Monday, December 10, 2012

A review of Horizons’ “Keep it Weird: Thinking About Salvation in the Land of Bikes, Books and Brew”

.  Cynthia O’Brien[1], who is a singer and pastor,  in her Horizons article, “Keep It Weird: Thinking About Salvation in the Land of Bikes, Books and Brew,” writes using the unofficial motto for Portland Oregon, “keep it weird.” She attempts to point out a way to minister to people when their thoughts and lifestyles’ are very different from mainstream Christianity. After thinking about my past in reference to witnessing and reading O’Brien’s article I concluded that some of her ideas were good but she was missing the main point of Christianity.

O’Brien is right that Christians need to meet unbelievers on their home turf understanding who they really are. And although she doesn’t write it O’Brien shows, in what she writes, that there is joy in the act— and yet there is both her critical view of the ordinary witness and her lack—she never speaks the gospel. This is troubling because Horizons’ editors use the article to advertise what the PC (U.S.A.) is doing with their development of “1001 communities.” That is in one smaller box at the bottom of the article; in another box there are questions from their “Make the Most of Your Magazine.”

An example of the questions is, “Sunday brunch. Coffee. If sacraments are outward and visible signs of an inward, invisible grace, what would you name as ‘sacramental’ in your life?” This is in reference to O’Brien’s statement that, “In Portland, Sunday brunch is a sacrament, the living water is coffee and craft beer, and anything promoted as The Way would be expected to have a designated bicycle lane.” She isn’t, as the editors with their question imply, saying that is what the sacraments are- about personal examples of grace. But she never does mention what the sacraments truly are, nor who the Way really is.

O’Brien in explaining how “to think and talk about salvation,” writes of her encounters with a bartender, a gardener who writes about the environment and an agnostic author who writes about Christianity via a book O’Brien suggests some might find offensive. The author, in fact, whose book is entitled A Very Minor Prophet, calls it blasphemous. However, O’Brien writes that the book is “drenched in scripture and demonstrates a clear understanding of Jesus.” She makes friends with the author and suggests that such authors and others like him might be those who “unmask idolatries” in the church.

But contrary to O'Brien, the author, who reads material written by the Jesus Seminar, has his prophet say:

 I actually told the lesbians that I was a preacher, and not only that but I started going off telling them that I was a minister of a very different kind of Christian church: one that was based on the actual teachings of Jesus Christ—about living simply & not being judgmental & not giving a shit about $$$--& not on all the hogwash about the resurrection & the second coming & all the other made up bull shit that should have gone out with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

So, reading O’Brien’s article, I might learn how to be kind and caring to unbelievers and I would be encouraged to do that in an enthusiastic way, but if I was an unbeliever I wouldn't know what it really was that Christians believed. But so much more is required; compassion and enthusiasm, wisdom and biblical truth are needed when ministering to people in our world.  O’Brien brings up several examples of ancient Christians who witnessed in the world. But she only presents their use of the culture not their presentation of the gospel.

For instance she mentions Paul in Athens. When he preaches to the people he uses their altar to an unknown God. But absent from her wording is the connection he makes, explaining exactly who the real God is and finally finishing his sermon with a very clear pronouncement of the gospel:

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead (Acts 17: 30-31).”

O’Brien also mentions Peter’s vision in Acts 10. She writes, “He [Peter] learns to stop calling Gentiles unclean and welcome them as Christians. Practicing the art of watching and listening, I see God at work in people, places and ways I might not have expected.” But Peter uses his new understanding to preach the complete gospel to the Gentiles. He testifies to the resurrection, the judgment to come and the forgiveness which Jesus gives.

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all the things he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put him to death by hanging him on a cross. God raised him up on the third day and granted that he become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God that is to us who ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. Of him all the prophets bear witness that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:38-43).”

O’Brien is right about meeting people in their context. Many years ago, when our children were young, we, with all six, would troop over to a restaurant after our church’s Saturday night concert. Often our booth was filled to overflowing with other people from the concert. The waitresses were always busy as many members also went there. One waitress in particular waited on us—the kind of waitress who does everything with dexterity and care no matter how busy.

We became friends and visited each other’s homes. We discovered she was a divorcee with two small children. She came for Christmas Eve and we gave her presents and a Bible. Finally she disappeared from our lives only to reappear as she called one evening telling us she had a need. Our church met that need and she and her new husband became vibrant Christians. Over a year ago they came to our 50th wedding anniversary party. They are still vibrant Christians.

In the same way, a few years later we invited a young woman over for tacos and gave her a Bible. In the process of buying a little blue Datsun from her we took her to a Saturday night concert at our church. The performer was T-Bone Burnett, the musician who wrote and compiled the music for O Brother Where Art Thou. The music was just right for someone who liked night clubs and music. She moved, as expected, to Switzerland.  We do not know if she ever developed a relationship with Christ, but we still pray for her. 

The point is, friendship, care and compassion are needed, but so is the whole gospel. Jesus went about doing good and healing, he also died for our sins and was resurrected. This is the gospel, the good news, salvation, even in weirdness.  

[1] My apologies, I spelled Cynthia O’Brien's name wrong throughout the posting, I have now corrected it.


Alan said...

I know Cynthia and her faith and I don't think she was writing this article for an audience of 'unbelievers.' Had I written something along her line, I would assume, [dangerous I know] that those who read the article knew what the two sacraments were and could give an account of Jesus as The Way, the Truth and the Life.

I value Cynthia as a friend and colleague here in Portland and [at the fear of speaking for her] I would have too agree that a 'choke point' in having people become part of a community [at least up here] is in the preconceived notions of what the Church and Christians are like.

I understand the need to come along side and become friends with people. One elder statesman and my predecessor once told me, "You've got to earn the right to be heard".

Viola, I know the issues Horizon has had in the past but Cynthia is not one you have to worry about.

God's blessing on you and yours, Merry Christmas.

Alan Wilkerson
Portland [Weirdsville USA]

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for telling me that. I wish she had not stated that the bookA very Minor Prophet is “drenched in scripture and demonstrates a clear understanding of Jesus.”It clearly does not and her article is now an endorsement for the book despite her caution that it might be offensive. It wasn't the bad words he used that bothered me, it was his picture of Jesus.

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

And I will add that I wasn't faulting her for her use of the metaphorical Lagrange about the coffee, etc. & Sacraments I was faulting the editors and suggesting that if she had clarified it would-not have been a problem.