This morning I stumbled across Billy Corgan’s “faith” blog (Twitter is a wonderful thing).

Being an artistic “child” of the 90s, I have a certain soft spot for Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins. They’re responsible for some amazing musical/emotional moments, some of which will always be hardwired into my soul.

It’s also been refreshing to watch, from a distance, Billy Corgan’s journey through faith and spirituality, which really seemed to break through with his brief project of 2002 – 2003, “Zwan“. Billy is just one of those interesting guys in rock and roll, equal parts pretense and honesty, brashness and vulnerability (not to mention he was a neighborhood “homey” from Wrigleyville). For all his faults, he wasn’t afraid to put his search out there for people to see, and that means a lot to me as a fellow “pilgrim” and musician.

So I was glad to find his blog. I make no claims to know exactly where Billy is, faith-wise. There certainly seems to be an acknowledge of the “One God” (and I assume Billy agrees his name is Yahweh), and occasionally Jesus gets thrown in for some extra good measure, but there’s also a lot of “everything else” in there as well: Native American/First People spirituality, some pan-Eastern approaches. It’s definitely a bit “Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink”.

At one point he says this: “Jesus Christ never said to build a church, so enough said about the God system. The real God machine is you. God made you to know to understand, to feel, to grow, to enjoy, to remember. He did not make you to grovel at the feet of another human… Man is lost.”

I had two immediate reactions. First, from a Christian worldview, Billy, you are so close! Yes, God made us to know and understand and feel and grow and enjoy and remember. A thousand times yes! I believe that God’s message to us (through Christ) is one of deep affirmation and love of who we are at our most basic level. It is an affirmation of our humanity (as part of redeemed creation).

But I have to push back (Billy, are you listening? Ha.) on his second point, specifically that Jesus Christ never said to build a church. Yes, in a sense Christ never said to  build a church, and if you read the gospels from an ahistorical, non-contextualized point of view, you can throw all kinds of things into Jesus’ mouth (a lot Christians are experts at this, by the way). Because, even though Jesus never said to build a church, the assumption throughout the entire bible–and the context that Jesus was speaking in–was that God would always have a people for himself to help bring about the redemption of the creation. Jesus never said to build a “church” (how about the definition of church as “Called-Out-Ones”) because, um, he was speaking to the original “church” (called the nation of Israel!).

Simply put, rejecting “church” is like rejecting Jesus. You can’t divorce one from the other. Now, the expression of “church” is another topic altogether, and much more fluid and creative. But unfortunately, Christianity can never, ever be reduced to a hyper-individualized, atomized faith experience. It’s simply another consumer product of the west, masked in a bunch of new age Eastern pop mysticism. You have to have others. You have to participate in the body. You have to be part of the “Called-Out-Ones.”


This Needs No Further Explanation

“The point about Jesus’ resurrection is not ‘He’s alive again, therefore there is a life after death,’… It’s not, ‘Jesus is alive again, therefore we’re all going to go to heaven,’ … The point about the resurrection is, ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, therefore God’s new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do… We don’t need to worry (about our sin) any more… but you do need to work.” -NT Wright

The Basics, Pt. 1

Was thinking this afternoon: what are the basics of Christianity, of discipleship, of apprenticeship to Jesus?

I’m sure everyone has their lists, so here’s mine:

  1. Allegiance to the risen Christ. Christ is king, to the exclusion of all other pretenders. The pretenders in the 1st and 2nd centuries were Herod and the Roman emperor(s). Christ’s lordship was revolutionary (though not political or militant) and subversive. As I’ve written before, today’s pretenders are our middle-class, consumer culture, and nationalism. Christ claims allegiance over all, and demands that we submit our decisions to his criteria or constitution.
  2. Service to the least of these. Best example would probably come from Matthew 25. Christ paints a pretty stark (maybe even bleak?) picture of who has served him, who has “seen him”. You can’t read the gospels (or the Psalms, or Isaiah, or the prophets) without understanding God’s and Christ’s pretty serious orientation towards the poor, the marginalized.
  3. Communal orientation. As one of my former pastors used to like to say, “If you are looking for a lone ranger religion, don’t look at Christianity. Community is not an option.” I was reading through Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, and over and over again he seems to be saying, “I am free to do just about anything, but if my freedom messes with a brother or sister’s conscience in any way, then I will stop it. I will look at others first, rather than assuming the primacy of my own opinions and desires.” Individualism is the currency of the west. Sometimes I’m not sure if we can even begin to understand what it means to be “the people of God.”
  4. One story of salvation. This is where I’d probably cause a bit of a stir, but I’m beginning to believe more and more that the “one plan of salvation” through Abraham accurately captures God’s plan of salvation. For now, I guess the implications are (1) Israel matters. You can’t read the Old Testament and just read it as a “preamble” to the New Testament. God’s plan was always to work salvation through Israel for the rest of the world, and Christ carried it to its fulfillment through his death on the cross. (btw, this isn’t new theology, just new to evangelicals) (2) Relatedly, I guess you have to take what God wants from his people, as revealed in the whole of scripture (check the prophets, especially). That’s what it means to be the people of God.
  5. Growth is a part of the power of the Spirit. Being a Christian means being a disciple, which means living under discipline. Which means engaging the timeless practices of God’s people. Check here and here for some ideas. It’s not negotiable.

What’s missing? A lot of “doctrine”, I suppose. Was wondering this morning (obviously, I lot of wondering today): How much doctrine is in the bible? I think for a long time people assumed that Paul (and even the gospel writers) were writing church doctrine out. I’m not so sure anymore. I think Paul was trying to keep his little “flocks” from drifting into either extreme errancy and immorality or drifting back into an exclusionary, ethnic-based “Jew-only” faith. I think he was improvising according to the needs that confronted him (based on his knowledge of God-through-Torah, his experience of Christ, and his awareness of the Spirit).

I’m assuming a lot of love. I’m assuming the sacraments. I’m assuming living under the authority of the bible, being a people of the book.

So there. More later.

Just So Everyone Knows…

There is a scene from Thornton Wilder’s play, The Angel That Troubled the Water.  A doctor comes to a healing pool every day wanting to be healed of his melancholy and his gloom and his sadness. Finally the angel appears. The doctor goes to step into the water but the angel blocks his path, saying, “No, step back, the healing is not for you.” The doctor pleads, “But I’ve got to get into the water. I can’t live this way.” The angel says, “No, this moment is not for you.” And he says, “But how can I live this way?”

The angel says to him, “Doctor, without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children of this earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”


I don’t know why
The angel follows you from so far behind
You say it’s a surprise
Keeps you guessing all of the time

You made a mistake
I can see it written over you face
Tears sketching out the truth of your pain
But I say, it’s alright

You were so good to me
Even angels long to be
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

I saw your dress
Saw it hanging on the back of a chair
Oh baby, yeah, I was there
And I guess your virtue ain’t all that it was

You had a good time
Gave your heart to all the valentines
And now I know you might be disinclined to admit
But it felt pretty good

You were so good to me
Even angels long to be
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

All the stories in the lonely places
All the songs in the silences
We’re all strong in the broken places
Everybody’s broken on the wheels of love

Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love
Broken on the wheels of love

The Liturgical Revolution

This is from a church here in Tallahassee; some friends of mine go here.

St. Peter’s is (in my opinion) doing a great job of reaching folks in their 20s and 30s. As an evangelical, I daresay it’s even shocking. My evangelical “programming” has told me for virtually ten years that folks want loud music and entertaining gatherings full of contemporary markers (U2 songs and “Lost” references, anybody?).

Anglicanism says otherwise. It says that a lot of (at least white) people my age and younger want gatherings that are marked by:

  • a sense of history
  • mystery
  • peace
  • discipline
  • structure

What a mind-blowing thought! My only questions circle around the way that humble traditions and “outfits” have grown up over the years to become more and more ornate and (I daresay) expensive. Why the exaltation of Roman culture? For all the pull that Anglicanism, history and tradition has on me, I feel challenged by the apparent “freezing” of church culture in a particular time period.

What would a historical, yet traditional, church look like? How could you infuse tradition with appropriate current cultural items? How could you transform the “everyday” items in our lives into meaningful symbols of the shared values of our faith?

Beyond “Authenticity”

Recently, I was reading a favorite author/theologian of mine (I’m very sorry I can’t remember who it was, but if it comes to mind I’ll post it). He was discussing “sermon preparation”, and he wrote something to the effect of, “I’ll struggle through the texts and commentaries so that my congregation won’t have to.”

That really set things into perspective for me, and I was thinking about it again this morning.

A lot of the time, we enjoy the image of the Pastor as the-same-as-you person. An approachable man or woman that you can talk to and share your life with. And that’s valid; completely.

But sometimes, I wonder if we neglect the other, deeper parts of our calling, if we over-emphasize “buddy pastor” (in the same way like to hang out with “buddy Christ?).

Perhaps it’s our job to wrestle with the “deep things” — actually, if we believe it, the “deepest things” — and to find some understanding and method to this world, to our God. Authenticity is important, but I need more than authenticity when I go to a doctor. I want someone who can understand my body and give me an explanation for what’s wrong and develop a plan for me on how to get better. I want more than a friend…

… Therefore, I don’t feel ashamed about including the words theopany, justification, and sanctification in my coffee shop conversation this morning.

Where is my city?

In a book I’m reading right now, the author lists six markers of a “city”.

  1. public spaces
  2. mixed-use zoning
  3. local economy
  4. beauty and quality in the built environment
  5. critical mass
  6. presence of strangers

I’m somewhat incredulous as to how the capital of Florida can not have — what would be reasonable? — four of these markers? Where are the mixed-use zones? Where is beauty and quality in the built environment?

More thoughtfully, though, could a church actually help bring these things about? Could a community bring these things into fruition?