Monthly Archives: November 2017

Fragment #5 – Christianity is A Socially Located Religion

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #5.

To put in plainly, it is *harder* to be a Christian when you are white, middle class, American, straight, etc. etc. then it is when you are almost anything else. And, for the very same reason, it is easier to be a respectable member of our society when you are white, middle Class, American, straight, etc. etc. than anything else.

Why is this the case? Because there is almost nothing within a white, middle class, American background that will give you the tools to unlock Jesus’ call. Follow Jesus when you come from privilege means a lot of hard, difficult work; and since most of our white, middle class churches are structured in a way so as to prevent people from having to do the hard, difficult work, it never gets done; and Jesus’ words of life get turned into words of death.

Blog Fragment #4 – Things That Aren’t Good But We’re Good At

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #4.

That’s the thing about Egypt, we know that it’s worse, but we also know it. Sometimes, it seems easier to turn and head back for the way things used to be, then spend another day wandering the trackless arid wastes, waiting for an as-yet hypothetical Promised Land….

The Promised Land is threatening. We often do not want to grow, because growth exposes us. Our old ways may be bad ways, but at least we are competent in them. We always start as toddling beginners when we learn a new way to be human, we always make mistakes, we will always have our fundamental incompetence exposed when we start over, yet again.

So often, we cannot find people who will hold our vulnerability with us, who will honor and cultivate our deepest meant, yet still-uncompleted intentions, and, every time we look to turn back to the Things that Aren’t Good But We’re Good At, to remind us to keep turning, one more step at a time, back into the wilderness.

Blog Fragment #3: Learning the Skill of Suffering

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily, edited very lightly for clarity and grammar. Here’s post #3.

I could go into the list, but I think it might be more important to ask: why, if we have it better than we have at any point we ever have, (at least in this country), do we think the exact opposite?

The answer is really quite simple. For the first time in human history, we are immediately aware of all the suffering of the world in real-time.

At the same time, we have lost the communal and spiritual skills to process it well. We think that suffering (for ourselves or for others) means that something has gone wrong in the Way Life Should Be. A minor tragedy, (say, an appliance that breaks at an inconvenient moment or a latte gone terribly wrong at Starbucks), creates a sense of injustice and general hand-wringing. A major tragedy: the untimely death of a family member, an act of cruel and senseless violence in our community, a horrid natural disaster, goes so far beyond our capacity that we almost always run away, start fighting, or just check out.

When I was working as an on-call chaplain at a funeral home in Haverhill, I met hundreds of people in the aftermath of losing their loved ones. For many, it was clear that they were honestly facing death for the first time and simply had no resources to do so well, beyond a few bromides they had heard on television, and a conviction that they had to keep it all together. I spent most of my time trying to listen them into more honest grieving, but oftentimes, ended up with short, socially awkward times of remembrance, where every person was a saint, heaven always got a new angel, and it was somehow all in God’s plan.

Blog Fragment #2: The Ways Progressive Protestants Keep God at Arm’s Length

 

Nanowrimo is not happening for me this year, but I’m trying to write everyday in November. I’ll be posting fragments of what I write here daily. Here’s post #2

There are a thousand ways that people of my particular religious tribe (progressive mainline Protestants) have found to keep God at safe’s arms distance, especially in worship.

1) The almost exclusive use of communal language when singing or doing liturgy.

Often, communal language experientially includes everyone except the person singing it. In other words, yes, I know that God loves us, but do you that God loves you?

2) Fixation on always using theologically correct terms for God.

Yes, it is important for us to de-centralize exclusively masculine language for God. However, this over-fixation leads us to treating God as a term to be correctly defined, rather than a being to have a relationship with . (That first line in the Lord’s Prayer? It’s not really “Our Father”, it’s our “Abba” or our “Daddy”. All relational language is particularized.)

3) Publicly Praying for Everyone But Oneself

Prayer begins with our personal encounter, face to face with God, one that we are frequently afraid of naming publicly (or privately.) Prayer times can devolve into a laundry list of prayers for others or places in the world that need God’s help; because asking God for strength to personally get through a week, or to help us forgive someone we don’t like, or to help us overcome a particular personal failing requires far more vulnerability that we’re comfortable with.

4) A maniacal focus on theological and thematical correctness over embodied experience in worship.

Which hymn do you pick? The one with a slightly clunky text or not-so-great melody that connects better with that *one* line from the scripture you’re reading or the one that engages people’s bodies and emotions ? The former wins out almost every time. In seminary, I remembered noting that while we often sung songs *about* God, we really sang songs to God; each hymn a theological creed rather than a love song.

Blog Fragment #1 from “A Roll of Pictures”

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For most of us idealistic dreamers, there simply will not be enough energy to carry a beautiful, God-given dream into reality, unless we can look at the people we are learning to love and  affirm their goodness completely aside from any professional ambitions that we have for them. God will not let us love our wish-dreams projected onto other people, but only the people themselves. If we use those people as a tool to further our own schemes of spiritual and professional self-making, God will burn our dreams down again and again, until we have no choice but to quit or to love.