Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Advent 18: Christianity: Does It Work Anymore?

I can't do this topic justice in the few minutes I have allotted myself this morning, but I want to sketch the basics so that I can come back to it in the new year. . . .

The setting: Mexican Restaurant, Post Women's Service of Lessons and Carols.

The cast: Two of the four young ladies who have been friends since first grade and are now college sophomores. (The other two aren't home yet.) Three of the four moms. Representative of Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations.

The service just attended: Nine lessons and carols, with a nod to the King's College, Cambridge original, but revisted with scriptural and other sacred writings and songs honoring the Biblical story through the experiences of its women. A Lessons and Carols which honors Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Tamar, Mary and the other Marys, Martha, Rahab, and others.

Main points of the conversation, largely prompted by one of the moms and largely responded to by me, with some morning-after commentary also by me:

Point I: The stories are meaningless to me. Who are these people and who cares? I don't like big stories about people from thousands of years ago. Talk to me about the guys on Mount Hood, or the entire family of four just killed in the plane crash. What are their stories? Who were they and what mattered to them?

Response: But they are all the same stories. They are all stories about who people are, how they live and what they care about, who they are before God and what matters about their existence.

Response to response: Well, why don't we talk about that, then? That's what I want to hear and talk about.

As meaningful as the metanarrative of Christianity is to some of us, to others of us it is just so much nonsense. If we can't make it come alive in the story of men who risk and lose everything on Mount Hood, then it's not a story for all time.

Point 2: Christianity is so ethereal. All this spirit stuff. I want the real stuff.

Response: What I have been thinking about over the past year is how earthy and bodily Christianity is. Christianity is a religion for real humans with real bodies and physical concerns. Look at what happens: birth and crucifixion, body and blood. People talk about the meek and mild Mary, but she has long been wrapped up in blue robes with her gentle hand on a sweet baby. Men, in particular, have seldom talked about her in terms of courage and physicality. But unless your experiences were very different from mine, there was nothing meek and mild going on when you were giving birth.

We don't talk about what really happened. We all share in the life experience of Jesus or, more accurately, he was here to share in ours. But we do keep him at a distance.

Point 3: None of it makes any sense. What kind of God would bring his child here only to send him to his death? Today we would call that child abuse. The story is no longer one for our time.

Response: But the story is about God breaking into our world, about how there is a dimension of space and time (or maybe something else) beyond what we can describe, a dimension that we can grasp in some small way even though it makes no sense in the ways we ordinarily look at life.

There was general agreement at the table that we are surrounded by the Divine ~ but also anger and resentment that that sense mostly eludes us and that the church and its stories do little to alleviate our feeling of disengagement.

Point 4: We need to talk more about our own present. There was a brief period in the service tonight when we were invited to share with one or two people the names of women who have served as spiriutal mentors in our lives. I would have liked to have heard the whole group on that. And there was another part where we prayed aloud -- and all the prayers, for women and children far away and in pain and terror and loss, by this group of very privilged women sitting in warmth and comfort, rang false to me. I wanted to pray about the realities of our lives, but I felt that that would be out of place.

Response: Agreed. I would have liked to hear what every woman there had to say in response to the first question and I had wanted to pray for every one of our daughters. As I had looked around the room, I realized that I knew the names of the daughters of all the women there who are in my generation ~ but it did seem out of place to pray for them, all safely in jobs and colleges and good schools, at that particular time.

Comment: Ignatius made the argument four centuries ago that we come to God through our experience and imagination, and so we do. Protestants are found of arguing for the primacy of the Bible, but if the post-service discussion last night revealed anything at all, it was how critical it is to our apprehension of God that our experience be honored, and how difficult it is for good and generous people of the 21st century to grasp the import of scripture in the absence of reverence toward who they are, who they have been, and who they are becoming.

Well. That was one sacred and challenging and envigorating evening. And one way or another, all be be well and all will be well. (Julian of Norwich) The story is always unfolding.


steve said...

I'm a faithful reader of Magdalene's Musings, and she referred me over to your blog. I hope you don't mind my sharing how much I enjoyed reading this post and "Advent 17."

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that "It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats...When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless."

Anyway, I was just thinking that the discussion you described was precisely a search to keep religion meaningful in the modern world. Thanks again for your thoughtful, wise posts.

Lisa :-] said...

The first thought that comes to me after reading this is that Christianity--religion and spirituality in general--seems irrelevant to 21st century humankind because we as a race have become so selfish and grounded in things of the flesh.
Indeed, does a concept need to be relevant to me right now in order to be valid?

more cows than people said...

What rigorous conversation! Thank you for engaging it so faithfully and sharing it so fully (even if you didn't have the time you desired). Found you through Magdalene too. I'll be back.

Paul said...

You'll be surprised to know that I'd have been backing you in the discussion; stories thousands of years old don't last unless their cultural archetypes remain relevant. However, I'd have been talking myth, fable, and literature, not religion.

Pass the guacamole, por favor.

Gannet Girl said...

You don't want a margarita?????

And religion is packed with myth, fable and literature.

Paul said...

Ah, that's my point. To me, religion IS myth, fable, and literature.

And yes, Cuervo Gold, chilled, no ice, salt. Gracias.

Gannet Girl said...

OK, that explains a lot. Ice and no salt here. And I don't care whether it's Gold or not.

Cynthia said...

What an incredible conversation, and man, how I would have loved to have been there. We are in unsurprisingly complete agreement, except on one thing. Margaritas -- no ice, salt (but I'm not picky on the brand of tequila).

Quotidian Grace said...

What a great discussion with your friends and the girls. This is how youngsters come to claim faith as their own--with hard, honest questions posed to those more experienced in faith who take them seriously and are not intimidated or frightened by them.

Laura said...

Thank you. This is just what I wanted to hear this morning. To me there is nothing more refreshing that conversations with INTELLIGENT Christians such as yourself. Do you mind if I cut and paste this to my blog (with credit to you of course)?

Magdalene6127 said...

GG, this is just fabulous. I want to have dinner/ drinks with this group of women and be involved in this conversation. (Wait! Maybe I am involved....!).

Thanks for sending Cynthia over. She and i have many points of connection. Yes, amazing and cool how many ways all our experiences overlap. Blessings this longest night!


Magdalene6127 said...

PS to Steve... that is one kickin' quote. Thanks as ever...