A couple random, non-cohesive thoughts on books, Jesus, Nazis, and emergent worship

books

I continue in my diabolical effort to catch up on what feels like an entire mountain range of books– those that I was assigned in seminary but only skimmed, or skipped entirely; those that came out or were recommended to me while in seminary which I purchased or noted on my Amazon wishlist for later; and those which have come out or been recommended to me in the past year of trying [only sporadicly successfully] to be a fully functioning adult. It adds up to … well, let’s just say I can’t even bring myself to put them all up on my goodreads “to-read” shelf because you’ll judge me and/or think I’m insane.

Anyhow, I’m actively working on about 10 books right now. Anne Lamott said in an interview once,

“Reading various books at once is sort of like doing an enjoyable Stations of the Cross.”

This struck me as stupidly brilliant and also indelibly true. You put one down and pick another up, entering a different stage, a different scene, in an ostensibly different journey, and after a while of reading all of them together you realize it’s all one big journey, after all… we’re all on our way, together, to Golgatha. To Resurrection. To Christ.

Hmm… what was this post supposed to be about?

Jesus and quarters and collars and priorities

Yesterday I was sitting in a line of cars waiting to be released from a hospital parking garage by an attendant who had her mind firmly set on getting her $3 from each and every person coming through that line. From far ahead, I heard her: “No credit cards. Cash or check only.” As a person with no checks (they’re in the mail, okay?) and no cash (there were some quarters in my cupholder, if push came to shove, but that was it), I was nervous.

Then this thought occurred to me: I’m wearing my clerical collar. She’ll for sure let me off. I was visiting congregants. Win for the clerical collar!

And then that sneaky Jesus sneaked in and sneakily said the sad, sneaking truth: If ever I’m in a position where I am tempted to use my clerical collar to earn me something– a free pass, respect, attention– then that is the time to instantly, without passing go or collecting so much as two quarters from my cupholders, take the collar off.

Conversely, whenever I’m tempted to take my collar off in order to earn me something– protection from mockery or questions, cool factor around friends, gratification of my laziness– then that is the time to instantly put the collar on.

It seems to me that this is the meaning behind the “go into your closet and pray” but also “if you’re embarrassed of Me then I’ma be embarrassed of you” dichotomy I’ve always noticed in the teachings of Jesus. I think if you’re tempted to pray in public (or whatever that metaphorically relates to in your life) to make a big deal out of it, get thyself into a closet. But if you’re tempted to pray in your closet because you’re embarrassed of your faith or otherwise don’t want to be seen engaging with Christ, then get thyself out into the street on your knees. It’s not a one-size-fits-all commandment regarding closets. It’s a one-truth-fits-all commandment about intentions and priorities.

Anyway. Yeah, so that was one thing I wanted to say.

and finally, nazis

Speaking of catch-up books and the “one size fits all” theory (look, I’m making connections a little bit), I’m reading a book on Naziism that was assigned to me in not one but two classes I took, one on Barth and the other on Bonhoeffer. Did I read it in either? Nope. Though I read the introduction at some point, because I underlined something. #modelstudent #IgotanAinboththoseclassesthough #mystery

The book seeks to explain how on earth an entire country could get caught up so utterly (and so rapidly) in the rampant, raging, horrific racism and violence of a party which, less than 5 years before Hitler’s rise, comprised only 6% of the voting public.

There is a quote that strikes me: an intellectual Nazi Party member, Carl Schmitt, spoke early in the Nazi rule of “what Nazi society would look like” when it came to fruition. Here’s the author’s succinct analysis of Schmitt’s vision:

“[Nazi society’s] two constituent qualities were ‘homogeneity’ and ‘authenticity.'”

The reason this struck me is that “authenticity” is a big word for emergent worship. Our service, The Hub, claims an unbelievably clever (friendly sarcasm) acronym within our own name, where the H in “hub” stands for “Honest.” Honesty, authenticity, self-knowledge and self-expression within the presence and the grace of a God who created you unique and expressive– these are central tenets to the emergence, millennial style of church. 

So Schmitt and the rest of the Nazis got it utterly and completely wrong. (This is not news to you, I hope.)

Homogeneity and authenticity are mutually exclusive concepts. Homogeneity is where authenticity goes to die. One cannot be authentic to one’s individual and unique self if one is forced into a box with everyone else.  One size fits all is a cultural illusion, whether in the ethnicity of a nation or in our worship styles or the ways we seek and find God.  Though our essence– having been made in the imago Dei– is identical, and our calling– to resemble as perfectly as possible Jesus Christ– is identical, nevertheless in all of our particulars and aesthetics and likes and dislikes and personality types this statement must be true: We were not created by factory molds. Homogeneity is nowhere in the creation plan as we have received it.
At the Hub, we seek a community wherein your truest self is welcome– even if that truest self is weird, or a bad singer, or mentally ill, or terribly broken. We seek a worship space wherein you can lift your hands if you want or you can sit quietly and journal; you can sing or you can pray; you can participate or you can let us participate for you. Whatever you need, whatever is authentic to you– because we know you’re not like us, and that’s why we love you.

so, in conclusion:

Screw the Nazis.

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Musings from a Cafe in Assisi

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

Monday, October 15th, 2012– journal entry

I am drinking latte outside a cafe in Italy. Life is too weird to be true.

Sometimes I worry that I am too overprotective of my heart, like if I’m not out in front of every emotion I’ll never survive them. So I create great surge protectors to hold everything in grounded, careful hands, so I can’t get too hurt. For example, I spent the last two months knowing I was coming to Italy, but I never allowed myself to get properly excited about it up until I was actually boarding the plane, because that way if something fell through, if I didn’t get to go, it wouldn’t hurt so badly.

The problem, of course, with this type of surge protection, is that it forbids any feelings to truly live– joy cannot dance fully, sorrow cannot lie prostrate, even fear finds scritchy hands clawing at its throat such that it cannot tremble as violently as it wishes. Caffeine, like a strike of lightning, batters my well-secured little self, but it cannot light the fire for which reason I drink it…

***

The buildings here are ancient, but not quite as ancient as they presume to be. And not as ancient as their foundations. There are places in churches and out of doors where the modern floor or street has been cut away, excavated and dissected and pared down and gnawed clean until only the great Roman bones show: the ancient walls of an ancient city with faraway, ancient cares and dreams that I wander several feet above; I cannot taste or digest their lives, their loves as I would like to. I don’t have the geographic access I would so prefer.

Anyway, back to the buildings. In some frantic afterthought, it was decided that to preserve the place it must be safeguarded against seismic activity, and so great steel cables were strung through the buildings, culminating in diagonal metal anchors protruding from every outer wall, trying not to collect rain and trying, perhaps, not to fear the seismic event for which they were created, pre-ordained, quite chosen.
What do you do while waiting around for thing for which you were chosen? Abraham laughed, and God made a covenant with him. Sarah laughed, and God frowned a mighty God-frown. Which is the path to choose- to laugh and risk the frown, or to duck your head and risk being overlooked?

***

Today we rambled to what I assume is the highest peak in Assisi by white minivans and sat in the wooded, stony stillness of an old monastery there. First we snaked and squeezed our pasta-filled tummies through doors four feet high and two feet wide, and when we came out the other side a great number of us were so disoriented by the sudden openness that we became quite lost. We turned left to go up and up, in the entirely wrong direction.

Something in me believes that, not knowing where to go, we headed for the cross: above us, atop a chapel, a cross stood level with the highest (and most wrong) trail.
Like butterflies, we scrabbled up, beckoned by some deep, ancient force of benevolence and life.
Though we were seized by confusion and lostness, we could nevertheless perceive from that vantage point the entire valley, a backdrop to the cross.

This strikes me as a good model for the Christian life: perhaps confused, even lost, but viewing all things from the vantage point of the cross.

Dr Howell says he does not know whether or not the monastery is still active, even though I asked in my most hopeful voice. Despite my cardiac surge-protector, some pain gets through to me at the thought that such a beautiful place lies empty, lifeless.

I imagine the shadows of monks blooming at sunset on the chapel walls, the depressions their knees left in the floors collecting holy water when it rains, the imprints their bodies left on the air bleeding like watercolors when the sun and wind hit them right.

***

I fear having a heart empty, deserted like that–only statues and specters populating its dusty chambers and cells. I long for the monastery to be in use so that I can believe that not all things fall into disuse and disrepair, that not all things dry up and die, that not all things lose their grasp on meaning and existence, that not all things come to ruin and attract only noisy, lost tourists like me, trying so hard to taste and see that the LORD is good, that the rain is good, that life– and life abundant– is good.

I want never to attract tourists to myself and my little heart, for any reason, good or bad.
I desire instead to be a sanctuary for pilgrims, where they can sit in the cool rain and listen to the earth hum and wail, as we did in the wooded chapel today. What I must remember, or learn, is that tourists are pilgrims… pilgrims who are reaching for the sugar and pulling down the salt. They do not always know what it is they have found, and some will insist all their days that it was only sugar.

But for those who will open their mouths and their stomachs, not just their eyes, they will find that the substance of life is theirs.

The Dinosaur vs. The Very Hairy Monkey: Worship Renewal in the Postmodern World

You know that friend you had in college who was studying something positively useless, like ancient Sumerian or Art History or something?  And you thought, what contribution are you ever going to make to the advancement of modern society?  What is the point?

Sometimes I think we have a tendency to think subconsciously about ministry that way.  Sometimes it feels like we are curators in beautiful but crumbling museums, scurrying around and doing our best to preserve the glass-encased treasures, artifacts, and masterpieces.  People come in, they behold the beauty we proudly present, and then they leave, sometimes changed and sometimes unchanged.

Mona Lisa on display at the Lourve.  Image credit: Wikipedia

People still visit the Mona Lisa and David even though they’ve not changed in the slightest in centuries.  I’m going to visit Rome in a few weeks, and I’ve been told to expect hour-long waits to view the Sistine Chapel and the Coliseum, despite the fact that they’re just the same as they were in the pictures in my elementary school textbooks.

So, too, God has not changed in all these years.  So shouldn’t people continue to come to the houses of worship to visit?  …Or is that metaphor imperfect?  Of course it is.

God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean the Church is unchanged.  God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean that we are unchanged.  God is unchanged, but that doesn’t mean the way we worship, where we worship, what time we worship, and what worship involves is unchanged.

66% of Americans believe that the traditional Church is irrelevant.
Leith Anderson says, “The Church in America is dying for lack of change.” (1)
12 million people are active, and 30 million people are interested, in alternative spiritual systems. (2)

The use of this term, “alternative,” says they want something entirely unlike what is currently being offered.  They don’t want what we have traditionally served them; they want something new and fresh, sweet on the tongue.  They are looking, searching, seeking for something else.

Obviously we need to be open to change.

(Note: We needn’t throw out the traditional model; after all, if 66% think the traditional Church is irrelevant, then 34% apparently disagree.  But as of now, the proportions are wrong:  I don’t have specific numbers for this part, but I’d venture to say that 80% or more of our worship is aimed at the 34% right now.  We have to flip that on its head.)

If 66% of people think traditional church is irrelevant, let’s give them nontraditional church.

Because we are called to give them Church.
We’re not called to protect the old traditions.  We’re not called to stand in an ostensibly crumbling building and wait to be crushed by falling stones.  We’re not called to stand in a belltower and shout at passersby about the Good News they could find if only they’d come inside. Rather, we are called to offer God to people, wherever they are, whatever they like, whomever they love, whatever they look like, whatever type of music they prefer, however they dress, and whenever they’re awake.

If young adults are sleeping til noon on Sundays and staying up until 3AM, let’s give them a midnight worship service.  If prostitutes are hanging around the bad areas of town, let’s set up shop there.  If the bars and tattoo parlors are where people are hanging out, let’s bring the Church to hang out there, as well.

Because whenever the unchurched are awake, God’s there. And wherever the unchurched are hanging out, God’s there. And whatever the unchurched are doing, God’s there.  God is not just in the church building.  When are we going to get that through our thick skulls?

We have to change because the people God wants us to reach are not going to come to us, 99% of the time.  We’re going to have to go to them.

 

But there is great risk in change.  We could screw it all up.

Consider the recent news story of the Spanish fresco by artist Elias Garcia Martinez, over a century old.

Image credit: today.com via Centro De Estudios Borjanos via EPA

A classic painting was positively ruined by a restoration-gone-wrong.  The article cited above says this: The BBC Europe correspondent described the painting’s current state as resembling “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.”

As I prepare in my current appointment to begin an alternative worship service, I tremble with the fear that I will end up, not with Christ, but with a very hairy monkey in an ugly shirt.

But Exodus 17 gives me faith.

The people of Israel are thirsty, they’re desperate for water.  God tells Moses to go out into the middle of nowhere (the Rephidim, the Nowhere Place, where no one would expect water to be), and God promises to go before him, and that God will be there, standing on a rock.  And water, God promises, will flow out of that rock.

God’s people today are thirsty for God, they’re desperate for Church– even if they don’t know it. Alternative worship, the nontraditional Church, this is the wilderness of the Nowhere Place, this is where living water will flow out of hard places, dry places, broken places.  This is where God has already gone before us, leading the way, clearing the path, setting up roadsigns.  And God will be there, standing on the rock, if only we will lift our eyes and follow.

 

(1) Charles Arn, How to Start a New Service
(2) Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells