Future Letter To The Last One

This is a fictional letter written to a Christian in the distant future. It was inspired by the book project Letters to a Future Church that is hosted by IVP-Likewise books and Patheos. Please check out some of the great letters composed by thoughtful voices in North American Christianity. Here’s my contribution:

Future Letter to the Last One

Dear Rosa Watkins,

I hope all is well with you. I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while. I’ve been waiting for all the media flurry to subside. I can’t imagine how you emotionally survived the overwhelming attention of being the last professing Christian on our dear planet. I was amazed by the coverage and numerous documentaries of your own spiritual journey and how this ancient faith sustained you to its very end. Are you saddened or thrilled to be the last one? I cannot imagine the emotions you are experiencing as you remain the last disciple of a religious tradition that has existed for several centuries.

I’ve had the coveted opportunity of pouring over global archives on the Christian faith. It appeared to be, and I’d add remains to be through you, a resilient faith for centuries. It had its up and down moments. Seasons of complicity with political and social oppression and exclusion. Missed opportunities to be welcoming to all only to give in to harmful and violent human tendencies. In spite of those less than glorious moments in history it still gave witness to a profound counter-instinctual social and political witness of love in a dying world that was plagued by political, social and religious instability. Your faith survived what many call the Circling. When we all nearly brought our small fragile planet to the brink of political and ecological oblivion.

I came across a sermon written by your now deceased pastor, Reverend Josiah Lee, that talked about the completion of what your tradition called the Great Commission. While you have the distinction of being the last Christian, he, of course, has the honor of being celebrated as the last Christian pastor. He said, in his last recorded sermon, that all the nations now follow the teachings of the revered Jesus. I felt a chill down my back when I read the ancient teachings of this person and considered how it has become a vital part of our global socio-political DNA.

Because of this profound Christian witness the global-state we are both privileged to be a part of can not imagine a world where every human being is not given loving dignity by all for all. We cannot imagine a world where a disproportionate number of people live in poverty. In spite of your beloved Christian tradition’s aiding and abetting global injustices until the end of the Circling, the end of the 21st century, something happened.

Your tradition died and rose again in the beginnings of the 21st century to become a global leader to help facilitate what we now see and hear in this present global moment of peace. A world with no war. Where small provinces peacefully collaborate with larger provinces. A global space where we no longer kill each other for a god, a political belief or a natural boundary.

It seems as though Christianity has died and in its ashes the nations were healed. I thank you for your witness to that kind of faith. However, I am saddened by your being the last Christian. But I guess, as you said in a recent press conference, we do not need the Christian faith any longer. You said that Christianity has finally made its calling and election sure. That it has prayed and bled heaven onto the earth for its perpetual healing.

Blessed Memories,

Anthony

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A Review-Reflection on Brian McLaren’s new book Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words


I am currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I’ve had three weeks to read it finding myself reading only a couple of chapters so far. I am encouraged by the direction that Brian has taken with this recent work. I’ve noticed a progression with Brian’s writings. There is this continual theme of deconstructing/reconstructing Christian faith. If you’ve been tracking his writings over the years you’ll notice the progression from deconstruction to reconstruction.

However, as you’ll see with Brian, it’s not enough to deconstruct our faith (Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida does say that deconstruction is justice). Deconstruction, it seems, is a necessary step towards a healthy vital spirituality. Deconstruction alerts us to the idolatrous beliefs and practices we stake our lives on even at the expense of others, our own souls, and the rest of creation. Without deconstruction or what I like to describe as calling-down-fire-from-heaven-to-burn-up-my conceptual idols is necessary to be able to name, discern, and learn to live in a more just direction than unjust living. But once fire has come down from heaven and I’ve landed on something more just and confident I can begin the journey of reconstruction. I can breath again. And Brian’s book begins this journey. I wish I had this book 10 years ago. I had to settle for St. John of the Cross at the time. But once one has deconstructed the next question is this: now what? What does life with God look now that Jesus is no longer, for me, a white Republican or a Genie in a Bottle, a human pyschological projection?

In this book Brian is talking about something simple: our life with God. It’s not enough to deconstruct our cherished beliefs and practices. We must reimagine our life with God in the wake of deconstruction. How do I tend to the fire of God in my soul without reverting to individualism or engaging the world without the flame of Pentecost? I believe Brian is accomplishing this in this latest book.

In the beginning of the book Brian shares with us his own journey through spiritual experience and experiences. He sets the narrative of his own spiritual journey within the larger context of tectonic shifts in spiritual, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices taking place in our time. This section is very dense. Oftentimes too much bio with too much cultural exegesis. Of course, if you are unfamiliar with Brian’s writings these portions are necessary. However, I suspect he is setting us up with a thick personal and social narrative that will have payoff in later chapters.

Next up…Chapter 1 “Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Experience”

Readings

I have been reading and reflecting on a couple of things.

1. Just received a copy of The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones. This should be a great conversation partner with the missional community I am a part of, Mission House.

2. People of the Spirit by Graham Twelftree. An illuminating text on St Luke’s understanding of the church’s mission.

3. Gospel of Luke. Right now Mission House is in Ch. 4. We are learning that the gospel call us to continue what Jesus began ‘to teach and do.’

4. Hebrew Prophets. We are finishing up Elijah-Elisha now. I’m reading the prophets with a small community in Cooleemee, NC, New Harvest Ministry. Just as Elisha inherits the mantle of Elijah when he ascends we have inherited the mantle of Jesus after his Ascencion.

I will be contributing to the Church and Postmodern Culture Series Site

Join the conversation.  I’ll be engaging James K. A. Smith‘s recent book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Focault to Church.”  Specifically, I’ll be contributing a mini-essay titled “The Panopticon of Ecclesial Whiteness: Taking Foucault to a Church Divided.”

Here’s a snippet:

Ignoring white-ness as norm and its disciplinary power within the church frustrates Christians seeking racial-ethnic reconciliation or harmony. Granted, much work has been done in the area, and much of it is to be commended, but it is clear that white-ness remains in the church even as race-ism and the assertion of white privilege operates more subtly.  However, Foucault illumines for us that ignoring race as a disciplinary power blinds us to the realities that continue to hinder the church from moving beyond our racial impasse.  We can look at our discursive practices in our respective churches and see how we, consciously and unconsciously, give credence to the universal code of beauty that is presumed to be white.

I hope to see some of my blogfriends there engaging the text.  Pax. 

 

 

 

The Secret Message of Jesus (Chapter 1)

Troubling Questions About Jesus

Indeed.  The key question offered by McLaren in this chapter, in my opinion, is this:

What if Jesus' secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn't come to start a new religion-but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world? p.4 

A revolution? a new world?  I'm feelin' this.  After reading people like Robert Bellah and others who have named the pervasive individualism of American culture such a question is a refreshing question for those of us who see the gospel as much more than a me-and-Jesus trip.  And not just a 'moral' revolution…but a revolution that encompasses all of existence…an alternative redemptive vision of reality and how one lives within it. 

Take a snapshot of the global scene. Terrorism. Religious strife. War. Global Capitalism. Environmental changes.  A Christianity that is captive to individualism and the public/private and sacred/secular split will be vulnerable to other stories that do not have this vision of God's new world at its center.

Indeed.  The problem is that Christianity is a 'religion'.  Religion, to me, seems to connote a set of held beliefs and doctrines…with some practices.  An interior reality…a matter of one's individual disposition before God.  Or in more popular forms of Christianity a 'private relationship with God'.  I know in latin the word 'religion' means much more than this but for some reason in America 'religion' has come to mean something staunchy…a set of dogmatic beliefs.  I often hear people say things like, "keep your religion" to yourself.  Recently, I was listening to some old Arrested Development.  Speech, the lead MC, has a song titled Fishin' 4 Religion:

The reason I'm fishin' 4 a new religion
is my church makes me fall asleep
They're praising a God that watches you weep
and doesn't want you to do a damn thing about it
When they want change the preacher says "shout it"
Does shouting bring about change ? I doubt it
All shouting does is make you lose your voice
So on the dock I sit in silence
staring at a sea that's full of violence

In Speech's words we hear a native desire for 'religion' to be something much more than a 'shout unto the Lord'.  Looking out into a world filled with violence and brokeness one gets the suspicion that the gospel is calling us to something more than just a shout and a praise.  Mind you…a shout and praise are good things…but there is a new world that is calling for our attention.  A new world that is beckoning for us to give concrete expression in our everyday existence.  The gospel calls it the Kingdom of God.  I share Brian's suspicion here.  For me, it is a nagging suspicion that will not be satisified by televangelists, human potential seminars in gospel drag, rigid moralisms, etc..

I want a revolution!  Why?  Because I believe Jesus rose from the dead!

The Secret Message of Jesus

I just received my copy of Brian McLaren's new book The The Secret Message of Jesus. I am really looking forward to reflecting on McLaren's gift here. It seems that I share a similar trajectory that he does in attempting to imagine a post-Colonial expression of Christianity within our North American context. Much of North American Christianity still upholds particular Constantinian habits that need to be challenged and subverted. One of those habits is racial Constantinianism..i.e. the maintenance and sustenance of a hegemonic white male Christian discourse and ecclesiology that posits itself as "norm" and "standard" for theology and praxis. The aesthetic production and grammar of North American Christianity is completely, if not almost entirely borg-a-fied with what I call the symbolic universe of ecclesial whiteness. Of course this has been a matter of ecclesial and theological habit…an unconscious habit that we have inherited from half a millenia of being church locu imperii (on the scene of empire).

Thus far what I have read (just the intro and ch.1) McLaren presents a hopeful trajectory for future theology and praxis for North American Christianity. More later…

John Hope Franklin

 

Yesterday me and the family went to hear Dr. John Hope Franklin talk about his recent autobiography, Mirror to America, at the Levine Museum of the New South here in Charlotte, NC.  It was a great experience hearing him share some of the formative stories of his life.  It was also amazing to hear him recount his thoughts on history, culture, and politics with such clarity (He is 90 years-old!).  As he was re-telling his personal history within the context of a greater historical narrative I found myself reflecting on how I will re-tell my stories to my children and their children.  How will I re-tell the stories?  What stories will I tell.  Of course during the lecture my youngest boy, Abraham, thought the session was over when he ended his talk by saying, “its about time?”  “I didn’t understand a word he was saying…what was he talking about dad?”  Which led me to talk about the significance of a life like Dr. Franklin.  I think I got the point across…for the kids were excited to shake hands with him during the book-signing.  I hope I don’t get so enslaved by the ethos of our culture that places very little value on the oral tradition, the legacies, the heritage….that ethos in our culture that simply wants us to move on to the next big thing.  I pray I have just an inkling of the story-telling capability of a Dr. Franklin as I age…so that I can tell the younger generation about the struggles of life and the goodness and faithfulness of God.  I hope I can be as faithful a griot to my kids as Dr. Franklin has been for many of us.

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