Talking with Jana the other day I think I figured it out. I said to her, "I like to be in places where the gospel matters."
I don't want to be harsh or judgmental, but sometimes I get the sense that the gospel just doesn't matter that much to a lot middle-class and upper-class Christians.
Two example of this.
When the gospel doesn't matter Christians tend to default to the dominant language of the American culture: consumerism. That is, people think about church in relation to their likes and dislikes. They like this and they don't like that. They prefer this and they don't prefer that.
In my circles you hear a lot of this in relation to the worship service and the preaching. Basically expressing likes and dislikes about what happens on Sunday morning.
I've grown tired of this sort of thing. Not sick and tired. Not angry tired. Just weary tired. To be sure there are things I like and dislike about our church. There are things, if I were in charge, that I'd change. But I've grown weary of using this filter for church and the spiritual life. I'm tired of thinking about the Kingdom through the prism of my preferences.
The other indication that the gospel doesn't matter is over-intellectualizing. I'm a college professor. It's my job to over-intellectualize. And I'm pretty damn good at it. I'm one of the best at our church in making biblical topics "interesting." That talent for finding the "interesting" angle is what gives this blog the variety and freshness it has.
But I'm getting weary of being interesting. (Don't worry, I'm not talking about this blog. I'm talking about church life.) The opposite of interesting is boring. I'm growing tired of putting that filter over my spiritual life and church life, sorting what bores me from what interests me.
These filters--preferences and boredom--fall away when I'm in the prison or speaking at Freedom. These audiences are simply trying to survive. They have a different agenda in listening for the Word of God. They don't don't use the language of liking or not liking. It's not a filter they use. They also don't come to hear something interesting, intellectually speaking.
In the prison and at Freedom the gospel isn't a hobby, or a book club, or a form of entertainment.
For them, the gospel matters.
...(Picture note. A few weeks ago a strong storm blew into town on a Monday night with winds getting up near 70 miles per hour. Herb and I were in the middle of our study at the prison. With the possibility of the facility losing power we had to stop and the men had to get back to their cellblocks. The storm and wind were so bad Herb and I waited in the guardhouse until it blew over. I waited patiently and read the latest edition of The Catholic Worker which one of the chaplains subscribes to. When the storm passed we walked out to our cars under sunlight and a huge rainbow. I snapped a shot of it with my phone. Incidentally, as you can see, it was a huge--horizon to horizon--double rainbow. Yes, I did film it with the phone but, sad to say, I didn't go all "double rainbow" on it.
I've given the picture the title "Double Rainbow over Barbed Wire.")