Reflection

Suffering and Joy on the Dance Floor: or Dancing to Joy Division

My friend Tripp recently published a brief musing on suffering and death: it’s kind of goth. I’ve sat with the musing.  Part of what he’s wrestling with are the ways many Christians often make suffering trite by attempting to make God responsible for it ( in some way) or at least responsible for making it meaningful.  What stuck with me and what trips me up, is his having said God suffer’s and dies everyday.  I get it, but I can’t help but think this says too much, and is also a means to bring God too close, too understandable.

This was in the back of my mind as I headed out to the goth night Nocturna at the Metro, this past Saturday.  Shortly after arriving Scary Lady Sarah spun Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear us Apart.

It’s a great song, I love to dance to it.  As I was dancing to this haunting,melancholic, tortured song I was aware of the contrast between the  joy I was feeling as I danced and the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song.  As I danced I also recalled the circumstances of Ian Curtis’ death and his own physical and mental health struggles and suffering.

Such an amazing song.  Such beauty that touches so many.  Love Will Tear Us Apart invariably fills the dance floor.

I feel there is something here.  I have great wonderment at how such beauty, joy ( even hope), come out of  expressions of pain and suffering.

As I danced I thought and prayed (for Ian Curtis, for others wrestling with their demons like he did, perhaps dancing next to me), and I observed in amazement how my awareness of  the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song, didn’t diminish the joy in dancing to a haunting pain filled song of longing for something more.

Love Will Tear us Apart is larger than the pain of a failing relationship, Joy division and Ian Curtis’s songs inhabit a world that encompasses but is larger than Ian’s tragic story.  Even so without the pain, without Ian Curtis and his pain and suffering there wouldn’t be the music of Joy Division, nor the joy found in dancing to it, as we connect with a longing for something beyond pain and suffering.

“God suffers and dies. everyday”.

Ian Curtis’s suffering and troubled mental life wasn’t for the purpose of  my enjoyment in dancing to one of his songs more than 30 years after his death.  Even so, out of who he was and the circumstances of his life and mental state he created some amazing music, in which there is great longing and joy.  There wasn’t purpose to his suffering, but for a time at least he reached beyond pain and suffering and wove that pain into great music.  What I find in Joy Divisions songs and lyrics is longing and beauty in the midst of pain, frustration, and depression.

Things to contemplate, something contemplated in the movement of bodies on a dance floor some 30 years after the song was recorded.

“God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.

God suffers and dies. Every day. “


Salonathon at the Beauty Bar: A surface and everyday beauty?

Monday night a friend who is an actor was performing as David Bowie at Salonathon at the Beauty Bar.

If you aren’t aware the Beauty Bar is a bar and beauty salon rolled into one ( or as their website says “The World’s only beauty saloon…”.  Specials include such things as a martini and manicure.

Salonathon is a performance art night for armature, emerging and genre bending artists.   Its a bit of hipster place, and Kate and I were goths among hipsters.  We were there also as theater people supporting our friend.

I’m not sure what I expected, or rather I had dread and hope.  I dreaded that, with the exception of our friends performance, the acts would be horrible.  I hoped for some brilliance something that would grab me and make we say wow.  Neither the dread nor the hope happened.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining evening.  Our friends Bowie was spot on, though I have to admit I’m not sure the point of the performance.

This was my overall sense of the evening.  I’m not sure the point beyond being entertained.  This is an odd (though not entirely foreign understanding of artistic expression) attitude toward art, that it is primarily for entertainment.  I had hoped to be transported elsewhere, to be, at least once, confronted and blinded by something incredibly beautiful.  Instead what I found was the beauty of the every day.  The beauty of a skill well performed.

Nothing wrong with that at all.  I’m more musing on my own longing and striving.   I look for art that transforms and transfigures, that disturbs the world, not simply art that reflects, re-presents and mirrors what i already experience.  When I experience and encounter art I want to be different because of the performance, the concert, or encounter with the sculpture or painting.  Certainly I may also be entertainment and find  connection with what i already know and experience.  However, i want art to be different, or more to the point to make a difference.  I’m looking for transcendence that makes a difference in me and the world.

So I enjoyed myself at Salonathon, and I’m glad it exists.  But Monday night made no difference for me.  Salonathon is just one of many entertaining and aesthetically pleasing things I may engage in any give week or month here in Chicago.  I thus find that I’m indifferent to the event.

I find this indifference troubling, so perhaps, there’s something there.  I might change my expectations, but other than a puzzling experience nothing about Salonathon challenges my expectations.  They simply are reinforced in an oblique way.

Lastly I should mention Salonathon is also had a dance party dimension to it, and the DJ was quite good, and the music he spinned was quite good, though none of it exactly my cup of Tea (little if anything approaching my goth aesthetic).  We didn’t stay for the Dance party portion of the event, it being Monday night and staying up to 2 am wasn’t going to happen!  So, perhaps the transcendence is woven into the ecstasy of the dance party for the regulars.

Perhaps that’s it, Salonathon is just a party for artists.

Privilege, Whiteness, Alienation, Renunciation, and Gospel

At the third session of the Symposium for the Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Urban Ministry, I responded to a presentation on Raymon and Henry Emerson Fosdick’s relationship to Rockerfeller, I spoke of renunciation (of privilege and whiteness) and  voluntary poverty (drawing on the Monastic Tradition) as an answer to the problem presented.  I spoke deliberately but also knew the potential for misunderstanding (I also knew I was using provocative language that could be misunderstood in a particular way).

The responses of the presenter and respondent in this session were challenging and i feel showed a misunderstanding that I partially expected to elicit .  The presenter (Amy Hall of Duke) responded by talking about white male self-flagellation, and the problem of a theology of suffering that must create or invent suffering for the privileged individual when there is little or no suffering.  She saw this as a harmful self-denial, and an unwillingness to face oneself.  And I agree.  But renunciation and voluntary poverty in my mind aren’t such things.  Renunciation and holy poverty are about clearing the spiritual landscape of  barriers to one’s authentic self.  Reggie L. Williams response honed in on my suggestion of renunciation of Whiteness.  If I understood him correctly the claim was that one could only renonce a choice one makes not properties given to one by an overarching system.  I found this a strange claim.  As i see it, renunciation concerns precisely those things that are dictated to one by an hegemonic and demonic system, that demands my allegiance as a mere fact of life.  If I’m turning my back on something that has to do with my own choices, I’d use the term repentance.  It’s true I can’t repent for being white only for what i do or have done as a white person, and I can personally repent from the sins of a racist system of which I share in as privileged by that system.

I’m not married to this idea of renunciation of privilege and whiteness per se.  But what I was trying to get at was that monasticism and stories of early monastics like St. Anthony, were often stories of privileged Christians turning away and giving up their privilege and power (wealth that in the ancient world was used also for the civic good) to become powerless in the terms of that privilege, power, wealth and  status given by the system.  I’d argue that St Anthony and many early monastics from privileged and wealthy families were, through choosing voluntary poverty and the ascetic life, renouncing the sort of influence that the Fosdick’s had through their whiteness and  maleness and ties to  wealth and privilege of  the Rockefellers.  Sure there is suffering in these stories and we could see them as self-inflicted, but the point was something larger:  freedom before and  in relationship to God, which leads to being able to be authentically for others.

Bonhoeffer was also briefly referenced, and I’m alluding to him above.  Such allusion is appropriate Bonhoeffer is a footnote to this story of Riverside Fosdick, Rockefeller, and Harlem. I mention this since Bonhoeffer is in the back of my thoughts around this, and was, at least in my mind, a footnote to our discussion.

I do understand the objection though.  And I do question the path I have chosen.  There are dangers to what I have said, and there are difficulties if this were taken systematically or as some form of one size fits all prescription.  What I’m talking about needs to be based in an address, conviction, and call from Christ and the Spirit

However, the responses seem to say that the authentic place of someone with privilege and who is white is the embrace of that privilege and status.  But what if privilege and the category of privilege is alienating?

I at least have experienced it in this way.  As I have attempted to understand the cultural situatedness of my attitudes and upbringing what i have found is that being white erases all particularities and histories.  the systemic structures of privilege and race and class both give me a privileged status but at the cost of particularity.  In part it seems to me that whites tend to assume others have ethnic foods or accents, or culturally bound theologies and not themselves not only because “white” is normative but because white like the other categories of a racist structure,  masks or erases difference and particularity of those within the privileged class.  To be white I must deny that being German or Swedish is anything more than kitsch and food choices at Christmas.  Granted the system does this more destructively and insidiously with the minority or underprivileged groups, but this doesn’t deny that even as a white person, I have a particularity that “white” can’t and isn’t intended to encompass.  In fact I’m to ignore particularity in identifying as white. the privilege I hold as one who is sorted into the category of “white” is dependent upon my not viewing myself as other than other white people.   From my observation of my family and others who are 3  or 4th generation European Americans, it is precisely being white that keeps us from connecting the injustices suffered by our immigrant parents, grandparents and great grandparents with what asian, hispanic and other immigrants suffer today.  White identity by definition it seems to me prevents solidarity with  people sorted into the other categories of this racist system.

This leads me to wonder about the authenticity of whiteness.  Why wouldn’t privileged persons in a system of privilege be called by the Gospel to renounce that privilege for their salvation, that is to encounter before God their true selves.  If the issue is loyalty (As Reggie Williams asserted in his response to Hall), and identity and loyalty are closely tied, it seems to me that identifying as white and seeking to use that identification to change the racist system, is an exercise that may cosmetically change things, but will also re-inscribe the system and its categories on the altered situation.

 I must also admit that while being european or more to the point Swedish and German (which by the way is not free of sins of colonialism etc. so I’m not attempting to escape complicity ) makes sense.  Choosing this identity doesn’t free me from ethnocentrism or even the risk of assuming that my Swedish, or German or European American ways are just the way things are.  So this isn’t an attempt to ignore the possible continuing collusion of a European identity with a white racist system and its injustices.  

The only true identity and the only loyalty that will free me to be my authentic self isn’t any human particularity, but is Christ.  If I renounce and turn aside from any identity for anything other than Christ and Christ’s body, the Church, my action is futile and the height of foolishness.  I thus wonder if Hall’s observation of some white males and their self-flagellation is that they were attempting to be good liberals, or good humans, in their renunciation, rather than seeking to turn to Christ, and the Church.

 

 

Georges Florovsky, Ecumenism, and Writing Icons.

I was introduced to the work of Georges Florovsky in seminary.  I was discussing Eastern Orthodoxy with my History professor Phil Anderson.  Something in what I said clued him into that I was missing something about Orthodoxy and its history.  He asked if I had read (knowing I hadn’t) Georges Florovsky.

I immediately found his collected works in the North Park library collection, and began to read.  I made use of a number of his essay’s in various papers.  Until the past month I hadn’t returned to Florovsky.  Zizioulas, Schmemann, and Kallistos Ware have been more consistent companions.

I recently acquired volume two of  Georges Florovsky Collected Works.  I’m rereading it and finding that Florovsky made a deep impact on my thinking.  Though, I don’t think I fully understood Florovsky’s presentation of Orthodoxy.  Florovsky’s Orthodoxy is generous and ecumenical.  This posture allowed me as a Protestant looking to connect with the deep tradition of the Church and of Christianity, to drink from the well or Eastern Orthodoxy.   It has kept me in continual dialogue with Orthodoxy and it may be a large part of why I eventually took up the writing of icons.

Reading Florovsky again some 13 years later, I’m seeing that both my interest in Orthodoxy and how I have engaged Orthodoxy fits with how other Lutherans (before the 20th century) also engaged Orthodoxy.  It is also interesting to see how Georges Florovsky’s ecumenical stance fits within a similar historical vane.  He engages ecumenically to offer up Orthodoxy as the fullness of the Faith.

Florovsky’s ecumenical stance encouraged me to continue on as a Protestant and to do so in dialogue with the Orthodox, and others as well.  What I hadn’t taken into account in reading Florovsky in seminary was that he also had the Orthodox stance of insisting on agreement in faith as the basis of unity.  Looking back on my work in an ecumenical intentional community and an ecumenical Church plant,  the stance I took as a prior and pastor has been to seek that agreement in faith.  Now I’ve also done it in a fairly Lutheran style; willing to make a distinction between what is essential and what is adiaphora, a distinction that at least according to Florovsky Orthodoxy doesn’t make.

As I took up writing icons (before the community or congregation were formed) I chose to do so as though I was Orthodox.  I wasn’t going to try to make the writing of icons cohere with my protestant theology.  Rather I was going to take up the practice in its fulness and spirituality and theology.  In writing icons I was going to be Orthodox.  Florovsky’s writings, though at the time weren’t prominent in my thinking, and his ecumenical stance paved the way for this posture.

Re-reading Florovsky on the other side of becoming an iconographer (and remaining Protestant) and after having engaged in an ecumenical experiment, I’m not sure what to make of all this.  One thing I have noticed is that on some level Florovsky and I have to some extent played out the history of the ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Orthodox, he recounts in some of the essays in volume 2 of his collected works.

I wonder where does all this leave me?  I write and pray before icons, the attempt to form an ecumenical congregation morphed into something else, a worshiping community and an ecumenical religious order (at this moment in the final stages of forming): these attitudes, postures and longings have lead me to strange places.   At the moment the witness of the Orthodox that the Faith isn’t something easily paired down to the essentials, it’s more holistic, both resonates with me now more than it did in seminary.  Yet, I remain outside of Orthodoxy.

I  created Ecclesial Longings as a place to explore my longings for church beyond the Protestant conceptions of it and examine what keeps me from entering either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.  Full agreement of the Faith, makes sense.  But how is this achieved and what are the sources of all the failures in finding this agreement?  I’m no longer satisfied with the essential/adiaphora distinction in faith.  Florovsky has awakened and heightened a growing discomfort with Protestantism and my own place in the Christian landscape.

Ecumenism still seems like the only way forward. A way forward that is both generous and seeking full agreement in faith.

 

Trust even when the crops fail and teraces produce no nurishment

One of the canticles said at Lauds is taken from the third chapter of Habakkuk. It begins so confident , with such surety that God will vindicate and show God’s power.  But then the reality of  the siege of the city sinks in as the author sees beyond immediate circumstance even immediate suffering and hardship.    It doesn’t make much sense.

For the community this past year has been a bit like crops failing, terraces producing no nourishment and flocks disappearing from the fold.  Things have been shrinking.  God hasn’t intervened.  Things haven’t lined up, opportunities have come but slipped away, not because of missed opportunity based in inaction or mistake, but due to bad timing and things beyond our control.

It’s been difficult to know what to do.  So, I’ve just continued on the path before me.  I could step away.  Find something less difficult.  But I’d have to seek it out.  No alternative is presenting itself, there are not other offers.  Without the obvious second path, without the fork in the road, I’ve chosen to stay the course and not veer off the current path in search of a different one.  I’m not sure that is a good or bad thing.

No clear direction.  Just hints. Small affirmations that although difficult and full of uncertainty, that this is what I should be doing.

Trusting even when there is no obvious direction, from God.  Trusting God, and resting in God even when everything seems to be failing and dwindling.   This trust is difficult and appears, even to me, to be  fool hardy.

I relate to this canticle the swing from confidence that God will do some dramatic work and decisive thing to swinging to the other side seeing how helpless things are, and somehow settling in a quite trust in God even in the midst of failure and hardship (I’ve experienced nothing close to the extremes of having no food or threat to life). Somehow I still find God’s presence and movement of the Spirit.  No dramatic alteration of the facts, no miraculous intervention, but God is there, and I’m sustained in relationship to God, and I see God at work even though, I don’t know where we are going to be living in a week and a half.

I don’t get it, yet there is trust in God, there is a sense of God’s provision and sustenance that is beyond circumstance.  There is even joy and rest.  Well…, if I trust in what is beyond my control and my understanding.  So I trust in God even when things don’t seem to be going right, even when God doesn’t intervene on my behalf.  Trust even though the terraces produce no nourishment… though  flocks disappear from the fold…” and nothing seems to be going right.

Further reflection on this theme and the communities struggles, from the standpoint of leading the Community of the Holy Trinity through this difficult time. LEK 7/21/2013

Encountering Myself as Wounded Healer

Although I appreciate the work of both Carl Jung and Henri Nouwen, I have been hesitant to embrace the archetype of the wounded healer.  In part because I have seen it used to allow clergy and other spiritual leaders to bleed all over those under their spiritual care.   I’ve seen it allow some leaders to more identify with their being “wounded” then with their being “healers”. I know that’s not the point of the archetype , nor what Nouwen was getting at, but it still has seemed that the archetype isn’t always very helpful.

Also, it has been clear to me both in Spiritual Direction and as a pastor that due to family and life circumstance, my spiritual and metaphorical woundedness parallels the amount of  physical woundedness I’ve experienced over my life time of 40 plus years:  a broken bone, and one fairly serious illness, but mostly just scrapes and bruises and the common cold and occasional flu.  That to say in comparison to most of the people I minister with and to, to identify as wounded would be like my attempting to sympathise with an amputee by talking about my many scraped knees over my lifetime mostly incurred as a child attempting to jump bikes, and pointing to the barely noticeable scars from those long healed minor wounds. In other words entirely and completely inappropriate!

By the grace of God and by circumstance, I’ve experienced my amount scrapes and a serious illness but most of it is in the past, and has healed well. I’m not wounded.

Or so I thought.

Over the past several months three members of Church of  Jesus Christ, Reconciler have lost parents.  Since their parents were not part of our worshiping community we did not hold the funeral services.   As I reflected on this with my co-pastor I felt that we should offer a worship service where their parents could be remembered and in which we could grieve with them.  When I first had the idea it just made sense to offer them the opportunity to have their loved ones remembered in a worship service in their primary spiritual community.

As I have sat with this, and as the day of the Requiem Service approached I found myself in a fit of melancholy, sad and restless.   Finally it came to the surface, over 20 years ago I lost my older half-brother in a freak boating accident, he was 30, I was in my early 20’s.  He lived in New Orléans I lived with my parents in Los Angeles.  The last time I had seen him was not long after my 12th birthday.   It has been my brother’s life time since I last saw him, and I was still just a boy.  A great deal of loss, that simply will never be regained.  Add to this that due to a number of things school, finances and timing I was unable to attend my brothers funeral.  Not only was I unable to ritually remember my brother in my faith community, but I didn’t get a chance to do so with my family and those who gathered at his funeral in New Orléans.   Over the years since, I have done a great deal of grief work around his passing and my grief and loss including missing out on the funeral- written poems, created a whole series of paintings on loss and grief including this significant event.  Told the story in various settings, and cried again and again.  Mostly, have found healing.  Except in this one way, I have never remembered my brother and ritually lifted him up to God .   The Requiem service is as much for myself as for those in my congregation who are grieving.

Here was I think the archetype of the Wounded Healer working itself out in me and my ministry.   My loss and lack, my wound (mostly healed, but in need of some further healing), met up with the woundedness of those with whom I’m ministering. I’m not sure holding a requiem service would have occurred to me if I hadn’t had this lack, this wound around my brother’s death.  My own need actually allowed me to effectively minister to my congregation, and in the process I’m finding healing and resolution, of something I’ve long carried with me, and thought could never be healed.

This is how the wounded healer should work, or so it seems to me, from within the space of healing.  From the space of already having begun to heal.  In that space one then can find resources to help others heal, and in that same moment find further healing for oneself as the wounded healer.

 

 

Review of the Enoch Factor: The sacred art of knowing God

Steve McSwain, wants to let us in on an amazing secret: you can know God.  The problem is it shouldn’t be much of a secret and many who think they know how (including the author at one point in his life even as a Baptist pastor) and can know God don’t know what Enoch knew.  Enoch is that character in the beginning chapters of Genesis about whom all we know  is that “He walked with God and was no more.”  Enoch for McSwain is a model for what it means to know God: we all can walk with God and overcome death.

While on one level McSwain’s book has the sound and focus of something quite esoteric oddly mystical, most of his book sounds like the revivalist and pietist faith in which I was raised in the Evangelical Covenant church.  The difference being that while I’ve always been fascinated by Enoch, few if any of my teachers in the faith talked about him.  However, McSwain’s emphasis on knowing God as being in a relationship with God and one that overcomes one’s fear of death, all sound very familiar.

In this I think The Enoch Factor is a great artifact of how Baptist and Evangelical congregations and leaders have in the past 20 to 30 years failed to pass on the central aspects of their tradition, teaching instead a legalistic, and doctrinaire religiosity replacing relationship with God for knowledge about God.  McSwain’s experience both being raised a Baptist and being a Baptist pastor were until his “conversion” recounted in the book, was such a walk of faith. One mediated by rules, doctrines and authority figures (in McSwain’s case his father who was a Baptist pastor and missionary).  Oddly enough McSwain’s account of the faith of his childhood and career as a pastor prior to his faith crisis, was the stereotype of Baptists I grew up with in the Evangelical Covenant Church: Baptist had only the forms of faith and relationship with God but not the substance.

McSwain in the Enoch Factor has some real wisdom.  Unfortunately in our context and the way in which McSwain writes it can appear to be a new discovery.  McSwain does attempt to connect up the wisdom he has found in the art of knowing God with a long tradition within the history of the Church.  However, his sense that this wisdom and art is all but lost in our time leads to some exaggeration that in my view makes him a poor spiritual guide.  The value of the Enoch factor is more as an example of how even in the midst of the failure of American Christianity in our time, God reaches out and in the midst of a desolate spiritual landscape, can enliven a soul.   I however recommend taking McSwain with a grain of salt, there are better guides to the Spiritual life out there both in our time and in the past.  If one can’t find one in your immediate context read for yourself Cynthia Bourgeault,  Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Lawrence, Julian of Norwich, St. Catherine of Siena, St John of  Cross, St Augustine, and the Desert Fathers and Mothers(and that’s a quick list off the top of my head, dig around and you’ll find more.)

Steve McSain on the Web:

McSwain’s Website

On The Huffington Post

Vimeo

McSwain’s You Tube channel

On Facebook

Icons of the Three Days: Approach the Mystery in Silence

These are the icons in which and around which we live as we celebrate the liturgy of the Three Days:

Maundy Thursday as we wash feet and remember the supper we return to again and again in Eucharist.

Then we are here at the Cross and Jesus Christ in the Grave:

Behold the life-giving Cross.

And then Jesus Christ in Hades/Sheol/Hell the land of the dead, the shades, bringing up Adam and Eve:

I have meant to write this icon for years. I never have.  I think I shrink from its truth.  If I were to  paint I would need to fully enter into it and face it, in all its pain and all its glory.  God entered the depths of our humanity and the world and pulled us up.  This is too much.

And so I approach Silence:


Holy Saturday Reflection – and Silence

Rob Bell has a new book out, and Tripp Hudgins and Adam Ericksen are having a blogalogue about it.  Thought I’d link to my Holy Saturday reflection of two years ago, in which I reference Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

Holy Saturday Reflection: Love Wins and Christ’s Descent into Hell(Hades)

I haven’t blogged about Holy Week and the Three Days and Easter this time around.  Mostly because this year I felt silence was the place from which to encounter this mystery again.  I’m not preaching at all this festival cycle, so no sermons to post either.

How does one mark silence as intentional in the cacophony of the internet?

I suppose this is one way to speak around the silence to say I’m being silent for a reason, not just because I haven’t posted anything or haven’t tweeted anything.

Silence…

….And words past, from Rob and me.

“Enjoy the silence…”

 

Other past posts on Holy Week and the Three Days:

A Maundy Thursday Reflection

A Good Friday Reflection on a sermon