Thursday, October 22, 2009


Blogging to you live from the CCDA conference.

John Perkins
just said, “We have over-individualized Christianity.” He is speaking out of 1st John, Ch. 1-Ch 2:6

He is saying that this scripture points to the idea that God is transforming the world by kneading together people to sharpen each other’s lives. (Dude, he’s old and awesome and totally allowed to mix metaphors.)

This is an idea that is extremely important to Emergent Christianity. Once we say that the Bible is not a rulebook but instead worthy of study as a holy book of stories about people who struggle with how to align themselves with God’s plan, the ethical world at first seems a little fuzzy and, frankly, scary. Alluva sudden, not only to we have to do it right, we have to figure out what right is. And right changes from situation to situation. There are not many Emergents who deny that there is absolute truth somewhere. Most of us try to distance ourselves from relativism with nearly slapstick comedy. I think many of us have been hurt by someone responding to our testimony of hard-earned theological rebirth with, “But that’s just relativism.” How dismissive. How hurtful. So, we tend to affirm the idea of “right.” However, like God, right (as opposed to wrong) is a lot larger than our churches or our scripture can contain.

So what keeps us from haring off onto a path that leads away from God? How do we avoid getting lost in the woods during our explorations?

Community. John just read the verse, “My children, I am writing this so that you won’t practice sin.” If we have friends who are close enough and love us enough and make our lives bigger because we love them so much, they can help us keep moving in God’s direction. Conversations with these folks over dinner or coffee or at potluck help us craft a spiritual practice that does not involve sin. Experiences lived together with other people helps us see the world through their eyes so that we can understand better why an action might seem right to them but odd to us. The better we know each other’s patterns, the better we can help them determine right for their situation. The better we are known, the better someone can help us determine if what feels right is actually right. “When we obey God, we are sure that we know God.” In this case, obedience means living in community.

This is an old concept. Post-modern folks from Christian backgrounds often have to struggle with the words “accountability” and “submission” because traditional churches that focus on the Bible as a rulebook use those words to create an institutional framework to help folks follow the rules. Real community often grows within this framework but often people have been confronted about their spiritual practice and their lifestyle choices without actually being known by the people who are confronting them. How dismissive. How hurtful.

I love CCDA. I have grown up with its community development values ground into the moral lens through which I view the world. I love hearing John Perkins say that we need to live in community as a means to transform not only ourselves but also the world because sometimes I struggle with this community of people because they are overwhelmingly old-school Evangelical, concerned about winning souls for heaven. Justice and alleviation of the strife of poverty and even repairing the systems that cause poverty are the means by which these folks save souls, as well as a spiritual practice for them. It’s sometimes hard to feel at home in this altar-calling, praise-teaming, women-in-the-foyer-with-the-toddlers community. But when John Perkins says to them that we have over-individualized Christianity, I think maybe I could belong here someday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yessssssss to this. This is one of my favourite topics (i.e. rants) re: religion.

You might like to read Danya Rutenberg's _Surprised by God_ which is her memoir of going from disaffected atheist secular Jew to observance (and to later becoming a rabbi). Different religion, I know, but I really got a lot out of it as I was trying to figure out how religious I did or didn't want to be.

Anyway towards the end she talks about the sort of post-capitalist approach to "spirituality"--self-help books that borrow from religions with the promise of self-improvement, and she rightly rails against the perversion of religion to make it about filling some spiritual void left by consumerist culture. The whole "what can I take from a religion to feel more spiritually fulfilled?" Of course we are all trying to find our own paths/ways to practise that sit right with us and our consciences, but I agree with Rutenberg that you kind of miss the point of Judaism/Christianity/WHATEVER when you make it about self-improvement. It is about tying ourselves to things bigger than us, be that God, or community, or history, and we become better people through the collective processes, not through spiritual narcissism.