Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is Portland Jesus’ Favorite City?


The current issue of Portland Monthly has a fascinating series of articles. Next month, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens comes to Portland to leclture. And so in anticipation of that, the Portland Monthly produced a series of articles on religion (or at least a couple of forms of it) here in Portland.

The title of the series (Portland: Jesus’ Favorite City) is an adaptation of a statement by Commissioner Nick Fish after evangelicals presented Mayor Sam Adams with a check for $100,000 to help curb teen dropouts in the city schools. (As a part of the Season of Service campaign among evangelical churches).

The articles include an interview with Christopher Hitchens done by retired First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Portland minister Marilyn Sewell. (find it here.)

(As an aside, I laughed out loud when Hitchens told Sewell that he didn’t consider her a Christian! He said: ”I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, [none of which she believes] you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

The series then goes on to feature Dr.Marcus Borg,retired OSU professor or religion and currently the Canon of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: Liberal Christians like himself, Borg explains, have long been better known for what they preferred not to believe. With the emerging church, that’s changing. “They take the Bible very seriously, but I don’t for a minute think that it’s inherent,” [sic-this probably shows the reporters ignorance rather than Borg’s. The term is “inerrant”.) he says. “The fear of some people is that emerging churches are moving too far away from the scriptures. I would say that it’s not that they’re moving away from the Bible as they’re recovering the Bible as a story, symbol, and metaphor.”

At the other end of the theological spectrum is Rick McKinley of Imago Dei. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: While McKinley’s preaching is notably free of the high drama and polish of megachurch and TV evangelism, Imago Dei (which takes its name from the Latin for “image of God”) adheres strictly and unabashedly to a literal reading of the Bible as both spiritual and historical truth. But McKinley insists that his church’s fundamentalist interpretation of the gospel actually encourages liberal social action—not to mention harmony with Portland’s prevailing culture. If, as Genesis tells us, humans are all created in God’s image, it follows that we must love them as we do God. In affirmation of this lofty ideal, McKinley notes proudly that his young congregation is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

They interview Bob Hyatt of Evergreen community (here). This is the church that meets in a bar.

Excerpt: “It says that we don’t fit the stereotype of the anal-retentive sort of Christian,” he says, sitting at one of the communal tables at Lucky Labrador Brew Pub in Southeast Portland. “It also helps to weed out the type of Christians that wouldn’t fit with us. But most importantly, meeting in a public space embodies what we’re about: we don’t want to hole up in some building with big doors and be a sanctuary from the world.”

House church networks are represented by Duke Revard and his Bread and Wine network. (Find it here.)

Excerpt: Recalling that early apostolic vitality, Revard shrugs off the hard-nosed, conservative intolerance so commonly associated with evangelical churches. “We want to speak to people in their own language,” he says. As with other emerging churches, service takes precedent over theology and politics. It’s embodied by projects like Laundry Love, a monthly gathering at the Alberta Washhouse that provides free laundry and food for the less fortunate—a small act of Christian charity, to be sure, but to Revard and his congregants, it exemplifies the apostle Paul’s reminder to the Romans that God “does not live in temples built by hands.” Bread & Wine aspires to a more metropolitan goal. “Let us love our city,” Revard intones, leading his living room gospel community in a closing prayer. “Let us love Portland.”

Last they interview Dan Merchant, the director of the Michael Moore-style movie “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” (here).

Excerpt: Dressed in a white jumpsuit plastered in religious regalia ranging from a Jesus fish to a bumper sticker that reads, “Sorry I missed church, I’ve been busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian,” Dan Merchant bundles evangelism and paradox.

He doesn’t want to convert you; he just wants to get you talking. “Everybody has faith of some kind, in something—whether you’re an atheist or a Baptist,” he says. “And since we all have that enormous thing in common, the conversation about religion oughta be a whole lot bigger than what can fit on a bumper sticker.”

I heard about this series today at a workshop on house churches that I attended. The articles are actually pretty fair. There is not a huge bias and from my limited perspective they allow each one to speak in his own words.

If you are interested in Portland, or just interested in interesting ways that God is working in our nation, check it out.

(Note: I had previously stated in this post that Commissioner Nick Fish was gay. I was in error. He is not gay. He is married to his wife Patricia and together they have two children. My apologies for the error).

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