Sunday, January 03, 2016

My kind of Christian

There are many variants of Christianity that I find loathsome or, at best, to be fled as fast as possible.

There was the complacent mainline Protestantism of my youth whose function seemed to be to ratify and bless the existing social divisions of power, wealth, and prestige among the attendees. There are many sorts of contemporary fundamentalism which encase "salvation" (from human impurity I think) in comforting Know-Nothingism and flat-earth anti-intellectualism. And there are also Christian efforts to erase the historic wisdom of our faith tradition and to make ourselves so hip and groovy that I want to puke.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is none of these; she is my kind of Christian. As she says in Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People she has

never understood how Christianity became quite so tame and respectable, given its origins among drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors. .. what I know for sure is that God is always present in love and in suffering.

She's a sharp writer, an ordained Lutheran pastor, the founder of a congregation -- the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver -- and fun to listen to (lots of interviews available out there) and to read. In fact, she's made her own church so attractive that, in the afterword to this book, she begs the curious to check it out online, not to insist on visiting and crowding out the regulars. I liked that. Just because we appreciate something, we don't have to grab ... wish San Francisco's gentrifiers knew that.

In this book, the reader is offered a cycle of sermons for the church year, though no reader unfamiliar with that annual round needs to notice. Liturgical Christianity has its own calendar that almost insensibly acts upon those participating in its round of teachings. Bolz-Weber is entirely within the tradition. I vaguely remember reading that books of sermons were popular in the 19th century, though I couldn't find any ready reference online that confirmed my historical notion. This book could bring that interest back.

So it seems appropriate to share a couple of little tidbits of what she writes about preaching as her art form; when asked to give a talk about preaching, she began preparing by asking her congregants to tell her what they valued:

Almost all of them said they love that their preacher is so obviously preaching to herself and just allowing them to overhear it. ... Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.

... Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for. ...

How often are we reminded that preaching changes and can surprise the preacher? Yet here this rings so true. It is sometimes said that all preachers really have just one message that they repackage week after week and season after season. This woman's message is certainly that God loves us as we are. How shocking!

Since we are in the season of Epiphany, when the infant Jesus was shown to foreign visitors and the empire's flunky King Herod is said to have massacred innocent babies while trying to find and destroy this new "king" (all myth-inflation as far as we know), I thought I'd quote a bit of what Bolz-Weber writes about that story.

... the Epiphany story of Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not the world as we often wish it would be. God's love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, as if we are trying to shelter him from reality. We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romaniticized version of ourselves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer him a version of our best selves. With our Sunday school shoes on, we sing songs about kings and drummers at his birth, perhaps so we can escape the Herod in ourselves and the world around us.

... the world into which Christ was born was certainly not about a Norman Rockwell painting. The world has never been that world. God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of Christmas. God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world. This Christmas story, the story of the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, is as much a part of Christmas and Epiphany as are shepherds and angels.

Go look this woman up on YouTube. She is a Christian pleasure.

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