Augustine of Hippo is given preeminence as the mortal, next to Paul of Tarsus, who did most to spread Christianity. One of the reasons he is held in such high accord is because his Confessions struck such a powerful chord with his contemporaries.
I’m not going to mimic him and attempt to write a lengthy confessions. But, like all bloggers, I do like sharing my inner most thoughts. I find it edifying, as they say. So here’s one that pertains to my last job.
During class last semester, the professor recommended reading a book on war. His words were something close to, “Want to know what war is like? Read this book.” As a combat veteran, my immediate and lasting thought was, “Ha. That won’t do the trick.” Therefore, my confession is that I do not respect “authorities” who lack the experience they are supposed to be an authority on. A man who hasn’t fought a war reporting on which account he believes to be an accurate one is just plain silly. And the professor’s next words were even sillier. He said, “And by all accounts, soldiers admit that what they are really fighting for is each other.” He stole that right off the Lone Survivor movie preview. Are soldiers fighting for each other? Certainly. But I took my officer’s oath of office very seriously. I swore “To support and defend the US Constitution.” One difference between the officer oath and the enlisted oath is the absence of the phrase “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me…” in the officer’s oath. Sure, I wanted to get everyone home safely with a victory, but as an officer I always felt there was something more to my role. On some level I, not the enlisted man, was responsible for the fight. And believe you me that I really struggle with the current international climate and the ongoing terrorism and my role in it. Did I (and my forerunners and those still serving) give rise to terrorism? Does terrorism persist because I did not fulfill my oath? What would my actions be (what will they be) if our historical situation were reversed and an Islamic country was imposing their will on my Christian (secular if you must) country? (as of today, my answers are: Probably, Yes, and Build more theologically sound Christian churches in an effort to unleash the Holy Ghost’s transformative power, and out of these create a culture that took pride in how many wounded enemies (and Americans) we fed and nursed back to health with our superior compassion and medical capabilities.)
All of this to say that if I ever find myself in front of a classroom at a seminary, I won’t have to say, “Want to know about war? Read this book. Want to know about strip clubs? Read this book.” Relating to clubs, I know the reason first-hand why my childhood church, and Christianity in general, viewed bars–strip clubs especially–so dogmatically and so negatively. And my experience working at one has stripped me of the fear I had of them. Furthermore, I believe I now possess the tools with which to chat with interested parties about the subject.
I also was lucky. I didn’t get maimed or killed in the “war” I fought in. And I only once took a cheap shot at the club I worked in (my thick skull comes in handy at times, it seems). Things could’ve been much worse in both situations. But risk is the price of experience.
Experience. It’s one of the four criteria for good theology. The other three include scripture, tradition, and reason. But the God of scripture, tradition, and reason is no God at all if he doesn’t exist in experience. One attribute of God is omnipresence. God is everywhere at all times. Suburban living raised me to recite that (formal curriculum), but also taught me to acknowledge that God isn’t everywhere, that he has been overrun in some buildings, by some people (hidden curriculum).
Even now most Christian readers cannot resolve my claim’s tension. Was God in the club? Most definitely. How do I know? Because everybody in the club was alive. They (including me) were down, but not out. And that club in specific has one thing on many, many churches (and also other social institutions): The club welcomed ev-er-y-one.
Remember when I said I’m not going to seminary to be a preacher? That’s still true. But if I was aiming to be a preacher, you better believe that at my church we’d be taking all comers. No strip club is going to corner the market on lost people in my town.