Monday, April 19, 2010

What's emerging in (& from) the church

As I've thought about participating in today's synchroblog, I've riffled through a variety of ideas--and I've finally landed on a devastatingly stereotypical theme. I'm a woman, a full-time mom, and I'm going to write about what's emerging in the younger generations, and especially among children. I landed on this [potentially cliche] theme with a tentative boldness for two reasons: 1) I'm thrilled at the hope and beauty I find in the lives of our young ones, and 2) Within what's emerging, I've found my voice welcome in broad variety of contexts. Ironically, not being strictly confined to the role of motherhood has freed me to embrace it with deep joy and confidence.

In the past few years, I've been intrigued to watch children learning to take church "out" of church. Not that they're staying away (for the most part), but that they're discovering the reach of God's Kingdom. They understand that God isn't confined geographically (to a building) or temporally (to Sunday morning) but almost intuitively grasp that the presence of God permeates our world -- and, in fact, longs to spread ever more broadly and pervasively throughout Creation. A few examples, I think, will be the best way to make my point.

  • A thirteen-year-old girl who says, "No Christmas presents, please. Just help me save up to visit the African orphans our family has been supporting."
  • A five-year-old boy who stops the family car to buy -- and hand-deliver -- burgers to the folks living under the bridge.
  • A teen-age boy who happily spends hours designing a creative, hands-on worship experience for a small faith community.
  • An eight-year-old girl who holds her family to a strict regimen of recycling, expressing a deep commitment to God's creation.
  • A home-schooled teen-age girl who is inspired by parents to reflect the image of God through her relationality and vibrant creativity.
  • A ten-year-old girl, who observes in the middle of an amusement park, "You know, we don't have to be at home to offer hospitality. We can be hospitable anywhere!"

Each of these young persons represents to me a whole-hearted, whole-life commitment to the ways of Jesus. They remind me that God's Kingdom is vast--as are the demands on a citizen of that Kingdom. They remind me that the Kingdom of God is a place of hope, and that pursuing that hope is an all-encompassing, lifelong quest.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rituals, liturgically speaking

Still thinking about ritualizing the dark side. Having come to terms with the notion of ritualizing, I’ve been thinking about the various contexts of my life in which I can develop this practice.
Perhaps the most obvious context, in light of the word “ritual”, is that of the institutional church. That’s certainly where I most frequently engage rituals, particularly as I attend a highly liturgically-oriented church. A pre-determined liturgy has several advantages when it comes to ritualizing just about anything, and I appreciate the more-than-cursory nods to the darker side of life. A weekly prayer of confession, for instance, reminds me each week of the power of darkness over my own spirit and behavior. On a yearly basis we observe the season of lent, which certainly makes real the darkest time in the history of our faith.
Of all the liturgical practices to ritualize darkness, I think my favorite is the Eucharist. One lesson that was taught over and over in my low-church childhood was that I should never take the Lord's supper "unworthily." This directive was no doubt a healthy one (not to mention directly lifted from Scripture!) and it helped me develop an understanding of self-examen and repentance. As I bring that understanding to what I now call Eucharist, however, I've internalized something new: how can I ever approach this table other than unworthily?! There is nothing I can do - ever - that will make me deserving of such a gift. Period. For me, each Sunday morning when I step up to the brass railing, I participate in a ritual of lament. For those brief moments I am deeply in touch with the darkness and need within my own soul. Most of all, I’m reminded of –and paradoxically relieved of—my doubts. My ever-spinning, questioning mind is momentarily brought to a standstill. In the practice of receiving the bread and wine, I recognize the frailty of my belief, and set it aside ever so briefly to join in the disciplines of this community.
Interestingly, as I write this, I discover that this ritual of repentance and sorrow and doubt is a tremendous gift. I’m so grateful for a place to acknowledge all this “stuff”. Whatever else is theologically intended by this practice, it creates a sort of freedom to stare unflinchingly into the haunting eyes of failure and even despair.
Perhaps you’ll argue that this doesn’t ritualize only darkness, that the Eucharist (and other practices as well) reflect to us also the hope of our faith. And, of course, you’d be right. But I find it helpful to consider that these rituals remind us of both. Darkness and light. Despair and hope. And I think it’s Great News that the practice of our faith makes room for both.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ritualizing doubt/sorrow/lament/...

Last night Peter Rollins visited GR, as part of The (mostly) East Coast leg of the Insurrection Pub Tour. Pete & friends promised an evening of "incendiary theology" and "haunting soundscapes", among other things--and yes, they did deliver. The visuals, the music, the ideas all melded powerfully to create an event with profound impact. Flowing from story to techno beat to acoustic poetry, the genius of the performance was that it reached a very broad audience on a profoundy personal level. A poem may have connected for one person, while a parable later in the evening might have "clicked" for another.

For me, the concept with which I walked away (to wrestle) was the challenge to incorporate the darker sides of faith into our everyday practices. While I tend to be a pretty upbeat type, I've also faced my share of darkness. And figuring out how those elements harmonize in the context of faith has been a real sticking point for me. I can often do one--or the other--but learning to hold the two in tension has been an ongoing challenge. So last night's charge to bring the darkness into our experience of faith came both as liberating permission and as confounding head-scratcher.

The specific terminology that struck me was that of "ritualizing sorrow" or "doubt" or "suffering". Certainly the term "ritual" carries its fair share of negative connotations. But for my purposes here, I'll try to polish it up a bit and use it to mean an intentional, consistent practice that is designed with a specific objective in mind. In this context, that purpose is simply to shape my life in relation to God.

I'm intrigued with the idea of bringing this level of intentionality --ritualization--to my experience and understanding of the interplay of God & suffering.