This blog was supposed to be about the opening of summer movie season. It was supposed to be a hip, geeky, yet cynically detached commentary on the marvel that is big budget summer movies, and how they take over my mind even at age 30.
That will have to be another blog.
Friday night, we went to see the 10:40 show of Spider Man 3 at Mann’s Village Theater in Westwood Village, CA. Yeah, Yeah… The Chinese is more famous across town, and The Dome is pretty hip, but The Village is still the granddaddy, for my $10.75.
The Village seats about 1,400 people, so on an opening night for big movie like SpiderMan, the line literally can stretch around the block. The Opening Night Line Squat is one of the great Los Angeles experiences, and I fear it’s dying as they insist upon building carbon copied megaplexes by the truckload. Who wants to wait for three hours when it’s showing on 12 screens starting every 15 minutes at The Grove?
Soulless yuppies. You know nothing of sacrifice.
Anyways, I’m old school, and Erica and I are parked on the street, finishing our CPK take out, and waiting for our friends to join us when two casually dressed young men walked up onto the sidewalk. One of them hung back, and the other pulled out three strings of different lengths as if to do the old, “Three strings of different lengths that somehow all becomes one length,” trick. He held them in his hands and began to address the crowd with an authoritative voice.
“Good evening, I want to take a few moments of your time to talk to you about something very important, but before I do, I want to let you all know that I’m not drunk, or high, or dangerous…”
You know how Peter Parker has his spidey sense? I have that too, but it’s for spotting Christians.
“…I want to talk to you about something tonight that shouldn’t be at all offensive to you. I want to talk to you about heaven…”
You’re made, dude. I’ve so got your number. He continues on. He’s loud, clearly going to take the confrontational approach, people are trying to ignore him uncomfortably or just staring with outright contempt on their faces and all the while those damn strings in his hands are just flopping to and fro with each gesticulation. Why me, Oh Lord? You may be thinking that what I’ve quoted thus far doesn’t sound offensive, and to be fair, I’m gonna do my best to not over tell this story. Just know that his countenance was oppressive, and, in my opinion, his choice of words didn’t help.
His buddy is hanging back, watching, not four feet from me. I shoot Erica a glance that says, “There are 1400 people in line, and this guy pulls up next to us… is it some sort of sign?” We’ve been married 8 years, we’re getting good at communicating sub-verbally. Her look says, “Go for it, this guy’s kind of pissing me off.”
I sidle up and decide to flash my Christian Credentials. “So… you guys with Campus Crusade or YWAM or something?” His look was classic. I might as well have drawn a fish in the sand. “Uhh… no, we’re sorta on our own. He’s my brother, and I’m just observing. He goes to Master’s. One of his classmates is around here somewhere.”
Master’s. Bingo. A single two syllable word rules out the Crazies, the JW’s, the Mormons, and, of course, Pastor Smiley.
For those of you who are unwashed heathens, The Master’s College was founded by one Pastor John MacArthur in Santa Clarita, California. JohnnyMac is a bit of a conundrum for me. He’s a Biblical scholar of epic proportions, and he’s a great teacher. He’s pretty hardcore Calvinist, and takes the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture (an idea in which I believe, if it matters to anyone) to untenable extremes.
The thing about Master’s and the church he pastors, Grace Community Church, is that they’re cults of personality. People who attend there have this vague air of superiority about them. They call JohnnyMac their “Shepherd.” Speaking with one of them, and I know a few, you get the distinct impression that everyone else who attends other churches or Christian colleges are… well… just a little weak in their faith. Sometimes I wonder if the word “Master,” is referring to Jesus, or MacArthur.
So… back to our story, our preacher. He’s a MacArthurite, and I know that there’s gonna be no arguing with him. I step back to my wife and listen a bit more. He’s moved on to the strings now, talking about Romans, how the one who has been sinned much (short string) has been forgiven much, and I can just see it coming. He’s gonna get to sanctification by grace just as he magically makes all the strings the same length. Glory, Hallelujah.
Did I mention he’s yelling? Well, he’s on the street, and he’s yelling, eyes strangely vacant, doing the schpeel. I’m watching him, talking on my cellphone, guiding in our friends who’ve never been here before, watching the crowd getting agitated, etc.
Erica turns to me and says, “Are you gonna say something to him?” What would I actually want to ask this guy, I think to myself. I don’t want to argue theology, or mock him. I’m not interested in making a spectacle of myself. I’m not interested in associating myself with him, but I’m not interested in kicking his ass, either.
So, I raised my hand, he recognized me, and I asked him the only question that I was genuinely interested in asking. “So… I’m wondering how you reconcile this approach with Jesus’ words about approaching gently, as well as some pretty specific guidelines about this sort of thing given in the epistles.”
I zinged him, and broke his flow, but he was right back at me, suspiciously quickly. “Well, there’s a long history of street preaching, Jesus did it himself, as well as the apostles and people like John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, but I’ll talk to you later.” And then he was back on track. I was just dying… he actually invoked Mighty Spurgeon to rebut me. How classic. Phil would be so proud.
At this point, our friends had arrived, and there were hugs and greetings around. “What’s this guy’s story?” They asked. “Oh man.. he’s from Master’s, and he’s kind of a dick, and he wasn’t able to answer my question…”
I notice the preacher’s brother inching in to get a good listen, and he addresses me this time. “You’re pretty judgmental, man, and you just misrepresented what happened to your friends. He’s able to answer your question, it’s just that you interrupted his talk, and he didn’t want to get distracted…” I cut him off.
“Exactly. I interrupted his talk, his prepared schpeel. You know what else, man? I didn’t misrepresent what happened. I told these people, my friends, knowing their context and personalities, exactly what they needed to hear to know my take on this situation. See… these are my friends, and I know them, and I know how to communicate with them… so what you hear and what they hear are two radically different things.”
“Oh.” He said. “I guess you’re right.”
He had a gentle face. A kind face. I decided to out myself.
“Dude. I know you guys. I know that you don’t know me, but I know you. I’m a worship leader at a theologically conservative baptist church. I’ve been a Christian all my life. I know all about Masters, and your boy JohnnyMac (I actually called him JohnnyMac… which made his face go three shades of pale), and you can either believe me or we can sit here and debate theology until we’re blue in the face and then you’ll believe me that I know what I’m talking about.”
He looked offended. “You don’t know anything about us!”
I have a freakish ability, in extreme situations, to say exactly what I mean to say. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I cannot, for the life of me, control it, but every so often I manage to get my thoughts out in one, long, semi-coherent stream of consciousness.
I cut him off again, and said something along the lines of, “Dude, I’m not saying I know you, or your brother. What I am saying is that I know the Scriptures, we’ve read all the same books, and we most likely know some of the same people, as it’s a small world, after all. I know where you’ve been, what you’ve heard, and how you think. I know you’re a five point Calvinist, that you believe in the complete inerrancy of Scripture, that you believe we live in a corrupt and wicked generation that needs the gospel thrown at them so that the elect can be called out.”
His eyes nearly bugged out of his head when I managed to get “Elect” in there. He didn’t really say anything, so I just kept letting him have it, “You know what man? I do street evangelism. I direct a youth choir, and we were ministering to the homeless and addicted not two weeks ago.”
I don’t remember exactly where he stopped me, but he said something like this, “So you’re a Christian, huh, and yet your judging us for trying to do God’s work and present the Gospel…” Chad was not having any of this.
“The gospel is good news, man. Good news. Your approach sounds a lot like bad news. Your approach is scary and intimidating. The first thing that I did when your brother started his speech was check both of you for weapons or bombs. These people spent thirty horrifying seconds wondering if their friends were gonna read about their bloodied bodies in the morning paper…”
He stopped me, saying something like… “That’s not fair, you should see some of the other street evangelists we’ve met, calling women sluts and telling people they’re gonna burn in hell…(at this point, I must have rolled my eyes, thinking that he wants brownie points for their ability to not refer to women on the street as sluts) my brother wants to talk about hope!”
I came back with this, perhaps my best and only constructive point, “If you want to preach at people about hope, here’s how you do it. Go to your church, or friends, or something, and get $100 in $1 bills. Put them in a bucket, and make a sign that says ‘For the homeless’ and then park it here in this same spot and just open the Bible and start reading… oh I dunno… the book of John. Instead of alienating people, you’ll serve two purposes: they’ll be grateful to you for stopping the homeless people from continually harassing them for change, and the Holy Spirit would convict us about our own lack of generosity towards them. The door would be open for you to talk about anything you want.” Then I kind of got a little mean, but to the point, “The question is this: are you really interested in impacting people, or do you just get off on being right?”
This hurt his feelings, I could tell.
“You’re not being fair, look over there,” he said. His brother had moved from a crowd address to an animated conversation with one guy in line, of course the one who was most vocal in his protests and jeering. “They are having a real conversation.” I remember thinking that it looked like a conversation with a lot of pointing, which often means it’s not a real conversation, but rather two concurrent arguments with pauses.
I could tell he was struggling with me. I’m guessing that arguments on the street don’t usually involve people who can give a concise explanation of TULIP. “Look,” I said, “Maybe this is how God wants to use you to reach people. Maybe you have to go through the theatrics of the cold open in order to have one real conversation a night. However, you picked this one random spot in the world and it just happened to be next to me, and God wasn’t gonna let me get out of here just ignoring you. I knew I had to talk to you after about fifteen seconds of hearing your brother talk.”
“Most of these people think you’re crazy, or stupid, or annoying, or just a couple of assholes, (a well placed cussword always throws fundies for a loop) or even dangerous. Heck, you had me worried, and I’m on your team. It only took me two questions to get a clear picture of where you sat theologically. You throw out a passage from Romans, and they have no idea what you’re talking about. They have no context, no understanding, they don’t even know what that is. We’re in a post-Christian environment, so you can’t use the Scriptures in the public square like Spurgeon did and expect to get the same kind of traction. I’m not saying that Scripture has lost it’s power, or that we have to sterilize it or dumb it down, but we must be wise as serpents, harmless as doves. Give some thought as to what Paul was talking about when he said he tried to be all things to all people.”
I had talked myself blue by this point. I wanted to try and wind it up. “Look, it’s clear that you’re doing your best to serve God, and I’m glad for that. I apologize for coming on so strong, and it’s clear that you’re decent guys, and maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this.”
He agreed, said “God Bless You,” and I think he meant it, and I returned the same to him, and I meant it.
I resumed The Hang with Erica and our friends, and waited for the line to go in. Street Preacher still was engaged in his conversation with Pointy Finger Man the whole time. His brother moved over there and listened in. When the line finally went in, Street Preacher walked with Pointy Finger Man all the way to the entrance and said goodbye. He passed me and said, “Hey man, I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you.” I smiled and thought to myself… I don’t know if that’s true… ask your brother.
I told this story to Mike yesterday, and he laughed at the part where I was trying to flash my Christian Badge in order to get this guy to talk with me as a peer, and not a potential convert, (which, of course, is at the heart of the problem…) Mike said, taking on my role for a moment, “Brother… I understand that burning in your belly… lemme get you a Tums.” I laughed.
I’m gonna post and tag this thing, and, who knows, someday Street Preacher or his Brother may find it, and realize it’s them. They may take issue with my description of the events, or our conversation. If they do, they should comment here, as while I’ve done my best to preserve the content, it was going fast and furious, and often the line between what one actually says and what one thinks after the fact becomes blurry.
Of course, after I left them, SpiderMan 3 melted several dozen IQ points from my brain, so that may factor in as well.
It’s not enough to mean well, guys. How did that conversation go with Pointy Finger Man? Is he coming to church next weekend? Has anyone ever actually allowed you to be their friends once you were done with them? What’s the deal with the string thing? Why do you have to have a prepared schpeel? Why won’t you answer my question in front of those people? It was a fair question. Why are you more interested in how Spurgeon or Wesley did it then how Jesus, Peter and Paul did it? Street Preacher’s Brother mentioned those giants of the reformation way more often then you mentioned Christ Himself, and it showed. Remember Jesus? He was pretty smart. He didn’t get killed because he was a reckless idiot. He was killed because he was changing people’s minds by the truckload, and he scared the hell out of the establishment. Annoying the establishment doesn’t make you like Christ, it just makes you annoying.
Are you actually interested in impacting this culture, or are you only interested in being theologically correct?