Zack was my tour guide in Charleston, SC last weekend for an historic walking tour of the city.
He started by sharing his credentials: his formal education (history major with an emphasis on plantation life) and his experience as a tour guide (three years.) Otherwise, we didn’t know anything about this guy. Would he have an agenda? Would his politics be obvious? Could we trust him to share authentic history? Would he gloss over the realities of the slave trade in Charleston? (This was my first concern.)
Zack gave a good tour and since he only had two hours, there wasn’t enough time to cover everything. He did tell us that “Charleston is the #1 wedding city in the U.S. except for Las Vegas” and I had just been told the same thing a few weeks ago, but about Charlottesville. Whatever.
A tour guide in London with a Beatles Tour once stood in front of a bench at a bus stop and told my family that “Perhaps Paul and John had sat here while catching a bus.” And maybe I met the Queen at Piccadilly Circus.
I love a good tour and trusting the tour guide is essential. Please don’t leave out the ugly parts of a story. Please don’t give us historical fiction. Please share the truth.
Rob Bell once said that pastors are like tour guides. We point out where God is in the ancient story and in today’s story. And I want trustworthy tour guides in my spiritual community too.
- Please don’t tell me that if I give a lot of money to your organization, God will bless me. (That’s called Prosperity Gospel and it’s a lie.)
- Please don’t tell me that the Bible says homosexuals are going to hell. (Let’s sit down and look at the Hebrew and Greek together.)
- Please don’t tell me that God doesn’t call women into leadership. (Again, let’s do a Bible study.)
The truth is – though – that even tour guides interpret things differently. I want tour guides who know what they are talking about because they’ve studied the ancient languages, the historical contexts, and the literary features of Biblical history, wisdom, and law.
Random note: I got a phone call from a nameless man last week that went like this:
NM: I want to talk with someone who can hire the best pastor in North Carolina.
Me: And who is that, Sir?
NM: That’s me. I’m the best pastor you’ll ever meet.
Me (what I wanted to say): Congratulations.
Me (what I actually said): Sir, if you’re a pastor in the Presbyterian Church USA or one of the denominations we are related to, please send me your Personal Information Form and I’ll look it over.
NM: What about Jesus? Don’t you care that I’ve been called by Jesus?
Me: Yes, I care very much about that, and that your call has been affirmed by the Holy Spirit through the Church.
Today we get our news, our history, our theology, our medical counsel, our legal advice, our tech guidance from an array of different people. I believe it makes God happy when we get our information from people who know what they are talking about and have some expertise. Get a second opinion if you wish. Note that professionals interpret their findings in different ways.
Disinformation is tearing apart our nation.
In Texas, Moses is now called a Founding Father in school textbooks. In Montana, one woman started a campaign to keep her part of the state from becoming a national heritage site by making up lies about what it meant to be a national heritage site. (She said it would mean that landowners could not “build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land.” None of this is true.
Over the summer, a doctor told members of a church “to avoid vaccination against the coronavirus. As an alternative, she pushed drugs that have not been proven effective at treating COVID-19 — drugs that she also offered to prescribe to the audience in exchange for $90 telehealth appointments.” Not only was that false information, her medical license had lapsed.
What do we see when we observe a slave cemetery or a baptismal font or a church organ or a verse of scripture? What do we see when we notice a person sleeping on the sidewalk or a neighborhood with boarded up windows or a playground with broken glass by the swings. There are many interpretations and it’s important to share as much information as we can authentically share for the sake of what is True.
Image of Zack the tour guide.
I spoke similarly about the prosperity gospel as you have in this post, but a pastoral conversation served as an important corrective. The false half of the prosperity gospel narrative is that if you give money to the church, you will get money. But there’s another half that is especially captivating (and spiritually vital) for folks who are at the short end of the systemic oppression stick: God wants you to prosper, and if you pour out your gifts for God’s purposes, you will be blessed. To completely throw out prosperity gospel without paying attention to this participates in the wholesale dismissal of theologies that “speak” to folks who are really suffering. I believe that you are not disparaging the 2nd half, but be careful about how you speak of these things because they can end up increasing resentment instead of inviting conversation, which is how I understand the spirit of this blog. Thank you for your continued thoughtfulness and reflection.
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