The Taser's Edge

A Parent, A Gardener, A Sex Tip

One of the themes of the conversations at Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, VA (see previous post) was the idea of taking risks in being faithful to God’s calling.  This feeds into something that God has been working into me for a while–the idea of being more adventurous and truly seeing the freedom that there is in God and in my calling to Christian ministry.  Few people have spoken more truly of God than Mrs. Beaver spoke of Aslan–“He’s not a tame lion.”  And while I’ve been warned that there’s some kind of political subtext to that statement, I still take it to mean a very simple and important truth about God: God is far, far, far more adventurous than Christians want God to be.  This is especially true for this Christian, especially when God calls me to live into the adventurous part of the image in which I am created.

If you don’t know me at all but have read at least two of my blog posts, you might already realize that I think too much.  Realize that I know this, and I’m working on it in different ways.  As my AMP group talked Friday afternoon about faithfulness and risk-taking ministry, I began to dream up how that would be great for a church.  Set aside time each week for the staff to dream ridiculous dreams together.  All of the dreams just thrown out there so that they can be heard.  Although I’ve been warned (and believe) that the church shouldn’t emulate the corporate world, it’s hard not to think of Google’s elevator to outer space idea.  The point behind such a practice (crazy dream sessions, not transporting goods to space) is that too often we turn our brains on too soon, and it chokes both our imagination and God’s work in our lives.

When I was doing my senior seminar at Concordia University Wisconsin, Dr. David Krenz provided us with a metaphor (or is it an analogy?) of two parts–parent and child.  The child (who didn’t make it into the title due to the close proximity of the word “sex”), Krenz said, is the part of us which has all the creativity, the wonder, the wild abandon, and the ability to make wide-ranging and sometimes ridiculous connections.  The parent is the part of us which clamps down on that child to make sure that everything in our lives is respectable and looks good to the neighbors.  When you write a paper, he said, make sure that you let the child play for a good, long while before you let your parent step in.  Although you do need the parent to work things together for the finished paper, if you release her too soon you will lose those creative sparks and intuitions which are so important.

To put it bluntly, I have an overactive parent.

To turn to another metaphor (and this time I know it’s not a simile), my mind is a garden.  My ideas are its plants.  Some are full and flourishing, while others are just coming up from the ground.  But my overactive parent has now become, very unfortunately, an overzealous gardener who has also undergone a sex change.  He looks out over the garden plot, and as the tiniest shoot is coming out of the ground, before he can even see what kind of plant it might be, he makes a judgment of whether it will survive and be something desirable, and on that poorly informed basis decides whether to pluck it.  He usually plucks it.  He also usually decides to keep only plants that look fairly similar to plants he’s seen before.  And while I like snap beans alright, I don’t necessarily need 37 varieties; sometimes I think I might like some variety in my diet.

I’m not a violent-natured person, so rather than strangling my gardener (he is, after all, my mother, to continue mixing the metaphorical metaphor pot) what I want to do is sit down and give him a stern talking-to.  But that would be overthinking.  Instead, I want to try this: journal without thinking.  I journal from time to time, sometimes with great regularity and sometimes only a couple times a month (a little more regularly than this blog).  What makes it onto the page are my thoughts, but I think that sometimes they hit the page in a too highly developed form.  I strain out all kinds of things, making sure that I really think something or really feel something, or that I’m not going to change my mind in two minutes, or that I haven’t changed my mind since yesterday.  I don’t consciously think all that stuff, but there is a whole lot of refining, and I think it needs to stop.  I need to write my perceptions in that particular moment and not feel guilty that my impressions may be wrong or self-deceived or fleeting or whatever else.  I need to copy it onto the page, otherwise I think that I am missing beautiful sparks of the imagination and beautiful and risky visions of God.

What exactly am I fearing if I were to change my mind on a subject?  As I always say, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”  (Then most of the time I follow that up by admitting I don’t always say that, but Emerson once did.)  I need a place to pour out all those imaginative thoughts and dreams because otherwise I often won’t see them for what they are, and I’ll miss some beauties.  Let the child keep playing.  Who’s he hurting?  Let the plants keep growing.  You’ve got plenty of soil and you might as well see what those new plants turn out to be.

You might just find that you even like those random rutabagas better than your snap beans, although I doubt it.  I’m told rutabagas are gross.  I’ve never tried them to find out and I swear to you I never will.

Bonus tip: Sex can also be better when you turn off your brain.

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.