Thursday, June 23, 2005

In the blog, but not of the blog

Don't mess with Texans. Today Muley consumed my lunchtime reading with a dynamite post on what it means to have a Christian blog:

Sure, I am a Christian, and this is a blog. But does that automatically make it a “Christian blog?” It’s the same sort of question that a Christian who writes books might wrestle with. Do they consider themselves a “Christian writer,” a “writer of Christian books,” or “a writer who just happens to be a Christian?”

Muley asks a great question. I aspire to be one of those "Christian writers," myself - which is to say, I aspire to both halves of the description, both salvation and skilled writing. So let me try to answer.

I want to approach with a quick peek at two rejections of Christian culture, in any of its manifestations. First, some reject it because it's not authentic Christianity. A "good" example would, sadly, be what Christ spoke of in Revelations: being lukewarm, tepid Christians. "I will spew thee from my mouth," he warns; but luckily He permits us some advance notice - people begin spitting long before we get to Judgement. We've all been to these overtly "churchy" deals, where everyone simpers and smiles and offers dead-fish handshakes, speaking the Tongue of Nice. Pleasant company, perhaps, but next to the passion and fire of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or Billy Graham, or John Paul II? It's a mile wide and an inch thick. One gets the feeling that there's no actual God to deal with, just a set of helpful teachings, and who wants that? It's too "goody-good" for people who still revel in their sins, and not good enough for anyone hungering and thirsting for righteousness. There is no Christianity without Christ Himself.

Then there's the things that aren't authentic culture. One of my laments at the beginning of my own walk with Him was the dearth of good music. Too many people seemed to think that putting "Jesus" in the lyrics meant that one needn't bother learning to play well. The production values were even more laughable. And the few who got it to sound professional were so over the top that it became impossible to listen casually - it was like being at services constantly. It was no wonder I preferred to listen to Motown or New Wave.

Now, sixteen years on, I've discovered a few things. One, the perfectly healthy desire to be immersed in Christ does not necessarily mean that I need to lay waste to the personality He started me with. In this case it means discovering bands like Sixpence None the Richer, and re-discovering U2. Good times. In fact, Bono and Co. are the perfect example of what I'm trying to convey [should have just brought them up first!]. Their music rocks, and it clearly belongs to Him.

Question two is the reverse of this. If I call myself a Christian (and I do), should I be writing about what I'm writing about at all? Should I be far less concerned with the frivolities of the material, fallen world, and instead be more concerned with topics of spiritual significance?
I wouldn't advise unconcern. We need to ask ourselves if we're being moved closer to God, or further; and especially we want not to put others off the trail. But very few people start on the trail; we needn't worry for them, I think (though I hope they worry for us!). The others may find the trail first precisely because they happen to be a fellow fan of, say, the Simpsons, or odd photography, or even just of eclectic blogs themselves. That common ground becomes the first place where an unbeliever comes across the fruits of faith. Following that, they may go far into lands they never knew existed.

For me that common ground was reading. I ran across the Narnia books in middle school and guzzled them - even did a report on them for a class. I didn't reach the path until college, but I was pointed in the right direction. Much of my reading since has confirmed the validity of the approach. It almost became a sort of AFI's "100 Best Christian-in-the-World Quotes." (As you'd guess, the Bible comes up a big winner in this category!) "In the world, but not of the world" is a big one, as is St. Paul's recollection of his own evangelizing career, becoming "all things to all men, that I might save some." A favorite concept I've run across in many forms from CS Lewis is that of redeeming the things around us. "The Great Divorce" has a fine example, when the narrator sees one of the saved surrounded by a huge train of animals. His companion, George MacDonald, tells him that it's due to the saint's love for the things around her on earth: "There is love and joy enough in one finger of yon saint to waken all the dead things of earth to life," he says (paraphrase alert).

I see no reason why that process can't begin now, especially since my church has been "baptizing" secularity for many centuries, taking pagan feasts and directing those celebrations into Christmas and Easter; and more recently, using the Communion of Saints as a common thread to reach native polythiests throughout the Americas and bring them into Christianity. (Admittedly, this teaching is much-disputed among the denominations today, but the Catholic missionaries can't be blamed for using what they had.)

The ephemera of pop culture and sports may not last, but, again to paraphrase Lewis: "One who has religion ought not to spill it. But what if those bright drops served as the first steps for someone in need, to eventually follow to the river to drink?" (I think that's the intro to the second edition of "The Pilgrim's Regress," a fine, underrated book.) If nothing else, one's varied interests reassure the worldly that one is not a monomaniac - another obstacle to belief for the questioner, the fear that they will become "God-bots," as it were. Just as faith can't be a filmy gauze over all, neither can it be a mile thick and one-inch wide. Such a faith can only address one part of us, but Christ intends for the whole of us to follow. Someday I will leave the world behind; until then I will use as much of it as I can to point to way to Jesus.

If your fellow Stooges fans are asking themselves why you never seem to use rude words or slander others, you're obeying the Great Commission. "Preach the gospel as loudly as possible. When necessary, even use words," as St Francis put it. From that initial connection it's up to the Spirit to move us all down the path. We all have to pass that point of deeper commitment, where we realize that Christ cannot remain in our varied circle of hobbies - He must become our bedrock. He goes from spoke of the wheel to the axle, so to speak - but the interests we still have, the true spokes, run out to the rim (our visible personality) and help us move.

What do you think, fellow bloggers who are Christians? How do you see yourselves, and your blogs? Can you and I promote chuckling at jackalopes and comedy teams and fun-loving nuns and still be using our time and talents profitably for Him?
A few friends and I went to a steakhouse last night. I actually saw a stuffed jackalope, and gave him a friendly pat between the antlers (eight point - what a buck!). I have no quarrel with him. Neither does God, I suspect. When the Bible says to beware the World (capital W) they don't mean the objects, they mean the tendency for our lives to be only about objects: hoarding and consuming with no thought of where they've come from or where we're going after we've done with them; trying to plug material things into the spiritual hole at our center.

Muley, my friend - your question has inspired your readers to really think about their spiritual lives, and your blog was the tool you used to pose it. At the minimum, you're edifying your brethren. Your blog is fun, well-written, and in your character. I think you may have answered your own question.

1 comment:

Muley said...

WOW! Wow, wow, wow! Amen, brother! You have said it all, and so well, that I feel as though I've just sat through a great movie at didn't want it to end. I felt as though I was hearing some of my own thoughts, except expressed so much more eloquently and passionately.

You have encouraged me in what I'm doing, and, I hope, encouraged yourself to remain true to your fine efforts as well. You're a talented writer, and you clearly are being used of God.

My initial conflict was not so much over whether God would approve of goofiness and writing about worldly things. As you said, I don't think he wants us to be "God-bots" or a mile thick and an inch wide. I don't think he minds us partaking of things of the world as long as, as you said, we continue to move toward Him, and not away.

My true conflict was in "advertising" my blog as Christian in a place where the other blogs were indeed seemingly dominated by "God-bots" of a sort -- at least that's how they appeared by their very serious, spiritual self-descriptions. I'm a big believer in truth in advertising, and I just don't want to attract someone seeking the word of God and have him open my latest post and find fart jokes. That's all.

And yes, I do sometimes wonder if I should be doing something more "Kingdom-building" than I am, such as being a missionary or entering seminary. But then I remember that we're to be used of God wherever we are, and that Godly gas station attendants have probably influenced a fair share of people over the years, too.

I wish I lived closer to New Jersey so we could go out for a beer and talk about life. I think we'd get along well. Sounds like we read a lot of the same books and listen to the same music, although I don't have quite the passion for U2 that you do. But that's what makes life interesting, right?

Thanks for your blog, and for reading mine and being a faithful commenter, critic and friend. See you soon on the blogosphere.