I just recently realized (in the midst of writing blog after blog after endless blog) that I don’t think we’ve met before (aside of course, from you mom! I promise I’ll come get my mail soon.)
Yes, exactly like those people at your friends’ Thanksgiving party who speak endlessly of their side projects, children, and whether or not Tennessee football is back (it isn’t) without leaving you enough breathing room to squeak out your desperate desires to go to the bathroom (you need to, badly).
Sadly, I have fallen victim to the very same trap, that of course being the insatiable desire to tell you everything at once without starting from the beginning or giving you space to speak yourself.
For that, apologies.
Let’s start over:
My name’s Eric.
I live in Knoxville, TN
I love pugs, cracker barrel, my spouse, Bob Dylan, college football, whole bean coffee, and Wes Anderson films*.
(*NOTE: I know it’s endlessly pretentious to say the word “film” instead of “movie,” but as you can tell, I am a cosmopolitan person of style and substance and CAN’T HELP MYSELF!)
Oh, and also, I’m quite often embarrassed to admit to people that I’m not only a pastor, but a BAPTIST one at that.
Yes, it’s true, I usually manage to leave my denominational affiliations decidedly vague in passing conversations with acquaintances, friends, insurance reps, and anyone with access to TV and the internet.
Which begs the asking of a few rather obvious questions:
“Won’t Jesus be ashamed of you when he judges you at the end of things with that heavenly powerpoint used to display all the times you picked your nose in traffic, read out of date gossip magazines in the dentist office waiting room, and peed in the shower without telling anyone?”
“Well, if you’re “ashamed” of being BAPTIST, why write a blog for something called the Associated BAPTIST press?”
You can’t beat the pay*.
(*NOTE: I am contractually obligated to say the following: Eric has never been paid for anything he’s written. Ever. His opinions are both his own and VERY unpopular.)
“Is this another one of those grandiose Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style open letters written by some peon with no credentials in a vain attempt to rattle the halls of the powerful and in the process attract my internet attention in order to later secure a marginally successful book career and speaking schedule at small Christian liberal arts colleges in the Southeast?”
I hope not, but you know the old adage: “what happens at a Carson-Newman chapel service stays there, forever.”
Now, to be clear because this is a blog read mostly by relatives and members of something called the “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” it is important to specifically note that I am NOT simply speaking of my rising sheepishness anytime a figurehead of the Southern Baptist Convention manages to wrangle a microphone in order to elucidate the “Christian” position on any number of important social/political/theological/culinary issues of our day.
Let’s be honest, we already know what they’re going to say, and to blow my word count denigrating the incoherent ramblings of those advocating the institution of nationwide Evangelical shari’ah law-whether they be Mega-church pastors in bedazzled Affliction t-shirts or cheap suits from Sears-is simply a waste of time and your lunch break.
“But, but, but, but Eric…how will people know that Jesus doesn’t hate science, NBC comedies, Ice T, and NPR?”
“Eric, if we don’t DO SOMETHING, won’t people confusingly think that Christianity is simply an affiliated chapter of the HeMan Woman Haters Club?”
“And, worst case scenario, if we don’t get the word out, people MAY think we’re still boycotting Disney and I JUST BOUGHT SEASON PASSES THIS YEAR!”
I get this impulse.
I have it myself anytime particular people, viewpoints, or positions fill my grandmother’s barely audible nursing home television tuned only to Fox News.
I know, I know, I know.
But, to be honest, my crippling embarrassment comes from a far deeper place than heavy-set white males haranguing “the gays.” Instead, it most often ends up expressing itself as profound disappointment at the fact that the only moniker of self-idenitification we can muster as a movement of “Cooperative” Baptists is:
“well, at least we aren’t like THEM.”
Everything we say, and do, and think, and write, and speak, and publish is in direct opposition to them and their misguided religiosity. They’re too conservative. They’re too backwards. They’re too oppressive.
But what are you?
Until we’re able to clearly articulate what it is that we are, rather than simply what we are not, then the viewpoints, positions, beliefs, and ideas of unbearable figureheads with limitless media wattage retain control over the conversation whether we like it or not.
So, let me say this next part in a whisper as I lean in closely:
Most people under 50 don’t know what the SBC or the CBF is for that matter. We’re ALL becoming increasingly irrelevant. It’s time we acknowledged this.
Which brings me back to a mantra I repeat consistently to myself anytime I consider heading into the wilderness of unaffiliated Christianity (or even something worse, like Methodism!):
“Yes, being Baptist is embarrassing, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Instead of being the mouthpiece of conservative politics and divinely sanctioned weather disasters (or, in the case of the CBF, playing the role of less popular step-sister furiously folding her arms and huffing her disapproval loudly in the next room to the realization of almost no one),
we could decide to leave this conversation altogether for a far more interesting one.
A conversation dictated not by the powerful or the politically well-connected, but by all those they ignore, exclude, demonize, and condescendingly “pray for”.
What if, instead of being a movement bickering back and forth about what it means to be “Baptist,” we decided to gather up anyone who’s ever been told they don’t fit, they don’t match up, they don’t have a place, and we started making space for them at our table…
BECAUSE WE ARE THEM.
Instead of talking in half-hearted generalities about diversity, inclusion, and welcoming the stranger, what if we began militantly embracing and standing alongside our brothers and sisters of every nation, tribe, tongue, orientation, political background, SES, and even (gasp) worship style in order to reveal to the world what the way of Jesus looks like in flesh and blood:
a group of people limping along the way together-broken, confused, and groaning under the weight of cultural baggage and misunderstanding-but, united in the simple belief that only on the other side of slavery, and bigotry, and fear, and anxiety, and shame, and endless self-comparison, can we discover a life for the ages.
Which, for the first group of cultural/religious/political misfits gathered around a soon-to-be executed rabbi in the ancient near east 2000 years ago, sounded a lot like good news.
So may we write, and tweet, and post, and preach, and whisper this to the world.
Because it has the power to change it.