recently my church did a preaching series covering a handful of parables, called “think different”. i was able to attend church during one of the weeks (a great sermon on grace, based on the parable of the workers in the field). they always (or, usually) have some kind of “dressing” on the stage that connects with the series (though sometimes it’s only different lighting or whatever). for this series, i was surprised when i entered the space, to see a handful of portrait photos up front.
my initial response was negative: i didn’t like having other people to look at while in church.
then i noticed who some of the photos were: einstein, bill gates, mother teresa, MLK, anne frank.
and i was simultaneously pleased (that my church would include some of those people, not only “christian heros”), and started to “get it”: these were people who thought uniquely, and whose unique thought left an indelible imprint on humanity. and — my “getting it” continuing — i found the photos helpful in worship, as i was seeing the image of god in each of these people, in their uniqueness, in their “think differently-ness”.
until someone on stage moved and i saw the sixth photo.
really. my first response was, to be honest, not positive. i am not a fan of the commodification of christianity. and i’m not a fan of the hero-worship that seems so prevelant in evangelicalism, particularly. and, my church is often a bit too enamoured of ‘the rick’ for my taste anyhow.
but, somewhere in the midst of the songs, while i stewed and considered the extremely snarky blog post i would surely write about this mockery, i felt something else.
dang. conviction sure does get in the way of self-righteousness sometimes, doesn’t it?
i stopped singing and stood there, thinking. wrestling. i asked myself the questions i knew my spiritual director would ask me, if she’d been sitting there hearing my thoughts: what is god trying to say to me in this? what is it about rick warren, really, that gives me such a visceral response? what is god trying to say to me about me?
and suddenly it hit me: i am doing to rick warren exactly what i’m complaining about others doing to him. i’m de-humanizing him. i’m turning him into a caricature. i’m de-personifying him and making him into the monster of my own imagination.
do i have the guts (or calling) to start a church from scratch? no.
would i be courageous enough to try new approaches to church and worship (remember, rick’s stuff was pretty revolutionary when saddleback got started)? i’m not sure — i wonder if i’m more of a “pick the best of what i’ve seen” kind of leader.
would i have the faith to believe that a message i felt was truly from god would impact millions of people (when publishers laughed at my projections)? uh-uh.
how would i handle the attention? would i give 90%, and return all the pay i’d ever received from the church? not a chance. (as much as i’d like to nit-pick these actions, or convert them into something mal-motivated, the facts of the situation are pretty bold.)
in my ongoing search to be more true to who god is calling me to be, i keep running into people for whom i’ve been attaching evil motivation for years. i was this way with ron luce until we had our come-to-jesus in echo park. and i could list a dozen or more other examples. it struck me, standing there in church, not singing, head down, that i was doing the same thing to rick warren. silly thing is, i don’t disagree with rick on hardly anything! i have a deep respect for saddleback, and am very close friends with at least three people on staff there.
could i find things to criticize about saddleback. well, of course. where is the church were i couldn’t find things to criticize? are there things i could criticize about rick’s style of leadership, or choices he makes, or words he says? totally. but, really, not as much as most people could criticize about MY style of leadership, or the choices I make, or the words I say!
i’m going on record with my respect for rick warren. he thought (and i continues to think, i hope) differently.