The Buzz

Out here, at the tail end of this leg of my religious journey, denominational differences have faded, church names have gotten creative, and the music has grown a steady beat. I’ve just left a rented event center packed to the brim with mostly young, good-looking college students. The music was played by five guys, each more adorable than the last, like an angelic boy band on the brink of fame.

The name of this congregation does not tie it to any kind of Christianity that came before. It’s christened for a sound and news too good not to share. I’ll call it “the Buzz.”

The cavernous auditorium was filled with studs, jocks, and even handsome hipsters; so many young women had clear complexions and long silky hair. A sprinkling of stylish middle-agers and mature high-schoolers rounded out the crowd. These were the kind of worshippers who don’t believe in wearing business casual to honor the Lord so much as the right wash on their denims.

The lighting during the services was dim and moody; I felt like Jesus might appear on stage at any moment with a big digitally re-mastered halo around his head. I had the impression of Jesus as the ultimate celebrity: all the boys want to be like him and the girls want to date him.

After attending the service, I find the website for the Buzz and click a link to send an email message to the head minister, Jackson, asking if he’ll meet me. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about the sermon he gave, which was not at all what I expected. With all those young people in expensive jeans as his audience, I imagined he’d talk about something generically positive like the power of love or manifesting abundance in your life. Instead he gave a detailed lecture about Nehemiah, a lesser known character in the Old Testament. I knew nothing about Nehemiah, whose claim to fame was rebuilding the destroyed walls of Jerusalem—hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem or seen the walls before he decides his life’s mission. He was an unlikely candidate for the job. He was working as one of the king’s servants miles away when he asks permission to go.

I also realize I have no idea what denomination the Buzz is, or if it even has one. No mention is made of it on the website or in any of the literature from my visit. I go back and scour the local newspaper’s Worship Directory, but the church’s name isn’t listed. I search the phonebook but don’t see it there either. It’s managed to fly completely under the radar. Its members must learn about it by word of mouth. Come to think of it, that’s how I first heard of it. A teenage daughter of a friend of mine said I should check it out.

Jackson agrees to meet me at a coffee shop a few weeks after the semester ends. The girls working behind the counter know him by name. Others in the café say hello. Suddenly I feel like I’m meeting a member of Jesus’s entourage. Maybe Jackson will be the next mega-preacher superstar like Joel Osteen. He certainly has the camera-ready looks: friendly blue eyes and a full head of sandy blonde hair with just a touch of grey starting at the temples. Maybe he’ll head up a popular mega-church like Saddleback in California, providing sermons to hundreds of thousands both in person and online. He’ll write a Jesus-centric bestseller like Rick Warren’s the Purpose Driven Life.

We sit in a pair of cushiony chairs facing each other. We are roughly the same age and his easy-going and open demeanor makes him feel familiar. I tell him a little about my background: that I’m a None whose been attending church for more than a year now. I have my notebook on my knees, ready to take notes, but he wants to hear from me first.

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24 thoughts on “The Buzz

  1. I’m guessin’ you’ve come to the “emergent church.” I’m waiting with baited breath for your next post about the outcome of your conversation with Jackson. The way you’ve built up to this, it almost sounds as though you’ve come across the real deal…..or not. If that is what you’ve come upon here, you’re also likely aware that there is a wide divergence of opinion about it among more established churches, and much condemnatory rhetoric. If it is that that you have found, I would say that they are like a lot of the Jesus people movements of the 60s….this time, hopefully, they won’t end up like “Vibrant Faith”…. 😐
    My contact with them thus far has given me some concerns but mostly cause for hope… 🙂

    • “Emergent church”….is that your terminology, Walt, or does it come from a much bigger picture? I understand the concept of “emergent,” but what exactly has to be in place for a church to be categorized as such. How are these different from the interdenominational/ the “Jesus” churches which were the topic of an earlier blog thread? Anybody?

      • Hi Merrill
        I’ve read some of Brian McLaren’s books–he’s a major emergent movement leader. They regard themselves as “post-denominational” (as in “post-industrial”, “post-modern”, etc.). From what I’ve read, there’s a lot that would attract a “None.” They try to borrow the best of many denominations but avoid a rigid theology or organizational structure. There’s a lot to like about the movement: for one thing, it puts a great deal of emphasis on bringing the Kingdom of God about in the here and now, by being more socially and environmentally responsible. And members try to respect traditional denominations, instead of demonizing them, as a lot of other evangelical/fundamentalist churches do. They take a comprehensive view of good and evil. For example, where a traditional Christian might say pornography is sinful simply because of its sexual immorality, emergents go beyond that and point out it also exploits women and spreads disease, neither of which are in God’s plan. From what I’ve read, the most strident criticism of the emergent movement comes from fundamentalists, because it de-emphasizes the traditional idea that Jesus’ sole purpose in coming was to keep us from going to hell. Emergents seem to believe in the idea of punishment for sins after death, but not necessarily the idea of eternal conscious torment, as the nuns taught me in Catholic school. They’re also criticized for having a very fuzzy theology, and for being relativists when it comes to core beliefs. Personally, I like a lot of what they stand for. Its not a movement I’ve followed very closely, but reading McLaren’s books helped me put my Anglican faith in a broader social context. And anything that annoys fundamentalists is okay with me!

        • Not sure if Corrina’s description fits the emergent definition, though. From my reading, I get the idea they tend to be smaller congregations and are pretty low-key. They also make an effort to reach out to the un-churched and decidedly un-scrubbed. But, like I said, I’ve only read about the movement and not visited one of their “cohorts” (aka congregations). You can visit http://www.emergentviaalge.com for the lowdown.

            • Fat fingers….yeah. I can’t say that is my problem….mine just hit the wrong keys and my computer sometimes choses to edit with words I hadn’t planned on, I guess I would say.

              Anyway, thank you for the information on the emergent movement. I can see that they have much to offer that would appeal to many people today who look at the world with a broader lens…… and “fuzzy theology”? Yes, that would, no doubt, bring much consternation to the fundamentalists….who might benefit from a bit of fuzziness in their thinking….a good change from all those unbending beliefs. :–) I am looking forward to hearing what Jackson has to say. He obviously also knows marketing techniques. He….and Corinna….have us all primed to hear his message.

              I always enjoy your sense of humor, Tim. I appreciate a person who can laugh about things that potentially can become so rigid….so IMPORTANT that the topic is off limits for any levity. And I especially like your ability to be open-minded and clear thinking. I live in a community where fundamentalism and rigid beliefs are the norm……it is a relief to know that this is NOT where all Christians land; I don’t see much of your end of the Christian continuum here! As you can imagine, Unitarian Universalists are not well-received by many of the churches and their congregants; it is easy to forget that there are people in the Christian world like you….and Patti…..and others who have expressed open-hearted comments, Thanks for your voices. Merrill

              • Wow-thanks, Merrill–that means a lot to me. I don’t presume to speak for Patti and the others, but it seems to me one of the things Jesus preached against most often was arrogance and pretense. I’m confident the journey I’m taking will lead to a great reward (to paraphrase Paul), but that’s not to say others’ paths won’t lead to the same goal. I, too, live in a conservative area, where the politics match the religion, except around here the common religion isn’t so much fundamentalism, which may actually make some people uncomfortable, as it is the “prosperity Gospel”, that, to borrow a saying from Rosslyn Carter, “makes us comfortable with our prejudices.” e.g. the poor are poor because Jesus says we will always have the poor with us, so I really don’t have to do much about it, except make more money so I’m not poor. When it comes to people with different belief systems, I also look to the Gospels, where Jesus praises a Samaritan woman for her perseverant faith when she asks Him to heal her daughter, and commends the Centurion for his faith as well. I happen to think the best way to spread the Gospel is by living it, rather than using to smack people upside the head.

                As for my sense of humor, Jesus wants us to be joyful in the Lord. I have a picture in my head of the scene where His disciples are picking the heads off wheat stalks on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees rebuke Him. I see Him an the disciples walking along, swapping jokes, enjoying each others’ company, and plucking a few nibbles. If he was truly human as well as God, then He was able to laugh, too!

                • Sometimes I think that amidst all of our attempts to understand, to rally round a belief system, or to dance with the ‘holy rollers” or to simply be with the silence of the liturgy, God just shows up. Perhaps we spend too much time defending instead of suspending and simply surrendering. God is all there is.

  2. I’m wondering about what he said about Nehemiah. It’s a wonderful book of call and courage; persistence and leadership. Nehemiah did a great thing for God’s people who were so beat down and discouraged from being exiled and losing their identity as a people. He reconnected them to their Hope.

  3. Hello everyone! Hi Corinna…..

    I have to tell you about a funny that happened to us that kind of applies to the ‘non-denominational’ aspect of your post, Corinna. When my husband and I were still Lutherans (and a little part of me will always be…), we were in a church that was contemplating adopting some of those aspects of the emergent church – the marketing, having a “mission statement” (I kind of wondered how you had to even puzzle over that one, because to me it seemed kind of self-evident), and taking the denomination out of the sign in front of the church.

    These things were brought up in the yearly congregational meeting. We listened, and pretty much kept our mouths shut. We thought a lot of what they were proposing was silly. As I said, if you were Lutheran, your mission statement didn’t really need much more to it than “Good News Preached Here”. But eventually there came the proposal that the name of the church (we will call it Blessed Trinity Lutheran Church, to protect the innocent as the saying goes) be changed to “Blessed Trinity Church”, so people wouldn’t be put off by the denomination they might not understand.

    My husband stood up and said “And at what point do you intend to give these people the bad news that they are now Lutheran????” The motion did not pass, I am glad to say.

    Obviously, I have no affinity with the ’emergent’ church. Everything they seem to preach is what seems, TO ME, to be self-evident and abundantly clear ALREADY in the Christian faith. Others may not agree with me, but that is my take on it. I am not saying they are not good places, just that I see them spending a lot of energy to re-invent an already functioning mechanism. And, of course, you know also what a fuddy-duddy Anglican Liturgist I am, lol.

    I do look forward to finding out what you hear further from this Pastor. And it’s good to be back with you, my friends.

  4. This free-thinking religious liberal is glad to have you back with us. I have missed your voice. Hope you had a great time….and were with people who make you happy. Merrill

    • I missed you guys too. We were in a state park that is on what was the last active volcano east of the Mississippi (according to a Ranger), and we had a lovely time. As for people – I got to spend a week camping with my favorite person in the world (David) sleeping in an 8ft by 4ft by 4ft trailer. 🙂 🙂 If either of us gain an ounce, we will have to grease our hips to get in…..good cuddling. 🙂

      I look forward, as usual, to the upcoming blogs and posts. Although you guys have been REALLY doing some seriously good discussion, and I can’t think of a single thing to add.

      Yours in Christ

  5. I do have something to throw in before Corinna actually gets to telling us what Jackson said. My son sold Kirby vacuum cleaners for a while—you know house to house—and although he didn’t come out of that a rich man, he DID come out with excellent sales skills. They spend a great deal of time teaching methods that will “enhance the possibilities” of selling these expensive vacuums…….good sales people all know these things. The first of which is to engage the client…..get them to talk about themselves…. break down their personal barriers and establish trust. All good sales people know these methods. It seems to me that Jackson—while it is possible he just is interested in people!—might just have sold Kirbys or used cars at one time. I am tongue- in- cheek about this, but I also know that good marketing and sales in rampant in churches. Getting people in the door is essential to any church surviving the rush of folks to another church or, heaven forbid!!, in to the “nones.” The good thing is that Corinna is armed with a great deal of information and will be a careful listener. MET

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