Many of you who are reading this probably found your way here via Jessie McQuillan's recent article on us in the Indy (12/20/07). Welcome to All Souls Missoula.
I haven't read what Jessie's written yet, but from what I know of her character and caliber, I suspect she'll give us a fair shake. She turned over lots of stones, asked a ton of questions, and scurried down on all sorts of rabbit trails (which is precisely what good journalists do).
And we encouraged her to call it like she saw it. At the very least, the story should be interesting (we provided plenty of fodder, and Jessie knows how to write). But if you came here looking for us to rant about the press, you'll be disappointed. Sorry.
So why else might you be here?
Some of you might be here because you're curious. Maybe you're looking for community, maybe you're looking for a church, maybe you're just looking.
Whatever the case: welcome. Take a look around. Make yourself at home. Just be forewarned, if you're expecting "yet another evangelical church," we're probably not it. At least not in the way you might expect. So ask lots of questions. Figure out what makes us tick. See if we're on the same page. If so, great. And if not, that's fine.
Of course, some of you are here for a different reason: you're skeptical. And that's good too. You should be. But maybe not for the reasons you might think. After all, much of what passes for Christianity these days probably isn't.
So how do you discern the real from the fake?
If you're like me, you probably start by looking for the dirt. The fine print. The skeletons in the closet. After all, everyone has them. It's like that classic line from the Princess Bride: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something."
The same thing applies to the church - anyone who claims theirs isn't dirty is probably selling something. In fact, when it comes to church, 'dirt' is actually part of the definition: if Jesus came for "sinners" rather than "saints" we shouldn't be surprised when they show up in church. That's who it's there for - broken people who aren't all cleaned up.
So what we're really looking for as we evaluate churches (or people) is a particular kind of dirt. You know what I'm talking about. It's the hypocrisy. The scandal. These are the reasons we (rightly) write off churches.
And that's why some of you are here. To figure out our scandal.
Once again, though, it might not be what you expect.
Here's the deal. If you spend any amount of time poking around our site, or reading Jessie's article, or just hanging out with us, you are going to find things that seem scandalous. Guaranteed.
Some of you, for instance, will be appalled to learn that we actually baptize babies (gasp!), or that we dig 16th century theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin (shudder!). Others will be horrified to discover we think the Bible is God's word (puh-lease), and that Jesus really meant it when he said he was the only way to get to God (how narrow minded!).
Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that we belong to a denomination that doesn't ordain women. And we like to drink and smoke. Sometimes we even cuss.
At this point, pretty much everyone in the world reading these words is seething in rage at something I just mentioned (kind of a funny picture, don't you think?).
But that's precisely the point - if you get to know any church well enough, you will discover some thing that just scandalizes you. And you'll be so pissed off you have to walk away.
Eventually (if you last that long), you'll either stop walking back into churches altogether (many do), or you'll start choosing not to look in any closets (don't ask, don't tell, and maybe no one will get hurt). The problem with the first approach is that you cut yourself off from community; and with the second you end up settling for something that's not real community anyway. It's a lose-lose situation.
And that's not just the nature of church - that's the nature of every relationship.
If I could pick any person in the world, and see them deeply enough, read their mind, discern their motives, look beneath the veneer, I'll bet I would find something that I despise.
Why? Because they are not me.
That's how all of us work. And that brings us to the real scandal (the 'scandal behind the scandal').
It's not that there are things about us (or any church, or any person) that positively piss you off, that make you want to walk away and never look back. Nope, that's suprisingly un-scandalous.
The real scandal is that some people who feel exactly like you do - positively scandalized by something we believe - will nevertheless choose to be a part of this crazy church thing called All Souls Missoula. Some will. Some already have.
And the real question is how to explain that.
Why on earth would someone who's diametrically opposed to us - on theology, or Jesus, or the pro-life issue, or whatever - still be attracted enough by what's happening here to actually pitch in and get involved? To talk rather than walk, to engage rather than bail. To listen, to learn, and to love one another deeply, even if we don't share convictions about some really big things.
To us, that's the real scandal, and the the real story. I don't know whether Jessie will capture that, or if she'll even try. But if I was looking for dirt, that's where I'd start.
So there you have it. Food for thought. Or ammo for the guns. Either way, we'd love to talk about it over coffee or a beer. And now you know where to find us...