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.

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