Sunday, January 24, 2010
Prologue: I've been agonizing over this post for a while. It's too long, like the outline for a book (sorry for that). It's clumsy. I posted it once and then accidentally(?) erased it. I've finally decided to let it go, with all its flaws, so that I can move on to other thoughts. The question I'm trying to ask is, "Have we (I?) streamlined the humanity out of Christianity?"
More musings on Rick Burns' PBS Documentary about New York City:
In the 1920's the Art Deco movement had a streamlining influence on design of all sorts. Because of its position in the world, New York City was at the center of the modern movement that Art Deco began. As part of modernization, New York was an experiment in urban renewal, which saw the demolition of whole blocks of inner city and their redevelopment with "superblocks" of massive, dismal, featureless, rectangular blocks of housing. The modern movement's impact is felt to this day, in every form of thinking and design, from philosophy to the automobile.
The importance of the automobile in shaping our culture can't be understated. The production line method of manufacturing, the ability to move quickly from one place to another, the independence offered, the streamlining effect on so many facets of life were all ways that the car impacted our lifestyle.
In the 1960's, Robert Moses proposed to put an expressway through the middle of Lower Manhattan. Moses considered it inevitable that the chaotic, messy, impoverished inner-city neighborhoods should give way to the orderly, clean, streamlining needs of the automobile to move people through Manhattan.
Author/activist Jane Jacobs saw it differently. Where Moses saw an impoverished, messy chaos, she saw a rich, thriving, diverse, interconnected community. Where Moses sought to accommodate the machine, Jacobs sought to protect the neighborhood's vibrant humanity from being displaced.
Jane Jacobs and others vehemently protested Moses' plan and since there is no expressway running through Greenwich Village or SoHo, we know who won. The defeat of Moses' plan was one of the initial defining moments of the post-modern era.
The modern era also had its affect on Christianity in a myriad of ways. In some ways, Christianity mirrored the modern movement. The modern movement was reductive, stripping away humanizing detail in favor of only essential elements and leaving only the exposed structure. Over time, Christianity has also been stripped down to its essentials. God contrasted with humanity, the Ten Commandments, Four Spiritual Laws, black and white. Politically, we (I?) have been pigeon-holed. Initially, it may have been temperance and suffrage. Later, it became abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, patriotism and political conservatism.
In some ways Christianity reacted against the modern movement. The Church wrongly feared that it would be streamlined right out of people's lives. So, it attempted to define itself in contrast to the increasing independent mindedness and looser morals with rules and expectations about what a Christian should be. This set up a paradigm which doomed the individual Christian to failure because the rules and expectations could never be met.
When we reduce Christianity to rules and expectations we factionalize it, because we don't all have the same rules and expectations (and the Enemy rejoices). We begin to judge each other (and even God) on the basis of the strict application of those rules and expectations. We begin to mistakenly believe that Christianity has much to do with sex, politics and religion (Maybe our grandparents were right to exclude those topics from polite discussion).
I don't agree with all that the Church's post-modern movement or "emerging church" have to say, but I do agree with the idea that we need to move away from rules and expectations and towards restoring humanity to our walk with Christ. I agree with the idea that our Christianity should have more to do with spiritual relationships; with God and with each other. Jesus' humanity, as described in Scripture, must play a critical role in modeling our own spiritual relationships, the role I believe the incarnation was always meant to play. And, (all of this to say) for those of us who are married, our wives are the amazing venue in which we get to practice our Christlike humanity. An incredible blessing that we most times overlook.
Epilogue: Many of these thoughts come out of having just finished "The Emotionally Healthy Church," by Peter Scazzero, and "The Shack," by William P. Young, two books I highly recommend. This has been a sort of dispassionate monologue. It really says nothing of how to interject humanity back into Christianity. How to move from rules, expectation and judgement into relationship. It only hints at the answer contained in marriage. How important emotions and feelings are to our spirit. These ideas will hopefully follow. I hope this turns into a passionate dialogue. Until next time.
Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness,