Right: My podcast
Here’s what I know about Preachers. They say lots of stuff. They said stuff for 15 minutes a week in my childhood’s traditional church. Most of that was white-bread, tame, feel-good Biblical rhetoric about helping your neighbor that could have been delivered as well by Garrison Kiellor or a candidate for office. I slept through them mostly.
Then on the other end of the spectrum I have been in gospel services for many years, where the preacher spent two hours, three times a week shouting about how lousy the devil was, how lousy some politician was, or, how lousy I was. Both types of service are fair game because these preachers are paid to say what they think and feel. Their sermons are aimed at the smart, the dumb, every race and age in the room and so on. As for me, I am wide awake.
Of course this is all recorded now and if you talk that much about what you really think and feel you are gonna sound like a jerk part of the time. But, hell, you’re preacher so preach. Mix it up a little. Wake ‘em up. It is as though sermons were supposed to be challenging, interesting, dynamic and exciting.
Pastors all over the country criticize the government. They criticize me. They criticize the human condition. That’s their job. Conservative and liberal churches all seem to agree that government is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s why we live in America, so we can criticize it. Furthermore, separation of church and state was not designed to save the state, but to save the church. What did this guy say that is so out of bounds for all these sensitive ears?
It seems this preacher was not criticized for what he said, but for how he said it.
Here’s what I know about folks who go to church. Some are there to learn religion? Some are there to find community. Some go to get close to god. Some go because they love to sing. A number seem to be there just by habit. Folks go to services to be challenged. They go to be comforted. They go to share casseroles. All kinds of stuff.
But after 40 years in church I can tell
A. You are not required to attend.
B. There is no entrance exam to get in.
You don’t have to prove that you are good enough and smart enough, or religious enough. You don’t have to be a Christian to go to a Christian church. How cool is that? If your pastor is a great person, well hallelujah! If your pastor is a loser—and I have had some—tough darts. You signed up and this is your family. If your pastor is a nut, well he/she is your nut.
So Obama said that he does not agree with some of these messages. Well, yeah. We are not required to agree at church. We are not required to listen. We are not required remain awake. But if we are challenged or offended or moved or even awakened maybe it was a worthwhile sermon. We are allowed to hear things that challenge us, and with which we disagree without taking our football and going home.
If Obama wants to go to church where they keep you up, where the pastor is outspoken, where there is shouting that’s his business. Should he stop attending church when he is challenged or offended? Every time? This is what allows the country to be un-churched: the ability to allow our offenses to drive us away from the pews to sip coffee and listen to NPR Sunday mornings. But going to church is risky business. You are surrounded by all kinds of folks who are there for all kinds of reasons. You will listen to folks in your adopted community say things that you may love or hate. But this is your community. Yours till your offended and you walk away. Until then the casserole is pretty good.