Thursday, July 14, 2011

what if we tried something more interesting?

I’m embroiled in tedious church arguments at the moment, arguments about biblical authority and arguments about sexuality, but what makes me maddest is that there’s no argument for how we ought to interact with one another. The conservatives (who read things literally and use literal language) call “sin” on the progressives, and the progressives (who generally operate out of a feel-good theology without many teeth) call “abuse” or “meanness” on the conservatives.

And people spiral off into their respective self-righteous screeds – “you’re of the devil!” or “Fox News lies, and you’re crazy if you believe them!” A friend at Annual Conference commented that the whole affair felt like a scripted microcosm of our contentious culture: you say this line from the good social-justice liberal character, then I respond with this talking point from Fox News, and then you’ll get angry with me and I’ll get angry with you and we’ll talk about and past one another until the cows come home.

Or until they leave us and branch off to start a new district, or a new church, or a new not-district, not-church, as the case may be.

Splintering and fracturing isn’t new, and it isn’t novel. Heck, our own tradition broke itself up once upon a time over Sunday school, and whether or not it was a truly Christian thing to do. Sunday school! And let’s not get into the debates about the buttons, the birthday parties, the proverbial color of the carpet in the sanctuary. We’re human. We disagree. We split up, and sometimes we get back together.

Just once, I’d like us to try something different. All this feels so tired, so dull, so overdone. And that’s not what I signed up for, y’all. Your meanness and hypocrisy, your whining and self-righteousness are so daggone predictable. Excuse me, OUR meanness and hypocrisy, whining and self-righteousness. Because I’m guilty of each and every one of those offenses, those “inappropriate behaviors that will not be tolerated,” those…sins.

Yes, some of us are called to work for justice, to protect the oppressed, to call us out when we get too power-hungry. And some are called to remind us of our faithfulness to scripture, our commitment to wrestling with the hard parts of faith, our covenant with a God who is both granter of grace and keeper of very high expectations. And we need all of that. We need all those people, and we need all those reminders.

So stop being mean to each other, y’all. Stop sinning against your sisters and your brothers. Stop trying to keep people out and push people down, and stop screaming at people who honestly disagree with you. Just because someone sees the power of division possible in your rainbow scarf does not mean that they’re perpetrating violence. And just because someone dares to read God’s word with history and language and context doesn’t mean they’re engaged in sinful disobedience.

As much as we’d like to leave, as much as we’d like to create own church or manipulate election processes to keep leadership under control, the hard truth is that WE DON’T GET TO LEAVE and WE DON’T GET TO BE IN CONTROL. That’s the very basic baptismal vow – counting the cost of what it means to follow Christ and be a part of his Church.

Bonhoeffer says, “he who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial (Life Together, 27). Anna Mow reminded us that “we don’t make unity; we join it, for our unity is in Christ alone” (Messenger, 1968). The Psalmist reminds us to “behold, how good and how pleasant it is for sisters and brothers to dwell together in unity…for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133). And Jesus himself prays again and again that all of us “may be one” (John 17).

The interesting thing, y’all, is NOT getting angry and performing the cultural scripts for argument and fracture. The interesting thing, family, is NOT that my faith is more evolved or more scriptural than yours. The interesting thing – the fascinating, transformative, God-given, Christ-centered and Spirit-led THING is that even in the midst of our differences and disagreements and anger and abuse and nastiness and hurt…we’re ALREADY one body. We can’t get away from one another – so what are we going to do about it?


anna lisa gross said...

Who are you quoting "and you're crazy if you believe [Fox News]?"

Dana said...

That line, as with all the other phrases marked with quotation marks, comes from an amalgam of voices. None of them are direct quotes from specific people.

Anonymous said...

Dana - you very accurately captured what I've been feeling about the state of our church. Thank you for this very well-written post. I hope you might consider sending it to Messenger!
Blessings to you - Bev Anspaugh

Elizabeth Keller said...

Thank you for your very articulate posting, Dana. I also appreciated what Anna Lisa Gross wrote on Facebook in response to your article, that the spirit of these "new districts" is about “envisioning a structure that allows us to remain engaged with the CoB” and “modeling for people being Christ's body with graciousness and gratitude.”

Also, I was reminded by a professor that Bonhoeffer (who you quote in your post) found it necessary
to become part of the breakaway Confessing Church because the German
Church was filled with Nazis who hated, and murdered, Jews, queers,
Gypsies and dissenters. Bonhoeffer even directed a breakaway, anti-Nazi
seminary: Finkenwalde.

respectfully, Elizabeth Keller

Dana said...

Thanks, Bev! The writing definitely needs some polishing before being published elsewhere, but I'm glad some of it resonated with you.

Dana said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. It might be helpful to know that there were several swirling conversations in mind when I wrote this post - not just facebook conversation about particular new ways forward in the Church of the Brethren, but also an internet hubbub about Pastor Mark Driscoll and people calling him to account (, as well as some other, predictable church squabbles. I've also heard from several readers that this could be lifted and set down in just about any modern church denomination/congregation/community and make some sense - we're not too original in the ways we fight when we're angry.

And thanks for the reminder of Bonhoeffer's transition. His is an interesting story, and I've both heard it argued and probably argued myself that Bonhoeffer's departure was not necessarily inevitable or even the wisest choice. A dangerous argument, but then, who doesn't want a little adventure in their theological ranting?

Josie said...

I started blogging way back in high school when blogging was still relatively young. I found great satisfaction in posting what was going on in my life. There was something to be said for blogging that a diary just could not touch. I had readers. They actually thought that my life and what I said was interesting.

At first my readers were primarily strangers, but slowly, inevitably people that I knew became my readers as well. This did not seem like a cause for concern. This changed when I began to post about arguments that I had with people and parts of relationships that frustrated me. I got in some fights with a girlfriend in high school over my postings, but not enough to change.

In college, I was called to account for putting private arguments and the way that others had hurt me on such a public forum. My initial reaction was a feeling of self-righteous anger. I was the one who had been harmed. Who were these people to question the airing of my grievances? They pointed to how I was breaking confidentiality by sharing what my friends and girlfriends could reasonably have seen as confidential moments. I could have protested that I never used names. At the most I used initials, but those in the know were able to read between the lines.

I learned from my blogging of these private discussions and hurts. I came to realize that blogging instead of dealing with people directly led to additional arguments I had not intended. I made many such posts from the past private and there were new posts I did not write. What I did not learn from those experiences was what it is like to be in the shoes of those who called me to task. You have given me that experience and insight.

Upon reading your blog entry I felt that confidential conversations where I was a participant and the mistakes of my friends were being exposed and discussed from a third person point of view. I feel hurt and I feel a very different sort of anger. Please speak directly with those who upset you or you see as in the wrong. Don't leave it to public blogging.

Josie said...

Now, on to the rest of your blog entry. I do not know this church you speak of which we cannot leave nor influence with our flaws and virtues. Election processes were manipuated and people will leave.

At Annual Conference I witnessed delegates who were also at their first Annual Conference. I met one of the Progressive Brethren that fell into this category and was told about 60-80 Brethren who were there to ensure that their opposition to "homosexual practice" was heard. This second group seems to have received funding to reinforce their position. This altered the spirit of Annual Conference whether or not changed any final decisions by the delegate body. A man was nominated from the floor of Annual Conference as moderator and this move successfully overrode the careful discernment of the nominating committee.

Yes, people do leave. In fact, the Church of the Brethren knows well what it means to leave. The Church of the Brethren broke away from the Protestants who had broken away from the Catholics who had parted ways with the Byzantine Church.

Also, the Church of the Brethren is one of a group of churches in the Believers Church. This, at least in part, means that we expect people to join voluntarily. Presumably our "no force in religion" doctrine means we don't force people to stay either.

There are plenty of people who have left the Church of the Brethren and more who will leave. I hope that there are also plenty who will join. Of those who have left the reasons are varied. After this last Annual Conference in Grand Rapids many may find a reason to leave in how we responded to the Beacon Heights query and the proposed statement of confession. Some will be upset that we did not create a clear and firm ban on "homosexual practice" or even a ban on the membership of gays and lesbians in the church. Others had hoped for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians. People from both these opinions will likely leave.

There are also those of us who are committed to staying even though we have been cautioned that it may lead to further hurt and pain. We believe in Brethren values. We have hope for the church. At the very least we believe those born to the Church of the Brethren in the future deserve strong advocates. With respect, we do create the church, though it is not always as we would hope. We will shape the church as best as we can into the Kingdom of God to which Christ calls us.

Dana said...

Josie, I'm very sorry that I said things you had thought were confidential, or if I betrayed some trust. I'm curious which parts of my blog you felt to be exposing vulnerable and confidential words, though. Feel free to e-mail me at danacassell at gmail if they're things that really shouldn't be aired in a public blog forum.

Almost everything I've witnessed and am referring to in my blog has been spoken in public forums: on the floor of Annual Conference, in comments on public blog posts, on open facebook group pages (Brethren Revival Fellowship, Progressive Brethren Online). Conversation in a semi-public facebook group, with an open invitation policy, also contributed to my frustration.

Still, thanks for the reminder that I ought to be interacting with particular people who've offended me. I need that reminder, and I'll try to be better at it. The problem is that I'm not angry at specific people so much as I am angry at the atmosphere that gets created when we start talking about and at one another in a spirit less than love - and I can't address that spirit itself in particular personal interactions. It's bigger than any one of us.

Additionally, some of the people who've contributed to that spirit are not people I actually know personally - speeches from the floor of Annual Conference or comments on blog posts are hard to respond to in a private, personal manner.

Dana said...

And, Josie, of course you can leave - leave the CoB, leave the current structure, leave Christian practice altogether. Leaving is a tried and true response of the Protestant Church.

What I meant is that even if we leave a particular group or a particular incarnation of the Body of Christ, we can't escape what it means to be baptized into that Church universal, that (small c) catholic communion. These are the brothers and sisters we got when we entered those waters - all of them. And as much as we'd like to - as much as I'd like to - we don't get to choose whose there. It isn't our decision, and the more fences we put around ourselves, the more the Spirit works in crazy, hilarious, unexpected ways to show just how ridiculous they are.

Anonymous said...


you made some points there. i gotta hand it to you. mainly, i agree, but i do have some reservations. really good work for a blog, though.

once you get your thoughts a bit more refined, i really think you should try to get it published.


seriously though, you and people like you are what is wrong. i just hope it doesn't take judgment day for you to realize it.

-the mole

ps: the above comment was intended for dana's now deleted post regarding the new harry potter movie...i mean, who really likes hufflepuff.

pss: dana didn't really write a blog about HP (though she totally should). but you all sound like abunch middle schoolers ready to fight team jacob or something. it is just silly.

psps: sorry, i know that i mixed a harry potter and a twilight references. that was just sloppy.

ups: i apologize if that came across as trivializing your faith(s). i dont want to be kicking anyone while SHE are down. especially people with HER heads up their own ass.

xoxo: ok that was too far. your heads are only half way.

super ps: i think it is clear you are too invested in this issue. my proof. you are still reading this. take a break. get some fresh air. don't talk about this or read about it for a few days.

ppsssp: ignore that last one. the others are fucking idiots.

usps: the others is in reference to people who dont share your opinions or know about the new secret church thingy. it is not a reference to lost season 2 and 3. those others were really nice by comparison.

pppsssp: is there a limit to this length. if it is like tweeter, i am screwed. i have been crafting this for like an hour.