Excited about Easter: Resurrected Faith

Across N. America, the two largest groups of people who are reclaiming their faith are traditionally parents of little ones who are settling down and putting down roots – and those who are finding a different version of faith in a new community or expression.

Various labels are often assigned to this second group: unchurched, post-christian, or the ‘nones’. However one classifies this trend, this category is often populated by those who were raised in a fundamentalist, evangelical or even mainline tradition and have walked away.

The faith of their upbringing either doesn’t fit, doesn’t make sense or just isn’t useful anymore.

But then something happens.

The trigger may be a crisis or an unsatisfied hunger or the birth of child. Whatever initiates the change of season is not predictable. What is predictable, however, is that in a search for a community or church there is a tangible desire to connect with a vibrant but thoughtful expression of ones faith.

In my dual-role at the church, I am in a unique position to see both groups

  • finding something lost
  • connecting with something deep
  • awakening to something new

There is something so refreshing and hopeful about finding a spiritual community where you can plug-in to ministries that are making the world a better place and you don’t have to check your brain at the door.

 

As the Minister of Children, Youth and Families I have seen dozens of young families tie into the life of the church community through the liturgical Sanctuary worship. It brings great joy to my heart to watch their little one get settled into the nursery, Pre-K or Sunday School routine and know that their child has a spiritual home that will nurture them and facilitate that child’s growth into a mature believer who can intelligently embrace a faith that will carry them for the rest of their life. Touch screen mobile phone, in hand

As the co-Pastor of the Loft I have heard dozens of stories from people who had walked away from faith and who have seen that faith resurrected in our unique environment filled with coffee, couches and conversation.

As someone raised evangelical, I confess that it makes my heart sing to hear stories of resurrected faith!

I don’t apologize for my inherited soft-spot toward stories of renewal and awakening.

Many people have stories of reclaiming their childhood faith but have no interest in continuing to hold onto childish ideas. Our faith is supposed to be child-like but the 21st century requires that it be thoughtful and vibrant.

Heading into Easter this year, I have been thinking about all of the young families who have dusted off their commitment to a faith community as well as those for whom faith had all but died, and how for both this Easter is going to seem especially meaningful.

It is an exciting time to be at a church that is committed to issues of justice, thoughtful in its approach and expanding its ability to connect with the community.

 

Whether it is an awakening of a dormant faith or the resurrection of something that had completely died, faith is being renewed in the life of the church.

We are an Easter people and that means we are always coming into new life.

I pray that you are as encouraged and excited as I am in the lead up to Easter. 

Neither Barth Nor Schleiermacher: Modern Theology’s Opportunity (3/3)

Christian theology has an opportunity moving into the future. In part 1 I outlined modern Christianity’s problem. I could say more about Christendom, Colonialism and Consumerism (the 3 C’s of modern Christianity) and will later this week.

In part 2 I looked at modern Christianity’s temptation to concede, attack or retreat: concede to the private/personal realm, attack in the public realm or retreat into silos of privileged speech in the religious realm.

In order to understand how deep the problem really is, it might seem helpful to use modern Christianity’s binary way of thinking (as I alluded to in the title of this post). The either/or, mutually exclusive way of conceptualizing and framing issues is to tempting: conservative/liberal, literal/figurative, Catholic/Protestant, white/ethnic, male/female, gay/straight, etc.church-300x199

This is not our way forward.

When thinking about just Protestants in N. America you have to account for everyone from fundamentalist to charismatics, evangelicals to liberal mainliners, Pentecostals, Quakers and emergent types.

Ours is an age of diversity, multiplicity and plurality. Our theological approach needs to reflect that.

We are cresting into some form of late, high, hyper or post Modernity. This is evidenced in the fractured cultural arena and an unprecedented awareness of pluralism.

 

There will never be one great theologian again. The days of the great single voice are over. When Moltmann and Cobb pass, we will see the end of an era.

Now we refer to Feminist theologians, Liberationists, Process thinkers, the Yale School and Emergent voices. The closest we might get is referencing someone as Barthian or a Hauwerwasian.

This move toward the collective is significant. It pales, however, in comparison to the real shift.

 

The more significant shift is away from abstract, speculative and universalizing brands of thinking.
The future is found in:

  • concrete
  • interdisciplinary
  • qualitative analysis (observation)

These are but three of the reason that I love my discipline of Practical Theology. It is concerned not only with the ideas but with the practice of faith. It is inter-disciplinary because no one field is adequate to fully investigate or represent what is going on in an area of concern. It utilizes qualitative methods (interview, ethnography and case study) to flesh out the phenomenon under review and to represent the real and lived experience of those living faith out on the ground.

 

The models used in the past are inadequate then, they are harmful. Linell E. Cady’s chapter in Theology at the End of Modernity holds a powerful explanation of the problem and opportunity. [1]

The problem with a liberal approach’s emphasis on experience is obvious. The past century has exposed the fatal flaw of this opportunistic brand of Christianity. The ‘Christian Century’ ended somewhere between Hiroshima and 9/11. We can talk a more about this at a later time.

The answer, however, is not retreat into fideistic models that protect religious or god-talk from outside review by setting up religious speech as a privileged and incommensurable realm. I have been critical of both post-Liberal and Radical Orthodox approaches for this very reason. Neither the authoritarian modes of , say, Reformed thought nor confessional schools like these are sustainable in the 21st century.

“Moving toward this vision of theology means abandoning the systematic, ahistorical, textually driven mode of theology for one that is far more contextual in its attention to embodied religion.” [2]

Cady goes on:

“All too often theologians have pursued an ahistorical engagement with the great theologians of the past, regarding their positions as perennial Christian options rather than as strategies peculiar to a specific place and time.” [3]

 

In closing I want to make a subtle distinction. There is a deep resonance with the concerns about non-contextual, speculative, universalizing and systematizing approaches to theology. It just so happens that Practical Theology provides a different approach. Cady explains:

“(This) model of theology suggests the need for more careful attention to the historical and cultural context within which theological reflection is located. Moving in this direction would align theology closely with the history of religions … (becoming) more attentive to the analysis and evaluation of embodied religion.

The skills of the sociologist and ethnographer would begin to shape theological expertise, providing important supplements to the prevailing exegetical and philosophical orientations.” [4]

 

Our age asks us to move from abstraction, speculation and systematics to a collective and inter-disciplinary approach to lived religion. [5]

 

________________________

 

[1] It is not that I am fascinated with Gordon Kaufman – but with those who are attempting to answer the questions that he raised. I hope to address them from within a Practical Theology approach.

[2] p. 93

[3] p. 97

[4] p. 82

[5] Please read my previous post on The Body and Embodied Religion

A ‘Kind’ of Conservatism

Three encounters in the past month have opened my eyes to a ‘kind’ of conservatism that I am suspicious I was not hip to previously. In the heated spectrum-thinking cultural climate that exists today, it is easy to get distracted by the exaggerated and inflammatory. What is more difficult to perceive is a kinder, gentler conservative mentality.

Here are 3 places it showed up recently:

  1. In fielding some criticism about our interview with the Cambridge Intelligent Design guest.
  2. In my tussle with the Aquinas crew (and their follow up blog posts)
  3. In conversations with two different pastors that I have known for decades – both inquiring as to my new progressive/emergent take on two thing quite ‘foundational’ to them (creation & evangelism).

The sentences are subtle – but once you pick up a pattern you begin to hear them more clearly.

“Since God is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, we gain nothing by using feminine pronouns for God … so let’s just stick with the tradition we have and the way it is in the Bible.”

That was the one that caught my attention. Then I started hearing that same formulation in other places.

“No one has ever provided iron-clad proof of macro-evolution … in the lack of definitive conclusion,Biblical creation is just as valid as any other ‘belief’ since we can’t prove it either way”

or

“You might be right about these cultural changes and the future of the church … but who is to say that your fancy new way will be any better than what we have now?  We might as well not tinker with anything since there is no guarantee it will fix the problem – and might possibly create different or bigger problems.”

This is a subtle type of conserving. It is not the blatant ideological animosity that gets all the press and dominates the airwaves. It is a more quiet concern that we not move too far too fast.

Here is my fear: it seems to me that this tactic is employed by – and born out of – a status quo that seeks to protect / preserve itself.  It is neither aggressive or egregious but is potentially just as harmful as it’s venomous counterpart. MP9004065481-196x300

“I get what you are saying Bo … but what’s not to say that 10 or 20 years from now your new fangled ideas don’t look just as dated and flawed as those you are criticizing today?”

See how it works?  Since my innovation today might seemed cliché to the next generation … let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and think that we have it all figured out. In fact, why change anything?

This ‘kind’ of conservatism doesn’t necessarily have a radical agenda. It doesn’t need one. It would be just fine if things stayed mostly as they are. It is perfectly suited to the current conditions. Stasis and a romantic reflection on the past is a perfect incubator for its ongoing preservation and, consequently, promulgation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

Process Is Poised For A Comeback

Three things have been rattling around in by cranium while I was away this Spring.

1. The cicada’s came back. Every 17 years the Periodical Cicada Brood II emerges to rollick in the Eastern half of the U.S. for a brief but frenzied round of sex and gluttony. We will not see them again for 17 years. It is a phenomenon that always garners it’s fair share of bewilderment and awe.

cicadas

It is appropriate that this baffles most of us. We are set to think in perennial terms and oddities like this don’t fit that narrative. Underneath the soil right now is a massive swarm that we will not hear a peep from until 2030.

2. I was listening to an episode of Smiley and West’s weekly radio show while I was fixing up my parent’s house. The guests were Maceo Parker and Bill Ayers (interesting mix eh?). It was pointed out that sometimes, things just take time. Ayers’ example: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955. It was not until 1963 that the march in Birmingham took place.

Ayers points out that not everything happens in quick succession. He said this in reference to the Occupy flare-up last year and why it appears that not much has come out of them.

3. Tony Jones had the response to Jack Caputo’s address at the Subverting the Norm conference. Point 2 of Tony’s 13 points was :

Process theology had its chance. If process theology couldn’t get traction in the American church under the auspices of John Cobb in the 1970s, I doubt that it will gain traction with his acolytes. Outside of Claremont (and Homebrewed Christianity), I hear little about process theology. I am not saying that popular theology = good theology; that would make Joel Osteen a theological genius. What I’m saying is that process theology did not capture the imagination of a critical mass of clergy and laypeople in its heyday, so I doubt that it will today. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cobb was ahead of his time, and the church is only now ready for process.

 

I know that Process thought will always be on the periphery. It will never be mainstream… and I am o.k. with that. Some things just work better as ‘catchers’ on the outside of the whirlwind.

Here is the thing: many Mainline, progressive or emergent church expressions don’t make that many converts. Some may even think that evangelism is wrong/trite/passé/ or coercive.

You know who does make a lot of converts? The evangelical-charismatic branch of the family. They do.

But not all of their kids or converts find the theological answer persuasive or satisfying after a while. So there is always a large supply of folks cycling out of the evangelical spin-cycle looking for better frameworks and answers … and it just so happens that Process thought can provide that.

 

Process thought interacts with both Biblical Scholarship and Science with flying colors.

Process even has a built-in interface for engaging other religions. It’s perfect for the pluralism that our world and time are calling for.

Yes – you have to learn some new words and it is admittedly clumsy to transition into from a classical approach. We all acknowledge that. But … and I can not overstate this … if your unhappy with the frameworks that you inherited, what have you got to lose?   Your faith?

If the alternatives are to either:

A) close your eyes and choke-down the medicine

or

B) walk away from the faith altogether

Then what is the harm is picking up some new vocabulary and concepts that allows you to navigate the tricky waters of the 21st century?

I mean, what else are you going to do for the next 17 years while we wait for the cicada’s return?

 

___

I have been enjoying 2 big books while I was away:

Modern Christian Thought (the twentieth century) and Essentials of Christian Theology – both have significant sections of Process influence.

 

Cicada Picture: H. Scott Hoffman/News & Record, via Associated Press

Privilege is not Racism, Sexism or Oppression: a proposal

If you have been following the blog-o-sphere or twitter-verse this past 2 weeks, then you will know that race, gender, sexuality and social location have been quite contentious issues. Boy at Cockflight_3

It just so happens that I have been far out of the loop as I have been on hiatus while renovating my parents house – so I have watched all of this from a safe distance. 

I was asked last week to write something regarding the issue. After reading every possible link, blog and tweet that I could, I have decided to forego commenting on the events themselves – for reasons contained in this post – and instead put forward a constructive proposal for going forward. 

 

In order to accomplish the desired conversation, I first need to clarify a couple of things:

  1. Next year I will attempt write a dissertation within the discipline of practical theology which addresses the issue of White privilege.
  2. This post is only reporting a distinction that I will employ in my work.
  3. I am not telling anyone else what to do, what words to use – nor am I attempting to limit others or re-define the terms or ground rules for engagement.

 

Two Fatal Flaws: 

The conversation around issues of Race-Gender-Class and Identity Politics usually breaks down and becomes unfruitful due to two fatal flaws in how the conversation is framed.

  • The first flaw is the use of either-or binaries and dualism that are too limiting and not nearly complex enough to accurately reflect the reality of the issue that attempting to address.
  • The second flaw is the sloppy mixing of words and categories without clear distinction.

 

Here is an example of each:

I am a person of privilege in almost every category. That privilege allows me to benefit from systems that oppress, hurt, and marginalize people. Does that mean that I am an oppressor? In the current binary configuration, I am not oppressed so I must be an oppressor.  We have seen all too well how this line of reasoning goes. 

As a white person, I am located in a place of racial privilege. Does that make me a racist? While I benefit from systemic racism, I am not consciously attempting to participate in or reinforce the prevailing racist structures… in fact, I may even be attempting to undermine them and confront them.

 

A Change: 

I would like to see us move away from either-or options based on limited binaries and make a move toward multiplicity that more accurately reflects the complexity of the situation. This would be done by first adding a third category – then and here is the big one – by distinguishing within each of those at least 2 postures: active and passive.

We would then have
A) Privilege
B) Racism/Sexism
C) Oppression/Marginalization

AND each of those would be clarified by a passive or active posture/participation.

 

You could then have someone who is in a place of racial privilege who is passively (and possibly ignorantly) benefiting from the privilege without 1) being very aware of it 2) actively contributing to the marginalization or oppression of another group – and certainly not being overtly racist.

In this configuration we could distinguish between those who are active and those who are passive in their privilege – active and passive in the racist/sexist structures – and active passive in the marginalization/ oppression that results.

These seem to be important distinctions that prevent the oppressed-oppressor either-or binary that is so prevalent in Identity Politics but which is so alienating and confusing to those who have yet to confront/consider issues of Race-Gender-Class in this way.

 

Definitions: 

I am utilizing concepts from ‘Race, Class, and Gender in the United States’ by Paula S. Rothenberg. The two major distinctions that I am interacting with come from Peggy McIntosh and Beverly Daniels Tatum respectively.

Peggy McIntosh on White privilege:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

This privilege, as Brekke El (@WrdsandFlsh on twitter) points out, “Privilege in America is BUILT on institutions of racism, sexism & oppression”.

Beverly Daniels Tatum distinguishes between active and passive racism:

… All White people, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism. (A Klan member or the name calling Archie Bunker are) images (that) represent what might be called active racism, blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination. Passive racism is more subtle and can be seen in the collusion of laughing when a racist joke is told, of letting exclusionary hiring practices go unchallenged, of accepting as appropriate the omissions of people of color from the curriculum, and of avoiding difficult race-related issues.
Because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of America institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it is business as usual.

 

Here is why I am taking this approach: 

These issues are far too important to resign ourselves to the round-and-round in-house binaries of generations past that have not delivered the desired results and have not initiated those in places of power/privilege into constructive examinations of the systems and structures that benefit them.

These issues would seem to be matters that people of faith would be more interested in than the culture as a whole (due to the nature of the material) but which seem to have largely the opposite reaction in a sizable portion of that population.

We need to alter the way in which the conversation is framed if we want to both affect different outcomes than have already been achieved OR if we want to involve ever-increasing amounts of people in expanding rings of influence.

 

Again, I am not trying to tell anyone else what to do – I am in no place to do so. I am only attempting to share a distinction that I will be utilizing in my future project in the hopes that others might find it equally useful. 

 

Faith-Works: What’s the differance?

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2.8-9

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. –James 2.26

Ah, the old faith versus works debate. Paul vs. James: cage fight! Who wins?

To be honest, it has been a while since I have given this one any thought. Once you realize that the various documents of the Scriptures were written with/regards/to/from various communities with differing problems and emphases, making them all fit together exactly isn’t so important. And yet, what if this particular “problem” shouldn’t be?

In his new book Outlaw Justice: The Messianic Politics of Paul, Ted Jennings offers a fresh reading of Romans, bringing together insights from ancient political thinkers and contemporary philosophers. In the introduction, he explains some of the choices that he had to make in translating the text.

The reading of this text that I propose here breaks with this tradition of reading Paul. The reading begins by restoring terms like “law” and “justice” to their basic political significance. So dominant has the apolitical reading of Romans become that it will be necessary to introduce a number of unfamiliar translations into this reading. In part this is neces- sary to help the reader encounter a text with fresh eyes not blinkered by the tradition. A strategy of defamiliarizing is almost always necessary to allow a fresh encounter with the text. But in this case it is even more important if the text is to be liberated from its cloying confinement in the cult like enclave of traditional religious reading. Much of this is simple substitution warranted by the text itself: Judean rather than Jewish, messiah rather than Christ, justice rather than righteousness, fidelity or loyalty rather than faith, generosity or favor rather than grace, Joshua rather than Jesus, and so on.

So next time you’re reading your Bible, try translating “faith” as fidelity. It works!