November 21, 2005
Expletive Undeleted 4: The F-Bomb Pastor Responds
More than a few readers have commented that the F-bomb debate really hinges on context. Mike Sares, the pastor from Scum of the Earth Church who authorized the reading of a poem on Christmas Eve containing the expletive, agrees. In this post Mike responds to both the critics and the curious by providing a fuller description of his unique ministry context. Mike has also made available for download a PG-rated audio stream of Mary Kate Makkai reading her poem. (This recording is the poem, Lost and Found, as originally written. The version delivered at Scum on Christmas Eve was edited on the spot by Makkai to include only four expletives.)
I meet with three other evangelical pastors every week. Weâ€™ve been meeting to hold each other accountable, encourage each other, and critique our sermon ideas weekly for the last eight years. Yesterday, after having read the blog, Jim (one of the three) said something like, â€œMike, it's very difficult for people to make any kind of judgment unless they know the setting of Scum of the Earth Church and the poem itself.â€? He went on to say how the reading could never be done in his church. Thatâ€™s a comment Iâ€™ve read a lot lately, so let me explain a little bit of what Scum is like.
Scum is more mission than church...
...even after 5 Â½ years of existence. A lot of people who come have major problems with Christianity, with the church as a whole, and with Christians. The average age of the congregation is 24 years old. The majority of people are from single parent homes. We serve a meal every Sunday night at 6:30 and the service starts at 7:00pm. As a result, Scum of the Earth Church serves a lot of homeless people and guys from the rescue mission along with the young adults who come for all kinds of reasons. Many times, someone arguing from the congregation has interrupted a sermon. I have broken up a fight during church. I have been mooned, given â€œthe finger,â€? and yelled at as I left the building. Street people have asked me for money more times than I can remember, and I have pleaded with newly-converted strippers to change vocations. Our congregation has included murderers, bank robbers, drug pushers, seminary students, and people who just donâ€™t want to be in the suburbs. There is even a smattering of people with graying hair, like me, who wonder how we are ever going to fit in with people young enough to be our kids.
We planned Scum of the Earth to be this way. We wanted to create a place where people who would not normally feel comfortable in a church would actually feel comfortable. Not that the Gospel always makes us comfortable; it obviously can do just the opposite. Iâ€™m talking about church culture here, not Biblical content. We value transparency (think 1John 1:7-10). In other words, we strive to be real about the fact that all of us (especially me) are sinners. Most non-Christians I know do not hate God; they think that God and the church hate them because they are considered vile. We want to reverse that deception, since Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners â€“ of whom we are the worst (1Tim 1:5). This does not mean we take on their way of life. We are not free of Godâ€™s law but under Christâ€™s law. The f-word, used in anger and directed towards God or another, is surely not what God desires. That is exactly the kind of thing St. Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3.
This brings us to my friend Jimâ€™s second point, namely, that no one who has been commenting on what we have now come to refer to at Scum as â€œThe Poetry Incidentâ€? has ever heard the poem, Lost & Found. So, we have made it available as an audio stream on our website with a special link from Out of Ur. (See above).
Hereâ€™s some more background information. The poem was part of a liturgy we do for Christmas Eve that looks like this. We sing a Christmas hymn, read a Biblical passage highlighting the Christmas story, do a responsive reading from Psalms, and then listen to an original poem read by one of the congregation. This quartet is repeated three times, and somewhere in the middle of it all, one of the pastoral staff delivers a short Christmas meditation. Mary Kate was approached by my associate to do a poetry reading since we knew of her gifts. Because of her recent return from her prodigal journey, Kate had not written many poems of redemption, but she did have this one, Lost & Found. They submitted it to me for my approval. The rest of the story is told in parts 1 and 2 of "Expletive Undeleted" on this blog.
Let me close by echoing Wetherbyâ€™s comments from part one. This has been a healthy discussion for this very small part of the body of Christ. The biceps and triceps of my own arm are in tension. The fact that they work in opposition to each other enables my arm a range of motion it would not have if only one of the muscles was working. You get the idea. I am grateful for Scumâ€™s supporters and my friends who disagreed with the decision to read Lost & Found that night. They remind me that God is holy; that He is worthy of respect and honor. They remind me that I am but dust and a recipient of fantastic mercy. I look forward to spending eternity with them â€“ a perfect place inhabited by perfected saints.
Posted by UrL on November 21, 2005
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