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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artificial Place

I recently watched The Island (2005) with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. It was a good film, definitely worth seeing if you enjoy sci-fi that is of the Aldous Huxley variety. There was certainly nothing that was entirely original in The Island, but I thought that the movie was well put together and the narrative and characters were compelling.

The setting for the film is in an artificial world. There are a group of people who have been rescued from the toxic poison of the outside world and now live in a safe, artificial environment. All things in this world are sterile and white. But this world is not the real world. Two of these people (McGregor and Johansson) eventually escape and discover that there is another world outside of the artificial one. The couple also finds that they are clones who have been purchased for their body parts. Those who paid for their cloning have no idea that real people (i.e. withe real consciousness) are being manufactured as products. The clones are brainwashed with talk of "You are special...You have a very special purpose..."

For my purposes in this post, the interesting thing is that the world of the clones is an artificial one. The Place is manufactured and synthetic. If they escape, they find a sharp contrast between the artificial and the real. The artificial world is manipulated by standards and norms that are implemented for specific purposes: To produce homogeneous human beings. These are people who basically have the same identity and purpose in life and who behave in a regimented way so as to be used for the purposes of their creators. They are people, yes. But they are people who are manipulated by their environment so as to be useful for their ultimate purpose. Genuine self discovery and authentic sense of self is denied.

The Place is not authentic. The Place is artificial.



The idea of Place is important in relation to the church. Things like atmosphere, culture, norms (spoken or especially unspoken), forums for teaching/preaching/discussion, et al are very important. Place within the context of the church determines what kind of community that believers can become and the extent to which they can explore their faith or be indoctrinated (or brainwashed, as the case may be).

Question: Can the church become an artificial place?

Of course it can.

A church that becomes artificial is disconnected from the realities of the outside world. Just like in The Island, many church buildings in America teem with religiously minded folk who together create a kind of bubble from the world. Regardless of how bad you have screwed up in the past week, you can always exit the real world of struggle, go down the rabbit hole, and enter into the wonderland of church on a Sunday morning. Here you do not need to face the reality of your life, or, if you choose to introspect and examine yourself, you can repent and promise in your heart that you will try harder and do better. Along with your resolve comes a sense of having received God's grace. (Grace, of course, is never given by God unless we promise him that we will try harder, or, translated into spiritual-speak, that we will "rely on God more to help us overcome the flesh.")

The problem is that it is all artificial. We all exit the church doors and proceed to make the same screwups and live the same lives. In many ways, I think the problem has to do with Place. There can be no genuine or authentic change within the artificial world of church.

Another problem with creating an artificial church environment is that it renders the personal exploration of faith nearly impossible, except in very rare instances. This is one of the reasons why real life-change does not take place.

The current Place of church comes out of the mindset of mass marketing. Faith is something pre-packaged for the masses. It is similar to a McDonald's in that we can all come to church, get our spiritual fast food and be on our way.

One of the things that I have previously mentioned on this blog is that words mean things. What words mean has to do with how they are used. As such, I suggest that the word "Church" is, by definition, an artificial Place. Church is associated with a synthetic environment: a building, a budget, a way of smiling and saying, "Hi, how are you, I'm fine thank-you-very-much," and going through the motions of religiosity. This is true, I believe, as much for the "good" conservative Bible believin' churches as much as for the "evil" liberal or postmodern churches.

What is very rare (oh, so rare!) in Christian circles is an authentic Place.

Only in an authentic place can there be authentic expressions, experiences, and explorations on the part of the faithful. But it all starts with Place. If you have an environment manufactured for the masses, then do not expect substantive lives of faith. Having an authentic Place does not ensure that there will be people of faith; this is a given. But without an authentic Place real faith simply does not exist.

This all begs the question: Like the heroes of The Island, should we who are serious about faith all make a break for it and try to escape?!!? That's when it gets really scary, because the real world is never safe, and we are only human, after all, we would rather be safe than real; artificial people in our artificial worlds.

43 comments:

Melody said...

The existance of something outside of "the place" doesn't make the place less real.

It exists, it's real.

If you are unfortunate enough to eat artificial crab legs it doesn't mean you're eating something that isn't real - it just really isn't crab.

You've actually been treated to authentic mussels, nastiest shellfish to sneak it's way onto a plate.

If I buy a knock-off off Prada purse it isn't a fake purse, it's just not a Prada purse.

The church isn't fake, it's just not what you want it to be.

Honestly, your "authentic" world is the one that doesn't exist.

jps said...

Jon,

The authentic world you are referring to can and does exist. It exists by FAITH; see Brueggemann's OT Theology, where he lays out the options available to Israel in the exile: 1. they could look at the circumstances and say it is impossible for YHWH to keep his promise of restoration. Or, 2. they could believe against all odds that YHWH's promises are true.

The remnant chose option 2. The others chose option 1 and stayed in Babylon...

The same is true of Christianity. We can choose, by grace enabled (but free!) faith, to believe what God says, or we can live as cultural christians in our safe little subcultural bubble and have what passes for fellowship and be safe & comfortable—but unchanged.

What you believe affects how you behave : )

James

Emily said...

I just think it's interesting that Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and JFK all died on the same day. But specifically the two authors.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
The existance of something outside of "the place" doesn't make the place less real.

It exists, it's real.

The church isn't fake, it's just not what you want it to be.

Honestly, your "authentic" world is the one that doesn't exist.


Well, I'm saying that the church is artificial as compared to the world outside of the walls where we actually have our faith tested. You, yourself, agreed with me recently that our "faith" looks different depending upon which of our worlds we are in. I'm suggesting that since we can't really have authentic/genuine/completely honest conversations and discussions within the church that this means that our faith is an artificial one, i.e. it does not relate well with the worlds that exist outside of the church walls.

Now, I will give you credit for your astute observation that there is no "real" or "authentic" world. But keep in mind that I am suggesting that the churches we habitate for 2 hours or so each week on Sunday morning do not allow us to develop a faith that makes a difference once we walk out the doors. There is a huge gap between "faith when I am at church" and "faith when I am not at church."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily:
I just think it's interesting that Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and JFK all died on the same day. But specifically the two authors.

If you could bring any one of them back, which one would it be??????

Melody said...

You, yourself, agreed with me recently that our "faith" looks different depending upon which of our worlds we are in.

As do most other faucets of who we are. The fact that something looks different in a different light does not make it something else. It doesn't make it less real.

I'm suggesting that since we can't really have authentic/genuine/completely honest conversations and discussions within the church that this means that our faith is an artificial one,
i.e. it does not relate well with the worlds that exist outside of the church walls.


Maybe it's just that I make it a point to never have completely honest conversations, but I don't see how a lack of honest conversation in church is going to keep a person's faith from being useful outside of church.

I find that faith is rather more useful outside of church than it is in.

But I also find that church can be quite useful in learning how to make my faith useful.

Emphasis on the can be. Obviously there are a lot of variables to take into consideration.

But keep in mind that I am suggesting that the churches we habitate for 2 hours or so each week on Sunday morning do not allow us to develop a faith that makes a difference once we walk out the doors.

I think we all know that if you only take your faith out for a couple hours on Sunday morning you can expect to get nothing the rest of the week.

I don't see how your version of church would change that.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
The fact that something looks different in a different light does not make it something else. It doesn't make it less real.

So, it's ok to be an outgoing, faithful Christian on Sunday and then to be a "good citizen" with an invisible faith the rest of the week at the office????

I don't think you would say that, but what do your comments imply?

Melody:

I think we all know that if you only take your faith out for a couple hours on Sunday morning you can expect to get nothing the rest of the week.

I don't see how your version of church would change that.


I don't have a version of church.

I think we should do away with "church" b/c it is so far from what the NT shows us the Body of Christ should be.

Emily said...

I'm not big on getting rid of church as we know it, but whether you are a part of a house church, a mega church, a medium church, a whatever church, etc... It is important to spend time fellowshiping with other believers for encouragement given and taken, issues brought up, worship given to God... Just b/c I'm stuck on an island w/ only coconuts when coconuts don't completely agree w/ me doesn't mean I don't eat anything at all.

If you could bring any one of them back, which one would it be??????

None of them. It was their time to go. What about you???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily,

It would be hard to choose between Huxley and Lewis, but in the end I would probably pick Huxley. It would be difficult to choose b/c they were both always thinking about the future: What would the world be like if.....

I agree with you about the coconuts thing. Personally, I'm not really interested in the my-way-or-the-highway when it comes to fellowshipping with other believers. Ironically, it is this whole idea of American "church" that has forced us to choose which believers we will fellowship with: Only those who go to the same building on Sunday get to fellowship. But that's not right, is it????

Why is it that in a small town like Winona Lake/Warsaw, Indiana we have to have 8,000 church buildings and that each person has to choose a "church"? I just think the whole mentality is so modeled after the corporate mindset that it drives me nuts! It's like having a bunch of fruit trees on the island but having to choose only one tree to eat from: "I like coconuts, but they're a natural laxative, and if that's all I eat then I get the runs! Why can't I have some bananas every once in a while!"

Don't you think believers would be healthier if they heard other perspectives (even "heretical" ones) every once in a while and really took the time to get to know those Christians who are different????

Melody said...

what do your comments imply?

Faith can look different, not invisible, different and not have changed.

I probably won't be singing praise songs at work. I also won't be saying "Jesus Real Loud" on elevators or in the lobby of the dentist's office (Ray Boltz song, if you've not had the trauma don't worry about it). There won't be any exegesis while I'm lounging in the coffee shop - well, there might, you never know in coffee shops.

That doesn't mean there won't be prayer in those places. That doesn't mean that faith isn't going to play an important role in conversations or in actions in various situations.

And then at home, home is entirely different than church or the office or anywhere else. I don't talk to God in church like I talk to God at home - it's too weird with all those people listening in.

I think it's ok that at different times and places faith appears different. It doesn't mean it was more real in one of the places than the others.

That's all. Not advocating religious invisibility.

I don't have a version of church.

This is just your cutesy way of saying you don't want anything to do with anything organized.

Or, evidently, anything that wasn't shown in the NT, but none of the guidelines in the NT negate the way we do church now.

I'm not saying the way we do church now is perfect. I'm not even saying it's close, but whenever you talk about what you'd rather do it sounds like chaos or a cult and not like what they had in NT.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: I think it's ok that at different times and places faith appears different. It doesn't mean it was more real in one of the places than the others.

That's all. Not advocating religious invisibility.


Ok. And that's a fair point. I won't deny that faith takes on different forms in different places.


Melody: This is just your cutesy way of saying you don't want anything to do with anything organized.

Or, evidently, anything that wasn't shown in the NT, but none of the guidelines in the NT negate the way we do church now.


It's funny how so many "people of the Book" are so willing to do church in a way that in no way resembles the Book. It's kind of ironic, really.

And, yes. I agree with you that just b/c a way-of-doing-church isn't spelled out in the NT that does not, in itself, imply that it is a "wrong" way to do church. I guess I'm just tired of "doing" church: punch in, punch out. It takes it's toll. It's like a mundane job.

Now, in regard to the way we "do church," one of my big problem with it is that it lacks originality and dynamic, forward-thinking. One thing that every body of believers is supposed to have is a real impact in their day and age. We've got a church on every corner, but what difference is all this sound and fury making? What impact? Is the name of Christ and the cross he represents being advanced with power and meaning in the community?

Christianity is mostly just religious obligation. That is all. And the current model of churching is conducive for those who want a religion they can easily manage: Nudge me a little bit each Sunday, but ultimately let me do my own thing.

Most just want to feel like they are sacrificing.

Melody: I'm not saying the way we do church now is perfect. I'm not even saying it's close, but whenever you talk about what you'd rather do it sounds like chaos or a cult and not like what they had in NT.

But chaos and cult is what seems to be one of the common denominators amongst the early church!

At this point we definitely need to have things mixed up. We're all so danged comfortable!

Jonathan Erdman said...

And Jesus spake unto the multitude and saith unto them,

Blessed are the comfortable in the seat,
For they shall inherit the couch

Melody said...

It's funny how so many "people of the Book" are so willing to do church in a way that in no way resembles the Book.

Well, I don't really think the way you've talked about doing church really resembles "the Book" all that much either.

I mean, house churches, yes, but not house churches of like five people and certainly not this jumping from church to church you've mentioned to Emily. Heretical churches Jon? Do you really think they would have advocated that in the NT? Really?

I guess I'm just tired of "doing" church: punch in, punch out. It takes it's toll. It's like a mundane job.

I guess I can see that...kind of. I like the singing and the sermons, I'm not going to lie, they're important for me.

On the other hand...yeah...it should be...more.

One thing that every body of believers is supposed to have is a real impact in their day and age. We've got a church on every corner, but what difference is all this sound and fury making? What impact? Is the name of Christ and the cross he represents being advanced with power and meaning in the community?

Ok, no. Has the church made an impact at other times with a shockingly similar set up to today's church? Yes.

So is the problem really with the set up or with the people inside it (us)?

But chaos and cult is what seems to be one of the common denominators amongst the early church!

The early church wasn't a cult and I doubt that you could find anything in the NT that lables the chaos as a good feature of the early church - which would be more important that it being common.

At this point we definitely need to have things mixed up. We're all so danged comfortable!

Maybe so - but I don't think it makes sense to just mix things up any old way - you might do more harm than good. Just because you don't want to be comfortable doesn't mean you shouldn't have plan.

samlcarr said...

"...the way you've talked about doing church really resembles "the Book"..."

Part of the problem is that we have not been asking ourselves enough questions like "what would have been going on in order for Paul to have said 'x' or 'y' to this particular fellowship? When we start looking at the NT story in more detail, there is a tremendously diverse set of dynamics that come out and real turbulence both within the fellowships and in terms of how the various fellowships interacted with their respective communities.

I think, though, that we tend to forget that it is Jesus who is the model certainly for Peter and for Paul and most probably for all the new followers of 'the way'. This is one reason why we have 4 gospels as each fellowship wanted to have Jesus's "words of life" for deeper study and readily available.

Jesus way was to take his unique relationship with the Father into different communities, embracing them and sharing the "good news".

Those who responded would sometimes follow, so here you have a community of believers who practice their complete belief that the Father loves his children both among themselves and with the communities that they are passing through.

Sharing this good news from town to town is what Jesus did day in and day out - in relationship.

For Jesus, our own 'church vs world' thinking was alien. He most often got fed up either with the religious leadership or with his own disciples when they should have known better.

I think too that we assume that we can understand Peter and Paul better because we have a narrative like Acts to help us out but we are forgetting that by default the apostles would have done things 'the Jesus way' and sometimes it is possible that what is recorded may be what was unusual in that it was not obvious immediately that this was part of an easy to understand application of the Jesus traditions.

So, is there any biblical space within which we can think of church as a heterotopia?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Has the church made an impact at other times with a shockingly similar set up to today's church? Yes.

So is the problem really with the set up or with the people inside it (us)?


Well, this may be the primary point of our disagreement. I think the structure is so conducive to complacency that we wind up getting a lot of religious minded folk who want to put God in their back pocket. But if a church creates an atmosphere of complacency, then sooner or later even those people who want to make a difference wind up bogged down in religious obligation and routine. So, then the bar gets set lower and lower. Good leaders look out at their flock and see that the standards are lower and so they don't challenge as much as they should. They think that they must be patience: don't push people too hard, just nudge them along a little. It is a really vicious cycle, I think.

So, no, I think the problem is Place. If you have an artificial Place, then it makes certain things like real/authentic fellowship nearly impossible. Melody, I don't really have all the answers. And, yes, the current church model has worked in the past. But I think in light of our current American church context, the whole Body of Christ thing needs to be rethunk from top to bottom. But who's going to do that when we are all so comfortable with the way things are???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam: For Jesus, our own 'church vs world' thinking was alien. He most often got fed up either with the religious leadership or with his own disciples when they should have known better.

I agree with this. But the whole "churching" thing is predicated upon this dichotomy. But, Sam, I think it's a false dichotomy: The so-called "world" is often really the religiously minded. So, my study of the Gospel of John thus far leads me to believe that "the world" is not outside the church, rather the world is within us; it is us. That's a slap in the face. It's a message that could deconstruct and unsettle everything!

Sam: So, is there any biblical space within which we can think of church as a heterotopia?

Good question.

That's sort of what I was asking in this post: Should those who want a sincere faith expression make a run for it and escape the artificial bubble? If they do so, then where do they go??? A brave new world?

Melody said...

I think the structure is so conducive to complacency that we wind up getting a lot of religious minded folk who want to put God in their back pocket.

Mmm, yeah, we just dissagree. I can't think of a single structure where how it works doesn't depend on the people in it.

I don't know about you, but I spend my childhood being a part of a number of teams, clubs, classes, co-ops, camps and other programs.

The most important aspect of any of those was who was going to be there. It makes or breaks a group.

In highschool and college I spent one week out of my year at camp, and two months before praying about who would be in my cabin, on my team, other counselors etc. because it's their attitudes towards camp that made the difference between a great week and a mediocre one.

I don't really have all the answers

What??? How dare you blog without knowing all the answers! I herby banish you to Xanga!

I think in light of our current American church context, the whole Body of Christ thing needs to be rethunk from top to bottom. But who's going to do that when we are all so comfortable with the way things are???

I think some people tried that recently. I can't remember the name of their group...starts with emergent...do you think they succeeded or are they just a vaguer version of what already existed?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: Mmm, yeah, we just dissagree. I can't think of a single structure where how it works doesn't depend on the people in it....

The most important aspect of any of those was who was going to be there. It makes or breaks a group.


Right. Structure still depends on people. But you don't ever seem to want to comment on my main point, which is that structure can often times stifle people who might otherwise desire something more authentic and dynamic in their lives.

I don't really want to replace the current structure with a newer/bigger/better/smaller/efficient/etc. type of structure. I think we should all get together and think about destructuring a bit.

Melody: I think some people tried that recently. I can't remember the name of their group...starts with emergent...do you think they succeeded or are they just a vaguer version of what already existed?

I'm not a big fan of emerging versions, but mainly I just know the mainstream versions. I admire the fact that there are people out there trying to impact the world today, rather than just fighting for status quo.

Melody said...

But you don't ever seem to want to comment on my main point, which is that structure can often times stifle people who might otherwise desire something more authentic and dynamic in their lives.

I'm still thinking about that bit.

Certainly I think there are structures that are, by nature, stifling, but I tend to think of the public school system more than anything else - and the church isn't really like that.

Sometimes I think maybe the church structure can be stifling, but when I think about it more it seems it's really the people in leadership in the structure.

On the other hand, maybe if people weren't so dependent on the leadership for stuff to happen it wouldn't be an issue, but once you stop doing that then you're a leader, who will probably stifle someone else at some point...I don't know if you can really get rid of that.

So...yeah, I'm not really sure what I think about your main point.

Maybe I don't even really know where you're coming from. What kind of things do you think the church structure stifles? Authentic and dynamic are nice words, but they're not very specific; what types of lives would people be living if they weren't being stifled and what is causing this stifling of the authentic and dynamic?

I think we should all get together and think about destructuring a bit.

I don't really understand what you mean by this or what our goal would be in destructuring.

ktismatics said...

"I'm not a big fan of emerging versions, but mainly I just know the mainstream versions."

Have you had any first-hand experiences with emerging churches, Jonathan? If so, what did/didn't appeal to you about them?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I've had no first hand experience w/ anything E/emerging/ent. So, it's just through the mainstream books and the blogosphere.

ktismatics said...

It's funny -- that means I've been to two more emergesque church services than you have.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Is it fair to say that you are now an emerging expert?

ktismatics said...

Well, if we agree to sit down and talk about it over coffee while sitting on tall stools wearing jeans and t-shirts and odd footwear, and if we spend most of the conversation defining our terms, then in an interactive sense relative to you, as part of a narrative conversation rather than in a modernistic propositional sense, and if we make sure that we video our conversation and project it up on the big screen in the sanctuary, after the house band rocks us for awhile, then, er, what was the question again bro?

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about this topic for many months, maybe years. Currently I am so disgusted with church that I do not even go anymore, just some honesty. What I have come to think after my own research into the topic is this: one of the aspects we are missing in church today that they had in the first century was NEED. We do not NEED each other, we talk about getting together for fellowship and encouragement and "iron sharpening iron" but really, do we NEED each other for survival. We do not really even rely on each other for fellowship. In the first century churches, especially in Asia, the members had to have each other for survival. The were not allowed into the market places due to their own religious convictions or the rules of the culture in which they lived. The same went for entertainment, schools, ect. You just were not going to let your child go to the gymnasium to participate pagan practices. You interacted with your non-believing community, because you lived in their presence and they noticed you as different, but you NEEDED your Christian brothers to trade your milk for their eggs. The church at that time was a living, breathing community where you truly missed a person if they decided not to be involved. You feared for their safety, you feared that maybe instead of worshiping Christ they had decided that Diana was the way to go. I have not been to my church in over a month, and I know that no one has noticed. No one fears for my safety, no one needs to trade my milk for their bread. I am sure that in the first century they gathered at some specified time to sing songs and and pray together (not so sure about the preaching), but that was the minor part of their communion with each other. It is no wonder we feel empty with the Christian community as it is today, I just wish I knew a solution...

Kelly Erdman

chris van allsburg said...

Jon wrote,
"But keep in mind that I am suggesting that the churches we habitate for 2 hours or so each week on Sunday morning do not allow us to develop a faith that makes a difference once we walk out the doors. There is a huge gap between "faith when I am at church" and "faith when I am not at church.""

This is an "Evangelicalism" problem that continues to produce the "sacred/secular" dichotomy in the life of the Christian.

Abraham Kuyper's model of "spere sovereignty" helps: there is not one corner of the earth where Jesus Christ does not say, "This is mine!" One great triumph of the Reformation theology is that Christians can do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor. somewhere).

Cleaning toilets is authentic. Accounting is authentic. Small talk about the game is authentic. And the great things are too: listening to someone's problems, talking over doctrine, getting involved in human rights organizations, giving to the poor (the latter are by and large ignored by pop evangelicalism).

One thing I have tried to apply to myself is to see a spirituality and (catch-phrase) "authenticity" in my work, and parenting and so on. And, I am trying to find ways to help the poor and the suffering, esp. women and children who are victims of abuse.

Now then, when I go to church and take the Lord's Supper, recite the Apostle's Creed and the Heidelberg Catechism, sing from the Psalter Hymnal and get blasted by the organ music amidst the stained glass windows, gothic ceilings and wooden pews, hearing the gospel preached to me, it's authenticity time, it's worship time, and it's fellowship time over juice and cookies.

It's good to me. I don't see an inauthenticity there.

Thanks,
Chris

chris van allsburg said...

"Well, if we agree to sit down and talk about it over coffee while sitting on tall stools wearing jeans and t-shirts and odd footwear, and if we spend most of the conversation defining our terms, then in an interactive sense relative to you, as part of a narrative conversation rather than in a modernistic propositional sense, and if we make sure that we video our conversation and project it up on the big screen in the sanctuary, after the house band rocks us for awhile, then, er, what was the question again bro?"

Too true and too funny. way to go ktismatics.

Anyone ever heard of taking care of widows and orphans, or just generally visiting the elderly?

But that wouldn't fit with our need for authenticity amongst ourselves. Because it's really ourselves and those like us or those who we want to be like us that really count.

I challenge everyone here to invite an elderly person/couple from your church over for dinner on Sunday. I've done this--and it's authentic, trust me.

Melody said...

I challenge everyone here to invite an elderly person/couple from your church over for dinner on Sunday. I've done this--and it's authentic, trust me.

Really? Maybe for you it is, but I can't imagine anything much less authentic than that. Awkward, strained conversation, trying to find some non-existant common ground.

But I'm socially challanged. I realize that as a christian, twenty-something female it is my duty to think that all old people are adorable - I just don't. The ony old people I like are ones for which the term old doesn't seem applicable.

chris van allsburg said...

Melody, "Religion that is pur and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself ustained from the world," (James 1:27).

Your excuses are veiled disobedience. But it seems that's what Evangelicalism has become--selfish religion bent on some kind of existential thrill ride. To your own shame.

Melody said...

Whoa there killer, the fact that I find something painful and extrodinarily undesirable doesn't mean I'm shirking it.

I just don't think it's all whismically authentic like you made it sound.

Plus you weren't talking about widows...just people who happen to be aged.

Massive difference between helping someone out who needs it and just chumming it up because Chris thinks old people fill up the authenticity meter faster.

chris van allsburg said...

Well, what I really should have done is put authenticity in quotes. Like this: Trust me, it's "authentic."

First, I think the whole "authentic" deal is just the Evangelical churches next vaccuous attempt at spirituality, the last catch phrase of which has been left behind--"relevant." Evangelicals (I don't claim the title) are void of real meaning and full of existential angst because they are narcissistic. It's the "ME" church that wants mystical, meaningful, spiritual circumstances to befall them like one night stands--except in coffee shoppes. Note the spelling on coffee shoppes--it's authentic.

Secondly, I am friends with and show hospitality to widows, widowers and elderly people for many reasons: elderly people need younger people to show interest in them, period. Our culture dispises old people and only prizes youth, beauty and strength and other traits fitting with youth. Also, God commands us to do it. "Chumming it up," as you so cheaply put it, only comes from someone I dare say hasn't bothered to befriend any old people? We do things out of selflessness in obedience to Christ (Phil 2:3-5); when we do, we build good habits, contrary to our selfish, sinful natures, and eventually become this way--selfless.

I'm not friends with Sandy, Gramma Cooper, Min and Norm, and my mom because it fills up my authentic meter. I don't even use that word (for reasons listed above). I do it because I care about them, value them and love them.

That's what Jesus wants.
So, the challenge is still before you. If you don't like elderly people, find some poor orphan to sponsor, or meet. Perhaps your town has a homeless shelter you could devote some time to. Maybe you could get involved with White Rose or Amnesty or another human rights organization.

The "Authenticity" phase is really justimmature rantings against dead orthodoxy. If people would quit looking inward to find authenticity in themselves and just do good works, they'd lose this conversation, forget about it, and move on to better things: building up others, doing acts of service, and fulfilling the law of love.

Sincerely,
Chris

Melody said...

First, I think the whole "authentic" deal is just the Evangelical churches next vaccuous attempt at spirituality, the last catch phrase of which has been left behind--"relevant."

Iiiinteresting. Jon, are you out there on the internet somewhere reading this? How does this make you feel? Or is your search for authenticity more authentic than regular Evangelicals?

Chumming it up," as you so cheaply put it, only comes from someone I dare say hasn't bothered to befriend any old people"

Sounds cheap because I think it is. Not being friends with old people, I mean I don't have a problem with that in theory. But the idea of, "Ooh, let's be friends with old people so we can be more authentic." I'm not a fan of stretching the age barrier, but I'm less a fan as people as a means to an end.

chris van allsburg said...

"Sounds cheap because I think it is. Not being friends with old people, I mean I don't have a problem with that in theory. But the idea of, "Ooh, let's be friends with old people so we can be more authentic." I'm not a fan of stretching the age barrier, but I'm less a fan as people as a means to an end."

Once again you miss the point. I don't inquire about how to be authentic. I don't wake up and ask myself how I can be authentic today and what action I should take.

Also, I think your comments on old people are indicative to a tee of the younger generation today who have no regard for older people. They aren't cool. They don't have any value, and I don't need to be around them, thank-you.

I'm friends with the people I mentioned and I treat older people with care and gentleness because they need it, because it's good and because Jesus wants it done.

Doing good is required, whether we feel like doing it or not. We don't have a feeling inside and go do good. God calls us to do good. And sometimes it feels good to do so. The reason why we love is because God 1st loved us and taught us how to love others.

Melody said...

Once again you miss the point. I don't inquire about how to be authentic. I don't wake up and ask myself how I can be authentic today and what action I should take.

Not once again, you didn't explain yourself well at all the first time. That's exactly what it sounded like you were doing. And while I understand now that you weren't being cheap, the comment was made when you'd made yourself sound like you were.

Also, I think your comments on old people are indicative to a tee of the younger generation today who have no regard for older people.

Oh I think you're wrong. I think younger people as a whole have a much nicer feelings towards older people than I do. They think old people are "cute" and prattle on about what great stories they tell. It's trendy to like old people.

Anyhow, you've kinda taken my comments in a tone that I really didn't mean for them to be in. I mean, I don't deny being a selfish person, but I don't know that finding strained conversation unpleasant counts.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Kelly said:
What I have come to think after my own research into the topic is this: one of the aspects we are missing in church today that they had in the first century was NEED. We do not NEED each other, we talk about getting together for fellowship and encouragement and "iron sharpening iron" but really, do we NEED each other for survival.

This is important. As I said in my post today, dependency is crucial. If we don't need each other than there is no reason to be vulnerable and real and authentic with each other; that is, it becomes easy to go through the motions and "do the church thing" each Sunday without exposing our true selves to people within the body of Christ.

Kelly, for me Hebrews 3:13 and Romans 12:5 are crucial. The Hebrews community of believers seems to be a good example of what you were talking about in the early church: they needed each other for survival b/c they were being persecuted. But 3:13 says that we should encourage each other daily so that we do not become hardened by sins deceitfulness. This is something that seems to transcend culture. As Americans we do not need each other for physical/material survival; however, we are still as desperately dependent upon each other as the early church for spiritual survival. This is all the more so because in the contemporary culture we are fragmented and isolated as much as ever before. What can be maddening, though, is that most American believers really don't think that they need each other. When it comes right down to it, most of us still think that the life of the believer comes down to me and God chuggin' it out together. As you say, if we don't really feel the need for others then are relationships are not real and we will naturally gravitate to artificial places and have artificial interactions.

Romans 12:5 is instructive because here we find that we are all members of one another. The NIV says that each member belongs to all the others. This is a sense of connectedness that gets lost. In You Do Not Belong Here I tried to make the case that most of us do not feel true belonging in our churches: we are not essential to its working and we have no true soul-to-soul connections. We are not essential because, let's face it, there will always be someone else who can take our place in the youth/coffee/nursery/sunday school/offering-plate-passing/women's/men's/etc. ministry. That's why it is so easy to come and go: because anyone with a natural ability can plug in to a program/ministry and keep it rolling. Programs/ministries are not a source of real need. But if you've got relationships that have been forged over the years through ups and downs and pain and love with brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you share the same spiritual DNA, then you have something of which you are an indispensable part. Relationships connect us in ways that go so much deeper than programs and ministries and church services.

For this reason I think that the body of Christ may need to go underground again: believers meeting in homes under no pretenses. Sharing life together and just focusing on the Hebrews 3:13 basics of the faith: But exhort one another daily, while it is still called "today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (KJ21)

We don't need church buildings, church budgets, paid pastors, paid administrative staff, corporate 501(c)3 organization under the IRS, ministries, programs, sermons, offering plates, paid missionaries that we never see or hear from, coffee bars in the church foyer, nurseries, sunday schools, curriculums, a missions statement, a youth group, counseling, a nice sign out front, a men's or women's ministry, a weekend retreat, or any of the other contemporary gimmicks. These are all in place to compensate for what we have neglected.

To fulfill Hebrews 3:13 we just need to need each other. It's not something we can budget or plan. So, Kelly, I think the solution (for those of us who are really serious about the faith - i.e. I am not saying that this is a solution for everyone) is to simply start connecting with believers in our homes, be real with each other, and commit to being a family with other believers in a small, informal context. The body of Christ should go underground again: discrete and on a small scale. The only distinguishing factor is how they love one another.

chris van allsburg said...

Melody,

I am glad and relieved of the clarity seen in my thoughts regarding the issue of caring for the aged. And, because this is a written medium only, I agree that I took your tone more harshly than you intended. Please accept my apology for using strong language against you.

As much as I love to read heavy theology, etc., it brings me great joy to put my hand on a widow's hand after church and ask how she's doing, and give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Just touching her hand, she said, "Oh, that's so sweet, you don't know how much that means." The woman's name is Alice; she's "almost 91." My wife and I plan to visit her in her nursing home soon, and she teared up at the mentioning of it.

I was reading James last night, and even the intro to the letter said James teaches us how to live authentically (ESV cross reference Bible). The timing of my reading that surprised me and was very thought-provoking.

Now, I think what Jon is getting at is really hypocrisy in the church: people wear plastic smiles, come and go and never go deeper beyond pleasant exchanges. People say they are "fine," but they never divulge about their pain, suffering, or fear.

Jon, I am wondering, if in your response to Kelly, you think individualism in Evangelical churches has any root in Dispensational Theology, (besides plain ol' American individualism merely impacting the church). Because in Covenant Theology, there is a more corporate view regarding the people of God, and the individual element is not nearly as prominent. I'm thinking of OT examples of corporate punishment, starting w/ Adam and esp in the Exodus, and I'm thinking of things like the Lord's Supper and general covenant relationships, including infant baptism and so forth.

Thanks,
Chris

Melody said...

Apology accepted, probably my fault any way, I'm not very good at making myself clear.

Now, I think what Jon is getting at is really hypocrisy in the church: people wear plastic smiles, come and go and never go deeper beyond pleasant exchanges. People say they are "fine," but they never divulge about their pain, suffering, or fear.

Amd how that leaves us ill equipt for any other situation, yes. Realy this whole blog is one continuing post about how the church needs to change.

Daniel said...

Emily:
I just think it's interesting that Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and JFK all died on the same day. But specifically the two authors.

I must remember this for those "who are your three ideal dinner dates" kinda questions.

Emily:
Just b/c I'm stuck on an island w/ only coconuts when coconuts don't completely agree w/ me doesn't mean I don't eat anything at all.

Emily, if you could have three wishes on your island with the coconuts, what would they be?

Emily said...

Dan: Emily, if you could have three wishes on your island with the coconuts, what would they be?

1) Shade
2) An unannoying, respectful, and interesting island companion
3) The knowledge that I'll be off the island soon

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily,

That sounds like the kinds of things Jonah would have requested as he was sitting outside of Nineveh waiting for God to strike down the city!

Emily said...

Jon, thanks for the complimentary comparison! (sarcasm) Dan asked what I wanted, not for the selfless, biblical answer.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Being compared with Jonah isn't always a bad thing. Jewish commentators have taken the position that Jonah wanted the city destroyed because God said that he would do it and b/c if God didn't destroy the city then Jonah's prophecy wasn't worth salt, i.e., Jonah said it would be destroyed and it was not. When viewed through that lens, then Jonah is not such a bad guy. He is stuck in a bad position: Between God's "unchanging" word and God's compassion and mercy.

Daniel said...

Emily, that's a classic answer, and Jon, a classic response!

Boy do I have a new found respect for poor old Jonah - the Prophet's Prophet - the sign of Jesus.