Private vs. Public

I originally posted this on Facebook back in 2010. With the new wave of privacy posts going around, I thought we could revisit this.

Very often these days I see a post or a link about the current Facebook policy (or lack thereof) concerning privacy. There’s the Scan for Privacy tool (which I’ve used) and the MoveOn petition. I don’t oppose any of these movements and I think it is good that we’re all evaluating that which is public – intentionally and unintentionally.

This also probes for me a deeper question and – as my ponderings often wander towards – it is a spiritual one. What is the role of privacy in the life of faith?

I’ve often preached that faith is always personal but never private. Our spiritual walks touch us in deeply intimate ways. The still, small voice we hear. The stirring in our souls as we stand in awe of the Creator and creation. The draw to both confession and reconciliation. None of this happens in a vacuum. These are not abstract theological concepts, but inherently and essentially incarnational – embodied, enfleshed. There is skin and bone connected to it, and that is we.

Yet, in my own understanding (and I think this is pretty orthodox for my particular tradition) these deeply personal experiences are not private. They are not to be whispered only to a close circle of friends, not to be recorded in a “locked” note. They are expressions of a much wider and broader community of faith. My epiphanies are not for my own edification. Our lives are not our own. My experience could be an encouragement for another in this walk of faith. My testimony could be a catalyst for another’s change. The Spirit works that way.

So, here’s the rub. If these most sacred experiences – those moments that are most transformational – are not to be kept in privacy, what is the place for privacy?

Acts 2 defines the early Christian community. It says, They held all things in common. While this is explicitly financial in nature (talk about radical de-privatizing), I believe all might actually mean all. All things in common. Money, food, clothes, tools, personal struggles, parenting challenges, fleeing from the empire’s soldiers, prayers, wine, parties, sick parents, terrible bosses, flowers, everything. My joy is your joy; your struggle is my struggle.

Privacy – the right to privacy, the protection of private property – is deeply embedded in our Northern/Western ideals. We disinvest in the common – common land like parks, common education in schools – and lift up privatization (not to mention privatizing profit while making risk shared). And I do mean we. Do I choose to hang out in my fenced in back yard or on the front stoop? Am I feeling public or private?

Of course there is a time and place for a time and a place apart. Jesus went on retreat, climbed the mountain, hid away from the crowds. Often the deeply spiritual moments from me are in the woods.

But what of my life is private? Is privacy actually sinful? Luther – building on Augustine before him – defines sin as being curved in on oneself. Privacy seems fairly inwardly curved.

I write this in part as a public confession. There are aspects of my life that I do not share publicly. And why? Because I just don’t want others to know. In some cases I don’t want to be held accountable for it. A great example: my love for gansta rap. How can I love music that glorifies violence and often degrades women as a pacifist and feminist? Well, I shouldn’t. And if I link to a video for 99 problems or Check Yo Self then this conflict between who I say I am and what I promote is laid bare for all to see – and in the world of Facebook, to comment.

So, for now, most of my content is public. Privacy be damned. That’s what inbox is for.

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Election Day Communion

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Invitation to Communion 

Today, we stood in lines. Tonight we have a seat at the table.  Today we chose a president, a senator and other leaders. Tonight we gather with the Prince of Peace. Today we fulfilled our role in this world. Tonight we are reminded of our citizenship in the kingdom. 

 Tonight, once again, our broken lives, lived out in this broken system are reconciled as one in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

 

The Great Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord your God. It is right to give God thanks and praise.

It is right and good that we should in every place give thanks and praise to you God. In the market place and in the public square, we praise you. In the churches and on the street corners, we praise you. In our classrooms and our places of work, in our homes and in the quiet places of our hearts, we praise you. 

Our praise is rooted in you as God of creation and God of the nations as the one that has spoken through both rulers and prophets, as the one that came as a messiah with a message.

In the life, death and resurrection we hear a gospel that is always political and never partisan. We hear good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, liberation for the oppressed, and sight to the blind. We are told to render unto Caesar only what is Caesar’s and we know that ultimately it all belongs to you. We pledge our first allegiance not to a flag or a country but to a king and a kingdom. And we are given peace not as the world gives but as a gift from above.

So, in the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and Eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”

When they had supped and finished, he again took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to everybody saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.”

 Send now your Spirit that this bread and cup may be your body and blood and send that same Spirit upon us that we may be the face of Jesus to the world.

Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray…

For All the Saints of the Church

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I love All Saints Day. It is like fall’s little version of Easter. Except it is way more personal. Easter is all pomp and processions, lilies and that odd mixture of reverence-caffeine-adrenaline-exhaustion of marathon church. Not All Saints. This is naming, personally, those waiting for resurrection. It is lighting a candle. It is tolling a bell. 

All Saints is the perfect post-modern celebration: it is cynical and joyful. Cynical because for all the church talk of everlasting life and baptismal covenant and weeping may endureth for a night but joy cometh in the morning it still sucks when people die. And no amount of this saccharine scripture quoting changes that harsh reality. Death sucks. Funerals suck. Grieving sucks. The way it creeps up and smacks you when you least expect it and often when you least want it – that all sucks. So don’t give me that “they’re in a better place” bullshit. Death sucks.

And yet.

That’s what I love about All Saints day – and yet. And yet, we proclaim they rest in peace. And yet we confess the resurrection of the body. And yet there is this ridiculous joy that let’s us know this ain’t the end.

Today, it also has me thinking about church. Now, maybe it is because All Saints Day lets us consider not just the people of the past but also how this “great cloud of witnesses” established the institution we call “church.” All them dead folks created the legacy we call The Church. The blood of the martyrs are the seeds of the church. Ancestors built – for worse and for better – buildings, congregations, denominations, movements, disciples, papacies, episcopacies, and legacies. We light a candle for them tonight as well.

But my thinking is not just about the legacy of my beloved harlot. It is about her future. Namely, why everyone keeps asking about the future of the church.

This is a favorite past time of mainline Protestants in the USA, especially among the clergy and clergy-gathering-speaker-circuit folks. The world is changing. The church hasn’t. The church is dying. Giving is down. Membership is down. Participation is down. The only way folks hear the Bible is if they watch Charlie Brown (Oops, I meant to link to this one). The church is dying!!  But look to the signs of hope among the relevant, emergent, communitarian ecclesiology of a born again church. Try this and you can have a resurrection, too.

I get it. Death sucks (see above). But the church isn’t dying.  It is racist, classist, and colonial to imagine the global bride of Christ as being defined in the narrow terms of mainline congregations. But even within that very narrow scope of Church where I happen to make my bread and butter, it ain’t dying.

It probably should. The country club mentality, the shallow theology, weak preaching, “moralistic therapeutic deism,” entrenched entitlement. All that should die. Be killed. Murdered. But that isn’t happening. It isn’t even on life support.

The church is not dying. It is bored. It (we) got bored and got fat and lazy as an institution. And rather than get off our asses and start healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons we eat and drink and pontificate about how the church used to be or how it should be or if I was in charge. We hire Ducky Lucky to teach our seminars and Loosey Goosey as our congregational consultant, and Foxy Loxy is in charge of a new mission statement. And they do a great job of reminding us how important their work is, lest the sky actually fall. And the church insiders (professionals and professional volunteers) join in chasing the great Chicken Little while the outsiders get bored with it all and walk away.

Before we light a candle for the great notion of mainline Protestantism and disregard our own ancestors of faith, let’s do something exciting. Let’s sing in the catacombs or occupy a market place or, you know, die for our faith (see Martyrs above). There is nothing boring about that.

Then we can claim, with all the joy and cynicism of a 21st century Christian, that for all the death all around us there is still some ridiculous joy. We can speak some life, some excitement, we can prophesy into these dry bones. The brokenness of the church, the past mistakes and the present ones, they way the church kills rather than saves, all that is not swept away but owned as part of our reality.

And yet…