11 years ago Christine and I with our 2.5 year-old son left the United States to live in North Wales. We set out to make a fresh start, and we did. But I sort of failed at something. I never really left America. I blame the Internet.
While Christine and I were starting fresh and getting healed up from a full term stillbirth and some whacked out ideas about God and the response of a church that didn’t know what to do with an unhealed dead baby, I sort of stayed in America. I kept up with American politics and Christianity via the Internet. Being the Internet, it was kind of a cartoon version of American politics and Christianity.
It was fine for a while. Some bits were very good: I found Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, John Michael Greer, Shane Clairborne and Larry Shallenberger. Other bits were bad. My evolving views made my wonderful sister and brother-in-law angry and lost me a really good friend.
Lately, America has just been making me mad. I’m cheesed off that American Christians are still debating whether or not women can do the same jobs as men or be considered their equals. I’m cross that they are still trying to decide whether or not LGBT people get to be counted as fully human. I cannot endure one more pastor with perfectly reformed theology expounding ad nauseum why a different conclusion than his is Dangerous. I’m sick of the fake miracles and the politics of fear. (‘AMERICA IS DOOMED!’ Of course America is doomed, not because it has a black liberal president but because America is an empire and all empires are doomed.) I don’t have the stomach for this presidential election. I don’t need to hear the latest pronouncement by the church’s prophets of Baal about what kind of prayer and fasting we need to do for the next 40 days to make sure God doesn’t lightning bolt the country. I have no interest in what the evangelical pope has to say about anything. I’m sick of the megachurchcorp CEOs and their obsession with their big numbers. I’ve had it with the whole thing. I have no grace to offer.
I realised a couple days ago that the problem isn’t America – okay, actually the problem is America and its stupid paranoid greedy consumer religion. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that I’m making it my problem. I live in Wales, UK. My job is to serve and love people in Wales. Raising my blood pressure over what the Americans are doing is stupid and dumb. I’ve been stupid and dumb.
I’m going to stop.
American Christians are on their own journey. My meddling in it displays a serious lack of faith in the Spirit’s work in those Christians and an unwillingness to fully concentrate on the work I’m doing here. It’s time for me to leave America – for real – and keep my face pointed in the same direction as the plough.
This is what I’m doing. Until the end of 2012 anything to do with American spirituality or politics is out of my life, the good and the bad. (The exceptions are family and friends, of course. And I’m keeping Josh Garrels in my playlist.) Basically I’m cutting out a bunch of podcasts, books that I may have read, blogs, Twitter accounts and all their links and link and links. Here’s a list for people who like lists:
- Blaine Hogan
- Cognitive Discopants
- Google US news
- Greg Boyd
- Jamie the Very Worst Missionary
- Jesus Needs New PR
- John Michael Greer
- Kirk Cowell
- Larry Shallenberger
- Love is what you do
- Mars Hill (the good one)
- Naked Pastor
- People ranting about Mars Hill (the other one)
- People ranting in general
- Rachel Held Evans
- Rob Bell
- Shane Claiborne
- Stephen Colbert
- The Beautiful Due
- Two Friars and a Fool
- Unvirtuous Abbey
This will give me space to clear my brain. Once I get to 2013, I’m not sure. My goal is not to pretend that America doesn’t exist or has nothing spiritually good to offer. Rather, I want to return (metaphorically) full of grace and love and no longer fighting against a bunch of rules and ideas that haven’t actually applied to my life for years. It may take me more than six months to get there.
This is obviously a big overblown statement full of broad brushstroke characterisations. It says more about me than it does about the United States. That is the point. I want to expose my own dysfunction so that it is clear (to me probably more than anyone else) why I am doing this. It also makes me kind of accountable. If I announce something on the Internet, I am a lot more likely to do it. Also, I tend to make big overblown statements about things that don’t need big overblown statements.
If you are an American reading this blog, you are welcome to keep reading and to comment. I’m not going into hiding.
Finally, thank you, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, John Michael Greer and Shane Claiborne and so many others. You have helped me to become a better person. I’ll be back listening to you again, maybe as soon as next year.
I start as soon as I finish my last book on spirituality by an American author for now. (The book is Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. It is the perfect book for where I’m at right now.)
4 June 2012
john michael greer,
Comment or share
From John Michael Greer’s latest essay:
It’s among the major failures of contemporary Western culture that the keepers of its religious traditions have so signally failed to deal with the core issues of our time. There’s a history behind that failure, of course. In what used to be the religious mainstream, well-meaning but clueless attempts to become relevant in the 1960s and 1970s led clergy to replace authentic spirituality with a new definition of religious institutions as some sort of awkward hybrid of amateur social service agencies and moral lobbying firms, deriving their values from the contemporary nonreligious left rather than from any coherent sense of their own traditional spiritual commitments. Since the vast majority of Americans then and now are on the moderate-to-conservative end of the political spectrum, and have next to no patience with the liberal ideologies that drove this shift, the formerly mainstream denominations ended up with a fraction of their old membership and influence as parishioners abandoned them in droves for more conservative churches and synagogues.
Those latter, meanwhile, had just completed the same transformation in the other direction, surrendering their own traditional commitments in order to embrace the political ideologies of the contemporary right. This is why so many of today’s supposedly conservative clergy are out there right now urging their congregations to vote for a Republican party whose platform could not be further from the explicit teachings of Jesus if somebody had set out to do that on purpose. Very few American religious groups have avoided falling into one or the other of these pitfalls.
That has had any number of unhelpful consequences, but the one relevant here is that either choice makes it effectively impossible for those who speak for religious institutions to say anything at all about the reality of our nation’s and civilization’s decline. The denominations of theold mainstream are committed to what, without too much satire, could be described as the belief that everyone in the world deserves a middle class American lifestyle; those of the new conservative religiosity are just as rigidly committed to the claim that middle class Americans deserve, and ought to be able to keep, that lifestyle. Neither can begin to address the hard fact that this lifestyle and nearly everything associated with it are going away forever.
If you are not reading Mr Greer, why? And don’t say it’s because he is the head of an American order of Druids. In the words of somebody that Rob Bell quoted, all truth is ours. (I’m not bothering with the actual source because I’m having an out-of-college-for-the-summer break from sources.)
31 May 2012
john michael greer,
Comment or share
Not too long ago, prompted by one of these messages by Greg Boyd, I went through all the bits of the bible that have been connected with the idea of hell.
I read Rob Bell’s Love Wins a few weeks ago.
Then some Francis Chan books were available for free on Amazon, so I downloaded and read Erasing Hell.
Over the last five days Two Friars and a Fool have posted 95 Tweets Against Hell
It has been interesting.
Boyd endorses annihilation rather than eternal torment. Bell says there is always hope because the good news really is good. Chan paints a reasoned, thoughtful but shocking picture of God and asks us to answer not whether we want to believe in a God that sends most of us to eternal conscious torment but whether we can believe in such a God. The Friars unleash everything they can lay their hands on to combat the idea of hell. They organised their assault weapons into three categories, ethical, theological, biblical.
Every one of these resources is worth getting your hands on, especially the scriptures, especially if you untranslate as you read.
Now here’s my opinion: hell is a very interesting subject to think and read and speculate about, but the bible seems to recommend that far more important is the way we spend our lives working for God’s Kingdom now. People have argued for centuries about who are the sheep and who are the goats of Matthew 25 and what happens to them after the judgement, but everyone agrees, in principle at least, that the things the sheep do are good things. What if we did the sheep things and left the sorting to God?
(There is a reason why we don’t, but that is a subject for another post.)
20 April 2012
tags: greg boyd,
kingdom of god,
Comment or share
The photo was stolen from Peter Rollins’ Flickr, but the caption is mine, with a little assistance from St Paul.
17 November 2011
tags: peter rollins,
Comment or share
And I said something about a wider cultural point.
And she said yeah, but he doesn’t understand girls.
And I said something not very convincing.
Today, I thought, Actually Jesus probably would be where Aric Clark said AND where Rob Bell said AND a bunch of other places that we haven’t thought of. Or he might not have even gone to the dance because who seriously wants to go to a middle school dance? Also he would have had to turn the water into punch.
Which brings me to this: Jesus shows up in unexpected places. e.g. this very Jesusy way of seeing people…
Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime.
…came from here.
Everything I have considered posting the last few days has involved something negative about someone or something. I’m right, obviously, but there is already an entire Internet full of people who are right telling us what’s wrong with everything. So here’s a happy face:
Also, definitely spend five bucks and 90 minutes on Rob Bell’s The God’s Are Not Angry. The first half will totally help you get the Old Testament — Yay Levititcus! — and I’ll tell you about the second half once I see it.