Jesus said he came to heal the sick, not the well. And yet some churches have a feeling about them that is vaguely antiseptic, where there seems to be an unspoken pressure to censor any unpleasantness. Jim Walker wanted to build a church that was honest, that lived out its mission down in the muck of life where Jesus calls us to get our hands dirty. In the rough and often unpleasant neighborhoods of the South Side of Pittsburgh, Jim began finding people who wanted to live in a new way—passionate, committed, and totally devoted to God. The worshiping community they built together, now known as Hot Metal Bridge Church, is a place of harsh honesty and tender caring, of deep pain and great joy.
In Dirty Word you’ll meet a street person named Fetus who has an encounter with Jesus at the communion table that leads him to change his name to Feed Us. You’ll visit the weekly Bible Fight Club where guys with plenty of tattoos take their Bible study very seriously, and find a new perspective on how the kingdom of God really looks, sounds and smells.
Be forewarned: Some of the stories and descriptions in Dirty Word
might offend you, or run afoul of your expectations of the clergy. But if you are equally offended by watered-down theology and pallid discipleship, Dirty Word
offers a bracing challenge and a fresh evocation of hope. Dirty Word
is a raw, uncensored look at an unapologetic way of being the church.
From chapter 8
One Sunday, after worship Amanda and Eric approached me. Amanda is a twenty something with a mix of blond and black and red hair. Eric has the black and blue tint to his hair that I’ve always wanted and have never had the nerve to get. Both Eric and Amanda are eccentric and artsy, love old monster movies and rock n roll. “Pastor Jim”, Amanda started, “We want to get involved in a Bible study. Is this church going to have any Bible studies?”
I quickly got defensive. That’s what we pastors do when it is insinuated that we’re not providing the right products. “We already have Bible studies going on right now,” I replied, “We have a study on Monday night, a study about Ephesians on Wednesday, and a study on Romans on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.”
Eric looked at me, politely, but pained, and said to me very gently and kindly “Yeah, we went to those….”
“It’s just not what we’re looking for, Pastor Jim”, Amanda said.
“Well, what is it you’re looking for? Maybe we can get something new going.”
That’s when Amanda got bold. I braced myself.
“To be honest, Pastor Jim, I don’t like those other studies because it’s just a bunch of people sitting around nodding at one other. I mean, everyone is just agreeing with each other. I feel like we’re being brain-washed or something.”
“What are you suggesting?” I replied, kind of confused.
“I don’t know. We want to be part of a Bible study where no one agrees.”
“No one agrees?”
“Sure, why don’t we have a study where everyone comes and we fight?”
When we started Bible Fight Club, the purpose wasn’t, and still isn’t, discipleship. The club isn’t meant to be a place where we grow in our faith, per se. The point to the gathering is not to worship, and it’s not to study scripture and it’s not to fellowship. The point to Bible Fight Club is to fight. It is a time for debate, a time for wrestling, and for doubting and questioning the things that we sometimes we hold as gospel. Sometimes this even means the Gospel. For our church it has been a place where atheists, agnostics, believers, ‘non-believers’, and believers of other faiths can come and toss in their two cents. To make sure that the argument is valued and that people are valued as well, we made the following rules:
Bible Fight Club Rules
1. Respect: we love and respect each other, but not necessarily each other’s opinions. We respect the argument by being good listeners.
2. Say Anything: no judging and no holding grudges. The tattoo shop basement is a safe place where anything can be said.
3. Fight: all those in attendance must participate. No one is allowed to come and observe in silence. (Observers and silent onlookers skew the argument by inadvertently becoming a kind of jury that people try to convince.)
4. Get to the point: no speeches. “Make your point and shut up”--so others can speak.
5. Honor the Argument: phrases like ‘Well, it’s all just a mystery’ or ‘we’ll never know the answer, so why bother arguing’ do not honor the argument. Take a side and fight, no matter how ‘mysterious’ you think the subject is.
6. Admit when you've been hit
: At the end of the evening we take time to talk about the argument. Everyone must share something that was said that made them think. Sometimes this might mean having some humility. But that’s the point.