Category Archives: Our Christianity

Can We Turn Down the Volume and Turn Up the Listening?

ImageMy grandparents’ Christianity seemed to be defined by the things they didn’t do. for them, a good Christian didn’t dance, didn’t smoke, didn’t cuss, didn’t gamble, didn’t go to movies, and most of all didn’t drink. The funny thing about all these “didn’ts” was that they got them from the bible. The bible was God’s word, complete, infallible, and irrefutable. If the bible said it was bad, they didn’t do it. And the bible has a lot of bad things to say about drunkenness. Now taking the bible so literally also occasionally painted them into a corner. My grandmother was an adamant tea-totaller. Still, the story of Jesus at the wedding of Cana irked her no end. She understood that this story has Jesus demonstrating miraculous power. But she thought if Jesus wanted to show his miraculous power by changing water into wine, one glass would surely have sufficed. She thought it was irresponsible that he filled the six stone jars with gallons and gallons of wine. On the other hand, she reasoned, the bible doesn’t say it was alcoholic wine. I don’t think homosexuality was even on my grandparents’ radar screens, but I’m pretty sure they would’ve thought that good Christians didn’t do that either.

I think that it is this kind of thinking that has caused a major disconnect between a lot of people today and Christianity. While my grandparents’ generation and quite a few Christians today still insist that the bible is God’s exact words and thus irrefutable. But our culture has moved past those words on any number of issues: slavery, divorce, unmarried sex, and the issue of today is of course homosexuality. Just yesterday Delaware became the 11th state to legalize marriage for all couples. The bible simply does not hold irresolute sway over people anymore, if it ever did. I wonder if a lot of those people have come to the conclusion that if the bible really is God’s words, then that is a god not worth listening to.

So what are we to do with a Christianity defined by “don’ts” and a bible rendered meaningless by the insistence on infallibility? Well, I certainly don’t have one definitive answer for that question but I might offer some guesses:

  • The bible isn’t God’s words, it’s our words. It is a collection of people’s writings about their relationship with and understandings of God. It’s their (the ancient authors’) story.

  • These people’s stories are rich and troubling and honest and misguided and somehow God still reaches out to us through them, even if only through wrestling and arguing and getting angry with them.

  • Which means OUR stories are rich and troubling and honest and misguided and somehow God still reaches out to us through them.

  • Being a Christian isn’t about following the bible’s rules, or anybody else’s, but for me it means allowing my life to shaped by the story of Jesus – even as it continues in our own day and time.

The Urban Abbey, hopefully, is a place where we can experiment with our lives and our faith to find what fits us. That’s part of what we mean when we say “safe and sacred.” We even want our Christianity to be safe and sacred. It is not about not doing a bunch of don’ts or doing a list of do’s. It is, in part, about listening for where God is still speaking through your life and my life and all the changes in our world.

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Christianity Under Construction

                ImageFirst of all, there never was one, monolithic Christianity that everybody agreed to and was a part of. Never. Since the beginning, even when Jesus’ feet were on the ground the sound of his teaching was pushing air molecules around, people disagreed on things like meaning and practice and identity. There have been times when diverse expressions of Christianity were better at working together and not killing each other just as there have been plenty of times when we have been terrible (in every sense of that word).

                So, when somebody says something like “That’s not Christian,” the appropriate response may be “according to who? (or whom, since we can’t even agree on grammar!)” Recognizing that there is not some objective or universal standard that defines Christianity puts the onus on every group of Christians to be very clear about who they are.

                Which is why one of the foundations of the Urban Abbey is “Our Christianity.” By this we do not mean defining our own style of Christianity that is true and pure and judges all others. We do mean that we make the effort to understand as deeply and best we can our own history and traditions, particularly as a member of a global family of spiritual paths, faiths, and expressions. Then we make the creative and formative choices to become the kind of Christians that is true to our own lives and understandings.

                At Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ (the home for the Urban Abbey) we say that we “An Artistic, Revolutionary, and Evolutionary community of Christians.” To be artistic is to claim the ability to create and to claim the invitation from God to co-create in all we do. That means theology, too. To be revolutionary is to embrace and initiate change. Claiming that we are evolutionary sees that we live in a universe that is constantly growing, changing, and adapting. The process of evolution challenges us that we never get there, it is an ongoing response to the realities of life. To me, that sounds like a compelling definition for what theology is or ought to be.

                My hope for the Urban Abbey is that we can undertake a deep reconstruction for ourselves of what we understand Christianity to be as an evolution of faith, and offer to our culture an alternative to narrow definitions and judgmental paradigms. I hope that we can create a table that has room for all Earth’s spiritual families. We can no longer simply inherit our faith from our ancestors. The Urban Abbey is a safe and scared place to make it your own.