Mississippi pastor gives unique view in Unplugged

11/16/2005

By Julie Whitehead

Madison County Herald

 

The Rev. Bert Gary admits that his new book, Jesus Unplugged: Provocative, Raw and Fully Exposed, was a difficult one to write — even though he completed the bulk of the manuscript in a four-week period while serving as a pastor in Flora.

 

“I’d look up at the clock and it would be 4 in the morning,” Gary said of his late-night writing sessions as pastor of the Flora/Bentonia charge in 1999. He pays homage to the struggle to write the book in his introduction when he writes, “If reading this book turns out to be anything like the experience of writing it, it might even be disturbing.”

 

What is so disturbing about the Jesus Christ depicted in Gary’s book, based on incidents taken out of the four Gospels of the Bible? According the Rev. Cary Stockett, senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, readers may be surprised to find out how confrontational and in-your-face Jesus’ ministry and message really was.

 

“People, especially here in the South in the Bible Belt, need to be constantly confronted with the fact that Jesus wasn’t just a really nice guy and a good American,” Stockett said.

It’s a tendency among modern believers that Gary, pastor at Marvin United Methodist Church in Florence, thinks causes some to reduce the teachings of Christianity to a set of rules governing our public behavior.

 

Gary says too many Christians ignore the Bible verse that he uses as an epigraph in Chapter Two: “Beware when all speak well of you,” taken from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. “Sometimes you wonder if people really want to meet the whole Jesus or if they only want to see the nice-guy Jesus,” Gary said.

 

The book recounts incidents from Jesus’ life that run counter to the popular image of a long-suffering, meek Messiah, Stockett said. He compared Jesus’ rhetorical style in these stories to “pulling the pin on a hand grenade and throwing it into your foxhole.”

 

Gary noted that the idea for the book came out of his own experiences as a young pastor being challenged on many fronts while leading his churches — “being attacked and not knowing what to do about it,” as Gary put it. “Then I realized that Jesus has been saying that all along.”

 

Gary’s career as a writer, pastor and lecturer spans 20 years, many spent teaching in Israel between 1994 and 2001.

 

For 11 years, Gary directed and taught in two United Methodist graduate programs for local pastors for the Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration as well as the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, his own alma mater.

 

Gary came to Rankin County this summer after several years serving as pastor of Flora UMC and Bentonia UMC. He currently lives in Florence with his wife, Kathy, and his three children ages 14, 17 and 20, but still owns a home in Flora.

 

The book took a winding road to publication after Gary finished it in 1999. He tried conventional means of finding a publisher, including researching publishers in Writer’s Market and going online to make electronic submissions.

 

One of those electronic submissions, to a writing contest sponsored by FaithWalk Publishing of Grand Haven, Mich., bore fruit in January 2005 when they contacted him to tell him his entry was among their top six finalists. “The prize for this contest was publication, and I won,” Gary said.

 

Osman Grice, store supervisor for Cokesbury Bookstore in Ridgeland, said the store has copies.

  

The reference is not accidental. Music is one among Gary’s many interests and in his acknowledgements, he lists Frank Zappa and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart along with Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare and John Wesley as among those inspiring him in his life. “They all lived life fully, and they were deeply intelligent,” said Gary.

 

He noted he found particular inspiration in theologian John Wesley, who lived to be almost 90. “He was a late bloomer — he didn’t do his most creative work until he was 40 or 45,” Gary said.

 

The book’s ultimate purpose is to redirect people’s attention to the truth of the Gospels and making sure Christians understand how radical Jesus’ approach to ministry still is today. “The truth about Jesus is very important to me as a pastor and a Christian,” Gary said. “I want people to know the truth.”

 

This story appeared in the Nov. 5 edition of the “Madison County Herald” and is used with permission.