In Which This is for the Ones Leaving Evangelicalism

Photo of abandoned Lutheran church taken by Darren Leno: https://flic.kr/p/4s25cG

Photo of abandoned Arena Lutheran Church, located in the ghost town of Arena, ND. By Darren Leno: https://flic.kr/p/4s25cG

I’ve been reading a lot online regarding the recent kerfuffle with World Vision changing it’s hiring policy; Sarah Bessey wrote the best piece out of all of them. It’s not even about World Vision, really, as much as it’s about the future of the Living Church and the pruning of our institutional churches:

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Read the rest of her piece at her blog.

Christ’s Place Indeed is with the Poets

Oscar_Wilde

“Christ’s place indeed is with the poets. His whole conception of Humanity sprang right out of the imagination and can only be realised by it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to Him. He was the first to conceive the divided races as a unity. Before his time there had been gods and men, and, feeling through the mysticism of sympathy that in himself each had been made incarnate, he calls himself the Son of the one or the Son of the other, according to his mood. More than any one else in history he wakes in us that temper of wonder to which romance always appeals. There is still something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered: the sins of Nero, of Caesar Borgia, of Alexander VI., and of him who was Emperor of Rome and Priest of the Sun: the sufferings of those whose names are legion and whose dwelling is among the tombs: oppressed nationalities, factory children, thieves, people in prison, outcasts, those who are dumb under oppression and whose silence is heard only of God; and not merely imagining this but actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come in contact with his personality, even though they may neither bow to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their sorrow revealed to them,” – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.

Christ as God’s Unanswerable Argument

Jesus icon

“[Y]ou can’t use reason to argue someone out of a position he didn’t get into by reason. Precisely because it is, at rock bottom, a visceral feeling rather than a rational position, antigay hostility both inside and outside the Christian church can not be overcome simply by appeal to history, theology, or logic.

There are, on the other hand, ways to communicate and enlighten not dependent on mere information that can overcome deeply embedded prejudices better than argument. A life can be an argument; being can be a reason. An idea can be embodied in a person, and in human form it may break down barriers and soften hardness of heart that words could not.

This is, at least in part, what John the Evangelist means when he refers to Christ aslogos. Although translators often render it as ‘word,’ it is much more than that. It is Greek for ‘reason’ and ‘argument’: our word for ‘logic’ comes from it. Christ was God’s unanswerable ‘argument.’ His people had hardened their hearts against his spoken reasons, the arguments propounded – in words – for centuries by prophets and sages. So he sent an argument in the form of a human being, a life, a person. The argument became flesh and blood: so real that no one could refute or ignore it,” – John Boswell, “Logos and Biography,” in Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings.

Roman Britain!

REH_Fence_Photo

“Some senses of connection with past ages seem so unerring, so strong and so instinctive that I sometimes wonder if there is a bit of truth in the theory of reincarnation. Perhaps you were an armored Roman centurion and I was a skin-clad Goth in the long ago, and perhaps we split each others’ skulls on some dim battle-field!

“Roman Britain! There is a magic charm to the phrase–the very repeating of which brings up in my mind vague images, tantalizing, alluring and beautiful. White roads, marble palaces amid leafy groves, armor gleaming among the great trees… strange-eyed women whose rippling golden hair falls to their waists–though it is always as an alien that I visualize these things …and gaze, half in awe and half in desire, at the white-armed women whose feet have never known the rasp of the heather, whose soft hands have never known the labor of fire-making and the cooking of meat over the open flame.”

[Robert E. Howard letter to H.P. Lovecraft, December 9, 1931]

On Revolution

In Tahrir sq., February 6, 2011 [Mohammad A. Hamama]

In Tahrir sq., February 6, 2011 [Mohammad A. Hamama]

In the present world situation the necessity for a profound change, for a radical transformation of our present civilization, is realized by everyone; people call this change “revolution.” On the other hand, people live in such an atmosphere of constant movement, in such a whirlpool of ideas, of social forms, of events, and in so much uncertainty, that they are very fond of saying that the world of the present day is “revolutionary.” Finally, so much seems to be going on: so many new solutions are proposed, and there are so many revolutionary parties, that people are persuaded that there never was a time when there were so many “revolutionaries”! Thus, realizing that “revolution” is necessary, they are convinced that it is already here. Since these impressions are widespread, it behooves us to examine our present situation more closely than ever before.It is scarcely necessary to insist on the fact that revolution is needed. Our western civilization has gained control of the whole world from the mechanical and rational point of view, but this has led to a fatal impasse. Disaster, in every possible form, has flooded the world to an extent never known before.Totalitarian wars, dictatorships, famines administratively organized, the complete moral disintegration of social institutions (such as the nation and the family) and of personal life (individual immorality), the fabulous growth of wealth, which does not help people at all, the enslavement of the greater part of humanity under the control of the State, or of individuals (capitalism), the de-personalization of man, both as a whole, and at particular points–all this is only too familiar.

Now man does not feel himself very happy in this situation. He has scarcely any security or hope left; he demands a change–and, indeed, a change is badly needed. Only the further we go, the more we perceive the inadequacy of human solutions, which all fail, one after another, and only increase the difficulties in which we are living. The further we go, and the more progress we make, the more do we confess that we are incapable of dominating and directing the world which we have made. All of us, in spite of our desire to keep hope alive, are aware that this is true. All this only increases our desire to see a true change which would put things right.

Jacques Ellul, 1967
The Presence of the Kingdom [p 21, 22]

Video Game Poses Moral Conundrums

From Game Church:

you_are_inspector_here

As the guards lead the screaming woman away, I shift uncomfortably in my seat. I was just doing my job, I assure myself. Her documents didn’t match. These are the rules. I need to get paid – my family is hungry.

“Papers, please,” I say to the next person in line outside the inspection booth. The line that never ends. “Glory to Arstotzka!” I shout over the intercom. “Entry is not guaranteed.”

A woman from Kolechia has been waiting to see her son for four months. “Curse you,” she spits as I turn her away for having an expired passport.

On the surface, Papers, Please is a concept so simple that when I describe it, people balk at how dull it sounds. You have been selected for work as a border crossing inspector by the government of the communist country of Arstotzka. Each morning you walk to work and spend the day approving entry into the country based the accuracy, completeness, and authenticity of each applicant’s customs paperwork. Political turmoil rages in the area, and each day the requirements for entry become more stringent, making your job increasingly difficult. Every moment spent investigating potential discrepancies is a moment you could be spending on the next person in line.

The game feels frustratingly like work, but is strangely compelling. Try to process as many applicants as you can each day so you earn enough money to pay your rent, heat your apartment, feed your family, and provide medicine when they are sick. (And they will become sick – the winters in Arstotzka are brutally cold.) On my first day of work, the job is straightforward. But before I know it, I’m caught in a web of intrigue, bribery, compromise, and conspiracy. As my family grows colder and sicker, and the rules for entry get more complex, my pile of citations grows, and the fines I incur grow with it.

My own mounting despair is mirrored in the faces of immigrants, workers, visitors, and diplomats that pass by my inspection window. “Please help me,” reads the note one woman leaves me as she passes through. “There is a man in line who I do not trust. He has promised my sister and I good work, but I am afraid he will make us work in the brothel. Do not let him pass.” When the man in question comes through the line, his papers are perfectly in order. To turn him away will result in a fine. Fortunately this is my first citation of the day – a warning only.

A woman from Kolechia has been waiting to see her son for four months. “Curse you,” she spits as I turn her away for having an expired passport.

Then there is the woman whose husband has entered the country ahead of her. “Be kind to my wife – she is right behind me,” he says as he thanks me. Problem: she is lacking a necessary entry document. “We’ll be killed if we return to Antegria!” she cries. But my son is sick and will die if I can’t afford medicine for him. I take a deep breath, then let her pass. The fine for five credits prints moments later. I remember the verbal warning I received after I had received my 25th citation. “Don’t fail me again,” the official had said.

Click here to read the rest of the article by April-Lyn Caouette.

Christian Truth in Dystopian Fiction

Last week I wrote about why Jesus told stories, and how we can use stories the same way. And once you know how God uses stories, it becomes easier to look for God in every story you read/watch/listen to.

But what does that look like? How is it possible to read stories that have nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity and find God?

Looking for God in a story means looking for truth. What truth is the author trying to teach you? What truth is God trying to teach you? Are they the same thing, or are they different?

Garret Johnson does exactly this in his essay about some of the truth he has found in reading Dystopian Fiction. Here’s the first part:

 

Dystopian fiction.

That brand of sci-fi that imagines a future world in which the powers that be—usually overzealous, overpowerful governments—have taken radical steps to ensure the well-being of society at large. Often enough, these fictive powers are well-intentioned at first, implementing their drastic measures in the name of “the greater good.” But in the process, they manage to chop the legs out from under some vital ingredient of humanity.

There are two virtues that dystopian fiction, as a rule, argues are vital and necessary for any free, humane society. These virtues also happen to be at the very core of Christian thought.

Reflection. And Humility.

As the name implies, this kind of fiction depicts societies in which priorities and values are in some way exactly upside down. It’s Sir Thomas More’s Utopiagone wrong. The attempt at achieving a utopia has resulted in some horrifying, unforeseen downside, usually stripping individual humans of certain sacred freedoms. But, to those in power, the utopian end justifies the sinister means.

Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 underscores the necessity of the first of these virtues—reflection—in a particularly interesting way. It doesn’t just show a picture of the consequence of devaluing reflection; it’s actually about the idea of devaluing it. The setting is a future American nation in which books are illegal, owning them can be punishable by death, and “firemen” exist to burn every last one of them. Other than that, the society seems to be clicking along nicely. Everyone enjoys him/herself. Everyone’s entertained, and the state makes sure to keep it that way.

More than just a novel about “censorship”—as the cover usually claims—Fahrenheit 451 is a picture of how private citizens’ lack of will to reflect, on anything, leads to censorship. And not just censorship of reading material, but a soul-crippling censorship of thought. Monolithic government-control has been achieved through the means of a thoroughly entertained populace. It’s a world where TV and sports and bite-sized snippets of inconsequential news have become the center of all culture and society. And reflection, thought, has become a pesky, bothersome thing that just gets in the way of all that. Reflection causes only sorrow, those in charge say. And so, for the good of society, books—which induce reflection far more than most things—are illegal.

Protagonist Guy Montag’s relationship with his wife exemplifies the state of affairs. She’s persuaded him to convert three entire walls of their living room into giant TV screens (which is pretty normal for this society). Now she wants a fourth TV wall, a totally immersive experience. She wears invisible “thimble radios,” or “seashells,” in her ears all day, even to bed, so if she can’t be in front of a TV she can at least have some kind of noise or chatter bombarding her mind at all times. No room for nettlesome thought, certainly not reflection. What an easy population to control, self-stripped of all volition, all freedom. Willing to go along with whatever the ruling elite think best, willing to be controlled, utterly compliant. No thinking involved.

But when Montag starts waking up to the insanity of this arrangement, and someone asks what woke him, what he says is key: “We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing.”

Be sure to check out the entire article by Garret Johnson over at Hieropraxis.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

In Matthew 11: 28-10, Jesus says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In what ways can you begin walking and working with Jesus? What does that mean to you?

What are the “unforced rhythms of grace?”

On Anarchy

“Our experience today is the strange one of empty political institutions in which no one has any confidence any more, of a system of government which functions only in the interests of a political class, and at the same time of the almost infinite growth of power, authority, and social control which makes any one of our democracies a more authoritarian mechanism than the Napoleonic state.”
 
[...]
 
“It is in these circumstances that I regard anarchy as the only serious challenge, as the only means of achieving awareness, as the first active step.
 
“When I talk of a seroius challenge, the point is that in anarchy there is no possibility of a rerouting into a reinforcement of power. This took place in Marxism. The very idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat presupposed power over the rest of society. Nor is it simply a matter of the power of the majority over the minority instead of the reverse. The real question is that of the power of some people over others. Unfortunately, as I have said, I do not think that we can truly prevent this. But we can struggle against it. We can organize on the fringe. We can denounce not merely the abuses of power, but power itself. But only anarchy says this and wants it.”