Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caring, Calvin, and Michael Jackson

Last Wednesday (the day after Michael Jackson’s service) I wrote a blog about watching Thriller with my daughter, Hannah. I put the word Michael Jackson’s name in the title. Immediately after I posted, people started reading the blog. Not many people read this blog, but on that day thirty-four people did—the highest number since I started blogging. Yesterday I wrote about John Calvin’s 500th birthday and put John Calvin’s name in the title. Immediately after I posted, nobody started reading the blog. Five people eventually came over.

I guess if we want people to come to worship we should put Michael Jackson and not John Calvin in our sermon titles.

I took some time yesterday to listen to Bruce Reyes-Chow (our current moderator) and Carol Howard Merritt interview Dr. Stephen Ray about John Calvin. The link is here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/godcomplexradio.

At the start of the show I remember hearing Reyes-Chow talk about a younger blogger (Presbyterian pastor) who wondered why we are spending so much time as a denomination acknowledging Calvin’s 500th birthday. Reyes-Chow quoted this blogger (and I couldn’t find the link to the blog) as saying, “I don’t care about Calvin.”

I was startled to hear these words, but as I thought about them I admired the man for sharing them. I believe that many of my colleagues share this view. I’m guessing that if many Presbyterian pastors were honest they would say that they don’t care about Calvin. They might find him interesting, but the demands of ministry in the 21st century are so high that communicating Calvin’s thoughts and ideas to this culture that has such a short attention span is not high on the list of priorities. People are more interested in Michael Jackson than John Calvin.

On the other hand I know of many Presbyterian pastors who would be aghast at giving up the theological underpinnings that John Calvin provides. I remember hearing stories that some of my colleagues shared about being quizzed by their Presbytery about Calvin’s thought during their ordination examination on the floor of Presbytery.

Tonight my Presbytery is meeting. (I am confident no one will be quizzed about Calvin’s thought.) Though the turnout will probably be low because of the season, it would be interesting to do a survey of folks around the issue of passion about John Calvin. Do we care about John Calvin? Is it important to communicate his life story and theological beliefs? Is the celebration of his 500th birthday going to make a difference in the life and ministry of our local congregations? Is recognizing his birthday just an academic exercise that we know we should do and when it is over we’ll spend our time elsewhere?

As a point of personal disclosure I do care about John Calvin. I wouldn’t be reading the Institutes after I stopped reading them (read yesterday’s post) if I didn’t care.

I don’t think the world is that interested in John Calvin’s 500th birthday. And I think the varying views about Calvin among our clergy is an illustration of the deep chasms within the PC(USA).

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