Wilshire Baptist Church senior pastor George Mason writes monthly missives meant to provoke.
He was a father of three teenagers when the Advocate worship column commenced. He is now a grandfather. Through seasons of life, and even shifts in his own neighborhood congregation, Mason has continued the practice of “public theology” — “God-talk aimed at the common good,” as he explained in his September 2014 column.
“I have tried with this column to challenge and chide, encourage and exhort neighbors of all stripes to draw upon the better angels of their nature and the highest ideals of their own faith traditions by doing the same from mine. I hope that has come through.”
Advocate editor Keri Mitchell has identified 20 excerpts highlighting Mason’s broad range of topics over the last 20 years, from observing holidays to surviving parenthood, from national politics to civic duties, from the pew to the classroom to the front porch.
October 1998: “I know, I know — I’m a preacher, and this is the devil’s holiday, but I can’t help myself — I love Halloween.”
September 1999: “My kids are sure that my wife and I conspire against them. They are right. We stay up nights thinking how we might make their lives miserable by deeds as pernicious as refusing telephone privileges after 10:30 p.m., denying them one more pair of Abercrombie and Fitch over-priced, washed-out wrinkly baggy chinos, or insisting on their presence at family dinner more than one night per week, thereby starving their all-consuming social life.”
November 1999: “Sports dominate our culture in ungodly ways today. When people learn that I was a quarterback for the University of Miami (more than 20 years ago!), they suddenly pay more attention to me. They may even listen more intently when I preach.”
February 2000: “I see them in the pews: John and Jane Doe, with their children, Jack and Jill. God knows who they really are. They duck the ushers, act like they belong, dodge invitations to join in. They are there to browse, maybe to consume a tasty choral piece or feed on a meaty sermon. When they’ve had their fill, they beat it to the safety of the parking lot. … That’s like trying to make love with your clothes on. You go through the motions, but it never gets too intimate.”
October 2001: “My grandfather helped start Little League in Staten Island. He used to say in his opening day speech: In Little League, parents are to be seen and not heard.”
November 2002: “When you last went to church or temple or mosque, were you more occupied with the lights, cameras and action of worship or with the God it is designed to rouse and bless?”
October 2003: “Men fly airplanes into buildings with the phrase ‘God is great,’ and a Christian minister is executed in Florida for murdering an abortion doctor, saying he expects great rewards in heaven. These are not isolated incidents or recent phenomena. They are the fruit of an overripe understanding of God.”
October 2004: “A few chronic charlatans give hurting people a bad name and undermine community welfare. Don’t reward them. … Every dollar given on a street corner could be better given to a benevolence agency.”
March 2005: “ ‘Why don’t you ever preach on hell?’ one woman has asked me more than once. My reply is cute but curt: ‘I’m too busy bringing down heaven to raise hell.’ ”
June 2007: “I get to perform two weddings this June and one on the first day of July. I expect to cry at all of them. The last one will challenge my composure most. That day I will walk down the aisle alongside my oldest pride and joy and give her away to a man I grudgingly admit to being worthy of her love and loyalty.”
July 2008: “Taxes are the secular and compulsory sibling of voluntary, religious tithes. Both involve love and duty. Both have their place in the spiritual spectrum of how God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”
April 2009: “I closed my prayer as if I were praying over a covered dish meal in the fellowship hall of our church: ‘… in the name of Christ we pray, Amen.’ Opening my eyes, I awakened from my prayer stupor to where I was and where I wasn’t. My rabbi friend, Asher Knight, sat across the table. I realized instantly that he wouldn’t be able to include himself in my ‘we.’ [Later] Asher offered to offer the benediction. Seizing the moment, I pleaded with my Jewish colleague to remember where he was and not end his prayer inappropriately for an interfaith gathering.”
September 2010: “The pastoral office gives me a close-up view of the church as it is, not as I want it to be. I see its warts, its hypocrisy, and its fearfulness that sometimes overcomes its faithfulness.”
July 2011: “Religious liberty is greater than religious tolerance. Tolerance says that one religious group is in charge and allows others to exist. Liberty says no one is in charge so that all may live together freely.”
October 2012: “We will be ‘one nation under God indivisible’ when we stop dividing ourselves in the name of God.”
June 2013: “Career Day at Lakewood Elementary earlier this year brought doctors, engineers, firefighters, businesspeople and at least one Baptist pastor to the school. … I got to tell them about the things pastors/priests do. We marry people, bury people, baptize people and generally help people. We’re in the people business.”
November 2014: “Looking around the room filled with mainly Anglo senior adults, the television reporter wondered if we had pulled a switch on her. She was looking for the Sunday school class attended by Louise Troh, the Wilshire Baptist Church member who was the fiancée of Dallas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan. ‘I expected to see a class for immigrants,’ the reporter explained. The Wilshire member accompanying the reporter quickly replied: ‘We don’t have any of those kinds of classes. We only have classes for people.’ ”
October 2015 “The State Fair of Texas is one of the few remaining places in our society where we mingle freely and happily with one another across all dividing lines of race, ethnicity, geography and class. Where else do Neiman Marcus shoppers and Wal-Marters stand together in a corny dog line?”
July 2016: “Dallas took a sucker punch in the gut with the hate-inspired, racially motivated murder of five police officers. We were knocked down, but not knocked out. … Why? Dallas has been hard at work in recent years facing its lingering heritage of racism and inequality.”
August 2017: “I have witnessed friends, like Candy Post and Vickie Thompson in Lakewood, whose hearts didn’t close when they left their own houses; they opened wider. They were our neighborhood moms, women always ready to do whatever the community needed.”
— Compiled by Keri Mitchell
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