For my spouse, Susan, who was struggling with the loss of our old church, sitting on a barstool between the pool table and the dartboards raised her sense of adventure. For me, the church raised the hope that the vision of a “third way” I had been pursuing for more than a decade—blending mainline inclusiveness and passion for social justice with evangelical emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—might be realized by a younger generation that bore fewer scars from the culture wars.
On our second visit, a former student of my spouse greeted her with shock: “Dr. McFadden! What are you doing here?” In a community of students, musicians and baristas, we clearly stood out like sore thumbs. The former student shared a bit of her story, one we have since heard many versions of: she was raised in an extremely conservative church, counts her faith in Christ central in her life, but wearied of having non-Christian friends “assume that because I love Jesus I support George Bush and hate gay people.” Much of my “third-way” vision is present in San Damiano in people like this student.
Music is central to our experience of worship. San Damiano folk are equally disdainful of traditional, organ-accompanied hymnody and evangelical praise music, which they call “Jesus goes to Vegas.” Simplicity and authenticity are hallmarks: Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” filtered through the life of a man who has experienced God’s liberation from narrow judgment, becomes a hymn.
As a mainline institutional guy, I had a lot of adjusting to do. For example, our worship service officially begins at “10:30ish,” which is emergent code for “maybe 10:40, maybe 11:05,” challenging for a former pastor who anguished if the 8:45 service began at 8:46. The sacrament is celebrated every week, but until six months ago it was a “self-serve body-and-blood buffet.” And Greg, my cherished pastor, reads scripture through a literalist hermeneutic: “The beloved disciple was a really old guy when he wrote the Book of Revelation.” San Damiano has mellowed me in many ways. Now if the service begins before 10:45, I am sometimes annoyed because I am not done chatting with my friends. I have learned that the truth of the gospel can be fully expressed within a hermeneutic different from my own. Above all, I am learning new things about Christian community, Christian friendship and Christian hospitality.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
A fifty-eight year old UCC pastor in professional and spiritual transition finds himself, and his wife, worshiping in a bar with 20-somethings: