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.
Election 2014: Something important has just happened.
Big money bought an election. Fear prevailed over confidence and loathing over reason. The majority chose not to vote, allowing a passionate minority — older, whiter — to change the balance of power. Attack ads drowned out issues. A broken political system tolerated cheating and bullying.
Most worrisome is the absence of the virtues that enable a democracy to function in a challenging world. Civic-mindedness gave way to clever voter-suppression tactics. Freedom of the press got lost in attack ads and deliberate distortions of reality. Respect for opponents is gone. So too is the search for common ground, competing ideas, confidence in the nation, confidence in government, confidence in the future. Gone, gone, gone.
How could this happen? Several reasons — from intellectual laziness to self-serving leaders. The reason that touches my world is the collapse of progressive Christianity as a teacher of civic virtues.
Progressive Christianity is only one voice on the spectrum of religious opinions. But over the years it has had a large impact in its insistence on honesty, fairness, tolerance and humility. Progressive Christians have fought slavery, racial injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. Our search for truth has allowed room for other truths, other voices — a critical attitude in preserving democracy.
Anyone who reads my stuff with some regularity probably already knows that Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll isn’t exactly on my speed dial list, and I’m probably not in his. From his misogynistic quips to his hellfire hyper-Calvinist rants, he and I see almost all social and theological issues as differently as two people could and still call themselves Christians.
Add to that the recent plagiarism scandal, compounded by the fact that he effectively bought his way onto the New York Times bestseller list (and it turns out he may have used church money to do it), and I question the man’s fitness for ministry.
Having said that, I actually kind of love the guy—and you do too, if you’re being honest. No, I don’t mean in the “I love him because Jesus said I have to” kind of way. I mean you really kind of have a thing for him. Here’s why.
Eric Elnes, author of Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of the Christian Faith and Asphalt Jesus, always has something brewing. I sat down with him over a hearty cup of his own Darkwood Brew coffee at the recent Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina to find out more about Convergence Christianity, a new concept he’s developing, and which is gaining traction across many traditional ideological and theological lines.
Here’s what Eric had to say about the current state of the Christian faith, as well as where he sees it heading.
I woke up this morning in a damp sleeping bag to the sound of a rushing river. I heard the laughter of children and could smell bacon being fried in a tent not far from mine. I opened the tent flap and walked outside. As I looked around, I saw dozens of men and women who had also just rolled out of their sleeping bags and RVs to welcome the new day. I saw rainbow flags flying next to signs that read “Who would Jesus Torture?” and “Pro-Peace, Pro-Life, Be Consistent.”
As I began the short trek from my tent to the shower-house, I was greeted by dozens of people who I had never personally met but felt like I knew intimately. All of us had gathered to encourage and provoke one another to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Over the course of this weekend, dozens of presenters spoke to crowds who listened intently to their dynamic messages of reformation, renewal, redemption, and action. From the testimony of a tattooed Lutheran pastor to the ground-breaking theological theories on non-violence from a highly regarded gay Catholic priest, from the wisdom of one of the founding fathers of the Civil Rights Movement to a quirky live radio show hosted by one of the founders of the Emergent Church movement, hundreds of people from across the country and indeed around the world had converged for this little slice of heaven on earth known as the Wild Goose Festival.
Amy Ray’s smile opened itself to wrap love around the couple thousand fans who’d weathered a soggy soaker of a spiritual festival to wait for their 10 p.m. Saturday set. “Y’all have advanced way past kum-bah-yah,” she quipped. “That was a deep album cut.”
For 90 minutes, Ray and her musical partner Emily Saliers couldn’t stop praising the Wild Goose Festival crowd. It’s as if they’d trekked to the misty mountains of western North Carolina just to see us render their greatest hits the new hymnal for progressive and inclusive Christianity. The stellar setlist covered all the ground, a collection of tracks both new and old spanning a career that jump-started itself in the same 1980s Georgia music scene that gave us the likes R.E.M. and Widespread Panic.
The Indigo Girls catalog knits itself into our daily lives in such a way to make them the perfect band for a campfire singalong at a radicals’ revival like this. But what else was obvious here could not be pinpointed in the mere practice of song. The best-selling grassroots folk duo found something in our makeshift festival that’s been true of their career — past all the great lyrics and legacy of activism, past the DIY-ethics and indie entrepreneurs' edge, past all the albums and compilations, past all the accolades — exists the chewy center of hope. We see the Holy Spirit at work in such a down-to-earth humbling and fiery fashion. The Indigo Girls headline set at Wild Goose 2013 healed the audience and sealed the festival’s cultural location in a jubilant justice movement for ecumenical and evangelical convergence on the funky fringes of mainstream Christianity.