Saturday, February 25, 2012

6 years and sneaking cynicism, part 2

Anyway, I guess it's reactions like that that contribute to the thing that made me the most sad when I listened to his most recent album.  The thoughtfulness and reflection are still there, but so is a ton of bitterness.  I'm not sure it's cynicism (which is related to hopelessness)  yet, but gone is the encouraging undercurrent in She Must and Shall Go Free.  These songs are often angry in music and words.  It's a very good album, but it isn't sweet or uplifting. 

One reviewer explained the album this way, "[T]his album turns its focus on the decisions we make living in a fallen world. Specifically, how we often fall in love with things that do us harm."  Another described the theme as the way "our culture is infatuated with everything that will destroy us."

This album got a lot of hate.  I think it's probably another case of incorrect expectations on the part of listeners.  I think the album does what it sets out to do: lyrics and music match and amplify each other, and the result is powerful and thought-provoking.  However, if this isn't what you're looking for, you will be disappointed.  If so, don't blame it on the CD . . .

Webb got nominated for a Dove Award for his most recent album (an instrumental effort based on the Lord's Prayer), and his reaction seemed pretty surly (he seems like an honest person, so I can't really fault him for telling the truth about his feelings).  He said he wouldn't go to the ceremony and that he doesn't even really believe in the Dove Awards.  Some of his fans got mad and wrote some nasty comments (something he's not unfamiliar with).  I came across a good post where someone stepped up to point out something I think we often forget in the church: sometimes the best thing to do if you don't agree with a brother/sister in Christ (or anyone for that matter) is not to start screaming and attacking.  I know, call me crazy.

My favorite comment from that article: "But if people don’t tell him how ‘wrong’ he is how will they accomplish Christ’s call to go into all the world and make judgements against all nations?"

Ouch.  Webb kind of nailed it here, as well.  Truth behind the veil of sharp sarcasm.  It's true, but it also shows his hurt and frustration and bitterness.  Really, who wouldn't be bitter when facing this kind of thing?

And that brings me to a question:  how do you keep from becoming bitter or cynical when slammed again and again by the sheer weight of the behavior of sinful humanity inside the church?  The more one tries to engage with and love the church, as Webb correctly says is necessary in He Must and Shall Go Free, the more one can't help but see that the church seems to be made up of seriously sinful people who often seem incapable even thinking about and trying to figure out what a right thing to do is, let alone doing a right thing.  It's hard to admit I'm one of them.  Sigh.  But distancing myself doesn't make it any less true.

6 years and sneaking cynicism, part 1

The Ringing Bell was on sale, and I liked Derek Webb's work in Caedmon's Call, so I picked it up in 2008 or so.  It was delightful: playful, challenging, and sarcastic.  I heard that his first album (2003) was the one most people considered the best, so I wanted to pick it up, but it seemed to be out of print.  In 2010, I was given his newest album, the one so controversial that it almost didn't get released at all.  This past Christmas, thanks to the rise of the internet and an eventual rising trade in used CDs, I was given his first album.  At work this week, I was doing some repetitive work and feeling exhausted (hasn't been a good sleep week), and I had finally brought the music to work, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I had the odd experience of listening to Derek Webb's solo album Stockholm Syndrome followed immediately by his first solo album She Must and Shall Go Free.  There is something to be said for listening to albums in the order they were created and released.  However, sometimes you can't get a real sense of change when you do that.  Sometimes the change is gradual, and if you listen in order, you don't really notice the gradual shifts.  Looking at Webb's discography, it seems like there were always pretty big shifts in style, tone, or content, but the change between his first and most recent one is huge. 

Sure, the musical style is strikingly different, but it's the different in tone that kind of floored me.  She Must and Shall Go Free is this complicated love song to the church, hopeful in tone but frequently embarrassed by the truth of fallen human behavior and thinking within the church.  It's thought-provoking and true.  It made me ashamed and hopeful.

What made me lose a little hope was the response of some Christians to it.  From Wikipedia:
His first solo album, She Must and Shall Go Free (2003) is notable for causing controversy in Contemporary Christian Music circles; some Christian retailers refused to stock the album for its use of "strong" language.

One of the songs that was the basis for controversy was "Wedding Dress" where Webb compares Christians who seek fulfillment in things outside of Christ to a person committing adultery. An introspective tune, Webb writes that "I am a whore I do confess / I put you on just like a wedding dress".

Another song that generated controversy was "Saint and Sinner" where Webb wrote "I used to be a damned mess but now I look just fine, 'Cause you dressed me up and we drank the finest wine". The word 'damned' was removed from the final version of the album, at the request of two major Christian retailers.

Seriously?  This is biblical language used in appropriate situations.  Sorry it's too strong for you, Christians.

Read more about the newer album Stockholm Syndrome in the next post . . .

Friday, February 10, 2012

Showing love while saying "Go and sin no more"

So I read this article.  It's long, but I recommend you take some time and do the same.  It's pretty heavily slanted at times, and I have no idea why everything has to be tied in to a politician.  I guess because it's in the political section?  That seems dumb because I think the story itself can stand on its own as an Important News Topic without dragging in whatever politician it's currently en vogue to bash, but maybe that's just me.  Maybe some people wouldn't read this story without being tossed a politician.  Fine.

Recently, my pastor did a sermon on a particular story from John about when a bunch of people brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus, trying to trip him up into making some sort of religious statement that would get him in trouble.  Jesus didn't end up getting embarrassed, and he didn't get tricked into making some statement they could condemn him for.  No, he just did some slightly inexplicable things and suggested that whoever was without sin should be the first one to throw a stone at her to start the traditional punishment.  They all left because I guess there are some kinds of hypocritical it's hard to be in the face of that straight line.  Then Jesus looked up and asked where everyone went, and she said they're gone.  He said he wouldn't condemn her either, and she should go and sin no more.  He saved her life.

When we start to look more like the crowd wanting to stone the person than we look like Jesus, I suspect that there is a very big problem with our behavior.

I'm not saying that how Christians ought to deal with homosexual sin isn't a tough issue.  It is.  If you take your Bible literally, you believe that homosexual behavior is a sin (just like adultery, fornication, lying, gossip, and stirring up dissent).  If you take your Bible literally, a lifestyle of flagrant sin without repentance is not something that should pass without judgment (with the motive of eventual restoration) in a local church body.  If you take your Bible literally, you know that those outside the church are not to be held to the lifestyle and behavioral standards of those in the church; they are to be loved, the way Jesus loved. 

What does that look practically speaking when carried out in this present world by people who are not God incarnate?  I don't really know.  I do know it most likely doesn't look like this.

It really is a fraught issue.  So.  What do you think the role of believers should be in these communities?  How should they love?  Are they allowed to love without making a big deal about how they disagree with homosexual behavior?  How do they save lives and still say, "Go and sin no more"?  Are they allowed, as sinners, to say this in the first place?  How could they create a space where people can be honest and ask questions or just be loved as people made in the image of God in a way that doesn't ignore right and wrong?  How would your church handle it?  How would you?  What would you say to these kids (the dead and the living in pain)?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I think it's finally time to go church-hunting again (for real).

I read this parable and finally decided I'm really going to find a new church. 
"It's an unprecedented cultural moment for Christians, to see if we can act less like individual consumers of spirituality and more like the family of God." - a CT editorial
What does it mean to be part of a/the "church"?  What sort of participation is required of/beneficial to believers?  What is (most) important when looking for a church body to join?  I thought I'd get the easy questions out of the way.
"This is just a church service. Church is actually about caring for one another, and serving one another, and speaking truth to one another in love. Don't get the two confused." - don't discount everything he said just because he's heretical in one belief

My last church had wonky doctrine/theology.  My current church most resembles a benevolent country club with great theological theory but what seems like few opportunities to practice dentistry.  (See above). 
"I was reminded of churches where people are nice, reasonably polite, and cooperative. But with some regularity, one learns that underneath this appearance of religious composure, this person or that one is hurting terribly: firings, divorces, personal failures, doubt, addictions, sexual identity issues … the list is long. But no one speaks: neither the person in trouble nor the ones who know of the trouble. Why? Because that would threaten the fantasy that everyone's fine. This kind of church culture starts with the idea that everyone is presumed fine until they prove differently." - Gordon MacDonald from Leadership Journal
I would like a church in a community I belong to (where I live or work).  I know neighbors are anyone we come in contact with, but I think maybe I should also be getting involved with the people who live near where I live or work.  I know that I need doctrine I can nod my head to, but I think I also need chances to disciple/mentor and be discipled/mentored.  I would like to find a church body that needs my gifts but won't suck the life and energy completely out of me (not much energy to suck, honestly).  I would like a community of believers who are (at least sometimes) honest with each other, who speak truth to each other, who are like a family (with the good and bad that comes with that status). 

Now maybe this is the Ideal Church, the one that can't really exist in a fallen world.  Maybe I am a big silly dreamer who needs to have more realistic expectations.  Don't hold back if you think I should adjust my aim.  Let me know what YOU think is important on a search like this.

(You may have noticed I don't mention worship style.  I've found great joy and communion in high church-type worship and in contemporary worship.  That part I don't really care as much about as the other things that are more important.)

So what advice can you give me about the proper way to go about this search for a new branch of the family to join?  Let my fingers do the walking first to check out doctrine and churches in my area?  Just start going to random services?  Going back if I get a good feeling?

It doesn't seem very spiritual, but I think I may need to start another spreadsheet . . .

What are your experiences with this process?  How did you come to find your current church body?  Why is it a great place for you to be?  What wisdom can you share with this seeker?