Last night I was covering the “Guess Who’s Coming to Worship?” talk.
You can read my news report here, but the short version is that Pentecostal megachurch minister Carlton Pearson had a John-Murray-style Universalist conversion experience a few years ago, and the remnant of his congregation has recently joined All Souls in Tulsa. Tulsa’s second service now has the same intellectual content as its first service, but it also has some of the look-and-feel of a Pentecostal service.
If I had to sum up the attitude projected by Tulsa minister Marlin Lavanhar last night, it would be: Why not? Somebody explain to me why we can’t do this and still be UUs.
And Pearson asked the $64,000 question: “What’s wrong with a Pentecostal Unitarian or Universalist?”
One Pearson quote didn’t fit neatly into my news article, but does match a theme I’ve been developing on this blog. When he started coming to All Souls Unitarian in Tulsa, Pearson discovered some people we didn’t know were there.
“There are people in [All Souls] church who are ORU [Oral Roberts University in Tulsa] graduates, who are from the Baptist church and the Pentecostal church. Some of them still speak in tongues — quietly.” After a burst of laughter, Pearson said something very interesting: “I found that this church was quietly more inclusive than they knew.”
UPDATE: I happened to run into Marlin Lavanhar later and asked him how many people we were talking about. He said about 35 people from Pearson’s New Dimensions congregation had joined All Souls, but that as many as 100 were participating in one way or another.
I’m sorry we need to ask the question.
Because a pentacostal style employs overly simple answers to irrelevant questions? A context of slogans and time-tested, if not time-worn, formulas? A retreat from ambiguity? Can one shout, “Final answers are undecideable”? Over and over and over again?
In other words, so long as pentacostalism is a style and only a style, it may well have some expression among us. Insofar as it is also content, any thoughtful person gets bored with it quickly. When you’ve met one True Believer (the title of Eric Hoffer’s classic book) you’ve met them all.
Bill Moyers hosted the poet W.S. Merwin last night on “The Journal.” Poets speak for themselves but in the process also speak for us. It was a profound listening experience for me. Had anyone attempted to shout his words, they would have lost their impact. He represents what is a goal for many of our preachers: to bring a resonance of radiance rather than conversionist clamor designed to sign up more True Believers.
Now, I’d enjoy hearing Pearson (who, along with the Tulsa scene, was brought to my attention by another CLF member some six or more months ago) treat us to a good old pentacostal *singing* of our hymnal. That’s a core source of our theology. We sing it, often badly, in whatever style fits. Sure share a new tune with us, but only after you have learned what our words stand for.
I was first introduced to Carlton Pearson through the NPR Radio program “This American Life”, which told his story for nearly the full hour in their episode “Heretics” (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1273). Fascinating!
We covenant coming together in pursuit of truth, not as agreeing in belief (or styles). I think some of the styles in UUism a bit contrived and phony; overly simple, time worn, retreating… but it’s engagement down stylistic paths that lead towards truth.
A UU (or a Monk) chanting alone for hours-on-end following a style I’d find boring but I don’t doubt it’s a path, and a time honored one.
So I just won’t ask these kinds of questions. If any path is a circle, it’s the path suggested by this kind of question.
We didn’t go to this workshop, but we went to another one Lavanhar gave called “the entrepreneurial church”. We were very impressed with Lavanhar: his enthusiasm, his warmth, his willingness to make mistakes and corrections, his easy sharing of power with his team.