I'm not saying, "hey, you didn't play the happy tune I wanted you to play, you didn't make me feel good, you didn't entertain!" I'm saying, "you preached culture-war in the complete absence of the gospel." It's just another case study of what many, many intelligent people are saying is a big problem in our churches today.

Adam said...

This may sum up the force behind my emotional flavoring in my original post....it is said better by John Calvin

"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent." - Calvin


Bob said...

Adam, I just want to say I've really enjoyed this interaction, and you've made me think carefully about some things. Thank you.

I find that church people are very sensitive about criticism. And yet I think openness to criticism is at the core of a healthy organization (not to mention individuals). So many people have developed an us-vs.-the-world attitude that they ascribe all criticism to worldliness or Godlessness or something. It is too readily dismissed, with the notion that a healthy church-member must always defend the church-practices and declare that all things are just peachy.

Nevertheless, the most important criticism is coming from within the church, from people like the late Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity, and from the writings of Frank Viola, to name just two. They have recognized that something is wrong, and it is a generous heart that offers such criticism, not mere negativity.

All that having been said, I recognize that I need to be careful about my somewhat flippant tone. Again, thanks for the interchange, and do stop back now and then.