Our Turn to Be Odd

Our Turn to Be Odd

I suppose I’ve come full circle.

Growing up in a holiness church in southern Mississippi, I believed we Nazarenes, we Wesleyan holiness folk, were odd.

We didn’t smoke or drink or cuss or chew or dip—but neither did the local Baptists, Pentecostals, or most Methodists. So, our don’ts had enough company to keep us from standing out.

However, we went a little further than them when it came to avoiding the movies,  the carnival, card playing, the Sunday paper,  and bowling alleys—where I hear people did horrible things.

But my local church went a few rungs higher on the odd-o-meter:

  • We had a lady who seriously requested prayer for the life situations of soap opera characters.
  • Our Sunday school superintendent thought we could build attendance by hosting chitlin’ fries. (If you don’t know what part of the animal I’m talking about, you are blessed by such ignorance.)
  • Some of our folks brought their guitars to church hoping to be asked to sing a special that day. We were the original out-take reel of “American Idol.”
  • And the supreme sacrifice as a Christian teen was to opt out of the school prom.

My education in Nazarene institutions has pretty much corrupted me in terms of my oddness. I’ve been liberated, as have most of you. I’ve been to movies, carnivals, played cards with a real 52-card deck, subscribed to the Sunday paper, bowled, and yes, even square danced with my wife once upon an uncoordinated time…which left me grateful for a church dedicated to the homogeneous unit of people who have no rhythm. For several decades now, I’ve not felt that odd.

But I think I’ve come full circle, and I’m beginning to feel odd again. But this time, my oddness isn’t caused by the separationist ethics of an ultra-conservative southern Mississippi holiness church. What is making me feel odd is the way Wesleyans think and live. Let me explain.

Two Sides of Being Odd

On one side, I find a post-Christian world that doesn’t get us at all.

When I go to the worldly higher education gatherings of the public university leaders in Tennessee, they look at me quizzically when I talk about the sanctity of human life, the meaning of our sexuality, the practice of Sabbath, fasting from technology, training students to live among the poor, required covenants of conduct for university students, an alcohol-free campus, questioned use of power, virginity, and reducing athletic scholarships. I can see it in their eyes. Odd.

And I haven’t even used words like Lent, Advent, eschatology, or incarnational. And I certainly haven’t said the h-word: holiness.

Then there’s the other side.

I go to a small church in the southeast. And I talk about social justice, care of the earth as stewards of creation, politics and power, science and religion, a biblical eschatology, the way Wesleyans read the Bible, and how global warming might be a better explanation of the tornado that decimated Tuscaloosa, Alabama, than the wrath of God on the Crimson Tide.

And they look at me and wonder where I came from; how I became so odd.

How the World Reacts to Odd People

The world has many reactions to odd people. They’re amused, threatened, intrigued, opposed to, defensive toward, ignorant of, and mad at. We trained theologians never quite know what we might face out there.

Erik, my son-in-law, pastors a store-front Church of the Nazarene in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Denise and I attend. It is an interesting assortment of people, like:

  • Adrian in her wheelchair, disfigured and hard to understand, but reaching for you
  • Chris, the recovered addict who was given the Distinguished Service Award last Sunday on Faith Promise Day
  • Sid and Crystal, the couple who run a remarkable international ministry to eliminate intestinal worms in the children of poor countries
  • A  few PhDs from MTSU

There’s only about 150 of us total.

And we’re a group of people that nobody but Jesus could have ever gotten in the same room.

Erik is an NTS grad. He called me the other day and said, “I need you to tell me if I’m still sane or not.”

On that given day he had been blasted over being emergent because they were participating in a community garden. I suggested the attacker had read something about an emergent herbicide on the can. He was called a theological liberal at the town ministerial association because he wouldn’t sign a unity statement based on a mechanical dictation theory of Scripture. He was told to squelch the opinion of the Vanderbilt Divinity School congregant who thought that maybe the Palestinians had a point in regard to land in Israel.  He wanted to know if he missed something in one of his NTS classes that would have prepared him for a day like this.

Erik is, in my relatively prejudiced opinion, one of the best young pastors I know, trying to do good pastoral work in a changing world. And here he was, asking me about his sanity. I think he was just feeling odd.

I predict that you will have those days if you are not already having them.

Did John Wesley Ever Feel Odd?

Do you think jokes about his Oxford Holy Club got under John Wesley’s skin? Do you think he ever walked away from a coal mine questioning his sanity? Do you think he ever looked at Charles and asked if they could just sing the old songs everybody already knew instead of the newest one that Charles had borrowed from the London bars?

Do you think he ever spent a whole day straddling the back of a horse reading his Bible and found nothing helpful in I Chronicles? Do you think he felt a little weird the day he ascended his father’s tombstone and preached to the crowd that barred him from his father’s old pulpit? I wonder if Wesley felt odd.

How will you deal with this stuff, this being treated as odd by those inside and outside the church?

Being Wesleyan is like standing in the middle of a two-lane highway with cars barreling down on you at 70 mph in the pagan-world lane. From the opposite direction, cars in the religious fundamentalism lane are driving toward you at 70 mph. And you stand in the middle of the road handing out the gospel as Wesleyans understand it, hoping they will slow down enough to give you a hearing or take your tract, but wondering which lane might be aiming for you.

The simple truth is that you will never be given opportunity to bear witness if you pick a fight with everyone who finds you odd. Being defensive will consume your life. You will be Facebook fodder. You will be called liberal, emergent, new age, unorthodox, not fully committed to inerrancy, probably Catholic, and most likely Democrat.

But maybe the best path forward is the choice to be odd. Wesleyans preach a doctrine of perfect love, the kind of perfection that is still maturing in Christ-likeness toward ultimate redemption. The language of perfect love comes from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He is talking about loving our enemies like the Father loves His—which guarantees that we will have enemies. Yet we are called to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, loving our enemies as God loves His enemies.

The Face of Perfect Love

For me, this doctrine has a face. I know the face of perfect love is Jesus, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen that reflection in the face of Dr. William Greathouse, former President of Trevecca Nazarene University and Nazarene Theological Seminary.

My introduction to him was in the men’s room in the Miami Convention Center during the 1972 General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene. I was a rising junior in college at Trevecca. I didn’t know him personally, and he wasn’t in the restroom that day. He was ascending in the vote tally for the role of General Superintendent of the denomination.

Then, we took a break. So, I went to the restroom, and there received an education on the dangers of this man.

He was soft on tongues, they said. He had actually built a church gymnasium and attached it to the sanctuary. He couldn’t get Trevecca accredited, and, to top it all off, he was the president of that “cemetery” where all the preacher boys lost the fire in their bellies and came out wanting to teach theology in liberal schools.

I didn’t know all this stuff about him, but I learned it in the men’s room that day from my fellow churchmen.

His vote tally plummeted later that afternoon.

Two years later, I became a student at the seminary. I sat in Dr. Greathouse’s classes on Romans and Wesley—held in the chapel because we wouldn’t fit in any of the classrooms. He taught me how to lead congregational singing, not by waving my hands in rhythm, but by raring my head back, raising my hands to half mast, and singing from the bottom of my heart to the glory of God. He located me theologically in the mainstream of orthodox Christian faith. He was generous in spirit.

I became his reader, and we would sit on his office floor and read student’s papers out loud to each other and discuss them. One day I asked him about 1972. He spoke with loving regard, a forgiving spirit, and a peace that surpasses theological differences.

He became the person I called when I had a tough decision to make. After moving to Nashville, we talked often. I think I heard his whole commentary on Romans on the phone before it went to print.  He leaked Paul when he talked. In his wake, he left behind a generation of holiness leaders who have serious work to do for the sake of Christ’s church.

Knowing him, I believed the doctrine of perfect love and the experience that he testified to. At his funeral, we sang the grand hymns he had selected—so many that they couldn’t be sandwiched into the few song slots in the service. So, at the end we sang five or six of them in a row. “Arise My Soul Arise,” “For All the Saints,” the “Gloria Patri.” The funeral director had wheeled the casket out, ushered the family out, and was trying to get the crowd to file out, but we were just getting to the second song. From the platform I looked out on a sea of odd holiness pastors and people who weren’t about to budge until we had sung the last note.

It was a glorious moment, the end of an era, the death of a saint, and for me—the face of perfect love.

It’s Our Turn to Be Odd

Now, it’s our turn to be odd.

  • To be that odd person who stands between a pagan world and religious fundamentalism and loves people like God loves people.
  • To be that odd person whose way of reading the Bible is, well, different from how lots of Christians read the Bible.
  • To be that odd person who speaks the truth in love and embodies the peace-making ways of Jesus.
  • To be that odd person who welcomes people into the circle when their beliefs and practices could not be further from the call we issue.
  • To be that odd person who believes that God’s future is good news to all the wrong people.
  • To be that odd person who even loves enemies.

It is our turn to be odd, because the doctrine of perfect love looks better on a face than a page.

Comments

  1. Rick Willems says

    Some really great stuff here. It is an odd struggle to be in the world and yet not of the world. It is odd to build what is needed instead of destroying what we see as useless. It is odd to understand that the cross I carry and the one you carry look completely different and yet we both follow the same Lord.

  2. Mary Surbrook says

    Thank you so much for your words…I will stand with the “odd” and praise my Lord. I will be retiring soon and God has been speaking to me about where I should serve…he is leading me to the Detroit area…poor, hungry, those who need someone to care…I want to go to a church like you talked about…I want to share Jesus. I will be odd for Him.

  3. JoNell Shelby says

    Such a beautiful post filled with truth. Thank you.

  4. L. Alan Thompson says

    Dan,
    You’ve done it again, my old friend. You have addressed significant applications of our Wesleyan theology and reminded us of a wonderfully “odd” man of God, Dr. Greathouse. Never thought that I would desire to be called “odd.” Thanks.

  5. Bill Allred says

    Great article Dr.Dan Boone. Time to be odd, stand out, and stand up!

  6. Thanks Dr. Boone. It is helpful to know I am not alone in my “oddness” as I try to walk the line between an unbelieving world and a behind the times group of Christians who hold to old European tradition more tightly than to the gospel itself.

  7. Elbert & Dianne Smith says

    Years, ago I heard an old baptist preacher on the radio say, “I don’t have to chew, dip, smoke, spit or stink”. Thanks, ES

  8. And this is why a friend of mine, Mark Hendrickson, thinks so highly of you! Thank you for these words when I am trying to figure out why my granddaughter wanted to be a student at Trevecca. Maybe because she wants to understand more of what makes a Wesleyan Nazarene. She is a junior and is AMAZING!

  9. Melba Clark says

    Dr. Boone, Thanks for the reminder that we need to be odd in the right way for Jesus. Also, Thanks for the wonderful description of one of my beloved professors at TNC [it is still that to me, but TNU to my freshman grandson, Sam Johnson]. Dr. Greathouse was one of the most humble Christians I have known. In his “Doctrine of Holiness” class, one could sense his godly spirit and his desire to pass the torch to all of us.

  10. Howard Marks says

    Thanks Dan for speaking the truth in love! Dr. G. was a special person in my life. I have a pastor friend in Texas, still serving on staff at age 94. several years age he wrote to Dr. Greathouse thanking him for an article. Recently he shared with the fact that a few days later he received a call from Doctor G. thanking him and there followed quite a conversation about the book of Romans. That act of kindness was to my friend a bright spot in his long life of service.

  11. Jesse Middendorf says

    Outstanding description of what it should mean to be holy! This is a gift to those who struggle to walk this crazy middle way!

  12. Suppose I’m a bit odd even before becoming a Christian.
    Blessings…

  13. It seems necessary to be this “odd” so that we can be truly “awed” by that Perfect Love. Thanks for this, Dr. Boone! A good and affirming read, today.

  14. Thank you for this, Dan. I was reflecting on an oddity righly conceived in my essay “Holiness Wierdos” in the book Rennovating Holiness. Being odd for the sake of the Gospel takes real discernment, and a commitment by each new generation to live as resident aliens. So many want to “be different,” “buck the system,” “resist ‘the man’,” but what type of discipleship does it take to truly nurture the prophetic imagination that comes from our deepest Christian identity and story?

  15. Dr. Boone,
    I am not a theology student or what one would call a saint. I have grown up in the Church of the Nazarene and loved it my whole life. There were many times when the people turned their backs so to speak on me, because I did not conform. I remember telling my Mother who is a Saint that unless I knew for certain that something was going to send my children to hell, they were going to be allowed to do it. What the hey, I will join them. I wanted them to know a God of Love and Grace. My son is a minister now and occasionally I hear him mention the rules that I thought I was protecting him from, but in the Nazarene church in the South one was a little odd if we didn’t adhere quite as strict.
    I love to hear he and daughter, asked what is sin, they will say it is a known disobedience to God. However, they do not ever stop there. They continue on with it is not all about the Gays, or the Adulters, or the thieves, or murderers. It is when we as a church know to do good and we sit and watch children go hungry. We know there is human slavery going on in our streets and we are complacent about it. We see homeless people every day and we look the other way. Sin is also to him who know that to good and doeth it not. If we were praying more and showing the love of Christ the ones who walking against him might see his love so manifest in our lives that they want some of that. That is how I want to be odd. But it is hard. It takes me out of my comfort zone. I can’t sit on the church bench and fuss about the world going to hell all around me. It requires me to love the unloveable. Dress a little different so I can fit in. And leave my judgemental attitude at home. That’s a hard job for us Nazrenes but I have hope that we are making a turn. I pray we are once again reaching out to the people Jesus would have reached out to. Thanks for all your great articles. I am jealous that my son is still in school soaking up Bibilcal theology. He does share when pressed.
    Thanks again .
    Pam Arp
    Chattanooga First

  16. Arnie Strouse says

    This is very good. We are certainly “odd,” just like Jesus and His disciples. A topic that you may want to expound on more is your statement “Being defensive will consume your life…” It certainly can and especially if the defense isn’t out of love and concern for the soul of others. It consumed Peter, Paul, and the other disciples… so much so that it took all but one of their lives. It consumed John Wesley. It consumed the 24 Christians who were killed by Isis a few months ago. How much should it “consume” us? In America, how much should defending our faith consume us with so much of our faith being with the Founding Fathers and why people came here? I, personally, defend the truth enough so that people know that I’m “odd,” anyway I hope that I do. Of all things that I wish would have happened while an Olivet Nazarene Univ. student/graduate many years ago, is that I would have left there being better at defending the truth. God bless you all…

  17. Excellent perspective on the Holy calling of being “odd.” A key phrase was when you talked about Dr. Greathouse “having an experience that he could testify to based on the doctrine of perfect love.” I believe we have lost our pursuit of that experience in the name of legalism. If there were more Wesleyan believers who truly could share their experiences through testimony, based on the doctrine of perfect love, and then pass that on to those who have not experienced it (what some would call the Gospel or Good News), we could not build enough churches to hold everyone. Thanks, Dr. Boone. Looking up.

  18. Dan thanks for this article! I live in a community where most are members of another denomination and sometimes I am asked, “what is a Nazarene?”. I hope I am getting better with my explanations and your comments help.

  19. Thanks for your transparency,

    God does not need,

    Perfect individuals,

    But odd ones,

    For his Glory!

    Amen!!!

  20. Charles W. Christian says

    Wonderful! Thanks for sharing this.

  21. Great words (again). Thank you! May we all be so odd!

  22. I am challenged to do a better job of being odd and walking the middle way. Tha k you for this article.

  23. We live in a day where anything spiritual is treated by the culture like it’s up for grabs- even the most basic doctrines of Christianity. This is probably because the majority of people in our culture now believe truth is relative to a person’s situation(Barna), and they are searching for truth everywhere. Long gone are the days when even the most secular of people in the culture believed there was absolute truth, and most believed truth could be found in the Bible. Everyone is trying to figure out truth on their own, and of course, when they ‘find’ truth for themselves, they are offended when they encounter someone who disagrees with their ‘truth’. After all, it is THEIR truth.

    I also like the analogy of the hi-way we live on, trying to live out holiness when ‘spiritual’ people are driving by us at 70mph and shouting out platitudes and catch phrases to ‘correct’ us without a look in the rear-view mirror, let alone a dialogue. As a pastor myself, I sometimes feel like I’m trying to speak the truth in love by throwing messages to people who have already moved on to the next urgency. As a pastor, I can’t afford to be careless with words, and I certainly can’t involve myself with every controversy or straighten out every errant thought people have. But I CAN give people a face to look at. I can give them the truth in love by sharing my life and Christ’s love. I can give them a listening ear- even if they blow by me most days.

    Dr. Greathouse was (and still is) for me a formative influence. His New Beacon Bible Commentaries on the Book of Romans rest on my top shelf, because they tower over every other mind I’ve read after on the subject! Dr. Greathouse lived a life as an imitator of God and lived a life of love, just as Christ loved us. I am richer for knowing him.

    Thanks Dan!

  24. I read this with tears in my eyes because of the apt description of how I have felt for many years now. If there is no political candidate who believes even closely to the way I believe, that is one thing. However, it is quite another thing when I find myself to be out-of-place in the same Church I love and serve. Thanks, Dan, for giving voice to the oddness of being truly Wesleyan in a “normal” (?) world.

  25. Lynn Jones Green says

    Thanks for once again broadening our vocabulary to express our hearts. My prayer is that I can live a life of oddness that leaks Jesus to the world. Blessings, my friend.

  26. Yes. I have so often felt exactly like that person in the center of the highway. You have put the image perfectly. The struggle to love is real, but thank you so much for affirming it as the only option.

  27. Michael Clark says

    We don’t smoke, drink, cuss, dip or chew, and we don’t date girls who do! (Slightly paraphrased and amplified version)

  28. Judy Jackson says

    I did not know Dr. Greathouse but I knew of him.

    I would totally agree with Dan Boone’s definition of odd. However, I do think it only applies to Nazarenes. My church membership is in a local Nazarene church, however I no longer attend there. I would say the definition of odd would apply to all true Christians who are doing their best to follow God, live their lives desiring to please God, have a forgiving spirit, and look at the world with a heart of compassion and a desire to see folks discipled for Christ. And a person cannot become a disciple without first becoming a believer in Christ for salvation. There are so many differences in people but being “odd” for the sake of Christ is something I would gladly be identified with.

  29. The joy of being a balanced, biblical Christian is tempered by being “kicked from both opposing sides”…but it does keep you standing up straight!

Trackbacks

  1. […] This is an excerpt from Dan Boone’s latest book: A Charitable Discourse: Volume 2. A version of this post also appears on DanBoone.me. […]

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