Give Me that Old Time Religion

10 06 2008

So I spend a lot of time browsing the interweb and reading various articles, blogs, just about anything that might catch my interest. I spend a consider amount of time reading various blogs and articles which are influenced or are part of the Emergent movement. Sometimes–even usually–I really like what is said. I also really enjoy reading and engaging material dealing with the Christian peace movement as I’m a committed pacifist who believes–quite strongly–that to follow Jesus means (without exception) refusing to take up the sword or my fists.

Some might dub me a “liberal” in some kind of political sense because of my fairly strong dislike for the Religious Right, “conservative politics” and all that jazz.

But there’s also something that sometimes sticks like a pin prick on occasion, because sometimes I get the sense that for many who might describe themselves as “Emergent” or “Progressively Evangelical” or similar self denominating titles is that it still feels like the kind of hip, cool dreads and tattoo Evangelicalism that I once knew. While it’s not hippsters talking hellfire and brimstone, it still seems so “boringly radical”. Radical for the sake of radicality utterly bores me. I love beer, tobacco, tattoos, rock music and curse as much as the next post-post-post-whatever person. But that in itself is just boring and unimpressive, as unimpressive as that is what I feel is sometimes a lack of appreciation for the radicality of traditional–ordinary–Christianity.

I dislike trying to make Christianity cool. No. Let me rephrase that, I despise trying to make Christianity cool. Christianity isn’t cool, it never was cool, and it never will be cool. Jesus isn’t cool.

I’m reminded of a bumper sticker recently, “I was uncool before being uncool was cool.”

Over the last few years I’ve seen “being geek” become trendy, suddenly wearing glasses, playing video games and liking Star Wars went from being an offense punishable from the local school bully to making you a rock star. Hey, I’ve been a video game playing loser since I was five, so the fact that now chicks dig guys who play Xbox makes me feel sexy. Problem is, it’s suddenly “cool” to be “uncool”.

Jesus shouldn’t be cool, even by making Him “uncool” in order to do so. Being “liberal” or opposing institutionalized Evangelicalism doesn’t really mean shit.

“Give me that old time religion” is a phrase that comes to mind here. I like traditional, boring, regular Christianity. It is Christianity. I’m not saying we should all be doing a Tridentine Mass, but without the substance of tradition it’s just being trendy for the sake of being trendy. Feel free to challenge the tradition, but we can’t simply be reinventing the wheel every twenty or thirty years.

All I’m really saying, and I realize this is kind of a rather aimless, meandering rant, is that Christianity is just Christianity, we should let it be what it is.

Insofar as the various forms of the “Emergent Movement” challenges modern Evangelicals to rethink their assumptions and invites us to look openly and honestly at our ancient tradition and theological heritage and at the broader Christian tradition as a whole I think it’s a good thing. Where it starts to make me feel a little queasy is when it starts to look like an outer shell of “radness” without the real radicality of the Christian Gospel.

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

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Am I a Rebel?

15 11 2007

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve talked on this subject, or something similar to it. Yet, here I go again.

In some ways I sometimes wonder if I’m a bit of a religious rebel, and yet rather than eschewing tradition, orthodoxy, I always seem to be drawn ever closer to them. Though I never seem to be so ambitious as to simply say, “I am this thing, and I’ll play by all the rules.” On the contrary, I always seem to be in some odd place, existing in the wilderness between urban sprawls.

When someone discovers I’m a Christian one of the first things they usually ask (if they as me anything at all pertaining to it), is what kind of a Christian I am. It’s an honest enough question, one I’ve asked others myself. Presumably the question is asking what sort of church I go to, in which denomination do I kick off my shoes and hang my hat. It’s a fair question, but it’s one I’ve been unable to answer for nearly seven years.

Depending on whether I think a simple response or an accurate (though more complex) response is required, I’ll give some short-hand answer such as “Well, I’m kind of like a Lutheran, only I’m not, nor ever been a Lutheran.” or I’ll offer this response, “I’m a Christian with one foot in the broad Evangelical tradition and the other foot in the broad Catholic tradition.” In either case I’m sure you can tell that both responses may leave a person befuddled.

I’ll use plenty of descriptor-terms to describe what species of Christianus I approximate: Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran-esque, Reformational, Traditional, Creedal, Sacramental, to name a few.

To the casual observer this list may seem fairly odd. But I assure you that I take each with the utmost meaning in my self-designation.

I remember I once had a person tell me something like, “You can’t be both Protestant and Catholic, it doesn’t work that way?” Well certainly you can! Lutherans, Anglicans and other “High-Church” Protestants have been doing it for nearly five hundred years.

I think the problem comes in when you begin to take these terms and make them titles of particular church clubs, you have “The Protestants” over here and “The Catholics” over there, which is certainly true in most senses. I’m just not sure those are the only senses by which we have to use them.

I’m most certainly Protestant in that sense, I’m neither Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and last I checked I was never a member of a Coptic or Ethiopian church. My theological persuasion is still pretty Protestant, but enter my rebellious side. Unable to simply sit comfy I put on my leather jacket and kick start my Harley and I’m off on some journey on the highway.

But where am I going? That’s an excellent question.

I’ve long been what I consider “ecumenical”, meaning that in some way I believe that Christians should spend more time talking to one another instead of anathemizing one another. What I mean by that term has evolved over the years.

The lines which divide various Christian “bodies” have become fairly fuzzier over the years, so much so that I’ve begun to question the very idea of having some “denominational title”, I know of other Christians who out of their own dislike for denominational disputes and titles have joined the “non-denominational” bandwagon. But, really, for all the talk of “non-denominational” these come across as virtually carbon copies of one another. I have no interest in the “non-denominational” movement because it seems like a bad alternative to the “denominational” system. It’s not really non-denominational, it’s simply quasi-denominational.

So that’s not the route I want to take, that much I know for certain. And yet, as said, all these boundaries seem to be a bit blurry.

The more I’m on “the road” so to speak, the more I kind of just think I want to be part of it all. Now certainly I’m more comfortable in the Lutheran theological arena than the Baptist one, but I don’t really want to say “I’m Lutheran, not Baptist.” Not because it’s approximating a semblence of truth, but because somewhere deep inside me I honestly believe in an idea. I certainly believe that there are Christians whose theology is closer in approximity to mainstream Christian orthodoxy than others, and often in different ways. I think the Lutheran conviction about the Gospel is more faithful than the Catholic one; I think the way Catholics “do” church is more faithful than the way Baptists do it; yet in all three cases we are still talking about Christians. I am theirs and they are mine. This is that idea I was getting at. That while our mileage may vary, all of us Christians are still Christian, and thus we are all part of the same fundamental thing.

I sometimes honestly do feel that there are Christains out there who are practicing a completely different religion than the one I am. These off-beat folk who go around pounding Bibles over everyone else’s head certainly seems absurdly foreign to me; but this is the exception rather than the rule.

So what am I? I have no idea, I just know I’m a Christian. I guess I’m just slowly learning what that means exactly. So maybe I am a rebel, then again maybe I’m just a pilgrim.

Where am I headed? I’m not entirely sure, though I pray to keep my eyes on the Son just over the horizon. I’ll just continue to enjoy the ride.

-Jon