After driving on THE 405, THE 605, THE 5, and THE 110, (Aaron Wymer kids me about how we call it THE Ohio State University... well, every highway, as pointed out to me by former SoCal resident and blog reader, John Rex, is THE number that it is. You don't take I-5, or Number 5, or are told to go over on 5. It's always take THE 5. I'd rather take THE bus or THE subway, but this is the most car dependent place in the world. It's an urban planning nightmare) let me just say I take everything back about Dad not moving here that I wrote yesterday. SoCal is a great place....
Heard an ad for a Mercedes Benz convertible which used the tag line, "out here, you have love being in your car". Considering traffic is so bad that virtually everything is an hour away, maybe never before has advertising been so truthful. Let's just say I wouldn't want to drive a beat up Geo Metro here every day. That's a fact jack. Ohio is looking better and better all the time.
Did a bunch of interviews today at All Saints Episcopal Church (all though in an effort to be more inclusive, they've dropped the "Episcopal" from the name). What Asbury is to conservative Wesleyan theology, All Saints is to liberal social justice ministry. I think it will be by far the most "leftist" church included in my study, and will probably be in many ways the most instructive and interesting. The pastor emeritus, George Regas, who really helped put All Saints on the map nationally, made his name as a young pastor coming out against the Vietnam War. Considering at the time Pasadena was one of the most conservative areas in California (an area that was staunchly supportive of Ron Reagan while he was governor, and then President) you can imagine how much hot water he was in at the time. However, on the other side, I guess the admiration he won in his stand ended up leading to more people coming to the church than leaving it, so he kept his job, and All Saints became the activist church that is today.
Which leads me to ask this question: How much of what we preach and teach is really determined by the cultural environment we're in, and how much of it comes out of our conviction? I mean, LA isn't exactly a hotbed of conservatism, and Regas exceedingly progressive message (which has been continued by Bacon... let's just say they're not big George Bush fans) has found a huge, and growing audience in this part of the world. Of course, if he preached the same thing in most places at home, his impact and following would be somewhat diminished. So would he have pushed the same message as a pastor in say, Columbus or Dayton or Sidney over the years or not? Considering that he expressed in his book, and in our conversation today, the idea that the various constituencies in his church pushed him out of his comfort zone again and again, one wonders. If George hadn't been pushed by his people and the issues pertinent in a place like LA, would he have retired being recognized for being more conventional theologically? Would he have taken the same risk in say, Omaha back in 1971?
I suppose we'll never know, but considering it seems that I am recognizing in my sermon planning how much I edit and censor myself, I wonder how much of what we preach is tempered by seeking approval and support from our people. Evangelicals, for example, didn't really get all that interested in the AIDS pandemic in Africa or environmental justice until their own constituencies began to express their concern about these issues. How often is our prophetic voice muzzled until we think maybe it'll be OK to stretch out neck out and not risk getting out head cut off?
Anyhow, say what you want about the church and its theology (as I'm sure my conservative colleagues will do so in abundance once they investigate the website some more) but you can't argue with the church's track record. The willingness to empower laity to reach out and serve others in multitude of ways has made All Saints a respected church in the LA area. It fostered an AIDS ministries, a free medical clinic to uninsured children, and one of the first shelters for battered women years for other churches took similar initiatives. And the number of people at the church who are involved in some kind of justice ministry (everything from environmental justice, to a group that has decided to show their support to the troops and their families) is staggering: Literally thousands of people from every walk of life, ethnicity, and part of the Greater LA metro area.
Anyhow, the place made me think a lot about what is required of a pastoral leader, and what it means to be not just a priesthood of all believers, but a prophethood of all believers. While I can't ever see myself taking some of the extreme positions theologically or politically these guys do (I'm just a guy who believes the narrow way is the one in the middle) I don't want our people's lives or their community to be same after encountering our church. I think Jesus demands more of us. Now just how that looks in Lima, Ohio, is what I'm praying about, in earnest, right now. I'm sure it will lead to some interesting conclusions.
Tomorrow, one last interview with a person at All Saints (a retired foreign correspondent with a major newspaper), and a drive to Arizona. See you Tucson!