I missed Dan Kimball‘s session on Tuesday. Driving down the 5 freeway, through the rugged section of coast that is Camp Pendleton, traffic stopped short—something that poses a particular challenge for someone driving a stick shift with a cup of coffee in her hand. Two border patrol cars flew past me in the left shoulder, a couple helicopters seemed to be circling, then came the ambulances. The crawl was on.
I arrived in time for lunch, an hour or so before my interview with Kimball, or so I thought. Wandering over to the food court at the outdoor mall adjacent to the hotel, I saw a former colleague who I really didn’t want to see. I did what any upstanding Christian would do. I avoided him at all costs and had lunch with a nice Presbyterian pastor on the far side of the food court. The pastor’s son just became a Baptist. We’re all a-mingling now, aren’t we?
As I was lingering in conversation, Leslie Speyers, a gracious publicist from Zondervan, was looking for me because I was supposed to be, not lunching with a Presbyterian, but interviewing Kimball. Fortunately, the snafu worked to his benefit and we got together later in the afternoon. I took the extra time to dig a little deeper into his book, They Like Jesus, but Not the Church. As I was reading, I was wondering what could possibly be controversial about this guy. He calls himself a fundamentalist I believe (I gave the book away so I can’t double-check right now), and appropriately defines the term. I’m realizing more and more that sometimes new labels are stuck on incremental changes in that which is normative.
Dan is a pastor rather than a pontificator. I’ve heard some pontification this week; not much, but a bit of it. He is a man in the trenches, and seems like he can’t be bothered with the controversies that distract others. Problem is, the distractors find him. He mentioned a random encounter with a local “brother” who told him he and his church are praying for Dan’s ministry to fail. Sigh.
After my interview with Dan, I caught the tail end of a workshop called “Redefining Power: Finding Our Place in a Global Church.” Very interesting discussion about how to make cross-cultural partnerships healthier and more effective. An African named D. Zac Niringiye wasted no time telling us Americans to repent of our greed. He thinks it is very difficult to be an American and a Christian, and said a lot of so-called partnerships are really sponsorships in which both parties manipulate each other. The solution is confession of sin.
Niringiye wasn’t ranting against American imperialism, just speaking the truth in love to an American audience. A Philippine speaker named Athena Gorospe likewise advised US missionaries to repent of their manifest destiny paradigm, which she says communicates the message that the Anglo-Saxon race is superior.
Essentially, I heard that we Americans need to get off our high horse and humbly partner with the global church. At the end of the session, the moderator, Mark Labberton, especially thanked a Zondervan vice president, saying that without his support the session would not have happened. What does that tell you?
One speaker I especially wanted to hear was Rwandan bishop John Rucyahana. I have done so twice now and interviewed him yesterday. I wanted to know what the suffering church has to teach us; what critique it offers. Rucyahana gave a rousing sermon and personal testimony Tuesday night. He talked about wrestling with the why questions of the Rwandan genocide when he was living in a Ugandan refugee camp. God, Why did you let this happen? Why do I have no nation? etc.
His ministry in Uganda was so effective that the government there granted him and his family citizenship. It was immediately afterwards that God called him to go back to Rwanda and help heal his nation. He fairly exploded in praise talking about it Tuesday night, shouting, “Jesus is there!” In both sessions I attended, he told remarkable stories of reconciliation. Repentance and forgiveness are the soil in which it grows. He noted reconciliation is not “magic,” but an ongoing process with people in different stages of repentance, forgiveness, unrepetentance and unforgiveness.
As an example of the ongoing process, he talked about when a person who has been wronged avoids their offender, turning away when they see the person in the street. I thought back to my former colleague who, like a number of us, had quit his job at my former church in disgust, but then went back to work there for pragmatic reasons. When he did, I told him he was no longer a “safe” person with whom I could have a casual relationship (which is true). And now the reconciler was telling me I’m wrong to avoid him.
In our interview, I had pressed the bishop a bit by applying his principles to the Anglican split. He didn’t see it the same way, saying one can love and pray for the other side to repent, but that one cannot be reconciled to heresy. Hmmm. Maybe I’m off the hook … but only if orthopraxy matters as much as orthodoxy.
Next, I caught a couple minutes of Shane Claiborne talking about his new book Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. How could any casual observer not like this guy? My newlywed years were spent in the Philadelphia suburbs, so I have an especially soft heart toward his work there.
I snuck out of the session to see a screening of Ben Stein’s new documentary Expelled about the evolution/intelligent design debate. One would have thought it was put out by conservative evangelicals. Stein interviews premiere players in the debate, and poignantly reveals a motivating force. He is a Jew and takes viewers to a German extermination camp for the infirm. Listening to the “museum” guide’s perspective on what the Nazis did there was chilling, both for him and, one would hope, for viewers.
Zondervan hosted a lovely media reception at dusk. I was schmoozing with a senior executive of the company and didn’t even know it until he formally introduced himself to us. He recommended a movie called Once that Dave Zimmerman mentions in his latest post. (Dave, by the way, is at the New Conspirators conference promoting the book of the same name that he edited, and I assisted on.) I also had a nice chat with a producer and online editor for Krista Tippett’s NPR show, Speaking of Faith, and was gratified to know that Tippett had made similar interview choices to my own. This afternoon she will do a broadcast interview with Bishop Rucyahana and N.T. Wright, with whom I will meet tomorrow afternoon to close out the convention.
Today, I’m getting a late start down to San Diego. This afternoon, I have a meeting with an editor about a book idea. This evening Jim Wallis speaks. (There’s a disturbing must-read article about the disposal of 9/11 victims’ remains in the February issue of his magazine, Sojourners.) I may stay overnight with friends again tonight, but this time will have to refrain from staying up into the wee hours of the morning talking. I’m running on E. Empty that is.
Others are blogging the convention. Some of them are indexed here.
Correction: The speaker on evening 4 was N.T. Wright, not Jim Wallis. Wallis was interviewed before Wright spoke.
Correction #2: I checked Dan Kimball’s book; in it he says he sometimes “jokingly” refers to himself as a fundamentalist. He actually described himself to me as a mainstream evangelical. I agree.