Saturday, September 18, 2010

Highview Series 3: Seekers of the Week, Mark & Rev. Trish

(Sept 15: Fairfax, VA) "Seeker of the week" Mark Gill didn't get far in his questions about how a loving God could send people to hell at last night's discussion at Highview Christian Fellowship of the book I've co-authored with Bishop Thomas, The Bishop and The Seeker. In my absence, Mark and Bishop Thomas read aloud from Chapter 8 in  which Bishop tells me no Christian has any business worrying about who is going to hell, and each person is responsible for only as much light as they are given.

Mark is an ex-Pentecostal turned "spiritually homeless" by dogmatism, hypocrisy, and what he learned at divinity school. "I didn't backslide," he told the group, "I fled. And now I'm just interested in finding a higher level of truth." Reading as me, he  got a laugh with the final line, "Wouldn't you be fired if anybody knew you believed these things?" he says to Bishop Thomas. "That's the first thing I thought as I read this book," Mark added on his own.

A young woman from Highview asked about atrocities in the Bible, and Bishop said he would answer some of those questions separately, but they generally arise from taking stories our of context.

Mark said that what attracts him to this series is the unusual opportunity to learn each others' views of God in a safe environment that welcomes questions. 

Learning the truth
"But I come to learn the truth," said one participant.

Bishop Thomas said that worrying about conditions for salvation can distract Christians from the mission Jesus outlined in Luke 4:18: "To preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."

Rev Trish on New Thought

Rev. Trish Hall joined the discussion. She's the senior minister at the other church I belong to, Celebration Center of Spiritual Living, an interfaith center in the New Thought movement. She shared her view of the need to continually honor our own divine nature within. She said that we could all get along in the world by realizing the commonalities among our beliefs rather than letting religion tear us apart.

Bishop Thomas responded that she might have an idealistic view because of her life circumstances.
"Since you brought up the subject ..." said Rev. Trish, and she shared some of  her background of extensive childhood abuse. "I am not the victim of my past.  Victimhood is a choice.  I know I am free to choose how I experience my life.  I choose to live life fully and to serve God and hopefully make a difference ..." 

In the quiet that followed, Bishop Thomas skipped his customary wrapup comments."I can't add anything to that," he said. "Let's close with a prayer."

Because I had to teach that night, I am relying on reports from attendees. But several people told me how much they appreciated Rev. Trish's warm, engaging, funny, and personal stories in explaining her beliefs.  The feeling was mutual and Rev. Trish declared her intention to return for the remaining two sessions. Folks also reported enjoying Mark's sincere quest for truth. "He was in his element," I heard.

Two more Wednesday nights

September 22: Laurie from Celebration Center takes my place as seeker of the week. Laurie is a ministerial student at the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York. They'll be reading from Chapter 20, Living for Heaven or Earth?

September 29: I return to discuss Chapter 9, "My Intuition is Your Holy Spirit"

Please join us for the series:
"Telling Seekers the Truth About the Bible"
Robert Frost Middle School, Cafeteria
4101 Pickett Rd, Fairfax, VA

Monday, September 6, 2010

Highview Series 1: Taking Off the Church Lady Hat

The first night of our book series for Highview Christian Fellowship commingled so many roles, levels, and cross currents that I started off by putting on and then removing my "church lady hat" to symbolize our need to step out of usual ways of being.

Staying for the Ride
For starters, Bishop Thomas and I read from the chapter in "The Bishop and The Seeker" in which I tell him that the plan of salvation sounds like the plan of an insecure person without much imagination, and he asks me to come up with a better plan.

We asked people how the reading shows off things that do or do not encourage open communication. Several people noted that Bishop Thomas remained calm, listened, and did not take offense even though my comments were blunt enough to be potentially offensive.

"To do that, you have to have enough love for people to stay with them for the ride," Bishop Thomas said.

But what about "Truth"?
Min. Daryl Ladd said, all this exchange of ideas is fine,  "But did you ever get to the Truth with a capital 'T'?"

This was a moment we knew we would face. Would it enhance the discussion or derail it?

Bishop T responded, "What you mean is, did Teri ever get saved, and that's an adventure in missing the point."  (He was referencing the title of a book by Brian McLaren about how Christians miss opportunities to expand the Kingdom by focusing on salvation.)
Mother Venita, a senior member of the church with a lifetime of labor organizing behind her, said she was impressed by an idea in the book about "transcending and including" the good aspects of outside ideas. "I find I am attracted to some of the values in Buddhism, so I tell myself, the bottom line is whether its compatible with salvation through Jesus." 

Surprised at who's in heaven
Ayub Kaddu
Visitor Ayub Kaddu is a Ugandan whose encounters with Christians in his gardening business has caused him to return to the cow worship of his ancestors. Ayub asked what would have happened if Teri had persuaded Bishop Thomas to her views. Bishop said there was no possibility of that since he is grounded in absolute truth.

But he also said that when all of us get to heaven, we may be surprised as we look around and see who's there and who's not.

At that point my friend Amy Roth, a Christian and  ex-NBC reporter; chimed in that I am one of the most Christian people she knows--regardless of whether I call myself Christian or pass the official definition of salvation.

Why do this?
"You might be wondering why I did this and whether it was worth it for me," Bishop said. "I can tell you the time I spent getting to know Teri's point of view strengthened my own faith and made me a better Christian, a better man, and a better pastor."

Amy Roth
Amy interjected, "Teri, can we ask you the same question? Given that you don't seem to have persuaded Bishop to your views, was all the time you spent worth it to you?"

"Oh, God," escaped my lips. "This was one of the juiciest experiences of my life. I might still have a slightly different understanding of salvation--one I would like to share with the group--but I have more love for God, for all Christians and especially my Highview brethren, and a richer experience of life every day. Plus I've had a chance to become one of  your best praise dancers" (which got me a laugh--if you check out the video, I'm the one on the end going left when everybody else goes right).

Visitor Mark introduced himself as an ex-Pentecostal turned atheist by his experiences in divinity school. He said he couldn't agree with either Teri or Bishop's views in the book, but he acknowledged how unusual and refreshing it is to have a discussion like this that is based in good will.

Warm welcome and connections
Afterward Sisters Reedis and Bridget served homemade refreshments while my husband Andy sold books. I noticed Mark in extended conversation with Daryl, visitor Chris in conversation with Mother Venita, and Ayub getting his picture taken with everyone. Chris is an agnostic foreign service officer who has served in countries where religion is often an excuse to kill. He told me later he was surprised by how warmly welcomed he felt by the Highview people. Ayub told me he didn't understand the points about "Truth," but he could tell there were good people at Highview, and especially Bishop Thomas.

Two questions were put in the "parking lot" for future sessions: How Teri experiences salvation, and--as a challenge to the seekers from Bishop Thomas--name any question that the Bible doesn't have an answer to.

Participate Virtually in Next Meetings
I encourage anyone reading this to participate virtually in the next meeting by posting here your response to Bishop's challenge. We will raise your questions in future sessions and post his answers here.

Meetings are all Wednesdays in September
7-8 pm
Robert Frost Middle School, Cafeteria
4101 Picket Road
Fairfax, VA

Also please check our list of Ten things you can do to help promote the book--which includes a survey of questions you'd like to see discussed.

Schmoozing: After the discussion, Ayub discusses the problem of land theft
in his native Uganda with Amy, Public Affairs Director at  International Justice Mission,
which has an office in Uganda.