Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cheap Peace

Image from here
So my Thanksgiving holiday sucked, another Epic Fail for the whole Trusting People and Giving Them A Second Chance thing. A man who dropped me like a hot potato with almost no explanation back in June phoned me up and asked for another chance a few weeks ago. I went up to his city to visit him, and after two seemingly lovely days, he did it AGAIN, with no explanation at all except some lame made-up excuses, when I was completely dependent upon him for transportation. I will say this, though... Classy Cab of Pittsburgh really is as classy as the name says, and did a fantastic job of helping me out on short notice on a busy Friday night. I highly recommend them.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that someone has utterly flaked on me when I was giving them another chance. This has had me confused. It's perfectly normal for someone to spend time with me or with anyone else and decide that this person is not for them. What's not normal is for them to ask for a second round, or for me (or anyone else) to be so utterly crap at sensing whether a person is a Douchebag Royale, as this young man has proved himself to be. Twice.

I think the problem is that I, like many people, have a hard time telling at first whether a person is an open-minded peacemaker who seeks to love people as Christ did or simply a shallow, selfish person who doesn't like any form of conflict. I know a lot of Christians who are quick to assume the latter upon meeting someone who seems to be "open-minded", and it does tend to protect them, although it also blocks them from getting to know some pretty amazing people. I tend to assume the former, and I do know a lot of amazing people as a result, but I have also been pretty thoroughly emotionally beaten up when I was wrong.

The thing is, peace is never ever EVER cheap or easy. I want to believe the best about people, but that doesn't mean I don't still believe that human nature is fallen and tends towards selfishness. Even if you don't believe as I do, you have to acknowledge that people have different needs and competing interests. If you want to get along in this world and have meaningful relationships with anyone other than your pets, you HAVE to be willing to fight for peace... to get down in the dirt with your friends, co-workers, and family members, name where your conflicts lie, and decide --together-- how it's going to play out. Sometimes, you have to stalk around angrily for days and hash things out in your own head, then go ask for forgiveness. Or for an apology. I know that folks have different conflict styles, but regardless of how you approach conflict, you still have to APPROACH it, engage it, wrestle with it, rather than simply backing away. People are messy. Relationships are hard. But that's just how it is and it's totally, totally worth it.

It may be willful ignorance/innocence on my part to be routinely blown away by the fact that many people just sleepwalk through their relationships, cut off ties anytime things get rough or someone tries to get deeper, and blame every single failing on someone other than themselves. I know that I do this sometimes, too, but I also get my butt kicked by God when I do. The best friendships that I have are ones that went silent or ugly at some point, and where we've eventually thrown down and been honest about things or at least clumsily navigated through the choppy waters. I guess the important point is that it is God kicking my butt in these situations, refusing to let me be completely dishonest with myself, and that people not living with the Holy Spirit in their lives don't have that impetus towards painful honesty about their own failings and those of others. The Holy Spirit pushes us towards life as God would have us live it. I always have so far to go and mess up a lot, but I can honestly say that I'm grateful that God forces me to be real about things, and that He pushes me into conflict when that's what's necessary to save a relationship that's important to me.

Don't get me wrong... if you know me, you know straight up that I am not constantly challenging people. I generally keep it pretty light and try to enjoy being with folk... but because I really, truly care about my friends, I will also be blunt if I feel it's necessary, and if you're my friend, I will respect you if you're blunt with me when necessary, too... even though I may go off and sulk a few days before I thank you for it.

The bottom line: I believe that peace is never cheap, not on any level, but definitely not on a relational one. Being shallow and refusing to engage deeply with people isn't peace. It's just being a bit dead and selfish. God help all of us who have problems with this to be better at discerning who is shallow and who is truly a peacemaker so we don't keep getting the crap knocked out of us when we have our trust violated.

That is all.

Didache this.

I'm lifting the text of this post from fellow blogger Mike Todd, who lifted it directly from the Paraclete Press website.

Next week I'll be participating in a blog book tour hosted by Paraclete Press. Here's what they have to say, and the schedule:

The Didache, an early handbook of an anonymous Christian community, "is the most important book you never read." It spells out a way of life for Jesus-followers, including how to show one another the love of God, how to practice the Eucharist, and how to take in wandering prophets.

Likely written before many of the New Testament books, this little-known text can enlighten the way that Christians are church today.

Tony Jones new book, The Teaching of the Twelve, unpacks this ancient document with insight and perspective, and traces the life of a small house church in Missouri that is trying to live according to its precepts.

Included in the book is a new, contemporary English translation of the Didache.

Join us on a blog tour of Tony Jones new book, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community beginning the first Monday of Advent, November 30:

November 30: An introduction with Tony Jones

December 1: Chapter 1 - The Most Important Book You've Never Heard of - with Adam Walker Cleaveland at pomomusings and Thomas Turner at everydayliturgy

December 2: Chapter 3 - The Didache Community - Then and Now - with Ted Gossard at Jesus Community and Amy Moffitt at Without a Map

December 3: Chapter 4 - There Are Two Ways - with Tripp Fuller at homebrewedchristianity and with Holly Rankin-Zaher at happydaydeadfish

December 4: Chapter 5 - Sex, Money, and Other Means of Getting Along - with Chris Monroe at Paradoxology and Mike Todd at Waving or Drowning?

December 5: Chapter 6 - Living Together In Community - with Brother Maynard at Subversiveinfluence and Mike King

December 6: Chapter 7 - The End is Nigh - with Greg Arthur at and Mike Stavlund at Awakening

December 7: Epilogue - with Luke C. Miller and Carl McColman at The Website of Unknowing

December 8: Special Question - Is this text - The Didache - really so important? Why? Do we know that it was important to the earliest communities of Christians? with Jonathan Brink at Missio Dei

December 9: Special Question - Does the Didache teach or advise anything that substantively differs from what was decided at the earliest ecumenical church councils (such as Nicaea) with Dwight Friesen

December 10: Special Question - Why is the Didache relevant, in particular today? Is it more relevant today than it was, say 100 years ago? Why? with Bob Hyatt

Starting Dec. 1st purchase 3+ copies of this book at a 40% discount. This special offer ends on December 11th, with the close of the blog tour!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Your Racism Is Your Responsibility

So, after a couple of weeks of blog posts, emails and conference calls, Zondervan has made the decision to pull Deadly Viper Character Assassins out of stores and take down the website. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can find the announcement on Dr. Soong-Chan Rah's website here and if you keep going back through the posts you'll get a good feel for the whole story. The comments sections have plenty of representation from both sides of the debate.

Some people are applauding this, but a lot of other people are decrying this as a tragedy as folks will not be benefitting from the content of the books and the site. They see the objections from those on the other side of the fence as much ado about nothing and a victory for political correctness.

And this is what I have to say to those people: You are racists.

And so am I.

And so is everybody.

Which excuses absolutely NONE of us from the responsibility to work against it and to repent when we see our racism hurting others.

I remember very well the feelings of rage I had when I entered a mostly African-American high school and realized that I was regularly being judged by the color of my skin. Why, I LOVED black people!! I cried tears of remorse and anger every time I heard stories of slavery, and I did love me some blues. More specifically, I didn't hold anger at any particular black person based on the color of their skin. Why would *anyone* have a problem with me??

Obviously, I didn't get it.

The truth is, I was blind. I'd been raised to lock my car door when I entered the predominately black sections of town. My shoulders clenched when I had to pass a black man on the sidewalk and I involuntarily held my purse closer to me. I stared openly when I saw someone who appeared Asian, since we just didn't have that many Asians in my city. I waited for them to say something in their funny language so I could remark at how *interesting* it was and giggle at the "unnatural" tonality of their voices. And Mexicans? I kept my distance. God only knows what they might do.

My white privilege blinded me to a racism that was in the very marrow of my bones and ran in my blood. It took being the minority, and being enraged that ANYONE could label me a racist when *clearly* I wasn't, to begin to recognize what was achingly obvious to anyone around me who didn't identify as white. It started me down what has become a long and sometimes extremely painful path of identifying my privilege and my assumptions, and how they killed possible beautiful relationships with folks around me... and I have a long, long way to go. I expect I'll be working through this for my entire life.

The rage that folks are feeling right now about Zondervan's decision to pull Deadly Viper is a GOOD THING. If people will get good and pissed and wrestle with what they're feeling and talk and think and process their attitudes towards the topic of race and towards those of other races, good things will result. If they do these in an attitude of prayer and a desire to really understand one another, EVEN BETTER. The Spirit will get right in the middle of that and life will come out of it.

The action Zondervan took is a VERY good thing. I don't know that they or the authors of Deadly Viper totally "get it" even now, but they repented of the wounds they caused or reopened through how their book and website were packaged, regardless of whether they totally got it or not. THAT, folks, is leadership... to repent when you've wronged someone and take action towards reconciliation, even if you still don't quite understand what you did... to say "my relationship with you is important enough to me that I will repent and work to repair it no matter what"? That takes serious courage and moral strength. THIS is leadership lived out, and it is a beautiful, difficult, complicated thing.

Your racism is *your* responsibility, as mine is *my* responsibility. If you're white, chances are you can choose to ignore the subject. Most other folks don't have that option. My challenge to all that are really pissed off about this is to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves how they'd feel if that face looking back at them had a different color, eyes of a different shape, hair a different color and texture. What would the world look like through those eyes? Then ask what you really, really, in your heart of hearts think of those of another race. and repent. because I promise you that we ALL need to repent for this on some level.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"The Future of Faith" by Harvey Cox

This post is so overdue, and it's because I don't want to write it.

That's not because I didn't like this book. On the contrary, I found it fascinating, stimulating, and as much fun as I've ever had reading such a scholarly book. Cox has that rare and beautiful gift of being both a master of his subject and a graceful and engaging writer. I even once intentionally rode my bus past the stop where I normally get off because I couldn't bear to put the book down. I pretty much never, ever do that for any book, and *definitely* not for a book on the history of the church.

It's also not because I disagree with his central arguments or have an issue with how he argued them. I don't. I'm not qualified to make statements on the scholarship that he refers to, but I do feel that he supports his propositions well without getting deeply bogged down in minutae. However, I wanted more citations, more support, because I was sometimes troubled by what he was proposing... but I did not disagree with him. I wrote "aaargh" in the margins of this book more than once, but not at outrage over a poorly constructed argument or an outrageous claim. It was because what he was saying and describing hurt... it cut close to home more than once.

Here's one of the money quotes from the beginning of the book:

"Now we stand on the threshold of a new chapter in the Christian story. Despite dire forecasts of its decline, Christianity is growing faster than it ever has before, but mainly outside the West and in movements that accent spiritual experience, discipleship, and hope; pay scant attention to creeds, and flourish without hierarchies. We are now witnessing the beginning of a 'post-Constaninian era.' Christians on five continents are shaking off the residues of [Christian history since Constantine], and negotiating a bumpy transition into a fresh era for which a name has not yet been coined. I would like to suggest we call it the 'Age of the Spirit.' "p. 8

This is more or less the book's thesis, and Cox spends the book arguing this point, picking up a lot of other related issues along the way. But he reframes the argument a couple of times, and this is where my heart gets broken. Two more money quotes and then I'll get on to my point:

"Recent discoveries about the first three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus... help clarify how Christianity deteriorated from a movement generated by faith and hope into a religious empire demarcated by prescribed doctrines and ruled by a priestly elite. They trace how a loose network of local congregations, with varied forms of leadership, congealed into a rigid class structure with a privileged clerical caste at the top ruling over an increasingly disenfranchised laity on the bottom. They help explain why women, who played such a vital leadership role in the earliest days, were pushed to the underside and the edges. These discoveries sugggest that Christianity was not fated to develop as it did, that what happened was not simply a natural process like a tiny acorn growing into a mighty oak. A different historical trajectory was possible, and this has significant implications for the future. In short, Christianity now has a second chance." p. 55

"The parody of Christianity that took shape in the fourth century was not only a radical subversion of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, albeit carried out in their name. It also resulted in an equally radical subversion of the original meaning of the word 'faith.' Students of the history of language know that changing contexts alter the meaning of words, and this is what happened to the word 'faith'. Along with the 'imperialization' of the church and the glorification of the bishops, now 'faith' came to mean obeying the bishop and assenting to what he taught. Faith had been coarsened into belief, and this distortion has hobbled Christianity ever since." p. 98

So, here's what I have to say about that, and about this book in general.

I agree with Dr. Cox, and I have sought out churches and people who do not place their faith in the institutions of the church but in the living God and in Christ. I share the outrage at how the structures of the institutional church choked the life out of the faith in many ways (and still do), and particularly at how those structures subjugated women and minorities for centuries. I see how deadly some of these doctrines are, how little support they have from scripture, really. Speaking of scripture (Cox also addresses errors in how the scriptures are used by the church), I know first hand what it is to idolize the scriptures, to treat them as a sort of "paper pope", without wanting to know where they came from or what political machinations were involved in selecting what came to be considered canon and what was not. I still wrestle with this, even now.

But I am also an ex-Catholic, and I experienced such profound beauty while engaged in that expression of faith, the Spirit blooming brightly away from the power structures like a flower from a cracked sidewalk. The same is true of my practice of faith in childhood and adolescence, where the teachings of the Reformed tradition were something I both loved and hated, was blessed by and also resisted, for the overall betterment of my spiritual life as I was trained to critically think about scripture and to struggle with truth. I believe that for every congregation that seeks to bring the faith "forward", there are at least two others digging their heels in the ground and calling for a return to "tradition" (although they are generally being very selective about what they consider "tradition" and what they do not).

I am a proud member of the emergent church movement, and I love it dearly, but I see it as one movement among many... necessary to make sure that the Kingdom is brought into existence among the people involved with and touched by it and to bring attention to issues that other Christian denominations may choose to ignore... but not the answer to all of Christianity's woes. It is a basic feature of human social organization that we form ingroups and outgroups, that we exalt some and demonize others. I try to push against this in my own heart... it's a core belief of mine that to be a Christian is to try to pull it all together, to try to see everyone with as much compassion as you can muster while still defending the weak and helpless. But I don't expect that everyone will think the way I do. I know that for so very many people, their expression of Christianity is one side in a battle to the death. I don't agree with this or like it, but I don't expect it to change.

For someone who represents the way forward for the faith to say that the institutional church is a parody and a corruption of Christianity breaks my heart, because it draws that dividing line between "us" and "them" and has the effect of setting up a parallel set of rules and standards that a person must abide by in order to be respected as a person of faith. For many people, the insititutional church *is* their expression of faith. I want very much for them not to believe that, and I also fear that they do not truly have faith in or truly seek after God. But who am I to dismiss their striving? Who am I to say outright that their reliance on the structures of a vast institutional church or any of the rites and rituals they engage in are a parody of the faith Christ intended? Why can't I believe that there is a place for them, too, in the Kingdom of God, even if they will not extend me the same generosity?

I'm sure that Dr. Cox is committed to reconciliation and peacemaking... I think in some ways that he's indirectly advocating for practices of faith that have this at their center, and against those who do not. However, he does it in a way that would make reconciliation and peacemaking extremely difficult for many practioners of the Christian faith.

All of that being said, I would strongly urge you to read the book for yourself and have your own reaction. It may be that taking a side is what is required in order to move the Christian faith into God's intended future. I'm not really there yet. I still want us to find ways to connect among ourselves under our shared commitment to Christ.