December 2, 2010
The Scholar and the Scum of the Earth, Part Two
Lots of IVP's authors know each other. A few of them attend the same churches. But there's probably no odder mashup among our author list than Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and author of six IVP books (including two of the acclaimed New Studies in Biblical Theology), and Mike Sares, author of the Likewise book Pure Scum and pastor of Scum of the Earth. Here (in the second of three posts) Craig explains the divine logic behind his odd journey to membership at a church called Scum. Enjoy this refreshing story of how God brings diverse people together and uses them to bless the world.
Why do I appear in Pure Scum? Why did an evangelical New Testament professor and his wife, happily ensconced in suburban church life a decade ago, begin to visit Scum of the Earth Church five years later on Sunday nights, when their services were held, without any intention of leaving their "morning church"? Why did they make the transition two-and-a-half years later from trying to juggle participation in two churches to full involvement with Scum?
I knew Mike Sares from his years as a student at Denver Seminary. Raised in a culture remarkably similar to the Greek Orthodox world and family life depicted in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mike is a large, strong, former blue-collar worker who became a pastor because of his equally large, strong heart for young adults in the city from dysfunctional backgrounds who need Jesus. As much as just about anybody I've ever known, Mike is a "what you see is what you get" type of person. He speaks his mind, shoots from the hip, apologizes when he blows it, dreams big dreams, loves to delegate responsibility to others so that they can grow, can come down strong when he has to but tolerates others trying to push him around a fair bit when he knows they are well-intentioned--and occasionally even when they are not. And he passionately wants people to come to Jesus and grow in him.
Scum was looking for mentors. Apart from the dozen or so homeless people that attended Scum, there were probably less than a dozen of the 150 or so attenders in 2005 who were over 40. Most weren't over 30. I was asked if I would consider mentoring a young African American man who was a very gifted Christian rapper. The commitment was only to meet for an hour once every couple of weeks for a year.
I chuckled to myself. Could they have picked anyone I had less in common with? There aren't very many African Americans at Scum. There are a few. There are a few Hispanics, a few Asians. But overall Scum is pretty white. As for rap music, I had heard of Eminem, been turned off by his lyrics, and that's about all I knew of it. This young African American man dressed creatively, groomed creatively, but was extremely talented and artistic. He wasn't the least bit intimidated by my position as a New Testament professor at a seminary. In fact, I had to overcome the stereotypes associated with such an individual in his mind.
If there's one thing Scum has touted, it's authenticity, genuineness. Be yourself. Not your sinful self, of course, but in all neutral matters related to subcultures. So I decided to test the waters. I dressed down to attend church and to meet with my new friend, but I didn't wear anything or act any way I wouldn't when I was at my most casual in public elsewhere. Sometimes subcultures tout authenticity but they mean only via their definition of it. My new friend was different. Scum is different. If you come dressed just to try to impress someone, it doesn't matter what you wear, they'll see through you. If you're being yourself, no amount of jewelry, body piercing, hairstyle or color or clothing (so long as the key body parts are covered) can lead to rejection.
What most of Scum's attenders can spot and dislike a mile away is being fake. Artificial flowers in the sanctuary will turn them off as fast as anything. Exaggerated stage "performance" where everybody stares intently at the musician being featured with sappy grins on their faces will do the same. So, too, with people sneaking about quietly to be ready for what's coming next when in fact everybody is supposed to be praying. People getting bent out of shape because the projector didn't work, the microphone battery went dead or the temperature was too cold or too hot are all sure-fire turn offs. They long for genuine worship where the focus is on God and not on the people up front, so the lights are usually dimmed. The preaching is almost always expository, more often than not working through books of the Bible, seldom slick or polished, but the illustrations and applications are more relevant, transparent, and true-to-the lives of the people who come than in most congregations.
I hit it off with the man I mentored in ways I couldn't have dreamed. One of my most precious tributes in writing, in fact, is not in one of the books by friends who have quoted me because of my scholarship but because I am thanked on the back cover of one of this young man's CDs.