About a year ago, Rob and I were talking about a community event that was being planned by Trinity. Rob said he wanted to make sure there was absolutely no admission cost to the event, which I thought was great.
Being reflexively (and usually too much) afraid that my church will mimic certain manipulative aspects of the evangelical subculture, I brought up a news report I once saw, from somewhere in America: A Christian minister had set up a skateboard park for the kids in his neighborhood, and they were invited to play and have fun on one condition. They had to take some time out to listen to the minister preach. The images caught by the camera were both hilarious and devastating: the kids obviously were bored as they sat through the sermon, with some facial expressions bordering on resentment.
Rob said, for those skateboarders, suffering through a sermon was the price they paid for admission to the skateboard park — exactly the kind of thing he wanted to avoid at the community event we were talking about. That’s something I really admire about Rob — he wants to treat people like people, not like numbers and statistics. No gimmicks. The agenda is clearly stated.
(Along those lines, I also think of the Christian professor I had at a state university who thought the crowd-drawing techniques of a popular evangelistic organization were “devious.” His own son was a leader in the organization, and he still said, “devious.”)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that conversation with Rob in a somewhat different context: in relation to work I’ve been doing with the online project that I frequently mention on this blog.
When I decided to change the mission statement of LiturgicalCredo to “contemporary stories of faith and doubt,” a Christian gentleman I’ve known all my life was incredulous and even a bit condescending: “And doubt?” he snorted.
In fairness to the Christian gentleman, doubt is not considered the hallmark of a passionate, strong faith, as noted here.
In fairness to me, I think that particular gentlemen believes too much, and believes far too quickly.
Either way, as I invite writers of all stripes to publish in LiturgicalCredo, I’ve been thinking about the price of admission, and my thoughts about the conversation with Rob have become braided with a vision I had a few years ago for an alternate Sunday morning service: instead of a worship service, an open, public forum, in which anyone could come for a civil discussion of beliefs, faith, religious affiliation, and skepticism.
Bring your lapsed Catholicism; bring your unassailable logic; bring your energy fields.
Heck, bring your UFOs.
I thought such a public forum would be better than church, because there was (is) so little clear thinking and honest discussion — little conceptual clarity, either — when it comes to varied beliefs and convictions and the various way we seek to apply them. In my mind, there seemed to be too much going on intellectually and religiously in our culture, too many assumptions just trucking along with abandon and no mechanism for critique. It seemed like the right thing to do was to examine and test rather than to entrench.
Much of that thought process reflected my frustrations with my adult experiences of glib evangelicalism. Today, I would not want to regularly replace Sunday morning worship with such a public forum.
However, as I look at LiturgicalCredo, I think the way to keep the price of admission free is to offer a place where anyone can share his or her literary expressions of the very-human experiences of faith and doubt; odd pathways to belief and resounding statements of skepticism; salvation and falling away.
It’s not to make relativism out of pluralism — that’s not where I’m coming from. The conceptual confusion between those two terms, relativism and pluralism, is a worthy conversation, but one for another field.
Literary and artistic works usually have experiences and emotions as their subjects, even when memories and feelings are being evaluated or questioned. I don’t think we should expect systematic theology or philosophical perfection from art (although it’s great to find them). How events happen, and how they make us feel, aren’t always shaped by rational, logic, deliberative thought.
No one would place C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed in the same category as his Abolition of Man.
Sharing emotions and experiences, broadly, we can know the emotional and experiential weight behind other perspectives. To let someone speak individually and tell a tale that counters my own is one way to offer a literary, artistic forum in which the price of admission remains free.
I do, however, want to lean toward literary expressions. I’m not sure if UFOs fit in there, but hey, I’ll take a look.