You are hereHis name is Sam

His name is Sam

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By Virgil - Posted on 13 February 2010

by Virgil Vaduva
There is a perception I have that smoking cigars and discussing theology is a mix that God is somehow present in; the smoke of premium, hand-rolled cigars rolling up to the heavens must be reminding God of the good aroma of temple sacrifices, prompting him to descend and participate in the conversation. There is a verse somewhere supporting that, isn’t it?

Today I walked into the cigar store to spend some time reading and meditating, but after about an hour someone sat down close by and started discussing with someone else the book I gave to the storeowner earlier which was likely laying on the counter, A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. As I was also reading the same book, I interjected and asked what his objections were – I couldn’t understand how a 200-page book could be critiqued after a minute of examination.

Sam, the older African-American man explained to me that the chapter on Who is Jesus? was way off, and that McLaren is not teaching solid, biblical theology. He was clearly familiar with who Brian was so I did not want to wander in a debate over Brian McLaren. Instead I started talking to him trying to find out what really is the source of his antipathy; but despite my efforts, I could not connect with Sam at all. I found that everything I was saying was subjected by Sam to an If/Then conditional analysis, in that I would make a statement, Sam would compare it with his paradigm, then say that he agrees or disagrees with it. The truth is that I really was not interested in whether or not this man agreed or disagreed with what I was saying – I was simply interested in talking to him.

After about 30 minutes, the nicotine finally kicked in, and after being grilled on what I believe about the Bible we finally sort of connected; I shared with him my story, I told him about the problems I see with western Christianity and I encouraged him to look at me based on what we have in common rather than where we differ. Sam shared with me some of his story, his love for John MacArthur, and his previous hate of white men telling him about Christ. I asked him if he sees the arrogance and the imperialism in western evangelical Christianity, and he said he does. I even told Sam about the wonderful news of the Kingdom of God being a reality, something within his grasp, but he rejected it in favor of a depraved present world but a positive future judgment and bodily resurrection, which he told me, is the good news of the Gospel.

We ended up having a great conversation and exchanged some opinions, but somehow I still felt disconnected; I never really, really connected with the guy. I realized that Sam and I operate on two completely different levels. Sam’s world is that of modernity, the world of John MacArthur, one of neatly organized doctrinal points where a person either is in or out, saved or damned, where very little happens outside of the well-established game rules, the world where Sam feels the need to tell me how things are, or at least how things should be. My world is a bit more chaotic, a world where everything is questioned, re analyzed constantly, where anything goes and very little stays the same, where I don’t really feel the need to convince Sam that he is right or wrong, or that he is saved or damned to hell for eternity, where I don’t subject someone to a set of questions before conversing with him.

Today’s conversation with Sam really opened up my eyes to how far off I have walked from evangelical Christianity, and my friends, that makes me very happy; but it also makes me sad. Sam is obviously a good man, his love for God was tangible and real, he had passion about his faith and about what he believed; I can no longer connect with someone like Sam, at least not well – even if we try, we end up talking past each other more than to each other. And that is sad and frustrating; despite the embrace I gave him when he left.

I am not writing this to claim that I am better or superior in my approach than Sam, that is far from it; I am just writing about it to illustrate the generational shift taking place within the Church, something which perhaps confirms Phyllis Tickle’s claim that we are in the middle of a Great Emergence, a new reformation or perhaps self-assessment of the Church, where we sit back, sifting through what we’ve accumulated over the past 500 years, deciding what to keep and what to toss out. One thing is for sure; we cannot continue the way of Sam and expect our message to be viable; note that I said, our message, not Christ’s message.

And the identity of the message is really the key here; the modern church is slowly losing viability over the requirements it places on those walking in, while the “emergent church” (whatever you want that to mean) doesn’t object to being full of hypocrites, liars, adulterers, prostitutes, homosexuals and degenerates – yes, with people like me. It’s message before change, not change before message – embrace of all men, not conditional interaction.

His name is Sam; I hope I see him again – next time I’ll start with the embrace.

cinper's picture

Virgil-

I think you really nailed something on the head for me. As a fellow cigar smoker, I understand the purpose of cigars as that of "capturing the calm of the moment," something that takes time. A great cigar takes me out of the world momentarily, and imbues me with a mental euphoria I cannot put into words. It is fleeting, but the mental clarity, while it is there, is a time of harmony and understanding.

This state of mind is a metaphor, to me, of Christianity. I, too, identify little with American Evangalicalism and see faith, as you do, as something ever-questioned, examined, and evolving. At times, there are those moments of clarity, and they are wonderful while they last. But sooner or later, confusion sets in and we start over again.

Thank you for putting words to my thoughts.

Perry

Virgil's picture

That's a great metaphor and I haven't really thought about it that way before. Part of the reason we encounter these clarity vs. foggy moment could flow out of the way we try to understand the Bible today - what should be a poetic or prophetic story, we turn into a rule-book. It's hard to get a clear understanding of something by completely mis-reading the genre. It's like trying to understand what a steak tastes like by eating a slice of cheese, then describing that "steak" to someone, thus perpetuating the wrong understanding over and over again; it doesn't work, it only creates more confusion.

Mick's picture

Virgil,
The Scriptures do not have to be one or the other. They are both. The Scriptures reveal the heart of God, his dreams for Man, His likes and dislikes and His desires for how Man Should interacted with the world that God Made. Some is poetry but some is prose. It is interesting that we could learn about the effective use of prose and poetry from William Shakespeare see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prose

Mickey E. Denen

Virgil's picture

Mick, true it doesn't have to be one genre or the other; the truth is we don't really know what exactly it is since we were not in the shoes of the people that wrote it or received it. We know it's God's divine word, we know some things here and there about it, but if we are to be honest with ourselves, we'd admit that ultimately there is no manual to the manual, no guide on how to interpret which passage, when do read it how, etc. We have some clue based on the content, but the only thing we are sure about is the Biblical metadata: it comes from God, he wants us to read it and understand the overarching story of God's love. Some people claim the Holy Spirit reveals the meaning to them, some people claim all kinds of other interpretive methods, scripture by scripture, etc. I really doubt they know what they are talking about either - they are likely trying to mask their uncertainties.

The mystery to me is part of the beauty of the Scripture, which prompts me to ponder, discuss, pursue, question, etc. That doesn't cause me to stumble, it causes me to be even more amazed by God's infinite wisdom.

Jamie's picture

One good thing...in spite of "everything being questioned, re analyzed constantly, where anything goes and very little stays the same" one good thing that does stay the same is God. At least there is no debate about that:)
So no matter where you both stand...God hasn't changed.

Sam's picture

Virg,

My name is Sam, too. And, I have to ask, why have any requirements at all? Be careful here, brother when you answer....you might find yourself quoting Aristotle, and we shouldn't have that, eh?

You also wrote, "deciding what to keep and what to toss out." Norm Voss recently said the same thing when I asked him why we just don't throw the whole damn thing out. The Baby and the Bathwater.

When you two "decide" on what to "keep" and what to "throw out" - will what you "keep" be a standard? And, upon what criteria will you "throw out" things and "keep" others? Your own mind?

My adherence to things that I have "kept" as a Preterist (and things I have thrown out as a Preterist, like the idea of fiery end to planet earth) does not in the least cause me to stop interacting in a meaningful way with MacArthur types. It does not stop me from interacting and having a cigar and burrito with Reformed academians, or Protestant ones. I have Roman Catholic friends, and even a Unitarian friend and neighbor. When your 'emerging' view causes you not to "connect" with another brother, I have to question whether your "emerging" is good. If it causing "disconnect" - how can that be good?

Let's take you, for example. I have been grilled to no end for "associating" with Virgil Vaduva, yet our friendship has remained. We have not lost connection, have we? I am still the same Sam....I have my standards and doctrines that I won't budge from. But, this does not cause me disconnect, even from some of the most liberal people I know.

Should I let my standards disconnect me from you and Planet Preterist? Can't we be people of conviction and believers of Absolute Truth and still forge ahead with a bright future? I think we can. Either that....or it's all vanity.....light up the joint and line up the shots Jim Beam...As Jim Morrison said, "I'm gonna get my kicks before the whole s**thouse goes up in flames...."

Virgil's picture

Well said Sam. :)

Starlight's picture

Virgil,

That was a very good and well written story. It's the kind that makes me think and I appreciate your gift.

Norm

Virgil's picture

Norm, that doesn't get you off the heretic wagon, you know that!

:)

I am joking my friend - thanks!

Paige's picture

Hi Virgil,

I think the dynamic you describe here is a natural outcome. It happens when one party has come to a place where there is recognition of duality, and the questioning process has begun.

The key is what you write at the end. It does no good to understand duality if one is never willing to get to the point of embrace. When we are willing to embrace it all, everything, the good, bad and ugly, we have undergone a transformation of the heart.

Thanks for sharing,
Paige

Virgil's picture

Paige, you are right - it's the most difficult thing...it's always much easier to do either (1) become extremely defensive, which means you have to defend your philosophical castle (whatever that is) at any cost or (2) go on the attack and take no prisoners.

Where is the modern church? Hard to say. If we look at people like Mark Driscoll, he is emulating his "prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg" Jesus.

Sam (not Frost) feels the need to defend his doctrine before I even get to the point of talking to him.

We are living in some very interesting times. :)

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