livin' for the love of the city
last night we served with this guy, pastor phil wyman. all of us at sinners and saints love this guy and think you’ll love him too. the story of his community’s commitment to “be a blessing to the city of salem” is featured on the front page of the wall street journal and is included in the the salem evening news as well. you can pick up the journal at your local newsstand and read the news article by clicking on the link provided above.
in related news...
life has been really rich lately. i’ve reveled in renewed connections with friends in the lou and chicago-land, felt my crusty soul unfold as simkins and i rolled through the midwest, reveled in the cardinals winning the world series and spied the first signs of reconciliation in one of my most essential relationships. so much has happened that i’ve had precious little time to write, but i suppose that’s the way it goes. of course, i’m planning to explore these experiences further sometime after they cease to be relevant.
i suppose that’s a long way of saying that i would like to forego any reflection on the past week so that i can talk about what happened last night. for the past several years a small contingent of sinners and saints has been partnering with the gathering as together we seek to “be a blessing” to the people of salem. throughout the years we’ve served free hot chocolate, offered “p(s)alm readings”* and donned monk robes to offer free confessions to whomever will hear them.**
last night, as we were wolfing down meatball subs and openly wondering whether we should open the confession booth since there was a surprisingly small crowd walking in and around essex street, phil wyman received a call from christian day, one of salem’s high priests of wicca. christian reported that the entrance to their psychic fair was being obstructed by fundamentalist preachers who were causing quite an uproar. so he decided to call pastor phil and the police in hopes that the witches and the visitors to the witch city could find some peace. at that moment, for some unknown reason, i received christian’s plea as a call to action. so four of us quickly finished our subs, donned our monk robes and headed down to the museum place mall.
once we arrived on the scene, i realized we were walking into a fairly volatile situation. the street preachers were condemning the crowds of sins like beastaphilia, the witches were claiming that one of their number was physically assaulted by either a member of repent america or an associated group and a goth kid was verbally abusing the preachers, denouncing the christians by screaming things that i am hesitant to repeat and stopping just short of taking a swing at any person who countered him.***
at that moment, i realized that i needed to do some pretty quick thinking. should i stand in front of the preachers and counter their condemnation by proclaiming Christ’s blessing upon peacemakers? i tried this approach for a moment but quickly realized that fighting fire with fire was not the best option. should i spend the next few hours standing in front of the “persecution cams,” smiling a benign smile and thwarting fundamentalist attempts to blatantly objectify my fellow citizens? i tried this course for a while, but realized it only incensed the “preachers” all the more and did little fulfill our calling to “bless the city of salem.” finally, i settled on simply speaking grace and truth to both the passerby and those who were committed to condemning non-christians for failing to live up to a kingdom ethic. this latter approach appeared to produce the best fruit, a couple of slices of which i would like to share below.
almost as soon as i decided to share Christ’s peace with the crowd i bumped into a young man who had once been a foster child of a family i know quite well. as soon as i saw him i removed my hood, reminded him of our connection and encouraged he and his friend not to pay much mind to the spite the preachers were spewing or even pay them much attention. i told that by standing around gawking at the street preachers and trying to convince the latter that they actually were not “nazis” they were only encouraging this event to continue.
after i spoke with a few more people i bumped into a leather clad townie who seemed amused by the street preachers and openly wondered “how anyone could take this shit seriously.” i confessed to him that i was a Christian who believed that Christ offered us the most beautiful, good and true approach to life, but that i thought it was ridiculous for the church to require non-christians to embrace the sexual ethics**** that Christ expected of the church and believed that the group that most needed to heed the call to repentance was the church. the townie responded that he had fought many great battles in his life against “crack, crystal meth and the bottle” but had ultimately found freedom from his addictions. moreover, he readily admitted that he believed in Jesus and, during one of the street preacher’s more hostile harangues, he pulled out a harmonica and started to play amazing grace.
in the midst of these encounters i also had the opportunity to speak with a young christian woman who had traveled all the way from wisconsin to preach to the people of salem. after we had a brief discussion concerning the primary focus of prophetic condemnation in the scriptures***** i asked her whether she had ever heard of marshall mcluhan. she told me that she hadn’t, so i spent a few moments explaining his dictum that “the medium is the message” and openly wondering with her whether spreading condemnation upon non-Christians was the best way to share the life in Christ we both value so dearly. our amicable discussion reminded me that true dialogue with the street preachers was both possible and potentially beneficial.
later i spoke with a slightly inebriated man who really wanted to know whether God’s forgiveness, which to him seemed to good to be true, was real and later responded to another question by affirming that even a broken man on his deathbed was not beyond the gracious embrace of God.
there were other remarkably beautiful encounters as well, such as when one of the witches crashed the church after all the earlier craziness to thank us for being a means of peace to the city of salem,****** but i’ve probably said too much already.
i’ll conclude by simply noting that last night i had the opportunity to share the gospel of God’s peace and embody Christ’s reconciliation in a manner, and to an extent, that i never have before. moreover, i left the city revelling in the fact that those who seek to be a blessing are often the most blessed indeed.
i can’t wait to get back to salem. if you’re in the area and would like to join us you are more than welcome.
* which i absolutely suck at.
** we confess the sins of the church in hopes that the Holy Spirit can clear new ground wherein reconciliation takes place. we stole this idea from donald miller’s blue like jazz and freely admit that our act is wholly unoriginal.
*** one of the fundamentalist’s video cameras was not so lucky.
**** the preachers roundly condemned homosexuality, adultery and fornication and returned to the topic of homosexual marriage time and again. but apparently they found the topic of beastiality most titillating. i must confess that after they loudly addressed “those who practice beastiality” i loudly asked “so where are the sheep?” i don’t know if the latter question was constructive, but i found it quite funny.
***** for the record, the people of God are almost always the object of such condemnation. Jesus does indeed denounce people as whitened sepulchers and hypocrites, but you’ll never find him speaking in such a manner to egyptians or greeks. the same principle almost always applies to the old testament prophets as well, though, in fairness, jonah did openly denounce the ninevites.
****** forgive me if i keep further details of that beautiful encounter to myself. some encounters should not be reduced to words.