Editor's note: This is the first of two parts of Gary's interview with Sharad Yadav (pictured above with his wife, Evelyne), teaching pastor at Bread & Wine, a church in Portland, OR near Humble Beast HQ. The interview will be concluded next Wednesday.
About a year ago, after a particularly wonderful visit to Oregon, my family and I decided that we were going to make the move from Phoenix to Portland. Our first priority was to find a church. Our pastor recommended that we check out Bread & Wine. After listening to a few podcasts, I decided to reach out to Bread & Wine’s preaching elder, Sharad Yadav. Even though after a few months it became apparent that God wanted us to stay in AZ, Sharad and I continued our dialogue.
I asked Sharad if he would share some of his thoughts on the gospel and intentionally living out the Christian life in love.
Gary: You are the preaching elder at Bread and Wine, a church in Portland, OR. When you were a younger Sharad, is this where you saw your future self? Are you living out your childhood dreams?
Sharad: When I was a younger Sharad, I imagined living inside something like Scrooge McDuck's money bin, filled with candy rather than money (in order to cleverly skip the step of buying the candy with the money - “work smarter, not harder,” my aquatic avian mentor always said). When I was a slightly older (but still younger) Sharad, I imagined living in a dilapidated apartment in Manhattan, smoking cigarettes for breakfast in order to appear avant-garde while writing for David Letterman. Both of these ships have sailed, for different reasons. Probably the last thing I could have seen for myself was being a preaching elder in a church. I would have known what those words meant individually, but had no idea what they could mean together in a sentence.
G: Diving into a candy bin seems much safer than diving into gold. Not safe, mind you. Just safer. Scrooge McDuck should've broken his neck the first dive. I guess physics don't matter when you're filthy rich. As appealing as cigarettes for breakfast sounds, God obviously had a different plan for you. Now that you have an understanding of what a preaching elder is, would you mind explaining your role to the rest of us?
S: Indeed. My role at Bread & Wine is to lovingly serve, primarily through subversive provocation, which is to say, teaching the Bible. I get to gently and winsomely ruin people's lives on Sunday mornings so that they can have a brand new one instead of the one they keep patching up and dragging around as though it were good enough. I also get to invite them to the table where immortality is served every Sunday in the offer of Christ's body and blood. In addition to that work, I am also paid to be irrelevant, which is another way to say “available”, to listen to their lives during the week with no particular agenda or strategy into which I'm trying to squeeze them. I am also expected to draw the curtain back on our rich intellectual heritage to show how our theological tradition speaks powerfully to the issues which stifle and confuse people who have thus far been forced to make do with the cheap plastic lawn furniture available in their more modern intellectual inheritance – which is just another way of saying that I am expected to help people hear the voice of God, which usually sounds new, precisely because it is so old.
G: And you're doing this all in the city of Portland, OR, which many refer to as a "godless" city. Do you feel like that is a fair assessment?
S: I don’t know that I would call Portland particularly godless – any more so than any other urban center, anyway. The measurements of these things are so clumsy as to be almost useless - church attendance probably doesn’t say enough about a person’s relationship with God to be very helpful. The cultural obsession with sex and consumption in Portland mirror the cancers of the Western world pretty directly (though it is true that it seems to me, subjectively, to be a concentration of sexual brokenness). Any visit to the southern portions of the United States might reveal that godlessness comes in a veritable Baskin Robbins of flavors. The flavor here tends to be militant skepticism, which is another way of saying that it is mostly economically privileged, white, and ex-evangelical. Portland has the distinction (in my mind, anyway) of being the most misogynistic and racist of self-identified “progressive" cities. But the food is good. In any case, just like corporations aren’t really people, neither do cities have any of these qualities as much as individual people do, so I try to reserve judgment until I get to know the person sitting across from me! I should also say that most people I’ve met, whether here in Portland or in Idaho, aren’t anti-God as much as they are anti-church, anti-Christian, and generally anti-jerk. Their souls are exhausted from the constant third-person self-evaluation, grieved by the burdens of betrayal, disappointment, and loss in their own stories, hopeful for the possibility of human compassion and relentless in their hunt for corners of joy in the fabric of pain which cover their world. And all of that is another way of saying that they are hungry for God, because they are hungry for genuine peace and transcendent love. And if they are skeptical, the problem is usually that they aren’t skeptical enough of the alternatives which so readily present themselves.