BOOK REVIEW: Pure Scum
“Guinea Pigs for Jesus”
The Left-Out, the Right-Brained
and the Grace of God.
By: Mike Sares
Pure Scum is a book written by Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth church in Denver, CO. In this book, Sares documents the faith journey he took on his way to facilitating the creation and continuation of Scum of the Earth church. This paper will discuss several observations on the book itself, followed by a reflection on how this book will impact the philosophy and praxis of this writer’s ministry.
The first thing I noted about this book was the author’s identification of the functional values of this church as “It’s not that we’re doing church differently – we’re just doing church with different people” and “the church for the left-out and the right-brained.” I found these two statements to cause introspection on previous ministry that I had found fulfilling in reaching out and accommodating those who are different; welcoming all into church just as they are. This approach seems to be more genuine than churches in the mainstream that often have a come as you are – as long as you fit this mold feel. While they may or may not specifically strike out at others, their reactions and interactions to those not fitting “the mold” make the church inhospitable for people appearing outside of the norms for that congregation.
The second part of this book that jumped out at this writer is the section on risk and more specifically the “guinea pig” episode in Sares’ youth. During a swimming lesson, him volunteering to go swimming at the request of his instructor demonstrates the fearlessness that a disciple of Christ needs. His jumping into the “deep end” reminds me of some of my first ministry experience, jumping in, not really knowing how to swim, yet fully expecting to ‘get it.’ Another reflection is that many in the church have the reaction of the mother. The mother in the narrative is scared, and amused that someone would really just jump in when they do not know how to swim in the first place. The danger comes from feeling like you do not know how/are not equipped to swim and having to dive into the deep end of the pool. I think this serves as a reminder for ministers that we often ask people to jump in, without people feeling they know how to ‘swim.’ This, in turn, creates fear that paralyzes the church members from jumping in. Having the ‘guinea pig gene’ seems to be a requisite for being audacious and doing great things for the Kingdom. Guinea pigs for Jesus are what is required of ministers and what ministers need to instill in their congregants.
‘Being Real’ is another aspect of this book that spurred thought on my life. Being “honest with God” regardless of the emotion encourages genuineness with one towards God, and also one towards another. Repressing emotions of many kinds seem to stifle growth of the individual to God and also the individual within community. This astute observation seems to help pastors grasp the reality of people in light of God and how we are to relate to God. The Velveteen Rabbit, is a fable, illustrated in this book, that helps us realize the importance and process of becoming real: it is far from perfect and leaves us looking like something that would be quite possibly ‘unacceptable’ in the predominantly white suburban church.
Another aspect that caused thought on my part was the entire section on artists and the church. The interaction of art and the church historically has a long, and sometimes prestigious past. Sares reflects on the art and distinguishes from genuine art and art that uses foul or ‘inappropriate’ language for sensation and crassness. He argues that art and the expressions of those in the church should be encouraged and the rawness of emotion sometimes comes through in strong ways where there are strong emotions. This made me reflect back on the time where I led a young adult to Christ in Cortland College. The text of the prayer is clear, “Dear Lord, forgive me… I’m an F— up… come in my heart and save me.” This prayer was probably the most real and (perhaps most effective) one that I have ever heard. The genuineness and specificity of this person’s lost state and their recognition of their own need for redemption was clear in the context and language he spoke in. Much like the Christmas poet, the language aptly expressed the emotion and loss felt and was embraced and encouraged in the church. As a pastor, it’s important to recognize the authenticity and of the human story in its rawness can be more effective than overly sanitary, rehearsed, polished monologues.
The final reflection is on the author’s use of storge, affectionate love. Storge is the type of love where there are reciprocal relationships, and each party is looking for something from the relationship. The positive is that both can get something from the relationship, the negative is that this often descends into homeostasis. The pastoral field is filled with landmines of complacency and ‘homeostasis’ that chokes anything and everything out that pushes for radical change. In creating his new home, Sares was able to combat this complacency in creating a new community, but this Storge in community also causes strife as people are seeking personal gain. This helped me realize that even if Storge is an idealistic value, it can be as lethal as a double-edged sword. Valuing it often comes with a value on the process of discipleship in showing people what it really means to love like Christ.
There are several aspects of this book that challenged my ministry paradigm. The guinea pig illustration reminded me of my younger days in ministry at Cortland College. This charge to raise your hand and jump in helps me recall the feeling and the great things that have happened during that time in ministry. Leaving seminary, I need to rediscover that jump in and expect great things attitude to be successful in ministry. ‘Being real’ is another take-away as it reminded me that genuine living is sticky, gross, unclean, and perhaps even “unchristian” as it pertains to pop-Christianity. Engaging dialogue in pastoral care requires that I allow people to be genuine and hear through their genuine messes and reach for the pain and hurt in their lives. Enabling them to feel heard and the faith to allow Christ to work on those deep levels.
Sares’ Pure Scum is a book that has revolutionary thoughts about faith and living in community with those regardless of their status in society (Read in: James 2:3). They welcome all and are unapologetic for who they are. This book provides insights into why this model works and exhorts Christians to become ‘guinea pigs for Jesus,’ jumping into the deep end of their faith with a refreshing authenticity that embraces all without sacrificing the Gospel.
 Mike Sares, Pure Scum: The Left-Out, the Right Brained and the Grace of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010).
 Ibid. 17.
 Ibid. 43.
 Ibid. 71.
 Ibid. 75.
 Ibid. 111.
 Ibid. 128.
 Ibid. 130.