The Christians Can Get Really Pissy: The Story of Why Some Wedgewoodians Despised Donna Carter

donnacarterroundedcorners

The Christians can get really pissy, and perhaps they are pissiest when it comes to their worship preferences, which they equate with the one true way to worship.

In 1989 I became the pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, which, believe it or not, was a progressive/liberal church. Wedgewood had women deacons, a female deacon chairperson, divorced deacons, and a female was chairperson of the pulpit committee. Decades before I arrived the church had been thrown out of the Mecklenburg Baptist Association for not requiring people to be rebaptized who had not been immersed. In 1989, the congregation, though it had 170 in worship at Easter and Christmas and 110 on a typical Sunday, thought it was on its last leg unless something happened fast. The church said it wanted to grow.

Saying you want to grow and wanting to grow are not the same thing.

We did grow, but the new people who came in were not pleasing to some of the powers that be, who by the way, were and are incredible people. My response was, “You know, we really can’t be picky. There aren’t that many liberal Baptists and there are three other incredible liberal Baptist churches in Charlotte from which liberal Baptists can choose. Tell me again how we can be choosy.”

The first disturber of the peace was a woman named Donna Carter. Donna had the audacity to laugh loudly in worship. (Please note Donna was laughing at something the minister said, not at him. Or, that’s what I’ve always thought.)

Ironically, Donna Carter is now Miss Donna Carter, a professional, as in paid, as in headliner at comedy clubs, comedienne. She describes herself as “a Southern Belle with a heart of cornbread.” She proclaims “fat women don’t wrinkle.” Miss Donna describes her exercise program of mall walking and doing really well on the program until she gets to the Cinnabon place. Miss Donna is hilarious, and we are so proud of her.

Do you think Jesus would prefer worship with laughter or worship without laughter?

Actually, I think Jesus would like for us to realize people worship God in different ways and to learn to bless distractions. I think Jesus would like for us to be less narcissistic, more “me for the community” and less “the community for me.” That said, it’s hard to have “blended worship” unless you’ve got some pretty mature and inclusive people. There is value in silence and there is value in laughter.   Mostly, there’s value in community and love and humility.

There have been decades when I was not sure Wedgewood was going to make it. We got down to 20 people. One of the things that gave me hope was opening the mailbox and finding Donna’s weekly check to Wedgewood.

Thank God for people who keep hope alive in us, who make us laugh, who laugh loudly, and thank you for people who teach us the value of silence and community.

 

 

Time To Take A Hard Look At Your Church

church diversity

Is your church egalitarian?  If not, why not.  It’s 2013.  Don’t you think your church has had enough time to be egalitarian?  If it’s not egalitarian, what makes you think it will be?  Do you trust only male voices to be your spiritual directors?  Really?

Is your church diverse in terms of sexual orientation?  Of course, churches shouldn’t ask visitors or members to identify their sexual orientation, but churches should encourage those who need to be open about their sexual orientation to be so.  Can you and others be who God created you to be at the church? If not, why?  Why do you go to a church which expects you to be invisible, to live a lie?

Does your church have poor people in it?  If not, why?  How could a church miss this part of the gospel?  Why would you go to a church with no poor people in it when you have read the gospels and you know what you and the church should be doing?

Is your church focused on keeping order and discussing things to the point of sapping the spirit and energy out of people rather than on freeing people to make the world a better place?

Why do you go to the church you go to?  Are you there for an easy ride or are you in a church that will challenge you to follow a Jesus who takes us to places within ourselves and to places outside of ourselves which are places to which we would rather not go?  Maybe a hard look at your church indicates you have chosen an easy church.

I Prefer Jews: The Seventy Faces of Torah

Recently I ordered several books by Jewish authors, including:

Torah Queeries:  Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, edited by Gregg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser, and David Shneer

Jewish Literacy:  The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History , Biblical Literacy:  The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible, and The Book of Jewish Values:  A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living, by Joesph Telushkin

Lesbian Rabbis:  The First Generation, edited by Rebecca T. Alpert, Sue Levi Elwell, and Shirley Idelson

Common Ground:  The Weekly Torah Portion Through the Eyes of a Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Rabbi, by Shammai Engelmayer, Joseph S. Ozarowski, and David M. Sofian

Lifecycles:  Jewish Women on Biblical Themes in Contemporary Life, edited and with introductions by Rabbi Debra Orenstein and Rabbi Jan Rachel Litman

Joining the Sisterhood:  Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives, edited by Tobin Belzer and Julie Pelc

A Treasury of Favorite Sermons By Leading American Rabbis, edited by Sidney Greenberg

I find Jewish commentary, particularly from Reform Jews, so much more interesting, fun, meaningful, honest, etc. than Christian commentary.

Steve Lipman refers to “the seventy faces of Torah,” a rabbinic concept and practice of interpretation that is one of the main reasons I find Jewish commentary so compelling.  Explaining “the seventy faces of Torah” Lipman writes:  “each word and verse in the Hebrew Bible can be viewed in a myriad of ways that differ completely from, and often contradict, each other and are all equally valid. Seventy is an allegorical figure, not strictly limited to that amount. . .” (Common Ground:  The Weekly Torah Portion Trhough the Eyes of a Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Rabbi by Shammai Engelmayer, Joseph S. Ozarowski, and David M. Sofian, p. vii.)

I encourage my Christian friends to read some Jewish commentary on the Bible.

“Who is wise?  The one who learns from every person.”  (Common Ground:  The Weekly Torah Portion Through the Eyes of a Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Rabbi by Shammai Engelmayer, Joseph S. Ozarowski, and David M. Sofian, p. ix, quoting ben Zoma in Ethics of the Fathers.)

Tradition, (living) Scripture, and a Community of the Spirit

In his book The Living Text of the Gospels D.C. Parker writes:  “Scripture is tradition.” (p. 207)

“What is above all to be emphasized is that any study must start with the fact that [what Christians have] is a manuscript tradition.”  (p. 212)  And “the tradition is manifold.  There are four quite different Gospels, none with a claim to authority over the other three; there is no authoritative text beyond the manuscripts which we may follow without further thought.  There is a manifold tradition to be studied and from which we may learn.  But once that is done, the people of God have to make up their own minds.  There is no authoritative text to provide a short cut.”  (p. 212)

“Rather than looking for right and wrong readings, and with them for right or wrong beliefs and practices, the way is open for the possibility that the church is the community of the Spirit even in its multiplicities of texts, one might say in its corruptions and its restorations.”  (p. 212)

May God help the community of the Spirit to be as good as its good texts and help it to ignore (without deposing of) those texts which are bad for the world that God so loves.