Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Study Leave Book Reports, part 2

I mentioned yesterday that I'd done a lot of exciting reading this past month.  This is the book I started with -- Robin Meyers' The Underground Church:  Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.  Meyers is "a nationally known United Church of Christ minister and peace activist.  His congregation describes itself as unapologetically Christian and unapologetically liberal."  Rev. Meyers certainly seems to be both.  He also come across as someone who sees an alternative to things as they are.  An example:
"Most of our churches are friendly, comfortable, and well appointed.  But who goes there expecting to be 'undone'?  Who expects to weep at recognizing the world as it really is, or to shudder at the certain knowledge that until we start taking risks it is likely to stay that way?  Who demands that worship should peel back the stupefying crust of a frantic, franchised culture?  Who suggests that perhaps we should plan an attack on the mall that rivals the ferocity with which Jesus attacked the temple?  Who dares to be a fanatic these days for something other than a football team?"  (p. 4)
I like this guy.

He makes the point early on -- and this is my wording of his ideas -- is that those who get focused on a search for the historical Jesus are doing something interesting, but that what is really essential for the church to do is to examine what the historical Jesus community was like.  What did the earliest followers of "The Way" consider important?  What did they do?  How did they strive to manifest among themselves and in the world the experience(s) they'd had while walking with this historical Jesus, and in the days, months, and years after his death?

One of the most important characteristics he lifts up -- and he does a really superb job of lifting up some pretty challenging things! -- is that the early proto-Christian communities were radically counter culteral.  They were considered, not to put too fine a point on it, a real threat to the status quo.  It's been noted often by liberal scholars that Jesus' talk about the "Kingdom of God" would have been understood by those listening as an articulation of an alternative to the "Kingdom of Caesar."  The early community of The Way existed in opposition to the way things were, as was Jesus himself.

So when, Meyers asks, was the last time that someone considered it dangerous that the church exists?  Obviously some of us in the liberal/progressive wing of religion often feel that some of the things said and done by the conservative wing are dangerous.  But when was the last time our own religiosity a challenge to the status quo?  When was your own faith -- however you understand it -- such a conterpoint to the assumed cultural norms that other people took notice?

If you're like most folk, it's probably been a while.  Unitarian Universalists have often experienced their faith as a kind of challenge to the established norms when transitioning from other faith traditions to ours -- family members or friends warn that we're a cult, or not a real religion, or a gateway straight to hell.  But once here, does the way we do our religion challenge -- or support -- the systems that are making such a hell here on earth?

That, fundamentally, is the encouragement I found in The Underground Church -- the encouragement to rediscover the essentially subversive nature of religion.  This is a book I'll come back to.

Pax tecum,

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