Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cool Christianity?

Couple of interesting blogposts using the idea of Christianity being "cool":

Rachel Held Evans struck a nerve with her recent op-ed on CNN.  She often speaks to her fellow Christian leaders as to why people leave the evangelical churches:
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.  
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.  
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”  
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Held Evans is lamenting that "coolness", in the eyes of so many churches, is image and perception.  It is speaking the language of the current trends, even if the message continues to be shallow and exclusive.

Raushenbush's coolness is not the dressing that Held Evans talked off, but something deeper:  
There was a time when Christians like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich, Dorothy Day, Henri Nouwen, Howard Thurman, Reinhold Niebuhr and John XXIII offered the basic framework for what Christianity meant to the world. 
Collectively, these men and women offered some of the most philosophically deep and socially relevant thought of any kind. They inspired a generation of young people to work in racial reconciliation, environmentalism, economic justice, and anti-war activism. They fed the spirit, while also walking in Jesus' way of justice and peace. 
In those days you could say you were a Christian and the above names might come to the mind of the listener -- and they were cool; meaning relevant, compelling, edgy, and forward thinking.

Rasushenbush says we have journeyed away from this type of Christianity in recent history, but perhaps we are now returning, seen in part by the recent words of Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu, and other current leaders found in today's churches (including The Episcopal Church, "headed by an amazing woman who is both a scientist and pastor and who is spearheading the conversation between science and religion").

He also shares a story of invite by his inviting colleagues to a "disco mass" on Gay Pride Sunday in New York:
We had a great time at the church. My friends fell in love with the pastor whose style was relaxed and hip, and whose sermon was smart and compelling. They loved the community feel of the congregation, and they thought the ideas they heard there a good way to start gay pride. 
Mind you, neither of them had been to church of their own volition -- ever. And they may never go back to church. I really don't care -- they are wonderful, spiritual, and ethical people -- I don't need them to become Christian. 
However, by being there they understood a little more about why I am Christian, and how Christianity guides the way I view the world and do the things I do. And even with that short glimpse they respected my faith more than they had before. 
If more Christians can speak out the way Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this week and so many have been in recent memory -- it will change the way people view Jesus and the faith that he inspires in so many of us. 
And that will be so cool.

This wonderful definition of "cool" (which includes Rasushenbush's cool understanding that inviting his friends to come and see is far more important that a desire to "convert" them) is a sign of hope that Christianity is moving towards what Held Evans longs for:  a change in substance that embraces holiness, caring for others, peace and justice.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To my fellow white, heterosexual men:  Stop talking (for now) and listen...

There is quite a convergence in the public sphere:  major story lines concerning race, gender, and sexuality.  Lots of people are speaking out over their personal experiences concerning one or more of these life aspects.
What’s a straight white man to do?
The answer is simple, yet powerful:   listen.  
If you speak, restrict yourself to clarifying questions, words of acknowledgement that you heard what was said, and if you feel so called, apologize.
Now I’m willing to bet that this doesn’t sit well with many straight white men.  I know that it doesn’t sit well with me.
I’m going to assume the best about us for the moment (myself, and any other straight white male still reading), and that the primary negative reaction is well intended:  whatever is in our minds as a racist, sexist, or homophobic person is NOT who we are.  We think of the racist as the one who “uses the n-word”, the sexist who abuses women, and the homophobic as the one who shouts “God hates F---”.  That’s not us, and we desperately do not want to be seen as that.   We’re better then that.  
But in our shouts claiming so, in our worry that we get lumped into a label, we for all intensive purposes attempt to shift the conversation back to us:  how different we are, how much we’ve grown, how much better things are, and how much progress has been made.
None of this should be the point.
The stories being told by non-whites, women, and GLBT persons are real stories of being hated, demeaned, and endangered because of a critical part of their very being.  They are being shared to support others who have been wounded, or in the hope of changing our society to be a better one.  The tellers range from a press conference with President Obama, to shared tweets from women around the globe @EverydaySexism.  The success of the person does not change the experience.  
I want to shout out that “I get it!”  You may want to do so too...
But at this moment, for all intents and purposes,  the personal stories of straight white men trying to show “that’s not me”, or say “I’ve been hurt too”, does nothing to change the realities of being a racial minority, a woman, or a GLBT person, other than push them aside.  Doing so also misses the places where we may hold more subtle views of an “ism” that we’ve failed to recognize, or to tell truth where we’ve not had to worry about things because of being straight, white, or male. 
Our stories matter, but they’re not for now.
I understand that many straight white men will argue with my opinion, citing examples that seem to counter my conclusions:
“People in these groups hurt each other; the experiences of these groups are not the same!”  ---That may be true, but it’s not for straight white men to solve, or to be absolved by.  
“Look at all these people who have had it easier than me!”  ---That simply does not change the truth behind their experience.
Are straight white men just supposed to feel guilty?  Well, perhaps for some things, and not for others.  Whether we specifically feel guilty or not isn’t ultimately where we are to end up.
I believe I am called to use whatever power I have to help these voices be heard.  I am to learn from their experiences.  And, if I am courageous, I can help be part of a common solution:  to continue working towards acknowledging the -isms that still plague our world, and to be part of a solution where our differences are simply that, and not the places of mistrust, fear, and oppression.
But right now, I really need to listen...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

At best, Man of Steel's Christology is Much Ado About Nothing

Perhaps I should begin by apologizing to anyone here looking for commentary on Joss Whedon's new movie rendition of Shakespeare's play (which I can't wait to see).  The phrase, however, neatly sums up the Superman movie Man of Steel.

First off, I simply did not enjoy it.  It is not fun:  at all.  I have no problem with and welcome darker takes in superhero genre, but feel that at least some aspect of it should be fun, or at least smart.  The loud mostly non-stop action of Man of Steel lacked joy in every aspect:  and without some joy, there's little exploration of humanity (which is the usual realm of superhero movies).

Man of Steel, however, has received some attention because of the attempt by Warner Brothers and other PR groups to link it to pastors and churches by saying "Hey, Superman is like Jesus!"

Is this an accurate statement?  

Certainly the Superman to Jesus comparison has been made numerous times over the years.  There are at least two big-time attempts in Man of Steel to invoke Jesus:

(Here come the spoilers)

Clark (he gets the Superman name later), in his discerning whether or not to turn himself into US authorities so they can extradite him to General Zod, goes into a church to talk with a priest.  He recalls his conversations with his human father, Jonathan Kent, who (in the best scenes of the movie, thanks to Kevin Costner) counsels that humanity will hate and fear what they don't understand.  "So should I trust humanity?", asks Clark, with the Jesus in Gethsemane (where he discerns and prays) stained-glass window in the background.  The priest counsels the need for faith.  

As Clark pushes away from Zod's ship, and the vision of his Kryptonian father, he forms the shape of the cross.

(Some would give the ending "He saved us...he saved us all" Jesus billing as well, but it alludes to Jesus only because of the other images.  Superheroes save people a lot, without necessarily invoking Jesus.)

There are problems with the Superman to Jesus comparison in general, and they mostly revolve around violence.  Two smart reactions are found by Mark Sandlin, who addresses the violence issue, and Aric Clark, who brilliantly describes a plot that would make Superman like Jesus.

One thing I ask myself:  do I think the filmmakers really trying to say Superman is like a modern day Jesus?  Or were they just trying to give a bit of potential conversation towards savior and chosen one aspects, not unlike Neo in The Matrix?  I wrote this on Facebook after seeing the movie:

Well: I saw the movie. Didn't care for it at all. Costner was the best part... I have to agree with Chrisi in that there's just not that much worth discussing in this movie, other than the way WB has tried to market it to pastors. Sure, they threw in a lot of Jesus/Christ images and words that get associated with Christianity...but really didn't say much other than "look: Superman's sorta like Jesus...  Were they attempting to appeal broadly to Christians by saying "We've framed Superman in a picture with a Jesus scene...and they're BOTH wrestling with what they are going to do next...and they both do what they should!!!" (Oooooooo....) Or were they trying to appeal the more "Americanized "kick-butt" Jesus" that gets preached by Driscoll and the likes? 

Whichever one it is, it's a pretty shallow attempt.