against tradition: a polemic

(this started as a comment and then grew)

personally, i’m rather fond of ignoring the 1200 years of church history between constantine and menno. well, ignore isn’t quite the right word, and menno and constantine aren’t where i would stop.

honestly, constantine was obsessed with making a state church (bad idea) and menno was a strong proponent of celestial flesh theology (yes, jesus passed through mary as ‘water through a pipe’, and no, that was not supported by the science of the times). i’m not saying the last 2000 years are worthless, but they don’t get to be worthwhile guides just because they happened.

i agree that mennonites have a pretention of newness. we’ve been new for nearly 500 years now. in fact newness itself could be called a pretention if you believe that everything has already been thought of or done (give or take the advance of technology and everything that comes with it (such as globalization of nearly everything from world-views to nestlee’s quick).

but what say we reconsider some things? let’s even ignore the howevermanybillion years before christ, because we can (it’s especially easy to ignore the parts no one wrote down). if by ignore we mean ‘not to practice or agree with’ rather than ‘to pretend it never happened’, i’m happy to ignore quite a few things in and out of the bible and church history.

i think the church is in a horrible mess for being 2000 years old. i don’t mean that an organization at 2000 should be better than this one is, but that quite possibly organizations should never be aloud to get that old. too much red tape, too much baggage, too much confusion of the mission statement. i’ve seen three years water down a mission statement.

i don’t need the church to be new in any sense of having original ideas, and i don’t want mennonites pretending they’re new after nearly 500 years, or radical when they can’t even decide whether GL (let alone BT or Q or anything else) members should be aloud in the church, or much of a peace church anymore, even. and i’d rather not go back to those roots. have you read the schleitheim recently? let me quote my fave:

A separation shall be made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them (the wicked) and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations. This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things. For truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who (have come) out of the world, God’s temple and idols, Christ and Belial; and none can have part with the other.

there are a lot of great roots i’d rather not go back to. and some i would. the sermon on the mount, for an easy one, looks very unlike the schleitheim confession. and both writers were being persecuted, so i don’t quite buy that argument either (i’ve heard it explained that the schleitheim needed such strong language because everyone else was out to kill them – it makes for clear distinctions, and is not a bad argument for seperation).

the point isn’t that we throw everything out, but that we should be quite a bit more picky than we have been. i’ve been very impressed with the catholic church’s support of the arts, and integration of the arts into worship. sure beats the radical mennonite church on that front. but relics, male priests, and transsubstantiation? and the mennonites have had some great ideas on peace-theologizing – though action may never have been a strong suit, and i could do without the whole pure church model. but i’d be all for the church starting over every ten years. re-create the best parts if you liked them, but don’t keep building on faulty foundations just because they’re there. everything should be thrown into serious question on a seriously regular basis (yes, including the basis of the church itself). why jesus? why ‘son of god’? what’s with atonement? the bible? leviticus?

who came up with the trinity or the virgin birth in the first place? that stuff’s not in the bible. and even some of the stuff that is – who wrote that? why?

while we’re at it though. i wouldn’t take leviticus out of the bible for anything. the good ‘ol book would be boring if it all held together and made sense. if one person had written it. i’m all for some contradiction to keep things lively. but let’s just be clear that either god changes gods mind a whole helluva lot, or it was people writing that book and they didn’t always agree with each other. in fact, i would say that’s the best things about it. which would mean it’s been going down hill ever since they stopped updating it roundabouts the fourth century C.E. – roundabouts constantine.

what if we each started a church? why not? i’m working on a theatre, why not a church? we could each have our own mission statements and focus on different things that we find important or needed in the church. for me that mission would be to bring people together in one room – to conspire (‘breath together’) – to challenge them – to spark dialogue – to question a whole load of assumptions – to explore the boundaries of human, church and divine potential – all with a firm basis in scripture. scripture meaning holy text – of which there is more than one book (funny, it sounds similar to my theatre – though we might describe holy text differently there). sometimes i think Brothers Karamatsov would be a good addition to the cannon, but i’d be ok with flannery o’conner – maybe Wise Blood, that was a good one. i would do away with jargon right-out, or redefine it. no son-of-god, no salvation or atonement or communion.

ok, we can put communion back in, but only if we’re just talking about eating and drinking together in the spirit of jesus. i like eating and drinking together. and that includes wine, for those who are wondering, another thing the catholic church got right all these years.

for now it seems, in my theatre i do have a group of people commited to personal and community growth. i do bring people together to conspire with, to challenge, and to dialogue with each other. we don’t have to deal with the jargon, but we can still deal with any texts we want. and we can go beyond the texts, we can explore them and push them and fight them and bring them to life. we can questions assumptions and explore boundaries and everything.

maybe i’ve already built a church. maybe an artistic director and a pastor are one and the same – we just get to have all the fun while you argue about how it’s been done for 2000 years and whether your GLBT friends are really good enough for you.

sorry mom.

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