Thursday, January 29, 2015

Faith and Brokenness

Twice in the last week, it's surfaced in conversations or readings or multimedia, this peculiar relationship we Jesus people have with human brokenness.  That we're kind of a little messed up as a species is one of the roots-rock assumptions of Christian faith, and one that I honestly resonate with.   We mess things up constantly, as our hungers and angers and anxieties and desire for control lead us to inflict all manner of harm to one another.  We're capable of compassion, but we also live behind existential walls, and become so folded into our own subjectivity that we fail to see others as they actually are.  Ours is a world of shadows and projections, which become the ground for both our own self-wounding and the injustice we inflict on one another.

The heart of who Jesus was...his work in the God's restorative and redemptive intent for all of us.  Christianity operates under the assumption that there's something not quite right, something in need of transformation and growth and healing.

Which is why I struggled mightily with two different perspectives offered up this week, from two progressive folks I generally appreciate.

The first, from my good-hearted progressive friend Mark, who wrote an earnest little piece on his Patheos blog that defied the idea that we are broken at all.  It was bright and cheerful and affirming. "Christianity has it wrong," it boldly announced. There's nothing wrong with you just as you are, he asserted, channeling our dear departed Mr. Rogers more than just a little bit.  You are just fragile and distractable.    It was intended to be provocative, to be challenging, and it was.

On the one hand, I see the point in not beating people down with endless talk of their sinny sinfulness. That's too often a tool for controlling others, for shutting them up and cowing them into submission.  There must be hope and grace and promise in the Gospel, or it is not the Gospel.

On the other, well, it's just not real.  "There's nothing wrong with any of us" doesn't resonate with anyone who's ever struggled with addiction in themselves or loved ones, or with anyone recovering from abuse.  "We're all just fragile and distractable" doesn't get at the deep injustices we inflict on one another.  And if there's nothing broken in us, why would we need to change anything, either personally or socially?  The concept feels...well...not very progressive.

Then there was the second, from emergenty-prog-faither Peter Rollins.  I've never read or listened to his stuff, but having encountered an absolutely lovely Jack Chick satire-tract he produced, I immersed myself in his thoughts for a while.

Here, I was again torn.  I like Rollins aesthetics, and his Oirish accent stirs my ancestral heart.  His is a deeply enjoyable mind.  Sure, much of what he has to say feels intentionally paradoxical, the kind of Zen koan teachings that create within themselves irreconcilable tensions.  To be orthodox, be a heretic.  To know something, don't know what you know.  To be centered, destroy your center.  To lead, refuse to lead.  That kind of thing seems to be his schtick, and it's a great way to stir thought, even if it does remind me a wee bit of the Sphinx from Mystery Men.  More than a wee bit, actually.

But when he says, "embrace your brokenness," I honestly can't get there.  Because brokenness sucks.  It hurts.  It wounds, and passes on wounds.  It is not an abstraction, or a theological construct.  It's human souls in pain.

Sure, we can take up our crosses, and simple pain-avoidance can't be the Christian path.  Suffering often comes, socially and spiritually, when we challenge that which must be challenged.  But just as I don't think we should tolerate social injustice, I also don't believe that a disintegrated, shattered existence is something we should just shrug and accept.  It is what it is?  That's not an organic path to healing and deeper, more gracious living.

Which, I am convinced, is kind of the point of both faith and Jesus.