Four mornings a week, in the tranquil, blushing hours of morning, Diana Butler Bass drives to a familiar walking trail along the Potomac River and embarks on a two-mile stroll.
Creeping sunlight peppers the wooded scene. And the babble of active water silences the jangle of daily life.
Some days she finds a comfortable bench along the river where she can journal. Other days, she observes creation.
For Bass, a learned nature connoisseur, ardent gardener, and noted religion academic, God does not merely exist inside reverent, adorned church spaces.
God also lives in the soil and exists in the elements.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the kind of pastor who ends up doing funerals for an alcoholic stand-up comic and a transvestite. The founder of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints, this tattooed, profanity-loving Lutheran pastor wants nothing more than to tell it like it is.
Her newest book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, expands on her trademark exploration of finding God in the unexpected.
“When it comes down to it,” said Bolz-Weber, “the church is for losers. We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories and strengths and accomplishments. This is why it’s hilarious to me when people sort of write me off as hipster Christianity. You have definitely not been to my congregation. It is not hip.”
Christian conservatives who think Satan is using communism and Islam to bring down America can add a new “adversary” to the list: the Emergent Church movement.
A portion of the upcoming Values Voter Summit in Washington will stray from its usual focus on politics and consider the Emergent Church as one of three “channels the adversary is using to bring America down.” Art Ally, president of The Timothy Plan, a Florida-based mutual fund company devoted to “biblically responsible investing,” will lead the breakout session.
“Why would Satan use Communism? It’s a godless form of government,” said Ally. “Why would Satan use Islam? Same reason. It’s not a religion. It’s a movement to dominate the world under the guise of religion. The Emergent Church plays right into that by weakening further our church community.”
I just got back a few days ago from a campsite outside of Asheville, N.C., the site of the third annual Wild Goose Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the event, imagine and old-fashioned days-long outdoor revival, combined with Bonaroo and a traveling circus. For several days, authors, activists, artisans, musicians, and seekers converge to engage in spontaneous community, share ideas and to inspire one another.
It's not every day that you can walk by a makeshift tent and listen to Phyllis Tickle succinctly summarize the history of Christendom in 45 minutes, and then wander over and pick up a vegetarian pita sandwich while on your way to hear the Indigo Girls perform. Impassioned conversations emerge all on your walk about everything from child trafficking to the state of the institutional church in the 21st century. And you're only momentarily distracted by the guy on stilts, wearing a hat covered in goose feathers who wanders by for no apparent reason.
Welcome to Wild Goose.
Within Christianity it’s easy to criticize. Here are some of the most common scapegoats:
1) Conservative Fundamentalists
Christianity’s negative public image is — sometimes rightfully — blamed on these people. Perceived as being exclusive, resistant to change, addicted to power, and very aggressive, they’re characterized as anti-women, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, and anti-evolution.
Ten years ago the top scapegoat would’ve belonged to ‘Progressive Liberals,’ but what a difference a few years make. Despite the dramatic change, we can often be guilty of blaming fundamentalists just as easily and unfairly as they used to blame others.
A Convenient target, we often use them as a punching bag. Many theologians, bloggers, pastors, and leaders have become obsessed with fighting and arguing against fundamentalists, and it ultimately becomes a distraction. It’s so easy to focus on those we disagree with that our entire faith becomes a set of reactions to our opponents instead of a life lived promoting the Gospel of Christ.
Because this week -- months after the Arab Spring, and after weeks of the growing Wall Street Occupation -- well, in this climate of discontent and dissent as we all begin to wake from our consumer induced coma to see how multi-national corporations control so much more than we can imagine, in a season when tyrants are being over thrown, I simply could not preach a sermon in which I say that God is like an angry murderous slave owning king. Maybe there is a way of finding good news in that but I just couldn't do it.
When I was growing up, there was a house down the street from us which had slightly tattered window coverings and the front lawn was like a graveyard of broken things. Posted on the fence was a "No trespassing" sign. I remember asking my mother what trespassing was so I could be certain not to do it to anyone who lived in that weird house. When she explained that it meant going into their yard uninvited I thought, no problem. Soon after that, when I first learned the Lord's Prayer, I thought it was weird that out of all the sins that Jesus would suggest we ask God to forgive it would be our trespassing. I pretty much made it a policy to stay out of strange yards, and since no one seemed to wander into ours uninvited, I thought I was covered. Only later did I realize that trespassing was only one of countless was to trespass against others. And now I get it -- kind of. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus always seems to be pairing God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others.
photo © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)Even I can't help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That's the thing about our sacred text being so dang old -- it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.
But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."
Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can't manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul's simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.
It's no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I'd wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: "OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power." Then, inevitably, later that day I'd say, "Well, just one drink would be OK," or, "I'll only drink wine and not vodka," or, "I'll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk." And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never "strong enough" Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that's addiction for you. It's ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.
My favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings are the Ents -- an ancient race of giant living, talking, breathing trees in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional land, Middle Earth. I have a little confession to make: Whenever I hear a reading from Isaiah 55 where it says, "The mountains and hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands," I always picture the Giant Ents from The Lord of the Rings. And then I picture these clapping trees from Isaiah holding little Hobbits in their branch arms in what ends up a willful conflation of Middle Earth and Major Prophet.
In this season in which we find ourselves there is an anticipatory feeling in the air. A waiting, a longing, and yearning. This is a time filled with preparations and signs and symbols. Everything leads to this promised future. With our turkey stuffed bellies, we awaken from a tryptophan-induced coma of carbohydrates to the coming of what feels like the end time -- for there will be sales and rumors of sales. So stay awake my brothers and sisters because the doorbusting shopacalypse is upon us. Yet my heart was glad when they said to me, let us go at 5 a. m to the house of the Lord and Taylor. For on that holy mountain, people will stream from east and west, north and south, and all nations will come. They will turn plastic cards into shiny promises of love in the form of bigger plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will go down from this mountain to wrap their bits of plastic and cloth and metal and wire. They will wrap it all in paper, to wait for that day. The day of mythical, sentimentalized domesticity when the hopes and dreams of love and family and acceptance and perfect, perfect reciprocity will come to pass. And the children shall believe that they shall be always good and never bad for Santa will come like a thief in the night. No one knows the hour so you better be good for goodness sake.