Clarifying my re-imagining

After reading back my previous post, I feel like there are a couple things that need to be clarified, for myself.

1. This is not a church that’s against anybody. It’s a church for people. Mainline, Catholics, Orthodox, and yes, even evangelicals are still our brothers and sisters, even though we would prefer to worship in an environment different from all of those. And of course, we are more than happy to reach across doctrinal boundaries to advance God’s reign.

2. It’s political but not partisan. The way of Jesus is by its very nature political. When you assert that you are a part of the vanguard of a new reign, you are necessarily political. When you come to bring justice for the oppressed, to raise up the poor, and to break down barriers based on race and gender; you are inherently political. But Jesus never sided with the Zealots, or the Saducees, or the Herodians, or Caesar. Because his reign judges all of those things. For 1700 years the church has been held captive by Christendom. And evangelicals are the latest to cozy up to power and its institutions of oppression in a drastic attempt to hold onto Christendom. And while we may be Republican or (more likely) Democrats politically, we must always be a prophetic voice to both parties and all other centers of power, and must never seek to impose our theological perspective on others through abuse of that power. We may march for black lives, but we shouldn’t lobby or desire access to the politicians themselves.

Re-imagining

At what point does a re-imaged successor to evangelicalism just become a mainline church?

Let me back up a bit first before I get to that question.

After becoming a Christian in college and being for the most-part a standard issue evangelical (albeit with a liberal political bent), around 2006 God made me some new wineskins. With the help of a faith-altering message by Richard Rohr, the brutal honesty of the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, and a bit of toe-dipping into the emerging church, God showed me that my faith to that point could not be trusted to hold the new wine that he was about to pour into me.

Now, assuming there are any readers of this blog (which is not an assumption I will make), I’m just going to assert what some of those readers are probably thinking. Yes, I know you think I’m a heretic. Yes, I understand you think I’m going straight to hell. No, I don’t really care what you think. Trolls go away. This isn’t for you. Enjoy whatever church you belong to.

So, fast forward twelve years. Life happened, the fire died down from that initial rush of contemplation/joining with the historic church in its traditions/voraciously devouring all of the books outside of the evangelical safe and approved list. In the midst of all of this smoldering faith, I grumbled.

You see, 2016 had done it for me. Evangelicalism had sold its soul for political power and elected perhaps the worst human being to ever hold the office of the Presidency. I was done with it. A church that does not believe that black lives matter, that casts off all compassion toward immigrants, and that is casually accepting of white supremacy is not the church for me. Yes, I understand that not all or even most evangelicals believe these things. But they do. Their actions speak louder than their professed beliefs.

So, anyway, I’m out. I never really was on board with the inerrancy thing, or the whole eternal conscious punishment thing, or the fact that it has to be PENAL substitutionary atonement. But I was willing to kind of stick around because there are a lot of things about evangelicalism that I will miss if I leave. But I can’t abide the racism, even though evangelicals deny they are racist. But they are. They had no problem voting for an openly racist, misogynist, I will stop now because of the Thumper rule.

But there are things about evangelicalism that I will really miss. I actually like good evangelical worship. And while most of it is quite bad, when done well, not as entertainment but as the work of the people, it can really draw us closer to God. And while I’m big on not making the Bible into our idol and respecting the democracy of the dead of church tradition, I really like the evangelical focus on scripture. Also, while I’m not really a charismatic, God has used charismatic experiences to strengthen my faith in ways that could not have been done otherwise.

So back to my original question. Let’s say we start something new. Something that looks like this:

1. The statement of faith simply references the historic creeds and nothing else. That’s all you need in order to sign on the dotted line and become a member.

2. Mercy and justice. Stand in solidarity with the marginalized, be compassionate to those in need, and advocate for a just transformation of the power structure.

3. Communion. Every week. Being open to the idea that maybe Christ is really present in the elements in some way, but being okay with people believing that it’s just a symbol too. Oh, and it’s open. Jesus shared meals with everyone, including a first communion with the one who had already chosen to betray him. Why shouldn’t we?

4. Read the scripture in church. Maybe three of them. And say things like “A reading from…”, “The word of the Lord…” and “Thanks be to God…” Oh, and stand for the reading of the word.

5. Preaching from the lectionary is great.

6. Liturgy! Maybe not Anglican/Lutheran/Catholic levels of liturgy, but worship songs shouldn’t be the only work of the people.

7. Everybody who is willing to put up with us is welcome. Yes, everybody. In case that isn’t clear enough, that means especially LGBT people. Oh, and did I say they can take communion?

8. Back to communion. No plastic cups, and everyone comes up to the front to take it. We don’t have to drink from the same chalice – lets just dip it, because hygiene and microbial science, but still. And did I say it should be every week?

9. Contemplatives welcome! Lets learn from the historic practices of the church so we can grow deeper in our relationship with Christ, which is really what this is all about, right? And you’re welcome to make the sign of the cross, bring your rosaries, kiss icons, and kneel at the foot of the cross as needed.

10. Hymns! A lot of hymns. Much better theology than in most contemporary praise music.

But along with off this “new” old stuff, lets keep:

1. Good, creedal, contemporary worship songs.

2. An extremely high view of the scripture. Again, we’re not talking that we make everyone believe the Bible is inerrant/infallible/whatever. But we should probably accept that the Bible is the one that God gave us, so there’s probably a reason for that. And we can keep the “inspired” part.

3. Bible studies. Lots of bible studies. But maybe also lets mix in some church fathers and church tradition teaching too. We can even study systematic theology as well, but lets not hit each other over the head with it. It’s pretty rigid.

4. And hey, lets still be the church outside of our walls. Everyone can’t be welcome if we have no one to welcome.

5. A reasonable length, gospel-based message. I can never get enough of the gospel. It wasn’t called the “good news” for nothing!

So, back to the original question. Is this just a mainline church? Is this just Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox? Or is there something in this formulation that could be the starting point of a new movement of the church?

I know what you’re thinking. “You damn Protestants, always need to come up with something new.” And I get that. But what if the reason the church has so many different facets is because God is really creative and created a whole bunch of different people? And maybe, just maybe, rather than pushing millennials (and don’t forget post-millennials) and people of color, and people who just are tired of all the culture wars and heresy hunting out of the existing church, it’s time for a new expression of the church?

Mercy and Justice

Mercy and Justice.

Mercy. And Justice.

Mercy. And. Justice.

We tend to think of those two things as being separate, and perhaps even opposites.

Mercy. Forgiveness. Love.

Justice. Wrath. Punishment.

But what if we’re looking at it wrong? What if in fact mercy and justice are really just two sides of the same coin? What if the mercy that liberates the oppressed and the justice that judges the oppressor are really the same thing? What if in fact oppression oppresses both the oppressor and the oppressed and they both are really in need of mercy and justice? What if injustice prevents mercy from flowing in either direction?

Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the “beloved community.” The Hebrew scriptures talk about shalom. Mercy and justice kiss.

And what if the church, especially the American evangelical church, in its zeal to save souls from eternal death, has missed the point of grace and mercy by failing to understand that it is intertwined with justice.

Not the justice that casts into hell, but the justice that frees first the oppressed, and then the oppressor to receive the mercy of God.

There is no message of grace in a world where black lives don’t matter. Where refugees are made to wait years for asylum in a place that is only marginally safer than the one they left. Where billionaires are free to suck up the vast majority of the world’s wealth while the vast majority struggle to even survive. Where people are shunned and shamed because of who they love and how they were made.

There is no gospel that does not tackle mercy and justice together. As one. At the same time.

A Remnant

A lightly edited version of a my Tweetstorm from earlier today:

1000% this:

“They contended that white evangelical churches and organizations had for decades supported a political agenda that deemed unborn lives more sacred than living black lives.”

The emerging church tried to find a third way to stay in existing churches while rejecting those churches’ old wineskins. It didn’t work. I would totally follow evangelicals younger than me who leave evangelicalism to form something new outside of it, where justice isn’t a bad word. This movement should absolutely be led by people of color. I would actually submit that white Christians should stop pastoring churches for a couple generations, at least. White people need to learn to stop being in power in this country to wean ourselves off of our feelings (conscious or otherwise) of supremacy.

Trump’s election, in hindsight, was 100% predictable. Most white people can’t abide being led by someone not of their race (and if they are male, their gender). We fought a civil war and a civil rights movement but white people never repented!

There are certain “political” things pastors need to say. Black lives matter. Regardless of how you voted in 2016, supporting Trump now is wrong. The church needs to side with immigrants and refugees. LGBT people are also created in the image of God. If 80% of the church leaves, so be it. But a church that ignores injustice is no church at all.

Post-Post-Evangelical?

So, wow, Rip van Winkle has awoken. Almost five years since I last posted here, not only am I still alive, I’m still grappling with my “does not quite fit in” faith. Especially after the last year of our nation’s history, that faith has a lot more dents in it.

The last time I left off here, I had passed through the waters of the evangelicalism of my post-conversion days and dipped my toes into the roaring rapids of the emerging church, only to find myself landing in the not-quite comfortable eddy of post-evangelicalism. And then life happened (three young-but-now-getting grown-up kids). And then the election of 2016 happened.

I spent most of the first week after the election listening to punk rock.

You see, everything that I had learned about Jesus as a young convert and then re-learned as my wineskins were refreshed in the last decade was tossed out the window by my fellow -evangelicals in their zeal to defend the last few pearls of Christendom to which they clutched.

Michael Gerson, in his excellent article in this month’s Atlantic (read it all), sums up the underlying problem better than I could:

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

Gerson goes on to give an excellent history of evangelicalism in this country dating to the period before the civil war, and states that because of his own experiences with the faith, that he is “hesistant to abandon the word evangelical.”

Lets just say I’m not quite so hesitant. Honestly, at this point, I’m not quite sure that evangelicalism is worth saving. But with the crash-and-burn that happened to the emerging church, I’m also not sure what the alternatives are. What I can say at this point is that for the longest time I took up the definition of post-evangelical where the post- doing the work meant “moving beyond and embracing something greater than.” But I suspect that now I should really call myself a post-post-evangelical, with the new post- stating that I sadly have to reject -evangelicalism in all its forms altogether.

Which is funny, because I currently attend an evangelical church that I have no intentions of leaving. But more on that later.

Blessings not just for the ones who kneel.. luckily

One of the things I’ve learned about God is that sometimes, for some inexplicable reason, he takes his time.

A lot of time.

I’ve spent the last several years thoroughly, and completely wandering the post-evangelical wilderness.  Certainties have become scarce, life has intruded, my sin has been magnified, and my faith has been nearly destroyed on several occasions.

But he’s never late.

In recent months I have struggled with doubt and fear that I thought I had left behind when I made the decision to follow him.  Painful, physical doubt. And the endless silence of the dark night of the soul (but not  St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, for which I am quite sure I am unprepared).

And then, suddenly, as I was at my end – as all of the familiar tools of my faith – prayer and worship and word and sacrament – had become ashes in my mouth – he arrived.

Grace, and peace, and faithfulness, and PRESENCE! Presence that I cannot explain but which overwhelmed me. Evidence that once again, everything was going to be alright. Weeping and laughing and joy breaking through the clouds of my gloom.

I can’t quite explain it.  It certainly has nothing to do with my faithfulness.  I struggle to come to him consistently, and consider myself to be just about as much of a sinner as ever. But for about the last month, just about every time I have come to him, he has been there.  Obviously there.  As in “wow, this prayer stuff is real” there. As in, “I kind of understand what it means to be praying ‘in the spirit’ now.” As in, “I’m just floating in the river letting God’s current of grace push me where he may.”

He came just in time. And I can only pray that the next time it seems like he’s taking far too long to come, I will remember this time when he waited until the last possible moment.

* The title of this post comes from “City of Blinding Lights,” by U2.