The primary consequence, as I now realize, is that I have no element of my faith that is separate from my actual day to day life. I rarely go to a church (when I do it is usually with people from the cohort anyway) and my faith community is made up entirely of people I know very, very well and consider very important friends. It is odd how I have very few casual Christian friends in my life (people I see twice a month and talk to even less). Furthermore, I don't really have any friends in Columbus not attached to the cohort. This isn't something I'm really proud of - people in our department at school just really don't like hanging our with us....Also, we have no family within a ten hour drive of Columbus.
So, what this all means is that our social lives are now completely a part of our faith lives as well. The main thing I have noticed about this is that since I am surrounded by people of similar convictions most of the time I do far less thinking and (sadly) far less praying than I used to. I'm not sure if that means my faith is stronger, or if this is a nice little break that God has given us before our lives get much more complicated very shortly. I think that my faith dictates my actions stronger than in the past, but I do less purposeful actions...maybe that doesn't make sense.
Okay, I will go ahead and end this to leave some time for comments. I'm looking forward to seeing you all again very soon.
A related difficulty I've also been experiencing is just having too much to think about. I could make a list of 20 paradoxes that are always hovering over my consciousness about modern capitalism alone, and I feel their weight pressing upon my ability to make decisions. While the deceleration and discomfort that this state produces irritates me, I also feel confident that God wants me to pass through it. It might not be a leg of the journey that everyone must travel, like Andrew discusses at the end of his post, but I think my faith would be absolutely paralyzed if I didn't make my way down this path.
Perhaps I'll share just one paradox, the most monstrous one that comes to mind at the moment. If Christ (both then and now) places so much emphasis on fruit, which I take to mean action that makes his Kingdom more present on Earth, what does it mean that I know people who seem to do more towards this end without believing there is any spiritual dimension to it than others who are devout but whose trees are whithered? This might seem like an immature question, I realize, because it sounds similar to classic questions of the religiously skeptical, but it really is a good question. Now that my paradigm for relating to the world around me as a Christian has changed, I don't really know how to relate to the world around me.
If I had to guess, I would say that my description of my current struggle resonates with many others who read this blog. I would welcome any solutions anyone has gained through experience. But let me end here with a ray of hope. Peter Rollins's The Fidelity of Betrayal is amazing for so many reasons. It seems like just the right thing for me to digest at the moment. Last night I was reading about his view of relationship between the Bible and the Word of God, and he talks about a cycle of engagement with the text that he believes all thoughtful Christians will pass through: an early stage in which one clamors for all of the facts of the text, believing them to hold the Word, a middle stage in which one becomes aware of how this cannot be the case because of the many valid problems with the text that are raised among academics, and then a final "second naivete." If I could relate this to my broader spiritual path, I would say that I have been in that second stage for a number of years and I'm really longing for my "second naivete," in which I continue to wrestle with the paradoxes of Earthly faith while being able to "bracket" (Rollins's term) those issues aside when I interact with God.
"What is very interesting at this point for me is that I feel like I have to hide this - that it has to be a closet conviction b/c if my Mid-Western, hyper-conservative, ultra-Republican - and yet still "Xian" peers, su-peers, friends and family and other church members found out - well, my views would not be respected encouraged or probably even recognized. I would lose my job and credibility. But when I think about past conversations, and possibilities for future ones - I know I am excited. There is something incredibly right in all of this "Emergent" thought. There is something that rings true w/ my soul."
In the midst of great doubt earlier this year, I was challenged by a professor at Ohio State to claim a faith. I responded something like I’ve tried to not believe. I can’t. Something resonates deeper than the stuff of mind and soul that I simply can not turn off nor ignore.
So I stare blankly at a manipulative, control hungry and brain washing system (possibly with some positive cultural side effects) and derisively admonish those who abuse its power. Yet I still reverberate from the message being proclaimed.
And so my faith box was too small: not enough room for Churchianity and Christianity. All the reasons the system has given me through years of church, a Christian School upbringing and solid familial reinforcement has given me a set of westernized proofs that validate and gird my faith. I used to cling to these abutments, now I let them flail in uncertainty. I realized I was much more concerned about being certain, about clinging to these pillars of truth, for my own status and ability to prove others wrong than for what the truths were actually about. I was stubbornly clinging to them from the top-down, choking the reality of Christ with a fearful grip. I now see God at the base of my faith as much more living and active, moving like the wind than an uninvolved deistic anchor.
…and oh, the peace and freedom this brings! The Christ I read of promises things so dramatically different from what so many corporate church structures are built on. Peace comes not from giving up the search for these proofs (for I still will) but from knowing that their discovery and validation do not predicate my faith. Freedom comes from realizing that the life abundant Christ promises has nothing to do with the abundant life of Americanized health, wealth and happiness. The weight of fitting into this cultural mold is not the freedom I experience as one of Christ’s own.
Fortunately for the functioning of humanity, not all brains are wired like mine. Perhaps Christianity needs multiple expressions to meet different personality types and evolve with culture. I used to think God wouldn’t want to work that way, but I have grown over the past year to see that as my limitation on God for my own sake rather than for His glory.
I thank each and every one of you for the utter honesty and raw struggles expressed and revealed over the past year – you are blessed people and I am blessed to know you. I realized I never got to posting anything about the singing of last week’s Christmas cantata, yet there is an equally long post I would want to write about God’s permeation out of my faith box into art, music, literature, dance and (yes) even architecture. To that end, I will add a simple poem I found in a Christmas card that captured the season for me. It’s from Calvin Miller’s The Divine Symphony…
Some world is worry-torn
And hungry for a global lullaby.
O rest, poor race, and hurtle on through space-
God has unbilicaled Himself to straw,
Laid by His thunderbolts
and learned to cry.
Here is a question to get us started: How has your faith changed in the past year? Any ideas as to what caused new ideas to take root or old ones to lose their place? Do you see this change as fitting with a wider trend among other cohort members?
I would encourage all of us to make a point to spend some time on the blog this Sunday, making comments and then reading the comments of others, because intentionality is so important to a community and some of us haven't seen each other in awhile.
"How many of us can really know what it is like to destroy what we love for the sake of what we love - to be the most faithful of betrayers? Yet perhaps it is precisely this that we are being called to: engaging in that most difficult task of putting our religion to death so that a religion without religion can spring forth."
This calling is both thrilling and terrifying for me, because it so strongly inspires my decisions, and yet it sometimes grimly dawns on me that this is indeed a "most difficult task."
Please come join us for a Christmas party this Saturday, at 7:00, at Scot and Mary's house: 179 Bridgeport Way, Deleware, OH 43015. We will have a white elephant gift exchange, so bring some piece of junk that you've been wanted to get rid of all wrapped up. Seriously, bring a crappy gift. Also, can someone bring Elf or other great Christmas movies?
Please comment below what food and/or drink you plan to bring so that we can cover all of our bases. While you are at it, let's set up some carpools in the comments. Also feel free to invite friends or loved ones (but make sure they also bring a piece of crap to unload).
Our discussion had several aspects to it: Theoretically/Objectively there was a general consensus that change happens throughout history, and yes things are different now, but perhaps Tickle is overstating the situation a bit. There was skepticism that Emerging/ent is not really "the next big thing," but just simply another chapter in the ongoing saga of Christianity. Others pointed out that the change in our use of language, the general openness of the group to new ideas and divergent viewpoints, were evidence enough that indeed we are witnessing a change in how Christians understand themselves and how Christianity is existing and functioning.
On another level, we discussed the implications of "The Great Emergence" for ourselves, personally. Several members expressed feelings of uncertainty, a desire to return to the "old, easy answers", even though in our hearts we know they aren't satisfactory. Many of these comments have been expressed in previous posts (see here).
Finally, we discussed what some of these ideas would mean for our small cohort, and how exactly our cohort should function. There is a definite challenge in developing a viable group with purpose and intention, without imposing unnecessary and restrictive structure. We discussed the relationships between institutions and communities - and it was said that most groups and organizations that continue to function well have some form of institution. Furthermore, the relationship between truth statements, creeds, and identity was discussed. For myself, I took away that creedal statements are helpful for offering a definition of what a group believes, and thereby who aligns themselves with that group. This is the way every modern religious institution defined itself: by statements of faith. However, these statements can create a division of who is "in" and who is "out" based upon who agrees or disagrees with such statements, even something as simple as, "there is a God." (I tried to explain the difference between bounded and centered sets, and it came out pretty poorly - another explanation is here)
Therefore, our cohort will not formely adopt any truth statements, but rather will allow our actions to proclaim what we believe and we will emphasize our relationships with one another. We live within the freedom to boldly state to one another what we believe without concern of aligning with any checklist or worrying about disagreement. And we move forward in confidence that our actions will always show that above all, we are committed to loving one another and showing that in real ways.
There were lots of ideas exchanged, and I'm sure others had different impressions, so please chime in. Some thoughts have already been shared here.
In addition to all this heavy "Great Emergence" junk, we also talked about a Christmas party - so look for details on that to come soon!!
"I have thought a lot about what [Nick] prayed last Sunday night
regarding that maybe our group becoming a bit complacent and that we don’t seem to be blogging as much (although in your prayer you said that might not matter and you could be right). But it made me really sad. I just checked and there is no new posting on what is happening this Sunday yet.
With that thought in mind, I wondered if we might as a group really pray about direction and how we can be a light in our very unstable and uncertain world right now.
I e-mailed my nephew a fairly long e-mail and here is a portion of what has been on my mind…In the loss of my evangelical belief system and foundation, I am coming to realize how difficult it is to love and worship God without it. Do I need to develop a workable belief system again? What do I really believe? What do I really know? This requires a blind trust that God will pull, teach and connect me to beliefs that continually evolve and perhaps change over time…Am I ok with that? This is radical and problematic for most because then it potentially could become all about one individual’s interpretation and perception of God—“cherry picking” so to speak. Can I trust and have faith that the One True God is revealing himself to me?” And so I ask…Can we trust that as a group God is revealing himself to us collectively? How united are we on what we think? Do we need to be united or is it better that we
do not get caught up on anyone’s collection of beliefs (perhaps there is a balance there)?
These are just a few thoughts and perhaps one of you could put something close on the blog. It’s kind of a “where are we now as a group and what do we think” blog or
discussion. Just something to think about."