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6527212 September 08, 2010

Christianity and Creativity: Eugene McBride

"Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes."


When I was a tall, gawky eight grader with braces at Northwood Jr. - Sr. High School back in 1980, our Student Council President was a guy named Eugene McBride.  To me, Eugene was a "big man on campus."  He always seemed to have all the confidence I lacked.  He strolled around as if he belonged exactly where he was, which I found interesting, being lost as I was. He always had a smile on his face. Thirty plus years later, I ran into Eugene on Facebook.  He's now the pastor of one of the churches I grew up attending.

Due to my Southern fundamentalist upbringing, one of the themes I tend to gravitate toward in both my writing and art is the close mindedness or "black and white" mentality I have encountered in some of those who dub themselves Christian. The basic religion itself has never confused me but, whether intentional or not, many of people who practice it have managed to twist my understanding until it nearly strangled me in my own guilt and self-hatred. I'm not so sure the belief system has failed me, but I know some of the people have. People whom I trusted and loved. I've never once stopped believing in God, but, like many people, I've lost faith in organized religion. 

Eugene has been reading my writing and loves it because he recognizes it's honesty. His support of my work lead to a friendship that has ultimately brought him to Aberration Nation today. Regardless of your beliefs, I think you'll find our exchange of ideas thought provoking. Both Eugene and I would love to read any comments you may have regarding the interview content.

Because the interview is long and quite meaty, I'll not go on and on.  I'll just say that from my perspective as someone who grew up in a fundamentalist environment, I think one major error that has brought harm to what has traditionally been the foremost American religious institution is a failure to recognize and accept the basic blood and guts humanity of its people. I don't believe we were ever meant to be God-like. When we try, we fail. When someone tries to stuff us in the God box, most of us can't stay.  We kick and scream to be let out. We can't breath in that environment because it lacks the appropriate atmosphere. When we jump out, those who sought to stuff us in chastise us for not staying.  They say we've failed and must be forgiven. It's a painful place to be when all we really need is for someone to see who and what we truly are ... and then say, "I love you."

What's your story? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by where you are today?

I was born and raised in Shreveport Louisiana, one of four boys in a Christian home. At the age of 15, I felt the call of God in my life in a strong and real way. I went on to marry my high school sweetheart and graduate from LSUS with a degree in Marketing. In 1990 I was working for a fortune 500 company and was relocated to Texas. My wife and I helped to establish a little church there that would eventually grow to 1500. In the course of doing this, I realized how far I had strayed from the calling that God had placed on my life. In 1998, I left the business culture and went into full time ministry.

In 2008 I was asked to come back to my home church in Shreveport and minister. The church has been through a lot of changes in the 20+ years I have been gone. Even though I said I would never move back to Shreveport, we moved here in September 2009 and I now Pastor New Life Center/Life Tabernacle. I look back at the many decisions and turns my life has taken and I am thankful to be home. I know that God has brought me here for a specific purpose.

It seems to me that being a pastor requires a certain level of creativity. You are required to write an interesting and worthwhile message at least once a week. How do you get ideas for what to share with your congregation each week?

I love communication and the written word. It was only natural that I would be in a calling that required public speaking and an immense amount of reading! I love to read a variety of literature and stay up to date on current events. I do like to keep my messages real and simple, so the majority of my inspiration comes from real life. My family, my own struggles and victories, and from the world around me. The least effective thing I can do would be to teach another generation of believers to live life in a fairy tale world of “proclaimed” prosperity and success. The truth is that life on this earth is not easy, but we are only passing through!

Some people believe that Christianity (and religion in general) requires a certain level of creative thinking. Otherwise nobody would believe it. Others call it faith. What is the difference between imagination and faith?

To some, it is a stretch to imagine that all that we see, all that we know to exist, all that is real, could possibly be the creation of one supreme being. It is in that understanding that we can define both faith and imagination. To imagine something is to “see” it as if it were real. In our imagination we can create worlds of our own, God’s of our own, and ultimately morality of our own. Faith is different in that faith is not the substance of things seen, but is actually a belief in the things NOT seen. The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. So for me as a Christian, faith is my belief in what I have not seen with my own eyes, but know in my heart to be true.

My faith begins in the Word of God. Many struggle to accept that this one book could possibly be the inspired Word of God. But really it comes down to this, everyone has faith. To say you do not believe in the Bible or in God is to put your faith in your own understanding of what eternity will be. Someday, one of us will be proven wrong. If we get to eternity and all that I had faith in was not true, then I really have lost nothing. But if all that unbelievers placed their faith in is not true, they have lost everything.

The Bible is the most widely read, sold, and referenced book on Earth as well as one of the oldest. Aside from being a religious book, it has all the great elements of literature. Some find it hard to believe that the stories actually happened. And of course, there are differences in interpretation. Is it a good idea to get hung up on how exactly true the stories are? Are the underlying messages more important or are we to believe and accept it all verbatim in order to truly understand the power of God?

To characterize the Bible as anything other than the greatest book ever written would be an injustice to its very nature and inspiration. The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books, written by over 40 different authors over a span of 1600 years. There has been so much research done to disprove the Bible and the claims of Jesus, its central character. Interestingly enough, every major religion in the world acknowledges the life and existence of Jesus. But to answer your questions, I do believe that too many seek to discredit or not believe the authority and power of the Bible because of some difficulty in explaining or accepting one aspect of one story in the Bible. For some, this becomes a stumbling block of faith.

Every denomination and division in the Body of Christ can be attributed to some disagreement or interpretation of some aspect of the Word of God. It is sad but true none the less. For me, I read the Bible daily, accepting its authenticity and accuracy by faith, and find that the moral and life guidelines it encourages bring me security, peace and a reason for being.

When I was a little girl, it was so much easier to believe all the Bible stories and also the underlying messages. It seems to me that there are two groups of people who grew up in the church, particularly in more fundamentalist cultures: 1) those who seem to maintain that childlike believe, faith, imagination (whatever it's called) as they become adults, and (2) those who evolve to another level of thinking that makes it more difficult to believe it all. They take drips and drabs of it with them into adulthood. Is the first group filled with better people/Christians? If so, it almost seems unfair since we're all wired differently ... and God wired us.

I have endeavored to try and answer each question here without quoting a whole lot of scripture and verse, but to be honest… we are encouraged to have a “child like” faith. Having said that I too have seen this great abandonment of faith. As “church” kids grow up, and in their own way of thinking, become more educated and learned, there is a tendency to reject what we cannot explain, or do not fully believe. But to put it simply, it really is not that important if you accept or reject the stories. What is imperative is do you accept or reject that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to this world to be the ultimate payment for the sins and failures of mankind.

This blog is also about the aberrations life throws our way. Have you struggled with aberrations of your own, and if so, how have you overcome them? I know God can heal and bring hope to those suffering but doesn't it also take something within ourselves to stand up and say, "I will not be defeated!"

My life has been an incredible journey marked with great opportunities, worldly success, and also utter despair! I suppose all of us can point to a specific incidence or event that formed us and shaped us into the people that we ultimately become. For me, that moment came when I was about 8 years old. I will make a long story short, but to summarize it, I overheard my mother and father in an argument one night. At the time, my father’s mother was living with us. She was an alcoholic and was dying from cancer. The stress of it all had overwhelmed my mother to the point that she was ready to just leave. My parents thought I was asleep, but in the midst of this argument, I hear my mother tell my father she hates his mother. A few moments later I hear her begin to tell my father of something I had done that day, and how she felt I was just like his mother. Then, I heard her say she hated me too.

I slipped out of the house and ran away. Of course they found me the next morning. Mother tried to explain to me that she did not mean what was said but to an 8 year old boy, it had quite an effect. I became an overachiever. I began to do anything and everything to be loved and accepted. The long term affect is that on the outside I appeared to have it all together and succeeded at everything I did, but on the inside I was a deeply insecure and lonely person. It was only a few years ago that I was truly able to get past this insecurity and come to grips with who God created me to be.

 I do agree that we must decide within ourselves to get up, keep going, and not give up, but I also know that sometimes, despite our best self-help efforts, we need the healing that comes from a relationship with the Lord. Only he can totally erase and replace the hurts that are formed within us by others.

In his book, The World's Religions, Huston Smith wrote, "It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge." Sometimes it seems closed minded and arrogant to believe that even with the Bible in our hands, we can profess to know and understand the bigger picture. Why would such a phenomenally creative God narrow His plan to only include certain people who agreed to follow certain rules? This confuses me and perhaps others.

It really is simple and I believe that the simplicity is what makes it so hard for some to accept it. There are many who want to believe that “all roads lead to God”, and that ultimately every person will find their way to a meaningful eternity, even if we not agree on who God is, or how to get to this place of eternal peace. Although you used the terms closed minded and arrogant, believe in Jesus Christ is anything but this. My faith is based on 3 simple things. First is the universality of sin, that is all men have sinned and no one is worthy of eternity in heaven based on our own merits or deeds. Second is that because of our sinful nature, some form of punishment is required. According to the bible, the wages of sin is death, or simply put we are eternally separated from God. Finally, I believe that Jesus came to be that punishment for every sin I have committed, and the sins of all mankind. So to summarize this, God has not narrowed his plan to exclude anyone. It is his will that NONE should perish, but that all should have eternal life.

I interviewed a woman on Aberration Nation who felt that being a Christian is one of her aberrations. Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your religious passion? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

To be honest, I am sure there are many who struggle to understand my passion for God, his son Jesus and my faith. There are even many professed “Christians” who think that it is possible to be too passionate for Christ. The truth is that everyone is passionate about something. It may be for Nascar, or the New Orleans Saints, or golf. I have seen people act completely crazy in each of these venues but then question how I can live my life so committed to what I believe. I can sum it up like this. Belief creates attitude. If I believe that the New Orleans Saints are the best team in the NFL, then I my attitude will show that in my fanaticism to support them and defend them. Then, my attitude creates my behavior. My believe creates the attitude, the attitude is demonstrated in my behavior.

The same is true in my faith. I believe that Jesus Christ came to this world as a payment for the sins of mankind, including mine. Because of this belief, I have an attitude that says “It is no longer I, but His spirit within me”! Because of this attitude, my behavior reflects that. I live for Christ, I love my fellow man, I seek everyday to be a reflection of the Christ who now lives within me.

I'm just finishing a novel about a man who goes to his "afterlife," meets God, and finds out that it wasn't quite what he was expecting.  Do you think there are people who miss life because they are so focused on the afterlife? There are those who say life isn't important because it's what they will have in heaven/the afterlife that matters. Well, what if they're wrong? Or what if God intended them to explore and be all who they are as individuals in order to play a critical roll in his plan? How can they do that if they're only focused on what comes next?

There is a saying in church circles that goes like this: “That person is too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” I believe that eternity is in the heart of every man. Even the unbeliever has eternity somewhere within his heart. If that were not true, there would be no fear of death. God did create us to be individuals, with different abilities, desires and purposes to fulfill in this earth and the life we live on it. I personally seek to use all of the unique gifting God has given me on this earth, but also remembering that my primary purpose here is to be light in a world of darkness, and to share the same hope of Glory that I have received in my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Some people may not like this comment but over the years, I've observed what I call the "Christian personality." For me, this is a person who, overtime, seems to sweep who they are as an individual under a rug and take up a recognizable personality that focuses nearly 100% on Christ. And I do have to say that I observed this more in the Deep South. They put Bible verses on Facebook. They listen to religious music and read religious books. They mention scripture, Christ, etc, in nearly every conversation they have. In the end, I almost feel that they have the same exact smile and twinkle in their eye. They may say that it's the love of God I'm seeing. Honestly, this is who my mother would love for me to be. But I never wanted to be like everyone else. I just couldn't, and I felt that the part of me that couldn't was the part of me that God made, so how would I ever be able to take on the "Christian personality?" What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

It really does disturb me that some abandon the faith that has so sustained me because of the perceived shallowness of the “Christian Personality”. The truth is that many do put on the Christian persona, without truly living the Christian purpose. I will take exception to your statement that the “Christian Personality” you are lamenting is about “sweeping who they are as an individual under a rug and taking up a recognizable personality that focuses nearly 100% on Christ”. A true believe is one who will be a total reflection of Christ. Having said all of that, I find it quite amusing that the more liberal individuals in our society are relentless in pushing their liberal agenda and beliefs on the rest of us while at the same time utterly refusing to allow the very mention of Christ or Christian morals and principles in any public forum.

I grew up with the understanding that Christianity was about loving your neighbor, accepting others, etc. If this is true, why do we see so many fundamentalist Christians judging other groups of people? This is disturbing to me as I don't believe it follows God's message of love. Who are we to judge others or to take up residence as God's army against something we don't feel comfortable with? This mentality was pervasive during our country's long, tragic history of slavery.

One of the biggest lies that exist in the mainstream thinking today is that because the church speaks against such things as abortion, homosexuality, and other liberal issues that we do not “love our neighbor.”. To love something is to seek to preserve it, protect it, and ultimately save it. It is our belief that living a lifestyle contrary to the Word of God will ultimately lead to eternal damnation. Now I could choose to just ignore it and watch many continue in that lifestyle, or I can choose to love them, serve them and hopefully by the example of the life I live for Christ, bring them into a forgiving and loving relationship with Jesus. I agree that slavery was wrong that our country prevailed upon the God given freedom of our fellow man. But that does not change the fact that the bible specifically speaks against sin and there will come a day when every knee will bow before our creator. Some will bow in honor and praise having chosen to live their lives for Christ on this earth. Others will bow in fear and regret for having not accepted the love and the truth of Jesus that I seek to share with all men.

Growing up, I often heard, "I hate your sin, not you." But in many ways, we are our sin. Sometimes there are deep, complex reasons why we make the choices we do. And some of those choices feel like the only choices at the time, and we learn tremendous lessons from them. They ultimately help mold us into who we are. Hatred of my sin implies a judgment against me and my life. Instead of saying "I hate your sin, not you," I would rather someone say, "I love you." Isn't that a much more positive message? What are your thoughts on this?

I do believe the message is love. John 3:16 says that “God so loved”- even when we have sinned, and failed and rejected him. “That he gave”- God gave us a way out… a way to find the peace we seek and desire. Other religions of the world require you to work to obtain your salvation, or to rise to some level of reward and achievement. “His only Son”- Jesus came as a total and final payment for the wrongs this world has committed. “That whosoever believes”- this is not limited to a select few, or a narrow group… anyone who believes in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God will be saved. “will not perish but will gain eternal life.”- there are two choices… believe and gain salvation, choose not to believe and perish.

That is the most powerful love letter ever written.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

If I had to sum my life’s purpose in one statement it would be this:

I have a God to serve, a world to save, a devil to harass, and a message to live. 

Everyday I am reminded that I live to worship and honor God my creator. As I worship him I am a reflection of His Son Jesus to a lost and dying world. Every opportunity I get, I am going to resist the devil and stand in victory over him, and ultimately live my life for a higher cause.

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