Editor’s Note: Further medical bulletins will be over at http://aintsobad.typepad.com/pastorspal. I have decided the recent issues (crazy, cursing, anonymous calls, minor physical issues, threats of a smear campaign) are merely artifices of the enemy to deter my purpose. I am going to use this space for memoir to give indications of how baptist Christians might move forward from here. If that ruffles feathers, we will have some disturbed birds, then.
Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Fifteen (Day Three)
We will connect. Humans may be our own highest vexation but we consistently choose to vex one another together in groups great and small. This is not even a matter of controversy.
What is a source of controversy is the way we connect. A hundred years ago in Southwestern America mobility was limited. People kept Sunday, all day (except for the milking) for their worship community, which was also their social connection. Communication was, as my mother used to say, "a hoot and a holler," the phrase by which persons measured distance as well. A neighbor two farms over might be "two hoots and a loud holler."
Fast forward to the day of cell phones for nine year olds, no long distance charges, text messaging and cars that go ninety. Connections are changed forever. People dread the idea of "one more meeting." Electronically, we may be overconnected. The "Mail Order Bride" business flourishes, only now it is as likely to be a husband who is ordered and come from Eastern Europe or Asia.
We do not necessarily connect as we once connected. Large gatherings are the stuff of grainy, ancient newsreels. Giant labor rallies, huge religious gatherings, patriotic displays, all give way to "let’s rent a movie and go home."
In fact, the giant gatherings of our day are mostly for trivial events, like the Super Bowl. We are dangerously close to the bread and carnivals of the floundering Roman Empire.
So, genius, what are we to do?
We can connect for work rather than for show. We can use our connections to invite others into oversight and direction. We can subject the ones who "feather their own nests" to greater scrutiny so resources are not squandered, nor trust dissipated.
We can change our perspective from Primitive to Biblical and so recapture a realistic worldview, not so rosy as the progressive futurists would impose on us nor so pessimistic as the antihistorical Fundamentalists. A free society benefits from a world view kept in tension between the mindless cheerleader and the heart-sick doomsayer.
Think of human beginnings and our ultimate end, Biblically. In the Creation stories, man/woman have their genesis in the "image of God," as living souls. The very first thing one can say about humankind is that we are close to God’s own heart-life. Before too many pages of Biblical Creationism pass, man/woman rebel against God and enter sin. A great deal of "time" may pass between the two events of Creation and Fall but the writer focuses on Creation in God’s image and human rebellion.
The connection changes. Since then, we struggle with how to connect to God and to one another as well.
What is this struggle? I think it is the dichotomy between freedom and finitude. God does not exercise much oversight of Adam and Eve in the Creation story. God comes walking in the cool of the day, brings an animal for naming and otherwise lets Naked Humanity frolic in the Garden. This is freedom, liberty, the naif as noble savage, utterly unselfconscious.
Then, man chooses. In modern times, freedom of choice is the greatest of virtues but for every choice there is a corresponding loss of freedom for the operative and for all who kin him. There is loss of unselfconscious freedom for Original Man and Woman. Now they know their nakedness and they do not like it.
Freedom and finitude. It’s been done.
There is no smooth managerial settlement to bridge the gulf between freedom and the finite. We struggle with it every day. No? Cut someone off in traffic and see if they do not wave at you for your exuberant use of "their lane."
So, what do we do? We eschew the temptation to be overly cheery (man is created in the divine image, so he is going to be good one day, we just do not know when) or too, too dismal (the sky is falling and Jesus is in it).
Jewish perfectionism, secular or orthodox, posits the world goal of improvement to the point that Messiah would want to come here and live. Christian cataclysmic thought puts forth an end time for man so catastrophic God will be forced to appear and remake everything. Christians en masse in our day seem to need a disaster of epic proportions to fear and an enemy to conflict in the meantime.
The free and the finite. One wants man to live for social justice so that God will want to be here. One wants to deplete the world so badly God will have to be here. One is overly optimistic and the other overly pessimistic, with disastrous consequences.
Man, it seems, however, does not live to fight social injustice but to make choices that offer an untidy, uneasy detente, one that does not rob the privileged of their status nor doom the underprivileged or unprivileged to exist forever in their lowly caste, nor even to identify himself/herself by caste.
Think of it this way. In a material world, the privileged rest on wealth, while the un- or under-privileged mass in greater numbers, restlessly demanding a higher spot. The wealthy privileged insist on a greater respect than mere social justice would demand, while the masses resist allowing the privileged even the lower respect they might merit for what they make available to society.
Freedom and finitude. It’s still done.
In fact, or at least in my opinion, which I am calling fact, the crisis of the last thirty years in baptist Christian life in the Southern/Southwestern United States is a product of our higher mobility/communication ability melded with our lack of facility to define our goals/purposes and the extent to which we are willing to surrender various freedoms in order to reach, or even state our goals.
Will the lion lie down with the lamb? In order to do so, the lion must forego lunch and the lamb set aside its fears/prejudices. Finitude and freedom. To get together, you have to give up something(s).
Charles Wade took everything personally, so everything became small, finite and personal.
David Currie fights Fundamentalism, so everything becomes a class struggle, with predictable results.
Pressler, Patterson, et al, feel uncomfortable in their time/culture, so lead their minions to fear the future and hate the present in order to revere the past.
Finitude and freedom.
Someone must begin to posit a realistic world view, with an accurate eye on the past (what we are is not what we were nor intended to be), a wary eye on the present and a hopeful vision for the future. I do not see him/her yet.