June 8, 2009

Heart of Stone

At the end of his sermon Friday night, the guest pastor from Hillsdale Blvd Baptist Church, asked the rescue mission congregants to close their eyes and submit to his inquiries.

I don't remember exactly what was said, but this is the gist of it:

He asked those who had fallen away from Christ but wanted to renew their faith to raise a hand. He said, I see you sir; you in the back; you on the left aisle. He then said he would pray for them.

Then he asked those who had never been Chistians but were open to more information to raise a hand. As before, he identified a few hands he saw in the audience and said he would pray for them.

He did the same for another couple of categories of imperfect, but seeking possible-Christians.

Finally, he then asked for a show of hands from those who had no expectation of finding Christ. I raised my hand. He thanked me for my courage and said he would pray for me.

The pastor then publically issued a prayer for each category of people he identified. For the last group, in which I think I was the only member, he identified me as the man with the heart of stone, and began a prayer of admonishment.
I yelled out, though chapel rules preclude doing so, "I don't have a heart of stone," but the pastor went forward with his admonishing prayer.


As it happened, where the pastor stepped down from the dais is right where shelter guys line up who are doing "kitchen duty" that night. Since I was slated for kitchen duty, I was immediately very near the pastor, and I couldn't withhold from having a word to say to him – though my friend, Elgin, in line with me, had tight grip of my shoulder as a way of conveying to me his hope that I would pull back.

I wasn't angry, but I wasn't self-censuring, either. I told the pastor that I thought his words where unfortunate, that his words represented hate talk and were not in accord with the emergent church.

The pastor told me he wasn't a part of the emergent church, and I told him I apprehended that.


I'm not writing this post because I am so sure I did the right – or even, a good – thing. I don't know that I did. I'm getting A LOT of services and benefit from Union Gospel Mission without being a likely convert to Christianity. [Indeed, I'm a professed, happy Buddhist.] Still, I do wish a small minority of the preachers wouldn't talk up the curious idea that secular America, or all non-Christians, are, somehow, 'out to get' Christianity in this country. Or, that non-Christians are, necessarily, Satan followers.


Saying that someone has a "heart of stone" is a particularly scathing term in Christian circles. A "stony heart" is mentioned a couple times in the book of Ezekiel; but from what I'm learning online, Jeremiah 17:9 gives us the most deft understanding, even as stone isn't part of any mainline translation of the verse. The verse is this [King James]: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"

But the immediate next verse is this: "I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." And if you look at the whole chapter it is God who is searching people's hearts and making judgments, not something that is left to man.

Two verses in the book of Ezekiel, in chapters 11 and 36 are near identical. They both speak of a stony heart. They read thus:

Ezekiel 11:19: And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26: A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
In context, both verses are about the new heart given the people of Israel as they become God's chosen people. The idea, then, in the Bible re stoniness of heart is with respect to God's tasks, and judgments, not man's or arrogant preachers.


But the bigger issue goes to hate-mongering by Christian preachers, something that comes from a minority of those who visit Union Gospel Mission.

One speaker, associated with Trinity Bible College [and not the congregation favorite, the beloved and UGM-alumnus Ron Smith], spend a bit of time talking to the guys in the chapel about "God haters," some months back. "God haters" is the term he used for those who hadn't confessed their allegiance to Jesus Christ or idolotrate worldly things above or instead of God.

Words/terms mean something, and "God haters" is powerful, specific and accusatory. And with its intensity, it more than implies that that these worldly folk are actively thinking about and denouncing God.

Of course, this isn't so. The thing about 'worldly folk' is that they are oblivious to Christianity, not attacking it. They are barbecuing burgers on Sundays and watching sports on TV, not thinking hateful things about God. In America, Christianity simply isn't being threatened. Next to nobody at all wants Christianity to go away, and there isn't even a whit of discussion anywhere about taking away any of the religion's exclusion from being subject to taxation.

These aren't Roman times! No one's rounding up the Christians. A few prominent atheist writers may on very rare occassions cross the line, but for practical purposes – for ALL purposes – there are no God haters. The country is washed nearly as white as snow on that one. Get off your hate-mongering, Christian preachers. Knock it off!! It is YOU who are way, way out of line.


Mumon said...

Much much thought.

Just say "I have a human heart."

Nathan said...

These preachers and people who follow them challenge the crap out of me too. Even though I do my best to remain open and respectful, and to see what might have lead someone to believe as they do, the level of arrogance and disrespect for people who don't "believe" as they do is sometimes through the roof.

Maybe you're comments to the preacher in question will stick with him a bit, or maybe not. But I've never seen any line in Buddha's teachings saying we should roll over and be doormats. Sometimes, jarring words are the only compassionate response.

Tom said...

Thanks, guys.

In retrospect, I'm glad I said something, at least.

While I think it would be a bad thing to engage in hate talk at ANY church, the Union Gospel Mission is a rescue mission, where fallen believers and never believers are welcomed and, even, encouraged to come. None of us should be subjected to scathing talk from some of the less-gifted preachers.

Yes, had I been more accurate - though less direct? - and said I have a human heart, that would have been closest to the truth of things as I see them. We all have buddhanature, the possiblity of tremendous spiritual growth, wherever our beginnings 'in the moment.' I don't think that that is really at odds with Christianity which, as I understand it, wants everybody to wend their way to heaven.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Worst part about this is all the UNChristian feelings this kind of proselytizing brings about-- then more bad feelings for having bad feelings, etc. How not to react, how to step outside oneself and see the whole experience as part of the comedy of life....that is the question.

Tom said...

Thanks, Michaelann. I hear you on that.

I think if the effort, as unrealistic as that may well be [since going to heaven is the narrow path, and going to hell is a broad path, it says somewhere in the Bible], is to bring everyone into the fold of Christianity, then, yeah, using name-calling to disparage outsiders is a foolish idea.

Religionists like that are, basically, tribal -- revving up the insiders' emotions with hate of outsiders.

Christ preached something else: love thy neighbor (including perceived enemies) as thyself.

Still, if God, who is omnipotent, and thus doesn't really have to have an unstained heaven, is still set on putting 10 billion people into a Lake of Fire, then tribalism remains the Way of the Lord, I suppose.