Thursday, March 3, 2011

since I didn't get my existential convos this week and am working late instead...

I find it amusing when those outside of evangelical circles like to generalize about an entire group in ways that are about as absurd as saying that Al Sharpton or Louis Farrakhan or Oprah speak for "the black community" or put-your-favorite-talking-head here speaking about their pet topic.

Immerse yourself in any subculture, whether it's musical or religious or whatever, and there are infinite permutations and variations and raging debates on what is true and good and what sucks and is totally ridiculous.

As far as serious issues go in the taboo topics of politics, sex, and religion, I am more willing to argue about religion than other things because I think that this kind of stuff actually matters in the great scheme of things as far as eternity goes, and as far as application to one's daily life in the meantime.

On the other hand, I don't really like to have these arguments because I don't believe that any of us mere mortals really get it half the time. There are certain things that I hold to, that I gauge the truth based on as far as I can tell. Any time anyone starts talking about "a new way of" this or that or anything resembling a "bright new future", I'm expecting a whole lot of bullshit platitudes coming my way.

So often we make God into our own image, assigning preferable personality traits and occasionally a skin color, political party, and language to fit the way we see the world, whether it's in a hellfire-and-brimstone-way or a Buddy Christ motivational booster kind of figure who just wants everybody to be happy and get along.

Anyways, Rob Bell has a new book coming out where he's talking about heaven and hell and not in a way that has anything to do with Dio and the inevitable evangelical subcultural debates have begun on whether or not he's keeping it real or something.

Most of you my dear readers (possibly all except for maybe one or two) may not realize that evangelicals are not all clones of Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin. Evangelical is if anything a catchall term for those who are not in mainline Protestant denoms or Eastern Orthodox or Catholic, and even then, there's occasional overlap. People take this stuff seriously and occasionally aren't friends anymore over hair-splitting doctrinal differences (I don't think that's a good thing, but more on that another time).

The book hasn't come out, so no one's read it yet, kind of like all the people who freaked out about Dogma but hadn't actually watched it. Having seen a few of Bell's videos and whatnot, I'm not a huge fan and while a lot of it sounds nice and looks pretty, it lacks a theological depth and seems to be more of an emotional and aesthetic appeal that looks deeper than it really is.

This is somewhat my issue with the whole Hipster Christianity thing because what looks all cool and edgy and relevant right now is going to look like Stryper 20 years from now if it doesn't already. And when I get mailings from these churches that talk about how they're relevant to me as a creative cynical questioning 20-something who doesn't feel like they fit in with the prevailing culture, I feel pandered to and I don't like feeling pandered to.

I don't pick who I worship with because the building looks cool or we all listen to U2 or there's candles or something. I like that they're not all earnest indie kids and that I find a commonality in God with people that I couldn't be more different from. I like that we're not all the same age and from the same walks of life and that it's scruffy and honest.

Not to sound like a bitter old record store clerk still mad that their favorite underground band got signed to a major and is played on commercial radio, but faith isn't supposed to be cool. And yet, I look at these articles and see myself there in a way that I assume is unconscious and accidental in an "oh snap" kind of way because I do love the writing of Flannery O'Connor and the music of U2 and try to give a damn in an "I want to do something good and right because it bothers the hell of out me that things are so bad" kind of way.

I understand my generation's disdain for poofy haired televangelists and the culture wars still fought by our parents, but there's just as much smug self-righteousness and keeping up appearances that becomes just as much a bubble with its own lines to tow, whether it's trendy and good intentioned causes that everyone thinks is bad (sex trafficking and genocide are generally non-controversial in this way) so that no boats are rocked and a cachet of cool is still maintained.

I get emotion and aesthetic appeal, but essence of what I believe is distilled down to "Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." I suck at both of these, but this is what I try to base my life on, to know and learn and love and try not to be a jerk, which is hard, because being a jerk is so easy and sometimes way too fun to do.

And what bothers me that is that the whole "mind" aspect of this equation gets checked in at the door more often than it should, both in hardcore fundamentalist circles and just as much among the more emergent types, when dissent can lead to accusations of "well you're not really a Christian" or "you obviously hate everyone especially poor people and are totally judgmental."

I've been told I was the former, because I didn't dress right, listen to the wrong music, and cuss when I get mad, and described as the latter because I do believe in structure and creed and not in the bright and shining hope of People Who Can Change the World Because They're So Nice and Awesome and Well-Intentioned. I know that they don't know me, that only God knows me better than I know myself, and the more I live, the more I realize how much about me needs to change.

It bothers me to see so much tied to "how this makes me feel" or "this is what I want to hear" or "this is what I want to believe." I'm probably guilty of this too, because I tend to tune out the talking heads and the drivel with every fiber in my being. These conversations are not conducive to facebook walls or message boards and as with anything that can get emotional or misconstrued, I always prefer face-to-face, preferably over dinner or coffee. Even then, sometimes it still gets dramatic.

Because who of us has all the answers or can comprehend these things? It's not that we don't try but we've had a couple millenia now and there will still be thinks that will be seen through a glass darkly. I know that I'm not always consistent and usually not content to just live and let live. It bothers me that there is so much that I just don't understand, and so much more to learn, and that I can't get complacent even if I wanted to because my mind is always working and my heart is always bleeding and my soul is always yearning.

I feel like the little kid in O'Connor's short story "Temple of the Holy Ghost" who makes fun of her ditzy Catholic schoolgirl cousins, the boys in the neighborhood who are going to be Church of God ministers because "You don't have to know nothing to be one," who's asking God to help her not be so snarky, who probably could never a saint but might be an ok martyr "if they killed her quick."


Anonymous said...

in the face of the worship wars and such my wife the mystic clergy lady with a couple of related doctorates has been largely reduced to Anne Lamott's help me help and thank you thank you 12 stepper prayers, kind of a thy will be done treading water @ forty fathoms deep sort of surrender. Today after reading about the latest supersizeme business model for church growth I think I heard her mumble Lord why is your church so pitiful...

Randal Graves said...

Blah blah blah, all you fundies are wackos you can't fool me like the other day when you stabbed that gentle hippie in the skull with your Righteous Sword of Vengeance when all he wanted was to check out some books on Buddhism.

You had to mention Stryper? Methinks you might be a tool of Belial.

Are the hipster Christians the ones playing that Cthulhu-awful K-Tel record comp crap hawked on the tube?

thatgirl said...

It frustrates me to no end when I hear corporate speak applied to God-ish-stuff. I'm thankful that I've been blessed to be around fellow believers who come from non-American churches and are thankfully free of a lot of our absurdity, though I know that every place has its struggles. It gives me a weird sort of hope I guess.

What, you don't like having the hell rocked out of you?

And in fairness to K-Tel, while they do suck to high heaven, they did put out a 2-disc comp of 'indie rock' back in the day that introduced an impressionable teenage yours truly to the likes of the Melvins, Black Flag, and Mudhoney, so I've gotta give props where they're due.

Randal Graves said...

The more Tartarean, the better. But wait, K-Tel, the K-Tel known for alternating shlock & awful, put out platters with those bands?

Color me obfuscated.

thatgirl said...

I'm sure it didn't sell as well as "Greatest Power Ballads of the 80's" that it was shelved next to in the comp section of the library, but yeah, don't know which marketer thought that was a good idea.