1. The precursor of the human smile was the caveman’s savage grimace (Angus Trumble, A Brief History of the Smile, p. 3). The invention of dentistry is the main difference between this threatening grimace and the polite social convention of the modern smile.
2. In the Protestant West today, smiling has become a moral imperative. The smile is regarded as the objective externalization of a well ordered life. Sadness is moral failure.
3. The motif of late-capitalist society is the stylization of happiness, the cultivation of lifestyles from which every trace of sadness has been expunged. Peter Berger identified ‘the Protestant smile’ as part of Protestantism’s cultural heritage in the West. In a Catholic country like France, it is still considered crass to smile too often, or at strangers. Evangelical churchliness is the ritualization of bare-toothed crassness. Our cultural obsession with health, happiness, and positive thinking is a secularization of the evangelical church service.
4. The cultural triumph of the smile leaves behind a trail of casualties. Where evangelical churches theologize happiness and ritualize the smile, sad believers are spiritually ostracized. Sadness is the scarlet letter of the contemporary church, embroidered proof of a person's spiritual failure.
5. When the church’s theological rejection of sadness was secularized, sadness became a pathology requiring medical intervention. The medicalization of sadness is the final cultural triumph of the Protestant smile. If Luther or Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky had lived today, we would have given them Prozac and schooled them in positive thinking. They would have grinned abortively – and written nothing. The truth of sadness is the womb of thought.
6. Somehow the appellation ‘man of sorrows’ attached itself to the church’s memory of Jesus. The sinless humanity of the Son of God was manifest not in happiness or success but in a life of sadness and affliction. Erasing sadness from our culture, we also erase Christ.
7. I know a little boy whose mother had to go away for a few days. When she came home, he cried and told her he had missed her. Touched by his infant sadness, the mother said, ‘It’s nice to be missed’ – and he replied, ‘It’s not nice to miss.’ It is nice to be missed because we learn what love means in the sadness of another. The face that always smiles is the face of a stranger. Love is written on the face of sadness.
8. I know a fellow who was interviewed for ordination in an American denomination. Asked to describe his hope for the church’s future, his eyes filled with tears and he admitted, ‘I don’t know if I have any hope for the church.’ Perplexed by this response, his ecclesiastical interviewers furrowed their brows, scribbled little notes and question-marks, conferred gravely about his fitness for ministry – though they ought to have asked for his prayers, or poured oil on his head, or sat at his feet and made him their bishop.
9. Where sadness is expunged from a culture, the cry for justice falls silent. Johnny Cashcarried darkness on his back, refusing to wear bright clothes as long as the world is unredeemed. Why do we dress our priests in black? Are they not in perpetual mourning for a world that is passing away? Is not Christian joy carried out in the shadow of this sadness? In a culture of happiness, it is all the more necessary that our priests continue to wear black, refusing the cheap comfort of bright vestments and the empty promise of the rainbow.
10. At the turn of the millennium, J. G. Ballard wondered how the next generation would perceive the 20th century: ‘My grandchildren are all under the age of four, the first generation who will have no memories of the present century, and are likely to be appalled when they learn what was allowed to take place. For them, our debased entertainment culture and package-tour hedonism will be inextricably linked to Auschwitz and Hiroshima, though we would never make the connection.’ How do we explain the fact that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are immediately succeeded by the cult of happiness and the triumph of the smile? How can it be that the worst century was also the happiest? Our children will interpret our happiness as blindness and self-forgetfulness. We have drugged ourselves against history; sadness is truthful memory.
11. Why are clowns so frightening? Their demonic aura comes from the fact that they never stop smiling. Hell is the country of clowns, where tormented strangers smile at one another compulsively and forever. The devil is the name we give to the Cheshire Cat that is always vanishing just beneath the surface of our world, leaving everywhere sinister traces of a cosmic painted grin. This grin is the secret of history.
12. The Bible promises the end of history and the end of sadness: ‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away’ (Rev 21:4). This can be understood as eschatological promise only on the presumption that history is catastrophe, a vale of tears. Sadness is overcome through cosmic redemption. A culture without sadness is a culture without hope. The cure for sadness is God.
Monday, May 06, 2013
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
So I looked them up on Amazon. As you may know Amazon often gives you the ability to take a peek inside many of the books they sale. This gives you the ability to more or less do what you would do at a bookstore when browsing for books - you can look at the table of contents and do a bit of reading...
I was digitally leafing through the table of contents and then started reading the Forward by Reggie McNeal. Now, I don't know any of these three fellows but I have at least heard the name, Reggie McNeal. And since he is writing the forward he must have some influence at least among those who would typically buy a book with the topic "The Tangible Kingdom" is addressing.
Here is an excerpt of what Reggie McNeal writes in his Forward:
Recently I walked by a "church" that was holding "services" on a Sunday in an upscale community in Northern California. Organ music drifted out of the open doors, spilling onto the streets where passersby made their way to coffee shops, art galleries, and antique stores, oblivious to the goings-on of the band of worshipers ensconced behind stucco walls.
Is this situation worrisome to that congregation? Apparently not. No one was outside to engage anyone on the street. Name tags were on the prominent display in the entry plaza next to the "sanctuary." The clear message was "Members only." If you wandered in on the activities absent a name tag, you'd stick out like a sore thumb.Reggie goes on to make a comparison with the first century church which, in his words, describes something different than what he just described in the preceding paragraphs. I'm guessing the purpose of the Forward is to convince people to purchase the book which will help those who read it be more like the first century church - or at least Reggie's idealized vision of what the first century church was like - and less like the apparent aberration of church he just described.
However, Reggie seems to draw a lot of conclusions and make a number of assumptions from a, by his own admission, passing observation of this Northern California church.
First, his use of quotation marks. The way I take his placement of "'church,'" "'service'" and "'sanctuary'" in quotation marks indicates that he is suspicious of the use of these words to describe these folks and what and where they are doing whatever it is they are doing if they are not indeed somehow being and doing some aspect of church.
Second, did Reggie do more then pass by? If not, how can he even begin to imply this congregation is not engaged with their community in significant, missional and relevant ways? (I almost used quotation marks around significant, missional and relevant!). Did Reggie interview any of the members of this particular congregation? Did he take time to discover if what he heard that particular Sunday is indeed the only thing this particular congregation does as a church body? Did he take time to meet with the leadership of this congregation to discover how and where or if there is missional engagement with their neighbors and community? If this church is engaged with the community and if this congregation does have more going on then a Sunday morning service , did he take time to talk to those being served or who are being engaged to determine how this congregation is impacting them.
Third, is there indeed no New Testament first century precedence for followers of Jesus to turn aside form engagement with the community to gather for worship, fellowship, study and prayer? Jesus himself often took his disciples away from missional engagement for private exclusive time of teaching and fellowship. If there was a gathered community in the cities and towns he visited during his mission trips, Paul often started his preaching and teaching among such gathered communities and in the buildings they met in.
Fourth, what's wrong with name tags? I'm not for or against the use of name tags except that if they are used the same type of name tags should be available for all who want to wear one. By-the-way, did Reggie go into the gathering to see whether or not everyone there was wearing a name tag? If not, and I strongly suspect everyone was not wearing a name tag, then it wouldn't matter if one wore one or not - no "sore thumb" syndrome, in other words. Perhaps this congregation is so effective in community engagement that they have so many first time participants that the name tags are a courtesy for everyone to help learn names. Besides, I don't know about Reggie, but I have attended many conferences and seminars both religious and secular and I can't remember when the last time I attended some such event where we weren't asked to wear name tags. Perhaps Leadership Network conferences don't use name tags at their events.
As a result, I'm not sure how legitimate Reggie's critic of this anonymous church really is. That being the case, what got my goat, so to speak, is the attitude that so many of us adopt towards the other. This is indeed a case of one person stereotyping and dismissing out of hand a whole group of folks that are assumed to be less Christian, if Christian at all, simply because, in passing by, Reggie notices a certain kind of musical instrument in use, the presence of a table with name tags on it and people outside the gathering place who have other things on their mind.
How often do we do this to each other. How often do I assume that the other is less than me simply because I haven't taken the time to get to know them, or because there is some marker that indicates the other is not part of my group (thus "other")? The irony of all this is that the Forward to "The Tangible Kingdom" seems to contradict what I suppose the intent of the "Tangible Kingdom" indeed is - to make tangible in real acts of love that connect people to people and to not be judgmental of those outside the group. This grace doesn't extent to fellow followers of Jesus?
End of rant.
P.S. I'm still thinking about whether I want to invest in the book or not.
Saturday, December 01, 2012
Actually, unlike Kim, I've never wanted to say good bye to the man in this encounter and for a long, long time I've imagined that this man indeed found himself very much in the Kingdom of God - though I was unaware of the tradition Kim brings out at the end of his sermon about who this man may have been.
Of course when I do hem and haw over this encounter it's because I am indeed in the shoes of the rich man! and the price he is asked to pay... well... you get the point. But here is the real kicker. I've also read the story of the deliverance of Israel form Egyptian slavery and love the song of Moses that the children of Israel sing after the crossing of the Red Sea part of which goes, "I will sing unto the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!" I've always read this story and placed myself on Israel's side of the song until a few years ago, it dawned on me that as a white male in then 20th century USA, my identity, my real position was with the rider of the horse! Now that was a shocking shift of identity!
So, I really like Kim's conclusion - I'm a rich and powerful member of a rich and powerful nation and in my more honest moments I to gasp with the disciples, "Who then can be saved?" And then I hear Jesus say, "With God all things are possible."
Read the sermon and be... challenged.
Friday, November 30, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
Ecclesiastes 10.8-9. When you dig a well, you might fall in. When you demolish an old wall, you could be bitten by a snake. When you work in a quarry, stones might fall and crush you. When you chop wood, there is danger with each stroke of your ax.