Monday, February 02, 2015

Small Sips Knows Who It Wants to Take It Home

Yes. This. So much this. All of this. I'm still sorting through my thoughts on some things related to Emergent before I post them. My colleague Emily Heath has some good words to share in reclaiming the term "progressive Christian," and remembering that it's actually different from "Emergent Christian:"
But here’s the challenge; in the very recent past the term “progressive Christian” has come to be conflated with “emergent Christian” and “post-evangelical Christian”. And I’m not saying that you can’t be one of those things and also be a progressive Christian. This is a big tent movement, and you can. But I am saying that it’s not right to co-opt a term that has been used for several generations to define a theological movement for your own benefit. And it’s especially not right to do it when you are not familiar with, or not willing to honor, the values that progressive Christianity has been trying to model for the larger church for years. 
My elders in the progressive Christian movement, some of whom are now dead and cannot speak for themselves, deserve more than to have their legacies misrepresented by those who never knew them. And those of us who came of age in the progressive movement over the last few decades are now being called on to bear witness to the history and values of this tradition, and to help to articulate a vision for the future for the movement. 
As I continue to consider the history and present of the Emergent movement, I am right where Emily is. Emergent is a movement of post-evangelicals that at times have misrepresented themselves as "discovering" stuff like social justice and Biblical criticism, and at other times seem to be the same old evangelicalism in a Ramones t-shirt. And as she points out, progressive Christianity has been around for quite some time and has been on the cutting edge in the face of real cost long before some disillusioned evangelicals jumped on board.

But I have more to say about that later. If I can get the words right.

Some good pre-Lent reading. Lodro Rinzler gives some advice on meditation:
If you are beginning a meditation practice, you will, at some point, hit the wall where you want to quit. People don't stop meditating because they start to change for the better. They stop meditating because they don't see rapid enough change. We're so used to instant gratification in America. Meditation is not that. 
Meditation is a gradual shift. You have to put in the work of sitting on your butt on a daily basis, coming back to the breath over and over again, and only then do you start to see subtle results. You might notice that you were less reactive when that jerk at work was showing off. Or you were more present with your partner over dinner. Or you were more patient with that person in front of you in line at the supermarket. It's those moments when you say, "Ah ha! I might be kinder/more present/more patient because of this thing I'm doing."
With the season of Lent coming up this month, the points that Rinzler makes are important. Meditation and other spiritual practices are not quick self-improvement schemes. They are neither fast-acting, nor might they produce the exact results you want. But if you enter into them with an open mind and spirit; if you truly give yourself to the practice, my experience is that you'll be pleasantly surprised by what can happen and how you will be changed.

No, really, this is okay. David Hayward, aka the Nakedpastor, shares his thoughts on Marcus Borg's "willful ignorance:"
So when I say “willful ignorance”, I mean his willingness to admit he didn’t know. His willingness to embrace mystery. What I’ve learned is that this is not a cop out. In fact, I claim that insisting it is so or it is not so may actually be the cop out, the unwillingness to enter darkness, to not know, to embrace mystery. 
In any profession, it takes courage to say I don’t know. But especially in today’s theological climate of certainty, it’s very risky to do so.
I'm taken back to a book study that I led on Borg's The Heart of Christianity, where a few people were adamantly opposed to his embrace of mystery and his consideration that we could learn from other religions. The felt need to be right, to know for sure, and to view one's own tradition as gatekeeper of truth is strong and widespread among many Christians.

For my own part, I find as much release in admitting what I don't know as others do anxiety.

The Son in the Mummy. That was awful. I'm sorry. Scholars think they might have found the oldest copy of the Gospel of Mark inside a mummy mask:
A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published. 
At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200). 
This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.
I don't have much to add. I just thought it was cool.

Hey. I like some of these. Stephen Aldridge gives us a handy guide to Christian code words:
Congratulations on getting saved! Now that you’re a Christian, there are a few things you really should know. First, you must listen to the songs “Secret Ambition” and “Jesus Freak”. These two songs will come up a lot in conversations, and have the potential to make you a lot of friends. Familiarize yourself with them. Be ready to lip sync to them on demand.  
Second, get used to drinking awful coffee. Since the very first meetings in Jerusalem, Christians have insisted on drinking coffee that tastes like scalding hot paint thinner. It is one of the trials and tribulations we must endure.  
Finally, learn the Christian code words. What you may not have realized is we have our own special code language. If you’re going to communicate with other Christians, you need to memorize our code words and their definitions. What exactly are these code words? I’m glad you asked. What follows is a guide to understanding Christian-speak. Think of this as the Rosetta of the Christian world.
What follows is a light-hearted look at words like "story" and "echo," as well as Moleskine notebooks (I resemble that remark). I confess that I use a couple, though thankfully not many.

The larger point, I think, is that when people of faith bog themselves down in code words and insider language, they lose effectiveness in communicating with the rest of the world. Exhibit A: 98% of all church sign messages. My denomination is spectacular at coming up with new phrases that are light on explanation.

And the word "authenticity" has been forever ruined by Christians. There, I said it.

Now that alcohol line seems awkward. Do you remember the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic, and how we all thought it obviously was about being kicked out of a bar? Well, it's not:
My sister was at college, so wasn’t able to visit us in the hospital. Nevertheless, she gave us a wonderful gift: The next morning, I received an email with a link to a special performance by Dan Wilson of the band Semisonic.  
 If you’re around my and my husband’s age (we’re both 32), you’ll likely remember the song “Closing Time.” The song came out when I was a self-centered, doe-eyed teenager, so of course I didn’t glean its true meaning when it was released in 1998.  
My husband and I clicked the YouTube link from my sister, with our tiny newborn daughter in the bassinet next to the hospital bed, and watched in amazement. By the end, my hormones and emotions got the best of me, and I was dabbing my eyes.  
Dan Wilson explains, “I hid my junior song in plain view….” If you’re a biological parent, think back to having your first child as you watch this. If you’re short on time, start listening at 3:44.
And here's the aforementioned video:

So, how about that? I'll never hear the song the same way again. Which, I guess, is the point.

And then this happens. Gordon Atkinson writes about his experience after giving up the Christian code words mentioned above:
I have wandered in and out of churches, hoping to connect to something I once had but now can barely remember. I am like a man who returns home after a journey to the far country and finds that he doesn’t recognize his mother and father. The conversations around the dinner table with his siblings sound oddly familiar but make no sense to him. After a time he gets up and slips out the door. No one notices. He goes to the porch and looks at the sky, seeking something familiar and comforting in the ancient stars. 
Maybe this is the dark night of the soul that Saint John of the Cross wrote about. Maybe it is penance for all the years I tossed church words out into the congregation on Sundays as if they were free. As if that sort of thing doesn’t cost you. As if one day a pound of my soul would not be required of me. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the people outside of the church walls and am now cursed to walk in the twilight with them. Or maybe this is simply the collapse of my spiritual worldview, a good old fashioned loss of faith. Another soul that used to be at rest in Christ and now cannot fathom what that even means.
I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I wasn't in ministry. I wonder about how my vocabulary would change, how I'd spend my free time, what I'd think about in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. I suspect it'd be something like what Gordon is going through, although I'd also look forward to building something else in its place, which is slowly happening to him as well.

I've no intention of leaving my vocation. But posts like this remind me of the constructed reality in which I live, as well as my need to transcend it in order to relate to others. And sometimes to myself, too.

Misc. Jan Edmiston makes the case for accountability in the church. This seems quite timely. PeaceBang tells you why you should be on Twitter, which I echo completely. See what I did there? Caleb Wilde with some common funeral myths.