I have always felt that an important part of the emerging church conversation/movement is about a new kind of church which rises from a union of post-evangelicals and post-mainliners and post-other-traditions. The idea is that we all in humility discover our own weaknesses and discard them, and in a spirit of joyful discovery we uncover the strengths of the other and wholly embrace them - along with embracing one another, and in the end you have a new kind of Christian far closer to what God has been leading his people towards. (and the "post" can be just very personal and not formal, ie. you don't have to leave an organization, some might prefer calling themselves progressive or emergent)
So for a few years now, I have been on what I call my "mission to get inside the head of mainliners", to understand what makes them tick. I've talked to Tony Jones about this numerous times, including last week when he was in NYC, and together we've made some good progress in thinking it through. The fact that the emergent movement appears to be around half and half evangelical and mainline is an awesome comment on the real possibility we have to become a new kind of Christian.
So here's a post about a very specific thing I've been coming to understand - how we have understood the concept of holiness so differently - and this time it's a theologian and a Rabbi which inspires me.
I have always thought of holiness as relating to my personal behaviors...do I choose to not sin in my personal actions and choose to walk with God in prayer and bible eating?...I could entirely judge my own level of holiness by my own individual reality...I know my own heart and thoughts when I am honest with myself, and I know when I am seeking God first, or when I choose to relegate God to the background and seek my own desires first. This entire transaction takes place between me and God individually.
Anecdotally, within our evangelical subculture, we talk about, "being on fire" and "walking in the spirit" and having a lifestyle of consistent "devotions" or "quiet times". We talk about going through seasons and we comfort our own agony at not doing well by imagining we are in a season where God is not as close for his own purposes of teaching us.
It's a huge subject and a core part of evangelical culture.
But here's what I'm discovering...there is an individuality about it which is unique to this time and place in history, and when seen in a certain light, increasingly troublesome. The main insight is the total individual focus to the exclusion of all others.
What I am learning about people of other traditions is that they have simply never experienced that perspective. For them holiness is not as much a personal thing as it is a set of realities that exist amongst a community of people.
When we read Jesus rebuking the Pharisees about their use of the law and the legalism they live in, we interpret that towards ourselves individually - I should try to understand legalism as a wrong way for me to live out my faith, and instead discover what Jesus was teaching and live out that fuller truth in my personal spiritual walk.
Recently I was challenged to imagine that maybe Jesus was rebuking them not for their "personal legalism" but for the way they were using the law to control the society economically to their own advantage. They, living in community with others, were using the religious codes they all ascribed to in order to assert power over others to their own economic advantage....Wow, that's a lot different than how they were reading the book of Leviticus in their quiet times! (this insight from Walter Brueggemann's book "Prophetic Imagination")
This transition from my own claustrophobic personal individual reality to the greater reality of the community I live in is one which entirely thrills me, because it holds promise for me that maybe I won't be so alone.
Here's another recent example of a similar insight from a blog written by a Rabbi who is involved in the New Sanctuary Movement along with me (though we've never met because of geography). It caught my attention because of the title, Calling us to Holiness...my "mission to get into the head" starts asking, "So what does this person imagine holiness to be"? Please Read:
Calling us to Holiness - By Rabbi Laurie Coskey
...In my tradition we call the central passage in the book of Leviticus the Holiness Code. Because if the scroll on which we have written in Hebrew the five books of Moses is unrolled and folded right in half, Leviticus 19 is right in the middle. The passage begins, You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy and then it tells us how to be holy including to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The holiness code instructs us explicitly and clearly about just treatment for immigrants. We learn: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens, you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I the Lord am your God.
Recently a group of clergy leaders were meeting with ICE officials to formally request that they put an end to the raids in San Diego County. (ICE is the old Border Patrol). In the course of the conversation, an ICE officer remarked that "only history could judge" whether a path toward legal residency for 12 million immigrants currently in the country would benefit our great nation. Rev. Scott Richardson the Dean of this Cathedral respectfully replied that "we would have to answer to a voice more demanding than that of history", that God would judge each of us and our nation based on how we treated the immigrants living among us. God expects us to be holy people. The Koran, The Old and New Testaments teach us to respect the spark of the divine in every person no matter on which side of the border that spark was lit. That is the holy path and that is how we will be judged by our Creator...
...Our mission is clear, to become holy people, vessels of God and recognize the spark of the divine. Today we call for humane, effective, comprehensive, immigration reform. AND we will continue that clarion call tomorrow and the next day, because our call to holiness doesn’t begin or end with a session of the congress.
May our stories remind us that justice is not yet fulfilled! May our stories move us to justice!
(To read more - please forgive the format, I'm on a Mac and I don't know how to hyperlink this - http://blog.newsanctuarymovement.org/2007/06/04/calling-us-to-holiness--by-rabbi-laurie-coskey.aspx)
So for her, holiness is an outward obedience within society, not an inward spiritual state of the heart. One could say the outward action reflects the inward state. I think James would like this very much. It is the huge difference in viewpoint that so grabs my attention and allows me to grow and be instructed if I can see more of the other and myself through it.
Her comments on God judging the nation are very insightful to an evangelical culture who's religious broadcasters built it by over and over and over (I swear this is all I heard during my youth in Southern California) warning of God's imminent judgement on our country if we didn't fall in line with a certain limited set of socio-political-religious views. But here is a socio-political-religious view that is totally different and that we have actually opposed in our bases of power (many religious republicans are very happy to deport the very immigrants that she is so passionate to protect). Our focus on the individual nature of our faith has allowed us to hand pick a few issues that we feel passionate about religiously, and to pursue them politically, while remaining unaware of other issues in society that haven't penetrated our eccleisial understanding.
To me this is huge. But one more step on the journey remains - how will others gain from the evangelical focus on the inward - surely a part of the story...For me to really get where I'm going, I need others to gain from me and change, just as I am gaining from them and changing, then we will together walk towards an understandable and liveable balance...