I had two firsts today. I got ordained and I performed my first wedding. The ordination is actually a multi-stage process, but this morning's rite, with the elders of Hope Chapel, conferred spiritual authority and blessing to discharge the duties of a marrying pastor.
It's such a strange thing, really, to speak certain words for the first time, and not just any words, not like "ipso facto" or "a fortiori," words which I first learned and used, perhaps too zealously, in graduate school, but words that communicate actual, immediate, supernatural power.
I've never before said:
"Now that Paul and Catherine have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
I pronounce. It's astounding, and frightening. I pronounce. I! I pronounce? It's not "I make," which is a property belonging to God, not to man, but nonetheless, "I pronounce." I've never pronounced such a thing.
And then follow the most thunderous words:
"Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder."
The words are a fiery warning, not information. Let none. Not one. Let no man put asunder. A negative fiat. An anticipatory rebuke. Do not test the Lord God Almighty. And yet it's maddening. It does not say what we want it to say: None shall put asunder. It says: Let none put asunder.
No, it's not an indicative, it's a primal command. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It's not that you can't, it's that you shan't. And therein lies the absolute awfulness of human freedom: we can. We can put asunder. We can break our vows. And yet God is merciful, for even when we are faithless, God is faithful. He is constant in his merciful love.
And so we proclaimed in this morning's service. Paul (Wheatley) and Catherine (Springle) will forever be my first wedding. I've given homilies before but never performances. And what an incredible privilege it is to offer such a ministry, so intimate, so poignantly dear. The last thing I told the elders as I walked out of the room this morning is, "Well, I'm off to transform culture one couple at a time." For such it is.
Anyhoo, I'm copying here the homily which I delivered at the service. My method, if it can be called such, is to combine the material of their dating relationship and their personalities with the universal truths of Scripture and Christian tradition and breathe the freshest air possible into well-traveled words, with the hope that their minds, hearts and souls will have been filled with the refreshing taste of Truth.
July 29, 2006
w. david o. taylor
Paul and Catherine’s wedding: The Homily
If there were a billboard hanging over I35 that boldly announced Paul and Catherine’s life motto, it would say: “Adventure into the Impossible.” They eat crazy Asian foods, they date as if it were a jazz improv. But driving past it, we would eventually scratch our heads and wonder: But what kind of Impossible? Because there are, in fact, two kinds of Impossible: the possible Impossible and the impossible Impossible. It’s the truth.
The first kind, the possible Impossible, includes such things as travel to the moon. For thousands of years humans never thought it possible to fly to the moon. How absurd! How preposterous! We know Icarus once made the imprudent attempt, he burned his wings, and flew headlong to an irreversible death as a lesson to us all.
What are you, out of your mind?
And then lo, 1968 arrives and we ever so casually fly to the moon. The impossible was possible after all.
An example of the second kind of impossible, the impossible kind, involves the human desire to fly—without the aid of technology. Who of us has not dreamed of flying and awoken with the most blissful sensation; and aroused with the intuition that we were meant to fly?
But no. Not in a million years. Not in a billion years. No amount of evolutionary magic will make us sprout wings. The closest thing to flying humans is flying monkeys, and they only exist in the Land of Oz. Flying humans exist in comic books and children’s dreams, nowhere else. It’s impossible. It’s not an even option. So stop thinking about it. Go back to sleep. It’s mad.
But you know what else is outlandish, mad and impossible Impossible? What you’re doing right here: holy matrimony. A happy marriage. Your vows? Impossible. You’re better off eating fairy dust. Why? Because Christian marriage is a divine affair. Do you really think either of you has the capacity to meet the other person’s need for intimacy? Heck no. Only the Master of the Universe can quench your fanatical thirst for love.
For love? For marital love? Are you kidding me, this love? It will kill you. It will want all of you, and that’s the one thing you’ll not be willing to give up—not by yourself, that is. By yourself you will cling, begrudge, resent, shut down, run away, hide, fear, complain, fight, nitpick, keep a record of wrongs, misunderstand and withhold all your love until you get what you deserve, your rights, and be miserable while the waiting. By yourself, that’s what happens. That’s the tragedy.
The comedy is that you’re not by yourself. There’s a God in heaven! There’s a God who set it up this way—for you to fail if you try to make it on your own. But he wants you to taste the most outrageous love, that you’ll feel as if you’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s Jesus. That’s the God’s name who will show you the most perfect love. And it goes like this.
Jesus dies in love and because of love, and so he invites you to die in love and because of love so that you can become like love, like himself. And just as Jesus conquers, from the inside out, all that destroys love, chiefly death, so you too, if you have any wish to truly love each other and to be loved as your soul craves to be loved, must allow yourself to be conquered—by divine love—by Christ’s love. You must be willing to accept defeat in all the places where you feel strong and special and comfortable and natural, because divine love can only make you loving and lovely if you allow it to make you weak—and un-special—and uncomfortable—and unnatural. Why? Because marital love, as established by our Father in heaven, is not natural, it is not another human tool that we control at will. It is more profoundly natural than modern man ever dares imagine. It is supernatural and it is super-wonderful.
It is not comfortable, it is wholly disturbing.
It is not special, it is exceedingly strange, and mysterious.
It is not strong, it is impossible.
And it’s the most fabulous thing that will re-make and re-form you from the inside out. It’s precisely what you, Paul and Catherine, have been made for, here, today, the two of you, by divine intention, for such a strange, mysterious, disturbing, impossible love that will make you feel at times as if you are tasting the delicious love of the inner being of God, of Father for Son for Holy Spirit ad infinitum.
Your love for each other in marriage will be a shadow of a greater reality: of God’s covenant love for his people whom he loves to death. Your marriage will become a participation in the drama of Christ’s love for his church. You’ll become, in ten minutes from now, the two newest actors on the stage of God’s theater of global redemption, if you will, on the Divine Globe Theater, where all the men and all the women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and each couple in their own unique way plays their three, God-given roles: to image Christ’s love, to enact Christ’s love, and to announce Christ’s love.
You are here becoming a visual representation of Christ’s radiant love, a love that hopefully many will see and say, We have beheld a greater love.
You are here becoming a real time, moment by moment, in public and in private, seen and unseen actors who are acting out a script of self-sacrificing love that will make you more beautiful, more holy, and indeed more capable of pulling others into the action of divine salvation.
And your final role: In the bonds of marriage, in the burning furnace of marital love, you are prophetically announcing to the world that there is a Great Marriage that awaits the beloved in Christ, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Great Wedding Feast, the festal Consummation of all our best passions and ambitions, and even dreams, where all that we thought good in this world will be experienced as something so fanstastically great that not even our best poets and artists, not even C. S. Lewis or Michaelangelo, will have come infinitesimally close to capturing it in their imaginations.
There is tragedy, there is comedy, this is the fairy tale part, the part that will be too good to be true, but it will be true and it will be too good.
Paul and Catherine, in your marriage you are not only practicing Christ’s sweet love here on earth, you are practicing the kind of love we will all experience purely in heaven. Your love is not only good for you, it is, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, good for all your neighbors here on earth, and your neighbors in heaven. For indeed if two people marry it should not be good just for them, it should be good for everyone. And indeed it shall be with you, by God’s grace and mercy and the generous help of family and friends.
It is a great adventure you are setting upon. It will be wild and unpredictable. On occasion it will be really goofy. There’ll be lots of tedium and chores and Spring cleaning. But one thing it won’t be, in Christ Jesus, is boring. As God is my witness, that’s the last thing I can imagine the two of you letting it become.
So I say to you, finally: Follow the holy adventure wherever it will take you: higher than you think possible, lower than you think possible. You have a good guide, the Holy Spirit. Keep in step with him. You have a good community. Honor them. Trust Jesus at all times. Enjoy yourself. Submit yourselves one to another. And don’t ever stop venturing out where the wild things roam. For if you keep going far enough, together, you will eventually begin learning the ways of our impossible God.
Maybe you’ll even figure out how to fly.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I got an email last Thursday from Christianity Today. They wanted to interview me for a project they're working on. This year's the 50th anniversary for the magazine and they seem to want to peer into the future and see what lies ahead--fifty years hence. I'll be 84 when that day arrives, AD 2056. Still swimming, still eating burritos as big as my face, I hope.
I feel so behind on so many projects, church projects, personal improvement projects (sleeping more, eating anti-oxidant vegetables, dying to sin), it's like I can't quite catch up to myself, and I know where the fault lies: everything but me.
Ok, just kidding. It's all me.
I keep choosing things that distract me or drag my soul down into stupid, stupid, retarded sin, little sins, big sins, chronic sins. I need help. I really don't want God to strike me down with a tragic case of mononucleosis and force me to sleep my eight hours a night. I don't want to provoke the severe mercy of the Almighty. It's a great thing to read about in books, but not in real life.
I'd rather say yes now, with the little things, each day, making the most of the grace he gives me than presume upon it and think I can get away with mildly irresponsible behavior that my brain quickly rationalizes in highly nuanced theological ways.
Anyhoo, CT wants to know what I think is going to happen to evangelicals and the arts in the year 2056.
My first impulse is to think, heck if I know. That's a big number, honestly, fifty years, the age of rocket-ship cars and female presidents. My parents will be cruising the gold streets at that point, enjoying the benefits of amoeba-less intestines and house concerts with Bach and jolly Irish jigs courtesy of ancient Celtic monks. My mother will be very, very happy.
It's such a strange effect on your spirit to think of your life fifty years from now when you'll be "old," like the old guy who used to live across from the street me, Mac, and then he suddenly got a heartattack and now no longer lives there. He was probably in his eighties. And now I never see him any more. At all. Only his blue suburban, sitting under the carport, silent, waiting.
Well I got to thinking about our farflung future as evangelicals and the first thing I bumped into was the term, "evangelical." It's not a term that describes a denominational reality but a theological reality. It's more a movement of kindred minds than an ecclesial manifesto. You can't exactly put Catholics and Orthodox alongside Evangelicals and say equal-equal-equal. You'd have to put Protestants in that spot. The thing is, you have evangelical Catholics and probably, though I've not seen it articalized, evangelical Orthodox (Frederica Mathewes-Green?). You have evangelical Episcopelians and evangelical Church of Christ-ers. But "evangelical" is more a mammoth adjective than a proper noun--denominationally speaking.
In practice it makes it really hard to predict where we'll end up. For whom exactly are we predicting an artistic future? High church, traditionalist, Orthodox Presbyterians or super low church, anti-traditionalist, emergent house church movements? Or what about charismaniac fundamentalist outfits? Or Quaker get-ups? Or post-liberals?
The quick answer to our future is: everything and nothing and everything in between. Short and sweet. And true. But not helpful.
Then as I thought about it longer as I was driving down on my way to visit Adam Stewart at the Lutheran mission, Austin City Church, a few things crystallized and I scribbled them down in my magic art notebook.
First thought: Very excited.
In actual fact, I feel very excited. I feel very confident about our future as artists of evangelical faith. There will only be more of us, making more mature art and that can only be a good thing. There'll also be a lot of bad art. Of course. But that's as blindingly obvious as saying that there's a lot of junk food alongside Wholefoods and upper-end bistros. It comes with the territory. It also goes without saying that with a lot of good will come a lot of messiness, and probably a decent amount of evil too.
Second thought: There are four contexts in which evangelicals will experience a work of maturation:
1) Seminaries and graduate institutions: Today we have one Anglican Jeremy Begbie, one CRC Nick Wolterstorff, one Presbyterian Bill Dyrness. In fifty years we'll have ten of each, just like we have ten-to-the-nth-power Christian faculty in the hard sciences.
2) Churches: There are so many churches developing art programs it's ridiculous; it's ridiculously great. They'd make for a bang-up dissertation topic. Whereas five years ago I could count the number of churches with substantial art ventures, now I've stopped counting. They're proliferating like bees. (This past Spring I had approximately 40,000 bees holed up in a pecan tree in my backyard. They hated my lawn-mowing. I hated their attacks upon my person. They now live at a new postal address.) We can only imagine what effect this will produce on its members, especially its children who will grow up with a mentality that says: art is normal. Art and faith together are normal and therefore normative for Christian living. And what a day that will be.
3) Para-church organizations: They're everywhere. You have Fujimura's International Arts Movement. You have Operation Mobilization's ArtsLink. You have the raucous Cornerstone Music Festival.
4) Professional societies: These include explicitly Christian groups like Pacific Theater Company in Vancouver, BC, and Christians in the Visual Arts, but also more subtly Christian groups like SevenDance Company. Then you have the swarms of evangelicals who will be working in your standard secular art company, a ballerina with the American Ballet Theater or a filmmaker in the studio system of Hollywood.
The result practically? Respectively speaking, greater theological maturity, greater pastoral maturity, greater strategic maturity, greater aesthetic maturity. Maturity, the Bible tells us, is a very good thing. Maturity like Henri Nouwen. Maturity like Marilynne Robinson.
The result artistically? More seminaries, churches, para-churches, professional societies means more resources, means more patrons, means more infrastructure, means more artists acquiring more skills, experience and knowledge at younger ages and thus creating the possibility for a greater number of outstanding artists emerging from our diverse communities.
Then I thought of the cross-pollination effect across culture, denomination, and time.
Christendom in the global South is growing. That's a manifestly obvious fact. What's not always obvious to your average American is the potential rearrangement that will take place of our self-understanding as Christians. For a good hundred years North American and British Christians have regarded of themselves, sub-consciously perhaps, as benevolent governors of the "Third World." We've supplied massive amounts of missionaries, publication resources, medical and aviational technology, theological and pastoral and spiritual pioneering work. Lots of good, of course. Not always good.
But the traffic will change. The forces will bend northwards, not southwards. It will be hard for us to adjust. Our pride will rear its ugly head and we'll have to confront our subtle feelings of racism and colonialism. Americans don't like not being in charge. But it will be good for our souls.
Artistically speaking I have no idea what will happen. All I know is that the global south will pour all its wonderful and equally fallen cultural riches into the global north and things will be different.
In addition, the kind of cross-denominational pollination that young people experience today is unheard of historically speaking. Save perhaps during the first six weeks of the early church, when they shared all in common--until the Hebraic Jewish widows started getting more than the Grecian Jewish widows and Christians became ugly and turned into 1st Corinthians and Galatians and the seven churches of Revelation--at no point have Christians felt so comfortable and un-persecuted in their decisions to attend a Baptist church at the outset of college, a charismatic church at the end, an Anglican church the first year of graduate school, a Quaker friends church during their visits home and for the time being a Christian and Missionary Alliance during the day and an Antiochian Orthodox Vespers at night.
My point being, as with art in general, such cross-pollination, here of the ecclesial type, exposes us to new ideas and methods and presents the possibility of a richer, more mature art. Certainly my grandparents in the 1920s and 30s felt no such freedom to fratenize with the "Romanists." With more evangelical young people reading Flannery O'Conner, studying the music of Arvo Pärt or the iconography of Russian Orthodoxy, learning at the feet of Polynesian craftsmen, the artists in our communities will begin to reflect a larger, truer perspective on God's world.
Finally, there is the cross-pollination across time. To the extent, for example, that Vineyard rocknrollers have revisited ancient prayers, such as "Oh Gladsome Light," or Reformed Presbyterian college pastors have pulled dusty hymns out of old libraries, thus Indelible Grace, an entire generation of teenagers is beginning to experience a formation of mind and heart that was never part of my childhood. Not in this way. And it's whetting the appetite of our youth for substantial, soul-satisfying art. These youth will become adults and they will run our colleges and 501c3s.
Affecting all of us, our liturgies will reflect, in both transient and permanent ways, a greater number of art forms. Music for centuries has ruled in the Protestant church as the queen of the arts. But if a culture is created for dance, if tastes are cultivated for sculpture or video technology, then there’s a good chance that our experience of corporate worship, whether through the preaching of the Word or the administration of the sacraments, will be radically different than anything our Protestant forebearers ever imagined.
And finally, we can’t discount the possibility that after all the hoopla and artistic hoorah there will be a counter-reaction. Where aesthetic activity is perceived to be in excess, a countermove towards simplicity, or asceticism, will be launched. Iconoclasm will reappear, for better and for worse.
What's really going to happen in fifty years? I don't rightly know. I'm not really old enough to say. I can only see what I see. But there's a good chance that my generation will give birth through its sons and daughters to a Billy Graham of the Arts. There'll be a Carl F. Henry writing plays in a loft in New York City. There'll be an Amy Carmichael breaking new ground in the field of modern dance.
There'll be a Packer poet laureate and an Aimee Semple McPherson working the penthouse of Virgin Records.
Globally speaking there’ll be 7 Ralph Winters, 30 Sufjan Stevens, 100 Tim Hawkinsons. Arts centers will explode to meet the artistic and spiritual needs of a given community. Publishing houses will proliferate in niche markets. People will get mad. They'll get dizzy with possibilities. They'll forget that it wasn't always this easy to be an "evangelical" artist. And they'll stop using scare quotes.
Hopefully they'll also be more richly human.
A lot will depend on the future of technology. A lot will depend on our ability to articulate and sustain a robust theology of creation, a theology of culture, and a theology of the church. A lot will depend on our humility before God.
For now, I end with my favorite quote from Calvin Seerveld. I am off to swim my ablutionary laps.
"For the evangelical Christian community to develop a living artistic tradition, a mulching ground that generates deeper-going artistry which in turn will not be defensive but have staying power, will take a long time. It will probably take more than one generation of artists, art critics, art public, art patrons, art theorists, art publicists, working together in a communal perspective, to develop the normal body for supporting the numerous second-rated artists that are needed to get the few first-rate ones. . . .
Perhaps some Christian body, with resources and authority, can enlarge its long-term vision to give priority to such a ministry in the arts, giving support to a gifted artistic community with a united direction and a holy spirited vision of compassion for those caught in sin and by evil. . . ."
(PHOTO: members of our Turkey arts mission looking at art with the Director of the Istanbul Museum of Graphic Arts, Suleyman Saim Tekcan.)
Monday, July 10, 2006
I love smoothies. I really do. I drink one every day. Ask my horn-tooter roommate Ed. Brush my teeth, quiet time, smoothie--the morning routine.
I can't exactly remember when I became religiously devoted about them, but it was probably my fifth year of graduate school when I lived with seven other people in a three-storey house in West Point Grey. In Vancouver. The city of naturists and The X-Files.
I think Amy Kettwig had the blender. Amy's from Minnesota and she gave me this black t-shirt that says, "My governor can beat up your governor." I used her blender with impunity. Mostly I drank Orange Juiliuses--the cheap, bastardized kind: orange juice, bananas and ice. Orange Juiluses don't have bananas. But bananas are good for you, and I was always either on the way out for a run or on the way back and bananas have potassium which keep you from cramping, and they're cheap, so I used bananas.
A real Orange Julius has orange juice, milk, sugar and vanilla. And lots of ice.
Now I have my own blender. It's a Cuisinart SmartPower. I am very proud of it, except for the fact that every time I run it I have to plug my ears it's so loud. I either need to buy one of those encasements like you see at Starbucks or I need to keep plugging my ears. I don't want rocknroll ears when I'm forty. I want to hear deer talking, like Native American hunters, which I try get Phaedra to think I am sometimes. Ed has rocknroll ears. But he plays third French horn between first and second horn in the Austin symphony, and twenty years of that makes you not able to hear your alarm go off unless your roommate (David) knocks on your door and tells you that your alarm woke him (David) up.
I make simple smoothies mostly. My standard is banana and vanilla soy. It's way good. Sometimes I add honey or peanut butter, or maybe acidophilus yogurt, but I tend to like mine streamlined. I am a Marines smoothie guy, not a Paris Hilton smoothie guy. I'm simple.
Paris Hilton smoothies come with lots of accessories. Like:
Chocolate Almond Dream Smoothie: banana, vanilla soy yogurt, vanilla soy milk, almond butter, cocoa powder, finely ground flax seed, evaporated cane juice, and chocolate protein powder.
Paradise Found Smoothie: fresh pineapple, fresh mango, banana, silken soft tofu, pineapple-coconut juice, vanilla soy milk, finely ground flax seed, and protein powder.
Hawaiian Cafe Au Lei or Green Tea Tango or The Gladiator (a real smoothie courtesy of The Smoothie King).
I love Paris Hilton smoothies but they're usually expensive, so I only have them as a treat. But a good smoothie is a good thing. In Biblical terms, it is good that smoothies exist. They're a refreshing drink that are good for you and efficiently made and consumed. They're highly useful. Modern people with lots of important things to do like them.
But let me take a detour for a moment.
I want to say something about one of my favorite restaurants in Austin, Mirabelle. It's a little restaurant in northwest Austin that serves "Contemporary American cuisine," which sounds like "Fractional Quantum Hall Effect." What the heck is "contemporary" plus "American" cuisine? It's a neologism. Basically it doesn't mean anything regular people would understand. In practice, it means what they want it to mean: "ecclectic American bistro," or in lay terms, fancy-pantsy, Europeanish food that people in country clubs on the East Coast consume after a long day at the golf course.
When I want to take a beleaguered artist out for a nice meal I take them to Mirabelle. I'll suggest the Spicy Duck and Sausage Gumbo to start off with. It's a dark black roux-based gumbo made with roasted duck, Elgin garlic sausage, Creole seasonings, herbs, bell peppers, onion, and a rich duck stock. Then I'll tell them that they should try either the Pecan Crusted Catfish or the Polenta Crusted Salmon with Vine-Tomato Butter, or if they're in the mood for white meat, the Stuffed Breast of Turkey with Ginger-Cranberry Chutney. Their salads are pretty scrumptious too. If the occasion merits it (if they're really beleaguered), I order wine.
I like the Sage Crusted Pork Tenderloin. It's a roasted sage crusted pork tenderloin in a wild mushroom, sherry, sharp white Cheddar and cream gravy, topped with a green apple puree and a fig slaw, and served with creamy mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans with toasted almonds. It's a drool fest.
When you're really hungry it's a circus in your mouth. The sweet gentleness of figs swirling coquettishly against the tang of green apple, trapeze plunges of sherry, lagoons of creamy gravy meandering through back of my mouth, the sharp crackle of almonds pulling at my ears--the juicy, tasty, luscious pork tenderloin firing my neurons with memories of romantic love and the lazy, happy days of summer in my teenage years when I'd lay on the soccer field and watch the clouds amble through a watery blue sky.
Food magazines should hire me.
If you're not careful, though, you start falling in love with the food on your plate. It's just that stinking good.
Such stinking good food is meant to be savored one bite at a time. Each flavor is distinct, each merits an appreciated consideration: the cheddar here, the sauteed green beens there. And the combination of flavors, confined in the small space of the mouth, merits its own specific consideration. The chef meant these flavors to swim in my mouth. He meant me to hear the words "exotic" and "erotic" and "heavenly" pop in my head because they're the words that create appropriate associations of meaning. This food is like an exotic adventure in the Far East; it's like erotic love; it's like heaven itself. Few people on this planet would call this food stupid and spit it out of their mouth. Those people need therapy.
Which brings me to my basic point. There are two things you could do with my Sage Crusted Pork Tenderloin (SCPT): you could eat it one bite at a time or you could turn it into a smoothie. The first is the sane thing to do, the second is the quick and easy and absurd, cuckoo, and incredible.
You'd be surprised how susceptible we all are to absurd, cuckoo and incredible deeds.
You say you want to turn that dish into a smoothie? Most of us would howl dumbfoundedly, "No! Why! Stoooop!"
(to be continued)
Monday, July 03, 2006
"Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got." ~Janis Joplin
Sitting on my couch yesterday afternoon reading a screenplay that my friend Jeffrey Travis has written, I had a random thought.
The screenplay is an adaptation of my other friend Owen Egerton's novel, Marshall Hollenzer is Driving, which is a kind of magical realist story reminiscient of a Wes Anderson plotline. Towards the end of the script as I stared out my living room window at the tall, green grass that badly needs mowing, my mind wandered to the somewhat random thought: "Isn't it weird that the word 'authentic' has become so hyper popular?"
It's like in the early 1990s when one day I looked around and realized, as if it'd happened over night, that guys everywhere had long hair; not metal-head hair, but cool, grungy, pony-tailed hair--and it was everywhere.
That was certainly true at Chuy's, Austin's tex-mex heaven, where I bussed tables and carried four bags of chips and four bowls of hot sauce up my forearm in a trick that wowed all the hot chicks. And when all those same waiter guys and busser boys cut their hair circa 1997, I discovered three years later that I still had mine long. Ever the late-bloomer, I.
Christians everywhere, it seems, are on the great search for authenticity; or, if we were writing in German and seeing it as eine Idee, Authenticity, capital A. Christians are looking for authentic relationships (Authentic Relationships: Discover the Lost Art of "One Anothering"), authentic experiences (STAUBLOG: Authentic Inauthentic Youth), authentic faith (In Search of Authentic Faith : How Emerging Generations Are Transforming the Church), authentic ethnic food, authentic happiness, authentic style.
I thought, "Why?", as I sipped my homemade, dark chocolate moccha. How has this authentic thing become such a big deal?
I went back in my mind to the early nineties, back to the godfather of real: Douglas Coupland. In 1991 Coupland wrote a novel called Generation X, and mostly people never remember that it had a sub-title: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. And pretty much everybody in my age range, like myself five minutes ago, has no clue that Coupland wrote a little article in a Vancouver magazine in 1987 about a bunch of characters who were born between the years of 1958 and 1966--or in other words, tail-end boomers who are not to be confused with post-boomer teenagers from the 1980s, aka Xers.
In other words, in the original sense of the term "Generation X" referred to folks like my French-horn tooting roommate, Eduard Tschoepe, born 1962, not to folks like me, W. David O. Taylor, born within a ten-year radius of 1974, the year Germany won the World Cup and the Universal Product Code barcodes were introduced.
Anyhoo, long story short, my simple guess was that people, like the Generation Xers of Coupland's novels and its kin throughout the world, are looking for Authenticity because they've been experiencing a world that is largely in-authentic: plastic, over-produced, slick and efficient.
So people, starting back in the Age of Nirvana, rebelled. They bought organic. They joined the Peace Corps. They dressed "granola" and "alternative" and wore long, cool pony-tails. They started churches that prefered people over programs, social action over building campaigns, pastors who studied at the feet of filmmakers and novelists instead of seminary professors and their three-point school of homiletics.
They became ironic and cool. They rejected phony. They stuck it to the Man. They had no patience for "effective business strategies" that sacrificed honest, messy human interactions on the altar of productivity.
And so was born the Emergent Church movement et al.
Cutting my story even shorter, it struck me that we've been using this word authentic so much that it's become NORMAL. Like gravity is NORMAL. It's not an historically conscious action any more, it's now an assumption. Now it's a right.
Now it's a skirmish.
It's us the defenders of Authenticity against all you anti-authentic, un-authentic people--especially you boomer people and any of you people who think the Religion of the 1980s was a great thing (i.e. business models as church models).
Down with your pre-packaged spirituality! Down with your money-driven, image-driven Christians! Down with oppressive institutionalism!
Down with all that icky Father Knows Best meets Ronald Reagan Christianity!
And I sympathize. In the early '90s I attended a bible church that, while I loved in many ways, drove me crazy. It was "big church." It was fiercely loyal to the conservative evangelical tradition of John Nelson Darby. The pastor, like the pastors of many Baptist and Pentecostal churches, was a skilled but emotionally removed executive whose responsibility it was to keep us Christian.
It was an upper-middle class, three-piece suit, white-collared, programmatic church with a small but feisty group of closet charismatic women who prayed for the Holy Spirit to break into all that left-brained, corporate-driven leadership. It was a church full of people who genuinely loved God, but in a way I found stiff and routinized.
It'd be completely unfair and uncharitable of me, however, not to acknowledge that there were many people there whom I deeply loved and who encouraged me in the faith; there were many who were for me and wanted me to excel. Many great things of God happened there. My experience with the college ministry in particular holds a hundred happy memories. I'm still good friends with quite a number of them. The strength of my statements above, then, run the usual risk of over-generalization and reflect a healthy dose of subjectivity.
It goes without saying that I was young and immature and probably foolish in a lot of regretable ways.
It's just that in practice and after many years of trying to find my place there, I did not feel "at home." I felt squelched and frustrated. I was looking for Authentic.
But I also remind myself now that nothing comes from nothing.
People in the 1950s, like the folks at my bible church, wanted their white picket fences, their manicured public relations, their orderly church services for a reason. That reason was the hell called WWII. The war crushed and mangled human beings. It ripped communities to shreds. It became, on many fronts, an exercise in irrationality, leaving soldiers benumbed. Of course they wanted white and clean! They needed happy. They needed rationality and order.
People in the 1980s were sick of the excesses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They wanted to know that you could be productive and achieve goals. They wanted out of floozy hedonism. The '80s were born out of frustration with the '70s: the nightmare of Vietnam, oil embargos that plunged the American economy into the worst recession in 40 years, Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.
Something comes from something--and that latest something is usually a reaction to the degeneration of a previous something.
Kids in the nineties and now pastors and social activists and artists in the twenty-first century want Authenticity. They don't want what their boomer neighbors wanted in the 1980s or what their grandparents wanted in the 1950s. They want Authentic. They want it TradeMarked--Authentic'TM--so as to never lose it.
But I asked myself, What will elementary kids today want in twenty years? What part of all this search for Authentic will they find reprehensible, or simply irresponsible and soft-spined, or just plain silly because naive?
This highlights naturally the age-old battle between freedom and form; or maybe not so much 100% freedom against 100% form, but the exact concoction of the two. Form releases freedom to be more fully itself, while freedom breathes into form joy and ever-renewed appreciation for that very form. Like jazz music. Like the liturgy.
But it's very difficult to hold them in right tension.
If we marriage the age of the spirit, they tell us, we'll eventually get a divorce in the next. History can helps us. We can learn from those who've gone before us. Traditions can balance us out. But it's not simply a robotic bow to history or tradition that will save us. It's a multi-channeled listening to the voice of the Spirit through the things He has spoken in the past--sound wisdom for the modern man--and things He is speaking now--through store-front orthodox churches or The Devil Wears Prada.
I'm obviously a thousand percent in favor of authentic life. I read the saints and hunger for real. I can't stand phony, formulaic Christianity. God created us to love him and each other with a genuineness that allows for both faith and doubt, laughter and anger.
But when I start sensing that this search for Authenticity is becoming the gospel--that it's being commercialized--that it's losing its meaning through over-use--that it's becoming a driving emotion instead of a tonic for a sickened Body--that it's replacing doctrine and structure in favor of feelings and happenings--that it's prefering experience over theory--well, then, I'm pretty sure my next move will be to reach for John Calvin and a copy of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't and start preaching the good news of organizational management and institutional hierarchies.
Like those in nature. Like those which have withstood the test of time and common sense.
And I'll wonder once again why it's so dang hard being a Christian in a fallen world.
"No matter what your work, let it be your own. No matter what your occupation, let what you are doing be organic. Let it be in your bones. In this way, you will open the door by which the affluence of heaven and earth shall stream into you." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(PHOTO: Nicholas Wolterstorff at the Image Journal conference in Houston, TX, November 2005.)