This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 5: Why Churches?

After yesterday's post, I want to hasten to clarify, lest I portray the wrong idea-- I do not feel like I had a bad childhood.  Nor am I ungrateful for the upbringing I had.  My parents are awesome.  They loved us kids, sacrificed for us, and nurtured us. They did an amazing job with what they had, and through it all, they stuck to their beliefs.  And considering that their beliefs were rather in the minority in society, I admire their courage for sticking to them.  The fact that I feel called to walk a different path should not be taken to mean that I scorn the path they started me on.  So much of what they taught and modeled is still strengthening and empowering me today.  Love you, Mom and Dad! (Whether or not you're even reading this.)

Now, back to the question of why I attended a conference about "Can Post-Modern Theology Live in the Churches?" when I am moving away from "churches."

March 20th, 2013. Insomnia.  I had awakened from a bad dream (that I didn't remember, otherwise I'd analyze it!), and was trying to reset my internal clock by looking at the glow of my computer screen. (This is a trick to help you not re-enter a nightmare, by the way.) I checked FaceBook, and one of the posts was from Peter Rollins' page (not that I actually read his books--too Christian for my taste [isn't that ironic]), advertising an upcoming conference called Subverting the Norm.  I read through the description and some of the comments on the page.  Part of me felt like rolling my eyes... another church event... but part of me was curious. One of the biggest problems I've faced throughout my life has been loneliness, and it has become acute lately. Part of that is due to my situation, and will be alleviated when I get a more social job... But part of it is because I've not felt safe talking to anyone about this issue of my faith and beliefs. This conference seemed like it might be a group of people who'd dealt with similar experiences, questions, logical processes, and emotional grapplings as myself.

And yet, these people seemed to be choosing, nonetheless, to stay in The Church.  I guess the question that roared from my heart was, "WHY?" Why why why why why--after you wake up to the fact that The Church is not godde's only way of working in the world, that godde is (probably) not at all like what (today's iterations of) Christianity portrays, that there is (probably) no post-death consequence for choosing not to believe, and so on and so forth-- why would you choose to stay in an outdated system? I understand that many people are economically trapped, since they get paid by The Church, and don't feel they have any other means of providing for themselves and their families.  But for those who don't work for a church...  What brings them back if it's not truth claims? Is it cowardice? Sentimentality? Having a social group? Convenience? Amusement? A passion for reform? What is it?

Myself, I'm almost ready to walk away, and I'd love it if I never had to enter a church or be exposed to Christian-speak again (as unlikely as that actually will be.)  I'll join parenting groups, gardening groups, book clubs, sewing circles, musical ensembles, and so on, for my social needs. Cowardice and sentimentality are not part of my normal modus operandi, so that part doesn't apply to me. (Though I'm deeply compassionate for those who do deal with these personality traits. I have flaws that are much worse than these two.)  I can relate to wanting to reform or reach out to those still caught in their identity traps.  But I have kind of assumed that the best way of doing so is to call to people from the outside, rather than try to deal with the messy process of redefining or re-framing everything inside.  
If it's all made up anyway, why bother?

There were people at this conference from all over the world, many different walks of life.  Why? What brought them together? What compelled them to contribute?  I really want to know.  I got a few great answers from some incredible people at the conference, but I still want to hear more.
What compels you to continue to identify with Christianity?


  1. First, I'll just say I'm loving your posts! (note: skim down to the last section for the important stuff) Ok, let's see... I don't think of myself as xian anymore, in most senses, but if anything I might try to hide that, rather than make it known. Why? For starters, it's a language I can speak and share with many of my "post-xian" friends. Second, my family/friends from "back home". If I deny xianity, then that could lead to some tense relationships. If I identify with it still, but differently, that leads to more open discussion about things. Third, I am certainly on my way out of the xian camp, but I don't reject my past (as you said) as toxic in every way. Xianity in many ways has shaped me very positively. In many ways it has not. But I'd say my personal experience was more positive than negative. Honestly, this probably had a lot more to do with my family and community, but it all existed within a churchy structure.

    Why do I go to STN, why am I involved in ikonNYC? Peter Rollins invited me (to ikonNYC via mass twitter invite, and to STN personally). And I said yes because these are communities of people I can relate to and who inspire me to get outside of myself, grow, enlarge. And I'm attracted to the philosophy and postmodern theology. I wonder, Can postmodern theology live OUTSIDE the churches? I love ikonNYC, but I'm realizing I'd be ok if I left it behind now (which is part of the point). I wonder if I will ever get deeply involved in any traditional form of church again? Likely not. I wonder if I have children (someday), how does all this relate to that??? Will I reject all notions of xianity in my life? Likely not.

    Ok, now I'll really try to answer the question. I think I'll continue to engage with the Christianity because all along, at it's core, it has compelled me toward an affirmation of life. How I think and engage with it has changed from night to day and back to night again, but at least for now, I am better at affirming life with my understanding of Christianity as a sort of a/theism than with, say, new atheism or buddhism, or simply rejecting all notions of Christian thought. Christianity is helping me learn to love.

    1. Jonathan Fulk here just to clarify ;)

    2. Thanks, Jonathan. I figured it was you, not some other Jonathan! :) I appreciate the honest thoughts. It is a tough walk, figuring all these things out. And, like you say, it's hard with kids, not knowing how to explain things to them.
      As a thought exercise--could you/we move towards "an affirmation of life" without Xianity? Is it useful for its metaphors in that regard?

    3. Absolutely, and I think for me, at this point, affirming life w/out xianity has become more than just a thought exercise! Xianity provides useful metaphors to me. But it's certainly exclusive, or always the best. Perhaps it's just the one I know best. A bit scary for me to say that, since so much of my identity has been wrapped up in it for so long, but if I'm honest, I am now moving out into the black unknown, where my beliefs can't guarantee meaning. I hope life is meaningful. I try to affirm life. Other times I feel absolutely void of meaning. Here's a few thoughts on why I don't totally reject xianity:
      -If I totally deny it, I end up denying or suppressing my past. It's part of me and it shaped me. I grew up in the church. I listened almost exclusively to "christian rock". I get Jesus jokes. And that's ok.
      -Refusing to engage in xianity would be like refusing to engage in social media. It's so engrained in the culture that it's impossible to avoid the direct and indirect effects of it. If I refuse to engage with xianity, I'm refusing to engage with a huge portion of culture directly, while still being indirectly affected. Instead of isolating myself, I would like to engage, even identify, differently.
      -I'd rather ease myself out of past social circles and into new, bigger, broader ones. Ok that's not completely true since last summer I left everything and everyone I'd ever known and moved to NYC...
      -When it really comes down to it though, WHY am I into all this postmodern/radical theology and shit? There's a lot of energy around it! Inspiring people! Something is happening, and it's not the same old christianity I'm used to. It's not the answer, it's not pretending to be, I don't know what it is, I like it, it's helping me become more human.

    4. When I get myself some kids I'm gonna have a lot of questions for you...

    5. Thanks. Interesting that you view Xianity as a huge portion of contemporary culture, whereas, I always felt like it was something that had to be kind of hidden, ashamed of perhaps, in a secular culture. (Though we were always encouraged NOT to be ashamed...!) But I grew up in a sector of Christianity that was kind of a minority at the time, so that might have impacted my views.
      Christian rock...totally... I'm going to guess you were a Jars of Clay and DC Talk person? I loved Sandi Patti and Carman. :)

    6. And the only advice I have regarding kids is not religious at all. I'm huge into Attachment Parenting. I think the Attachment Parenting principles are the only hope we have for humanity.

    7. I know exactly what you mean about xianity being a small, hidden culture (and word of faith, that's intense yo!) But at a different level xianity is really the water our culture swims in, acknowledged or not. It's played a huge role in shaping American society, certainly not expressed the same as my little country church culture growing up, but I think it's mark is far from being erased. Like, in this sense, new atheism is just another christian denomination (as a fundamentalist anti counterpart). There would be no secular without christian.

      There is a very soft spot in my heart for DC Talk. By the time found Jars of Clay, they were a bit too soft and mainstream for me. I got huge into christian hardcore, though you'd never pigeonhole it as christian. Way back before I knew what drums were, I remember jumping all over furniture while blasting Carmen's RIOT.

      Final thought: While it's hard for my to imagine xianity becoming totally irrelevant to me, I do see myself identifying with it less and less, and I'm not really biting the "Process" hook. And I have no idea how to explain any of this to my family.

  2. I stay in the church because "I called on the Lord and He answered me." (Psalm 34:4) I was on the verge of my second divorce, my daughter was on drugs, and my son was acting out violently. I had left the Christian church for other spiritual communities years ago, and they were no help in my time of need. Reverting back to my childhood faith, I called on Jesus. I received an answer in the form of an enveloping, loving Presence that held me while I cried and guided me in my decision-making. I began studying, and through a somewhat circuitous route, discovered process theology.

    Because of these experiences, I am not as willing to reject the supernatural as some of my other Radical Theology friends are. I am an open theist, a feminist, and a political progressive, so I still have a lot in common with the Subverting the Norm folks anyway. I go to church because we have a shared belief in a Source greater than ourselves and a shared responsibility to take care of each other, in contrast to the "Look out for number one" attitude that secular life offers.

    1. Thanks, Renee. Sounds like you had a wonderfully transformative experience.
      I, too, am not willing to be a full-on materialist, as I don't see any way to honestly "get around" the spiritual experiences that some people have. (Of course, some experiences described as "spiritual" can be explained otherwise, but not all, in my opinion.)
      I don't think being spiritual is necessarily tied to being Christian, though.
      And I don't think that secular atheists are necessarily selfish, either.
      I'm glad you found a community to support you through your times of need and to provide support for others. That's important.