I’ve spent a good deal of time with people who are not Christians, and in fact don’t have any interest in appearing to live by biblical standards. But most Christian pastors I know have limited contact with the wild world of subcultures I frequent.
I know only a few pastors who have been to Burning Man. The Christian connection with the world of Burners is slim, and typically, it is a negative experience for the Burner.
The preponderance of church leaders I know have no idea what today’s Pagan is (or ‘Neo-Pagan’, to use an anthropological identification). When they use the word ‘pagan’ or ‘heathen’, they typically mean godless hedonistic people. It’s a negative identifier for someone who drinks and parties a lot and should be avoided because they are a bad influence.
My friend Jim Henderson used to arrange discussions with atheists in churches. He would ask the pastor to find a few atheists to discuss their view of Christianity and the Christian church in front of the congregation. Jim came to our church in Salem about 12 years ago. He asked me to find three atheists for the panel––no problem. I found a few friends and acquaintances, and they were ready to be part of this public discussion. Jim was surprised that I found the atheists he needed. Apparently other pastors he had dealt with didn’t know any atheists, and Jim would have to visit coffee shops or pubs prior to the event to fill those slots. I was as surprised as Jim. He was surprised that I knew three atheists in Salem. I was surprised that other pastors couldn’t find anyone to join the discussion.
The other night, I was hanging out with one of my Witch friends in Salem. This Witch friend enjoys a rather hedonistic alternative sexual lifestyle. This is not necessarily standard in Pagan circles, but neither is it uncommon. After being told a few tales of sexual exploits, my friend remarked, “I just can’t freak you out. You never get surprised.” My friend occasionally tries to freak me out, and tests me with these stories.
My Witch friend was not the first person to make the comment that I was not easily surprised. I’ve heard that several times over the years from people who are trying to push my little Christian pastor buttons. It is almost as if I am being tested to see whether I can practice what I preach about loving people unconditionally.
From Burners, to Witches, to Atheists, to general non-believers, and occasionally from Christians who practice such alternative things as open-marriage, I have heard some variation of these words: “You never get surprised.” Typically, what they mean beneath that comment is that I do not reject them, and that I can accept them as friends.
It is true that I am not easily surprised by the weird things people do. I am also not easily offended. I do not need people to agree with me for them to be my friends. Perhaps being surprised easily and being offended easily are closely related. Even if they are not, the world around us that does not follow Jesus appears to think that they are related.
Perhaps our little Christian world is too little. Perhaps it is too narrow. Perhaps that is why we are surprised when we hear things that are part of the world of alternative sexuality, alternative religious beliefs, hedonistic partying, radically differing politics, violence, or criminality. I may walk a narrow way to Christ. In fact, it is narrower than most people think. But this way intersects the broad road in many places, and my lack of surprise and offence is just one more evidence to the non-Christian that I truly love the wide-road walkers I know. We are good friends because I am not surprised by what they believe and how they live.
Perhaps my lack of surprise is simply a shadow of grace in the storms of judgment and bias raging in our world. Sometimes I wonder why I am so calm in the face of hedonism and heresy, but mostly I am thankful. That calmness allows me to go places that many other Christians can’t imagine.
Interested in more stories from outside the church walls and a theology of wild mission? Check out Love Big or Go Home.