Friday, February 09, 2007

Heretic's Guide to Eternity

I mentioned below that I was reading Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor's book, "Heretics Guide To Eternity." It was a kind of fun reading for me as I didn't think it would be "as useful" as the other reading I was doing at the same time in Michael Frost's book "Exiles" or Alan Hirsch's book "The Forgotten Ways." I meant that skimming through it I could see that it covered a lot of old and familiar, and wonderful, ground for me and for many who have been particularly a part of the Christian tribe among the Unitarian Universalists lo these many decades and centuries. Like McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus. McLaren, btw, does a nice spin of summarizing the "how we got to where we are today" situation in a foreword to Burke and Taylor's book. Anyway I looked forward to just resting in the book, not being challenged by it per se. Even the cultural studies part of the book seemed to tread good fertile and familiar ground that I had been walking on with Leonard Sweet, Easum and Bandy, and Slaughter and all for some time since seminary days in the 90s. Speaking of Sweet, I will be blogging soon too on my "airplane read", his new "The Gospel According To Starbucks."

And I wasn't challenged by the book; it wasn't aimed at me anyway. But I did find it "useful". Like McLaren's work it would be easy to use as a read-and-discuss work, and I really recommend it to our UUCF groups and others who want to get beyond Borg, Spong, Crossan, et al in the Jesus Seminar. And I have already made reference to the book here locally with others at The Living Room to the mini-guide to living spiritually that Burke and Taylor include at the end of the book: don't just search for information but for wisdom, break your own rules, and get connected.

The page I dog-eared is this one: It is the challenge posed to the default mode of church as we have come to so often embody it, especially those churches of the liberal stripe who in other ways see themselves as moving past the church of the past---

"I mentioned earlier that our church--a house church, more than anything--often brings food to a nearby park and shares a meal with whoever happens to be there that day. Many of the people we meet rely on public organizations or churches to provide food, and they know how the game is played, so to speak. They've come to understand that there are certain expectations for their behavior and have learned to act accordingly. Consequently, once they find out we're a church, they automatically move into a rote speech they think we want to hear. It usually begins with something like this: 'I used to have a successful business, a family...' or some other rosy story of the past. Then, if that doesn't seem to be resonating, they'll shift gears to the future and cover the same subjects--jobs, reconnecting with their families, getting stable places to stay. They seem to think if they don't talk about these things--or in some way distance themselves from who they are today--we won't be interested in them anymore. Yes, we want to affirm their hopes, dreams, and desires, but at the end of the day, we really just want to be with them, no strings attached. No matter who they are, where they've been, or where they're going tomorrow, the act of sitting on a bench in a public park and sharing a bucket of chicken is, in and of itself, enough. Simply being with each other is a sacred moment. 'Other people come to serve us lunch, but you come and have lunch with us," one of the ladies said to me once. Another time, the comment was equally profound: "Other people throw rocks at us, but you throw a party."

I had read or heard of this story before; it still moves me with the paradigm shift it invokes. If we took it to heart it would be extremely challenging: how do we change our "serving others" to "being and sharing with others" and how would that change everything the church is and does, from its organization and leadership to worship "services" to its "outreach." Etc. A simple story with profound implications if we follow its spirit.

It also reminds me of probably a little known book, written by a former seminary professor of mine, who worked in this field, both in thought and in deed. You might check it out. It is called "The Mutuality of Care" by Roy Steinhoff-Smith. It is full of insights and stories like this one, and their ramifications.

You can also see discussion of the Burke and Taylor book at www.songoftheopenroad.blogspot.com and of course at www.theooze.com