faith


The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was brought down by a series of small wind-created vibrations resonating with other small wind-created vibrations that became large undulating ribbons of tar and concrete.

Simlarly, there are small, seemingly unconnected events taking place, sometimes no more than a fleeting thought or a daydream, that are acting in harmony to disrupt my current equilibrium.

For over a year now I have not been able to fully participate in worship because I am preoccupied with critiquing the message of the songs. One of my favorite pasttimes during worship is to count how many singular pronouns occur on each slide, and then “scoring” the songs based on some sort of unrefined scale of my own creation. I’ve written before, in other venues, about my distrust for the modern, contemporary evangelical worship service, so this is nothing new.

But what is new is the focusing of my critique on my own internal condition. I tried, recently, to take stock of how many personal pronouns occur in my own ruminations and planning. The tally frightens me.

How am I going to pay my tax bill? How can we save up for our trip? What is the next step in my education? Me, myself, and I. Sometimes, we.

I am approaching a state I can only imagine Nouwen experienced (as passed on to us through his writings): a state where I feel that if I don’t begin to expend myself in the service of others, if I don’t begin pouring out my life as an offering, if I don’t get my head out of academia and philosophy, my soul is in danger of shrivelling up and dying.

So, I get Henri Nouwen. I get the need to “check out” of the rat race and get messy, and even though I know that it is what is needed, I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger, so to speak, and put this miserable man out of his misery.

Thanks be to God for the outlet of quasi-pseudonymous confession!

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A while back we discussed a review of a recent book on the need for increased Biblical Literacy in the U.S. Today, the L.A. Times published an opinion piece by that book’s author, Stephen Prothero, “We live in the land of biblical idiots“.

Though we already discussed this, I thought I’d at least share this link. Perhaps a good discussion for this post is why two major nationally distributed newspapers would even give press to a book like this. I’m sure there have been plenty of books along this same lines published. I know people are saying all the time, we need to teach religion in our schools. What about Prothero’s book makes this “news” right now?

I’m sitting here at my desk, pondering my sermon for this week, and I’m wondering, is the concept of “conversion” a completely Christian concept? What has spawn this thought? I just read an article about a small, rural church that has blossomed into a thriving church. They have started several ministries to reach out to all kinds of people. As a result of these ministries, they say, over 80 people have been “converted”. I can’t help but wonder, converted from what? From another faith, from no-faith at all, or from their own selfish ways.

I guess my problem with the concept of “conversion” as we often understand it is that it seems to go against a process understanding of salvation. It suggests that salvation occurs in this big, one-time conversion experience. But, isn’t being saved more complicated than that. At least for me, there has not been a one time conversion experience, so much as many little conversions along the way. And really, I don’t feel like I’ve left anything behind, so much as God has carried me through some things, using some crappy mistakes to develop me into the person Christ has called me to be. When someone “converts” from being a Muslim to Christian, is this a conversion or simply another step on their faith journey (And I’m not suggesting people should convert from being a Muslim).

I don’t know if I’m making sense. For a while I’ve done my best to avoid the term “converted” because of all the baggage I see it carrying. Is there a better term we can use when someone makes that step of commitment to Christ. Or, is “converted” a fine term and I’m just speaking nonsense?

This Washington Post article should be considered required reading for all theoplasts, actual and potential.

[Thanks, W, for the link.]

So said Simon. Maybe it was Garfunkel.

I think it was Simon.

Anyway, I had this thought yesterday during worship. Something in the alignment of the stars and the planets was affecting my usually cynical self, and I was not preoccupied with the negative thoughts that usually make themselves known during that hour or so of corporate worship. I felt charitable. Beneficent, even. Instead of scolding my fellow church-goers for their poor theology or miserable hymns, I merely participated and thought, “Well, they’re doing the best they can.”

And then, other thoughts (formed, in part, by a post I read on someone’s blog, to which I shall not link for I am not certain we want to broadcast this little project quite yet), came to mind.

I have written before, in other venues, about my distrust of our current “liturgy.” I have stated that I believe we are formed and shaped into people by our worship, and quite frankly, most times I don’t trust the college-aged chappie up front with his “close your eyes” and “ask Jesus into your heart” and “Jesus, you’re the greatest boyfriend, like, ever” schtick. If I wanted to be transformed into an unthinking, overly-emotional, girlfriend of Jesus, then I’d be all over that stuff. But, call me crazy, I think we should be a bit more careful with what we’re putting out there.

So, I Am A Rock.

If I, if we, imagine ourselves as rocks, the stream we place ourselves in becomes very important. We could rehash the ex opere discussion here (or wonder if something *magical* happens when we worship, whether we’re singing the latest ditty from ZOE or Stamps-Baxter or Luther himself), but I think we all agree that what happens during that time is important. Like the un-named blogger said, there are BIG events in life that shape us. These would be the chisel blows, the collisions with other rocks, the lightning bolts that turn the water that has seeped into our cracks and crevasses into steam with explosive force, shearing off big chunks of our rock-ness. These, however, are for the most part unscripted.

Liturgy, however, is the stream, the flow of water bearing sandy particles that, over time, wear down our rough edges, make us smooth, shape us. Note: the first person to talk about being a smooth stone for use in the Lord’s slingshot gets docked five points!

Now, I have never served on a worship committee, so I am not speaking from experience, but what if the first order of business every week was to decide “What sort of people do we want to form here?” and not “Do we have the proper balance of new songs and old songs?” or “Has the worship team practiced this new song enough to lead us?”

Are there any “liturgical” services at any of the congregations in our little tribe?

I was chatting recently with a friend who ministers for a moderately-sized church in a very large city.  He mentioned that he and a few other ministers were going to try to start a group that was focused on social action (our particular tribe of Christians has not had a great track record in this arena).

Q wrote recently wondering why we Christians seem to get very energized and excited about partisan politics, but barely register a pulse (it seems) when it comes to matters of faith.

One of my mentors talked about his time as a student at a Christian college during the Vietnam war and about his experience with protests and pickets and times of singing anti-war songs.

So this leads me to wonder (we do seem to be getting off to a very questioning start, don’t we?): Why don’t we protest anymore?

Surely there are things about which we are passionate enough to raise our voices, or to step away from our Lost and 24 and SportsCenter for an hour or two of marching.  Maybe it is because of issues Q raised initially, that we are more concerned with partisan issues, and are therefore more likely to show up at a Republican rally or an Obama book-signing.

Are we just not aware of the great injustices around us (doubtful), do we not trust enough in the political structures to correct the injustices (more likely), or do we just not give a damn(most likely)?

I’ve been curious about the intersection between politics and faith and was wondering why it is that we seem to be so passionate about our politics and less so about our faith?

Talking to church members about loving the poor and showing love to one another tends to evoke little interest, but merely mentioning politics dramatically increases the collective blood pressure of all involved. It doesn’t matter that when we entered a room that we were “one in Christ,” for the true marker of our worth and identity during these times seems to come down to political affiliation, a two party system that often trumps and perpetuates the dualism inherent in Western Christianity. All of the sudden people assume that they are righteous because of their political proclivities, while others, whose perspectives differ from the majority, are easily tossed into the category of bolstering the cause of “the enemy” and others who make up the so called “axis of evil.”

What we are beginning to see is a incredibly influential yet damning use of language that reduces humanity to a single concept, that of being either good or evil. The remarkably multifaceted nature of humanity as created by God, and therefore ontologically good, yet fallen and in need of redemption is instructive for our public discourse intent on reducing individuals to the lowest common denominator.

How do we get to the point of inculcating a respect for all people regardless of their political perspectives and families, countries, and religions of origin? How do we call our people back to their baptisms in a way that allows for free discourse on political issues but that ultimately yields the need to be right for the sake of Christian community? Being apolitical is not a solution, for the bulk of humanity’s problems must be addressed on a political scale.

At the same time, our ecclesiology must become more robust and reformed if we are to become anything more than a place for political conservatives and liberals to gather as they attempt to spew surface level niceties at one another when in reality they harbor deep seated resentment toward those on the other side of the political spectrum. How do we get at this dynamic in our churches and in our world?