The Taser's Edge


Creating Christian Community and Naming the American Lie

This post is meant to be read after “Tasty, Tasty, Stanley-flavored Kool-Aid.”

Last night I traveled up to Roanoke, VA to visit Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican Mission in America congregation.  Actually, there are now three churches, the original Church of the Holy Spirit and two churches that it has planted in the surrounding area.

It was the first meeting of the new year for Anglican Missional Pastor, the clunkily named (hard to see that on a resume) program I’m doing to train to be a pastor within the AMiA.  It was a wonderful discussion about all kinds of stuff having to do with church planting and church leadership, encouraging rather than a bunch of technical stuff.  Eventually, one of the questions we asked was basically, “Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  There are many answers to that question: hope, community, belonging, to be known, to be accepted, to be understood, to love and be loved.

Stanley Hauerwas has a catchy slogan depicting his reading of the claims of modernity: “You should have no story but the story you chose when you had no story.”  Although his wording is facetious, it is also true.  Think of the promises of America: you can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else), your political beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your philosophical beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your religious beliefs are your own and you alone chose them, your mind is your own, your body is your own, your identity is your own.  Your personal story started with you, has been defined by you, and only those influences which you choose (bad influences being able to be ameliorated by counseling) will affect you.

If you think this is an overstatement, look at the promise of Barack Obama: grows up in poverty, the child of a Kenyan, raised by a single mother, becomes the first black president.  It is a lie to say that any child in America has the same potential.  I have only to talk to my wife and her fellow public school teachers about their students’ performance on End-of-Course testing (North Carolina’s way of doing their part for No Child Left Behind) and I know that it is a lie to say that, in America, any child has the potential to be president.  (I want it to be clear, however, that I do believe that every one of those children has the potential to do great things, but for most of them, their greatness will not be one chosen from among a stack of possibilities, but one highly determined by the circumstances of their lives, circumstances which were far beyond their control.)

Once again, I’m far afield.  This post is supposed to be connecting the post on postliberalism to my AMP day today.  Here’s the connection.  As I mentioned in this week’s Tuesday Reading Roundup, I have been reading Bryan Stone’s Evangelism After Christendom, which brings many of the ideas of postliberalism to bear on Christian evangelism.  One very strong part of postliberalism is a focus on narrative-formed communities.  Each community has its own story, and the members of that community are not discrete beings.  Rather their identities are dependent on one another (intersubjective) and upon the story and tradition of their community.  Communities are particular because they and their members are formed by particular stories and traditions.  One of these communities is the Church and its story is the Gospel.  Certainly this idea can be relativistic–many communities, none better than another–but Bryan Stone claims it doesn’t have to go that far necessarily (as does Alasdair MacIntyre, on whose work much of narrative theology is based).

“Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  People long for community, because although we are told that we can decide who we want to become, our identities are intertwined with each other.  This is not just a collective consciousness as a species (although I don’t necessarily have a problem saying that it may also be that), but it is more importantly about our collective identity as children of God.

Deep inside, we still know that we are connected to one another, that the divisions between us are wrong and somehow artificial (even though they go very deep), and that we are not separate islands unto ourselves.  No matter how loudly and often we are told that we can be whomever we choose to be, we know that our selves are not wholly determined by our choices or ourselves.  The Church has something to offer, because it is a place which (at its best and truest) affirms that voice within us and says to us, “Yes, you are connected to everyone else and also to something greater than you can voice or name, you are not alone, you were created to be loved and not to be abused.  Here is a community in which you are invited to experience and to have your identity be shaped by love, joy, peace, companionship (a word literally meaning ‘sharing bread’), and hope.”

Believe it or not, throughout history, there have always been some quarters of Christianity (a remnant, if you will) which actually work like that, and there are churches where it happens today.



Tuesday Reading Roundup

It’s that time again (for the first time)–the Tuesday Reading Roundup!  It seems like regular features could be a good thing, so I’ll invent this one, in which I’ll tell what I’m reading of a Tuesday (and the week to come), providing impressions and reviews along the way.

1. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle–Much easier to follow then my memories of Aristotle.  (I remember having to read a section of Poetics my junior year at Concordia, and I got basically nothing out of it.)  This time I have to read all but the fifth book for Virtue, Happiness, and the Life of Virtue, a class I’m taking this semester with Stanley Hauerwas.  Such an intensely focused way of thinking through things and of organizing thought.  Reading it through the particular lense of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, as Hauerwas is wont to do.  30% completed.

2. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver–Although her last book (and perhaps her most well-known to many of that book’s fans) was the non-fiction Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Kingsolver is really a novelist.  This is her first novel, from 1988.  Solidly southern lit, strong female characters, immigration issues.  The story, the characters, and the warmth of Kingsolver’s writing make this book very enjoyable.  Her writing, at a technical level, is very good, but she doesn’t work at the sentence-by-sentence method of many other writers who perhaps write more finely, but could never come up with characters and a narrative so compelling.  A fast, light read too, if that’s what you find yourself needing.  85% completed.

3. Evangelism After Christendom by Bryan Stone–Bryan Stone is a professor of evangelism at Boston University School of Theology and this book looks at evangelism as a Christian practice, in the MacIntyrean/Hauerwasian sense of the word practice.  Stone draws heavily on Alasdair MacIntyre, John Howard Yoder, and (unsurprisingly, considering the first two) Stanley Hauerwas to create a postliberal revisioning of what evangelism is meant to be, namely a practice of witness by a church of integrity.  Stone argues both against evangelistic techniques that end at conversion and models of evangelism which measure their success in numbers.  He also is not about to say that the church should keep to itself.  Witness to the reign of God, done rightly as a traditioned practice, is a good in itself, and the results-based focus of many modern evangelistic movements fails to speak this clearly enough.  Unfortunately, it seems that, at this point in the book, Stone is mostly tying together the three authors that I have already mentioned.  I’m hoping for more than simple synthesis, and I’m assuming I’ll get it, so don’t read this as a negative review.  I will have it read within the next couple days as it is my reading for this month’s Anglican Missional Pastor meeting, which begins Thursday evening.  45% completed.

4. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader, edited by Kieran Scott and Michael Warren–This is one of the main texts for Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures with Dr. Esther Acolatse this semester.  The reading for this week’s class (the first session) is from this book, but I’ll admit I haven’t yet picked up my copy from Cokesbury.  0% completed.