Monday, July 7, 2008

Rochester, New York: Vacation, A Baseball Game, and Two Prophets

Stacy and I had a wonderful trip to Rochester, New York to go to a wedding of one of her friends. It was the first time that she and I had been on a vacation together without our son since before he came along and so it was different. The funny thing is that was we were looking at things to do we saw all this cool stuff that we could be doing with Micah (I think this shows that once your identity has shifted to "Parent" you can never leave that identity).

As we were planning our "vacation" around the wedding we knew that we wanted to go to a Rochester Red Wings game (they are the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins), but we didn't want to get tickets until that day in case it was raining. Well Friday, July 4th rolled around and we decided to go to the ballpark and get our tickets and then go up to Lake Ontario. We waited behind a few other patrons and then got up to the window. Hoping to get some sweet seats I said: "We came all the way from Minnesota and are looking for the best seats you have. What is the Minnesota special?" Here is how the rest of the conversation went:

Teller: Well I tell you what. Everytime I have been to Minnesota people have been good to me so here is what I am going to do. (reaches into his pocket and pulls out some tickets held together by a rubberband) My family is working at the game tonight and we have season tickets so here you go. They are on me. (I am dumbfounded, just looking down at him slide the tickets through the window...I don't know if I am suppose to pay him or what...noticing my bewilderment he goes on). They are some of the best seats in the house right behind the Red Wings Dugout, you enjoy the game.

Me: (not sure what to say and struggling for words with that bewildered look on my face) Thanks. That is awesome.

So yeah, we wanted to go to a game, but we were the recepients of some radical hospitality by the teller who showed us what it means to take care of a guest. The game was great and the seats were awesome, but perhaps one of the best/saddest/craziest (not sure how to describe it) parts of the game was waiting in line for the gates to open.

Two men were standing on the sidewalk facing the large gathering of people waiting for the gates to open. Both were dressed in slacks and button up shirts and both had Bibles in their hands. Both had shaved heads with beards. One was tall and skinny, the other was short and pudgy, but both were there to "convert" heathens. I put convert in quotation marks because I don't know how much converting they were really doing. It was what I expected out of street prophets. Quote some scripture, tell everyone how they are wicked and will face judgment and then mention that Jesus came to give life and give us that "get out of judgment free card" if we just repented and turned towards God. Now personally I disgree with their theology from the get go and so I went into critique mode in a discussion with my wife. As they were preparing to quote scripture I told my wife that if they wanted to make some type of connection with the crowd they might want to quote a translation other than the King James Version, she agreed, but then the best part came. They short gentleman not more then one minute later talked about how we don't need "new translations" or different ways of speaking scripture because God had given it to us in true form (I am guessing he was referring to the KJV translation, which then gets into a whole different question of assumptions). I chuckled to my wife and I think he caught that, because then he went on a tirade to the whole crowd about how they were all bound for hell and he would periodically shout: "HA-HA yeah it is so funny. Laugh it up. You are all wicked. HA HA." Now to reflect a little bit more.

1. I think these gentleman are actually doing what they do out of their understanding of God and how God works in the world. For that I cannot fault them even though I disagree totally with them. At least they are being authentic to what they believe.

2. I think the way they were doing things was totally done in the wrong context. Even if you do go by the "Turn or Burn" theology, historically this has had the most "relevance" in a community known by the "Turn or Burn" prophet. Jonathan Edwards was good because he spoke to people who gathered to hear him. Same with most of the "Great Awakening" speakers. People came to hear them and so they were open to what was being said. These two gentlemen were speaking to people who were gathered waiting to go into a baseball game not hear someone yell at them about the state of their soul in eternity.

3. If you are going to speak like that then "know" the people. They talked to everyone as if they were sinners who did not know God's grace, yet they really didn't know any of the people gathered there at all. They didn't know that they were speaking to a young methodist minister, in fact they didn't know anyone. If you really want to change peoples' lives then you better know who they really are first.

4. Context is everything. Know your context. Quoting an old english translation of the Bible isn't going to be very relevant to a modern crowd because they are going to equate that language with so many other things. Language is a key to communication and if you aren't speaking their language then you aren't going to communicate with them. Paul did this in his evangelism. He would correlate understandings and speak to the reality he knew. The way I would best challenge this is the following. If these two gentelemen were to go over to say Germany and do the same thing, would they speak in English? If they really wanted to reach people they would speak in German. The same goes here in America, learn the language (and language is very complex and not just a spoken thing) of the context you are in and speak in the terms people would understand.

I will probably be reflecting on this trip for a long time, but I wish these two prophets the best in their lives and hopefully they will also see that God is so much more than a God of judgment.