The Hollywood Church and The Righteousness of a Broken Body


(Spectrumbot) #1

I remember sitting down to potluck at a table with young adults in their Sabbath best, generations old and young, some fortunate enough to afford housing and healthcare, others not so fortunate. One woman served herself from the food trays with her hands; I don’t know when they’d last been washed. She sat at my table, no one flinched. We smiled, ate, talked about Jesus all at the same table.

I remember the sense of home for many of us without a spiritual home, and even for those without a physical home. Many found refuge within the purple walls from the weather, or from religious systems that had wounded them. A last stop before leaving it all behind. Sanctuary. We took (and still take) this idea of welcome and sanctuary seriously, as beautifully expressed in this current statement from the church’s board and leadership: “God’s love is broader and deeper than we can fathom. Fellowship and membership in His church should, likewise, be open and generous. The redemptive power of Christ’s love extends to everyone regardless of age, race, class or sexual identity. All are welcome in our church.”

I remember the homeless prostitute who came to our church one evening. She needed a place to stay. Together with one of our lay leaders, we spent hours on the phone contacting shelters after-hours—even driving her to one several towns away—only to find ourselves getting to close to midnight with no success. We prayed together. We sat with her on a cold street, crushed. The safety nets in place for women like her failed that night. So she slept in our fellowship hall on a couch. In the morning—shelters now open again, we introduced her to professionals with more resources than we had.

I remember hours of prayer and dwelling in scripture, opening our spirits to what God might say to us through the Bible. Reading the Gospels and the Prophets, praying and studying the psalms, meditating on scripture in evening vespers. I had the freedom to pray with my doubts and pain instead of rote religious church language. There was a rich spirituality that guided our choices and direction as a congregation. Popular opinion, universalism and such were not the guides. The Holy Spirit led. Inevitably, we took over from the Holy Spirit and things got awkward. We’d falter. Sometimes, we managed to learn from such stumbles and continue in grace. This rootedness in the Bible continued after Melody George left; it continues even now after I moved away.

I remember walking outside during worship one Sabbath to find one of our homeless friends waving his Bible around and yelling at the Devil, while the congregation sang inside. Nothing in my Adventist theological education or pastoral career provided me with resources for handling people suffering from spiritual assault—either demonic or psychological. Our western churches are almost universally unversed in spiritual warfare, let alone handling someone years off their meds. I prayed for him and went inside, wishing I could do more.

There was no foundational rejection of spiritual warfare in the Hollywood congregation, and we fought with the weapons we’d been recently training in: instead of casting out demons, we held vigils interceding with God to provide housing for those without housing, we spoke up for those with no voice to get health care, we teamed up with local ministries and non-profits with more resources for homeless assistance, and our times of prayer and worship remained open to all as a safe space.

Each member of the body of Christ has its gifts. We’re not all hands. We’re not all called to deliverance ministry. Many other churches in Hollywood provided such services. Very few other churches worked to slay the giants of systemic homelessness, mental illness and other matters of basic human decency and justice. To use the language of those more experienced in more “traditional” spiritual warfare, our congregation chose to engage the territorial spirits in our city through prayer, worship, communion and prophetic action.

I remember praying hard with leadership—staff, elders, myself an elder and pastor there—about sexual ethics. How seriously do we take Jesus’ refusal to condemn a woman accused of adultery? How serious are we about being a safe place? What do we do when someone is living in a manner outside of our inherited expectations about righteous living yet still manifests beautiful evidence of their spiritual gifts in a way that uplifts others? This is a difficult pastoral question, one in which Hollywood’s leadership did our best to be guided by grace, not out of a desire to be inoffensive and politically correct. Learning to live grace is messy; it challenges our expectations, sometimes even our sense of right and wrong. As it turned out, in some cases we handled this well and other times… regretfully, we did not. I am sad for the moments when we failed to be Christ for those looking to the church to be Christ’s embrace.

In Matthew 25, Christ called righteous those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and invite a strange in to receive hospitality. For Christ, grace trumped all—even religious claims to righteousness. Justice is a radical upending of the status quo—the Kingdom of Heaven says that the systems of this earth will not stand, that to ignore the orphans, widows and strangers is to ignore God.

I remember many moments of dysfunction and broken relationships. Ryan had issues. Our church board had issues. Our staff had issues. Our congregation had issues. I had issues. God’s body on earth is just as broken as Christ’s on the cross and the bread at the table. This is our body, screwed up for you; take, eat, do this and somehow in that remember Christ.

Scott Arany is a graphic designer, musician, and former assistant pastor at the Hollywood Adventist Church.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6579

(Carolyn Parsons) #2

This is the case all around the world. Even in wealthy areas there are people in the margins. Women, children and young people make up a heartbreaking portion of the homeless. Mental illness is also a huge factor. These are all related to social failures. The church, not only one local church but the church structure, should be advocating for social services and government changes. Social justice should not be a bad word in Adventism.

Edited to correct error that women and children make up the majority of homeless, they do not. Men do.


(Interested Friend) #3

And how often do we take seriously his admonition to “go and sin no more.” It wasn’t a matter of Christ’s approving immorality as I can only assume He saw that she was repentant as nowhere does Christ indicate carte blanche approval of any sin at all.
In The Grip of Truth


(Kade Wilkinson) #4

67.5% of the single homeless population is male, and it is this single population that makes up 76% of the homeless populations surveyed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007).

SAMSHA estimates 62% of homeless are men http://homeless.samhsa.gov/ResourceFiles/hrc_factsheet.pdf

"A typical sheltered homeless person in 2009 was an adult male, a member of a minority
group, middle-aged, and alone. Men are overrepresented in the sheltered homeless
population–63.7 percent of homeless adults are men, compared to 40.5 percent of adults in
poverty. " --HUD, report to Congress (http://www.societyhealth.vcu.edu/files/HO-HAR2009.pdf)

If you have statistics that support women and children making up the bulk of the homeless, I’d be interested to see them, as ever statistic I have run across points the other way.


(Carolyn Parsons) #5

Sorry, I got it wrong. That’s what happens when your write off the top of your head. :smile:


(Scott Arany) #6

Thanks for your comment!

From my experiences in church life, on both sides of leadership, I think we miss out on the progression of Christ’s words in John to that woman. Before he said, “Go and sin no more,” Christ made sure to create a safe space for her. He removed the threat of immanent death, chased off her accusers, and made sure she knew that he would not also become another accuser. Only then did he offer words of guidance towards repentance.

Too often we are quick to jump to “Go and sin no more!” and fail to provide advocacy and sanctuary first. Provide those things, start first with grace and love; this is a space that leads to repentance. Why bother taking seriously “Go and sin no more!” if I don’t feel safe from those who are telling me that? It’s roughly the same thing the Pharisees were telling her… and their words went hand-in-hand with killing stones.

To be more like Christ—with this story about Jesus as our guide—we must stand with victims against the accusers, provide safety, avoid condemnation… only then can repentance be enjoined.


(Melody George) #7

I want to thank you for sharing this, Scott. Every perspective needs balancing, and my experience is broadened and deepened by yours.

You do a beautiful job of celebrating God’s grace and endless, spectacular love for what Switchfoot would call “the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.”

I will ask another “balancing” question. Have we perhaps learned to celebrate not so much God’s love, but the actual brokenness, a little too much? Often the charge I hear leveled against Christianity is that “Christians are no different” or “It didn’t add anything to my life” or “It didn’t make my life any better” or “There’s no power in it.” In fact, this was one of the questions that led Ryan to begin his Year without God. To actually test it out: Does living with God actually make my life any better?

So does it or doesn’t it make a person’s life richer, fuller, better, healthier, more joyful? Or are we to continue in brokenness?

It’s a completely valid question, and if the answer is no, then what are we doing as Christians?

Certainly all of us humans have “issues.” None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven. But let’s stop and ask - is this something to celebrate? Or is there real, tangible, transforming power in Jesus Christ to overcome those issues? Does a Christian need to stay in any sort of spiritual bondage? Or can they be free?

I put this same question to God two years ago as I confronted my own psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical demons. What I found was:

2 Corinthians 10:4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

Ephesians 1:19 His incomparably great power for us who believe . . . is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.

John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Psalms 18:16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. 19 He brought me out into a spacious place.

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Matthew 8:2 “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

What I found in this Christian God was not only absolute, scandalously unconditional, earth-shattering love – but also a true power, a supernatural power, the same power God used to resurrect Jesus from the dead – to heal me and break my bondage, and lead me from sin into righteousness.

This is what we celebrate: not our brokenness, but an awesome God’s unbelievable grace, and his undeniable power for deliverance from brokenness.

You so beautifully portrayed Hollywood’s humble acceptance of and fellowship with the broken - truly a picture of God’s own heart. Let us also strive to embrace the power to overcome strongholds, to take our “issues” and “beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind.” (Psalm 18) Because of Jesus we have the power and authority to do it, and we can do it together!


(Kevin Paulson) #8

Melody, your article was magnificent, and your post here as well . . . till you contradicted yourself on a key point of the Biblical message.

First you say, “None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven,” then you go on to quote Paul’s assurance that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (II Cor. 10:5). The following verse makes it clear we can in fact live perfect lives through this awesome power the Lord provides:

“Casting down imagination, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (verse 5).

If that isn’t perfection, I can’t imagine what is! And you go on to say it so well when you write: "This is what we celebrate: not our brokenness, but an awesome God’s unbelievable grace, and his undeniable power for deliverance from brokenness. . . . “Let us also strive to embrace the power to overcome strongholds.”

Amen and amen!! That truly IS something to celebrate!! And the Bible articulates this hope so well in such verses as the following:

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1).

“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

“All filthiness of the flesh and spirit” includes sins of personal indulgence as well as sins of social neglect. The all-conquering grace of our Lord enables us to subdue and vanquish each of these, and to reveal before the world the love, the purity, and the justice of our Savior’s character.


(Kai Kronberg) #9

Thank you for sharing. I can’t imagine what a difficult experience this has been for everyone in the church. We have one standard to live by and that is love. Sounds that the decision to love was made in prayer. Also sounds like the acts of love was not imbrued in fear.


(Att) #10

This is well nigh the best comment ever.


(Martin Rohan) #11

Scott,
Thank you!


(Lawrence Matthews ) #12

Your response is so beautifully articulated. As Seventh-Day Adventist Christians, we ought to focus on the unbelievable grace and the undeniable power to deliver from our brokenness and sin.


(Neville) #13

Great article and reply, Scott! So well articulated.

Regarding the woman caught in adultery brought to Jesus, I think it was Daneen Akers who noted that it is interesting when referring to this story we easily forget who uttered the words “Go and sin no more”, but the Son of God (or God) Himself!

It is quite presumptuous to place oneself in the role (and voice) of God when referring to this story. It would be more appropriate to place ourselves in the role of the woman or her accusers.


(Steve Mga) #14

Kade
Thanks for your statistics on the homeless. Those are probably for here in the Macon, GA area as I have been working with homeless persons for the past 16 months in a DayTime Homeless Shelter situation.
Salvation Army, and another night Homeless Shelter become filled very fast. A large majority of both men and women find nite time refuge in alleys, doorways, vacant buildings, parking garages, the woods, down by the river.
It can get very cold, it can be very rainy at times. We had a fund raiser for people to sleep out in the park last late Fall. That night it got down to 28 degrees. Some had tents, I slept outside in my sleeping bag next to a homeless person. In the early morning there was a thick white coating of frost on my sleeping bag. My neighboring friend was sleeping on his back under his bag and with a woolen hat on. From his hat to his toes he was encased in white.
I only had to experience this One Night. My friend next to me had to think about this EVERY Afternoon when he left the warmness of our shelter during the day. And we were closed on Sat and Sun.
Our homeless shelter began with a dream of 7 women from various churches in town who had met each other, began meeting for coffee and talk. In talking a dream for a place for women to REST became a topic. they talked it up in their churches, other became interested. They decided to include Men as well. Showers, computers and telephones, Laundry, breakfast, afternoon snack, social services, one time a week nurse. Many companies joined in, provided materials, man power. And it is here functioning for 2.5 years now. Serves over 1400 individuals during the year. Goodwill has an office and assists with job search. A number of former clients are now working and no longer homeless.
It still operates through the generosity of Volunteers, Krogers, Publics, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Walmart, Pinera Bread and many other generous churches and persons.
7 Women. 7 Women with a very small plan, just wanting a place for women to be able to rest during the day. And a Miracle Happens.
Perhaps a Miracle is Happening at Hollywood and is not recognized by some.
Perhaps as SDAs both in the pews and in the Conference Offices we want to box God in to our perceived ideas of HOW God should act. We desire to be God by telling Him/Her what to do, and telling those He speaks to they can only do certain things for certain persons because to do otherwise is a bad reflection on SDAs and the SDA church. It isnt following the 28FB’s.
Thank God for Miracle Workers in SDA churches who are willing to do the Unconventional!!


(jeremy) #15

i can’t believe how much i agree with this question…honestly, there’s no point in being an adventist if our god isn’t able to heal us, strengthen us, and lift us into the arms of victory over whatever comes our way…melody, i hope you write LOTS more for spectrum…


(Dee Roberts) #16

I whole heartedly agree with your view of God’s healing power.

I wonder who or what determines what need healing in an individual’s life. I think this is where the rub on things is generated and where some will say that we must believe this or that about a given topic in order to be right with God, as He expects. Do we as Christians and as a church have at least a reasonable amount of space to account for God’s ability to work with individuals. Can we recognize that the ultimate principle of God and God’s word is love for Him, then ourselves and then to others or are we to wrapped up in the rules as where the church leaders of Christ’s day.


(George Tichy) #17

Talking of a “broken body,” though out off topic, it seems that the GC is also abandoning ship, I mean, their current building. Since the NAD decided to move out, now the GC is going on for something much bigger. I can’t believe Spectrum missed this story:


(Kade Wilkinson) #18

Unconventional? Has the SDA denomination grown so heterodox that something as orthodox as acting out Matthew 25:31-40 is considered unconventional?


(Melody George) #19

I will note that this is precisely why people who believe righteousness and morality are important aspects of our corporate Christian journey are terrified to speak up. They know they will be accused of being legalistic, of throwing stones, of playing God, of being judgmental, of poking around in peoples’ business, of demanding perfection, and the like.

Many members and former members have emailed me privately saying they shared my experience at Hollywood - that Jesus was overshadowed by social justice activity, that they wanted to go “deeper spiritually” in their personal walk with God, that they didn’t feel nurtured in that way there, and that important questions of morality were overlooked. They don’t speak up publicly because they know they will receive the exact same insinuations I’m receiving here.

I can’t stress this strongly enough – My purpose in sharing my experience at Hollywood is NOT to accuse – it’s to point out a very, very significant trend that’s happening throughout Christendom that we must be confront.

Scott has pointed out the importance of embracing the broken and being willing to exist and work within a context of our flawed humanity – I absolutely agree.
Leslie has shared the beauty of the social justice work that Ryan helped bring about – I applaud this.

However, the Hollywood Church under Ryan’s leadership developed a fatal attraction to a kind of negative or apophatic theology, and embraced an identity of being broken and not having answers, rather than stepping up into God’s very real power to heal us from brokenness and sin. (Once again I’ll point out that this surfaced at the beginning of Ryan’s experiment with atheism - the charge that Christianity doesn’t have any real power and doesn’t make our lives better.)

When I talk about sin, I’m not talking about running around pointing out what people do wrong. I’m talking about they very real and natural consequences that come out of sin. If we use sexual immorality as our example – People I love have literally ruined their lives and left decades of pain an heartache in the wake of their sexual decisions. God’s “law” (dare I call it that) is there to protect us from such devastation. And this is why I cannot condone a church format that doesn’t confront such things, or a church leadership that doesn’t provide clear moral guidance to the congregation.

Once again, this does not mean pointing fingers or demanding perfection, witch hunts or calling people out. It means communicating the standard and why its there. Yes, there is a great range of opinions that will surface surrounding those issues (especially in the area of sexuality these days): Conversation. Communication.

It’s easier to stay silent and not risk being called a judgmental, legalistic perfectionist. That, I will give you.

I’m not advocating for ugly public confrontations. My point is simply:

  • Leadership has a responsibility to provide moral guidance and help members nurture their relationship with Jesus and grow in spiritual disciplines. This is equally important as social justice work - and strengthens it.

#20

I want to applaud the courageous efforts of the Hollywood church to engage in big hairy complex social needs. The ministry of reconciliation is indeed core to the ministry of Christ’s body. In fact, it was Luke that chose to open his narrative of the beginning of the ministry of Christ pronouncing that TODAY, had arrived his ministry to those who “at the hands of others, are oppressed, weakened, downtrodden, and broken like shards of smashed pottery” Luke 4:18.

And while we may quibble over statistics, it is know that homelessness is an epidemic that increasingly if being experienced by women, children and families (see http://www.nationalhomeless.org/). Our challenge is to find an appropriate response. And while it is most evident as an urban problem homelessness is also suburban and rural often masked by the generosity of family and friends who allow families to double up if who convert basements, tool sheds, and garages into makeshift apartments.

The reality is that the social service system is fragmented, inefficient and under-resourced. Talk to homeless experts that they will tell you that there are real solutions that can end homelessness. It is about expanding capacity, the lack of financial resources that in turn makes the commodity of time for planning and acting strategically non-existent.

  • Talk to experts and they can do the math for you about the number of affordable housing units that need come into existence ex nihilo. But advocates are going up against well financed developer who see a higher margin in gentrifying neighborhoods rather than building houses.

  • Talk to experts and they can do math for you about a living wage rather than a poverty wage. But advocates are going up against well financed corporate interests who can’t see beyond the next quarterly shareholder numbers to face the moral reality that the long-term impact of raising wages will build our country.

  • Talk to experts and they can do math for you about the need for health care access under expanded medicaid scenarios that insure more people but put access to health care out of reach. rather than a poverty wage. But advocates are going up against well financed healthcare systems (Adventist health included) that does not want to expand their access to low margin clients. It is much more profitable to build edifices to research and high margin procedures.

I could go on but you get the point. pull at any one of the systemic challenges and you quickly overwhelm the most dedicated church… And all the while you are working on systems change the line of human faced homeless people looking for a meal or a job, or even a motel night grows outside the door of your church.

Richard Schwarz, devotes a couple of chapters in his book about John Harvey Kellog about the institutional opposition that he faced as he advocated for urban Chicago human rights ministries (food, clothing, healthcare). The church was too busy preparing for the Lord’s coming to go down that rabbit hole.

Leadership must be local and can happen. Take, for example, the community service program in Portland, Oregon that is supported by 8 churches. The facility provides a thrift shop, a food pantry serving a hundred individuals and families 5 days a week and offers health care. The agency is in a very high need area. The agency is in the midst of expanding health care and is looking down the road to integrate education and other family support. The group is connected to local politicians, a coalition of community clinics and is active in the Food bank network. The organization has over 250 dedicated individuals who donate their time and talent to make a difference. http://pacsonline.org/

Can the work of a church reaching out to those in need be much, much more difficult than revelation seminars? Yes. Is it worth it? Only if it is done after thoughtful and prayerful strategic planning, building competencies, and engaging with the other faith and secular based agencies. Done that way, be prepared to expect miracles.