Forgotten Fridays

Forget Blame it on the Boogie, ABC and I’ll be there. Good songs, but this is the Jackson Five’s best moment by far. Soooo underrated.

 

And love the strange humanist video with the Jacksons remaking the universe. Heretical, but endlessly reminiscent of the sci fi programmes of my youth.

Forgotten Fridays

This is a lovely song from a great film. Probably really meant for children, but endlessly entertaining, and it provides excellent illustration material for talks on the book of Ruth.  (The actual youtube clip is tacky, but hey, what you gonna do?)

The Race to the Margins

So, all this talk about checking your privilege, and making sure we hear the voices of people on the margins has created a new phenomena – a race to the margins.

That is, everyone wants to prove they are marginalised, because if you are privileged you shouldn’t be heard. We need to make room for the voices of the marginalised. Me, me, pick me, I’m marginalised, so listen to me.

Of course, what happens, is that all sorts of people who aren’t marginalised are trying to make out they are in order to prove that they are worth listening to.

Just this week I was reading a post by Rachel Held Evans (her of middle class white America book deal and internet commentator fame) making out that she was “on the margins” of evangelicalism, and thus we would do well to listen to her. I am constantly reading posts by rich westerners with families and jobs and (clearly) internet access about how the church marginalised them by not making them welcome or letting them preach or yaddah yaddah yaddah. People, there really are marginalised people in the world, and they are not you!

First, you are making a nonsense of the term. To say “I am on the margins of evangelicalism” is like me saying “I am on the margins of the refugee community.” In a way true, I know that community in my city and am not involved in it, and therefore don’t have much of a voice there, they are (rightly probably) not that interested in my views on their life issues. But they are the marginalised group. It is gobbledygook to claim that they are marginalising me. Evangelicalism is a tiny minority of people in the world whose views are generally rejected by mainstream thought. To choose, as Held Evans has done, to make your views more mainstream on the key issues of the day and then claim evangelicals are marginalising you is nonsense, and a rather crass attempt to gain attention for yourself, frankly. It is, incidentally, the erroneous tactic that Christians often use to combat gay rights: claiming that progress in that area is marginalising them, without acknowledging that the other group is the one with the history of actual exclusion. Claiming they are marginalising you as a tactic is an insult to all those in that group who have actually really suffered because of the legal imposition of Christian morality and the subsequent cultural fallout. As evangelical views become less mainstream and you gain a hearing in the secular media by not subscribing to them, to claim evangelicals are marginalising you is just a wrong use of the word. 

Second, you are claiming marginalisation when it’s not true. Feeling left out at church does not make you unprivileged. Not being allowed to preach is not marginalising your voice, if at the same time you have access to the internet and a telephone and a democratic political process and the choice to change your church and religion. By definition if you are able to have this discussion using the internet you are not one of the world’s marginalised people. There are millions (billions?) with no access to information, the internet, education, healthcare, or choices who actually are voiceless. By all means fight for them to be heard. Don’t claim to be so when you are not.

And that’s the damaging thing about this discourse. We have middle class rich western feminist Christians high fiving each other that they are making progress in their “battle” to “have their story heard” and clogging up the church’s attention to their deep seated hurt at not being allowed to wear the same funny dress as the men, when Christians who have nothing, really nothing, the ones in whom Jesus says we will find him remain with hardly any voice at all.

Can I suggest two ways through this mess, that, I hope, are more productive than me just telling those people to check their privilege?

1) There is a whole philosophical background here where language is viewed as a means by which to exercise power over each other. Thus every exercise of language is examined to see what powerful force behind is being used to gain mastery over me. If I look behind the words and find that the person actually is powerful, well, my hermeneutic of suspicion kicks in and I dismiss their opinion as merely an attempt to dominate. Perhaps, we would be better starting with God, that self giving relationship of love who communicates with us through a word, and investigate and take seriously the possibility of the constructive and relationship building effects of language even from those towards whom we feel suspicion. No need to check who is speaking before I acknowledge what they have said, but take seriously the relational opportunity of their words.

2) Do we need some doctrine of the Holy Spirit here? All Christians can prophesy and encourage other Christians and should seek to do that. That means I can take the words of a seminary educated white man and seek encouragement, bearing in mind all the wonderful educational resources to which he has had access. I can look for the poorest Christian I know and not seek to give them charity but listen to their experiences knowing I will learn something of Christ because the Holy Spirit works there. The Holy Spirit changes my hermeneutic of suspicion to one of expectation.

Love always hopes for the best. The Spirit brings that attitude to other Christians, no matter their background. He qualifies them to speak words of encouragement to me.They need not prove their unprivileged credentials in order to be listened to.

Forgotten Fridays

How Gavin Degraw is not more famous I will never know. It must be depressing to be a musician and your most famous moment to have been singing the theme tune to One Tree Hill, but that’s Gavin’s story. Maybe it’s because he’s called Gavin. He sings happy satisfying piano rock with an awesome voice, and this one should have been a huge hit. It wasn’t.

PS – the still youtube has chosen for this video is, er…., intriguing! No offence meant.

“You oppress the weak.”

The following is a made up story. Fiction. Not real. Any similarity etc etc etc. I am a minister and do not write posts like this to not-so-subtly “out” my own church. I would not consider that good pastoral practice. But it could be about my church some day. Or yours.

John started coming to church because he needed help. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, bad decisions and unpleasant people he ended up with nowhere to live in a place he didn’t know anyone, in debt and unable to return to what he might once have called home. He met a nice Christian and  he tried church. Someone from church found him somewhere to live, he attended a course about debt, and someone helped him deal with the people chasing him for money. He wanted to be “involved” in church – people kept using that word, and he wanted it to describe himself. He could only imagine how it would be to move from insider to outsider, alone to together, lone ranger to team player. It was this joining of a community that eventually pushed him over the line from sceptic to believer; hearing Jesus promise that even he could be a priest in God’s new kingdom. “How can I get involved?” he asked eagerly.

And so, to get involved, he joined a team. He didn’t play an instrument, his past meant a CRB disclosure would disqualify him from children’s work, and he didn’t know anything about electrical stuff. But making coffee he could do. And so he pitched up each week to mix the cheap instant coffee with water, dispense it out in plastic cups that burned his hands, and pass around pink wafer biscuits.

As he did that he began to notice something. All the people helping on this particular team were people just like him. They were the people who didn’t have a family, who seemed a bit peripheral to church life, who really wanted to be “involved.” It wasn’t a very social team because, frankly, the people there were all a bit like him, not much practiced at being social. Most of the work was done in near silence.

He noticed something else. There were a whole lot of people in church not like him. They were young and successful medical students, pretty girls who had boyfriends who weren’t Christians, successful executives, people who “didn’t have time” to make coffee for others or, in fact, to speak to the people who did, so full were their lives of work and relationship and, well, success. Full up with all the things he didn’t have and thought he’d been told wouldn’t count in the church. They were endlessly happily chatting to each other. Many of them seemed to know each other, but he couldn’t work out how, as they seemed to just turn up at church in families or groups of people that they already knew, wave their arms a bit, sit through the (in his opinion, rather long, sermons) and go home.  It was as if, to him, church was the family he needed, but to everyone else it was an extra thing they did alongside some people they already cared about. And his very being in that first needy group made him the ideal person to make coffee as far as they were concerned, because he wasn’t part of any of the already-formed groups. He makes coffee, we chat, it all works rather well. So it seemed to him that it seemed to them.

In fact, the whole thing seemed to him to be much like his other job in life, working as a cleaner for a couple of rich families. He did the jobs they didn’t want to do in order for them to get on with their “busy” lives. But at least they paid. In church, there seemed to be whole group of people for whom turning up, using other people’s hard work for free and leaving again was the sum total. “Is this it?” he wondered.

In Jeremiah, one of the reasons God wants to get rid of the temple is because the people oppress the weak. Is it just possible that our church structures do the same? We, rightly, attract those who need a community, but many of us come with our community already fixed. The people who have time, who have a real desire to be involved, those who do not have a family or a demanding education, or a relatively high flying job, those people do the work for those who are too busy. And this, of course, mirrors the oppressive structures of the world, where the poor’s “weakness” is used as a way for the rich to get them to do all the jobs they would rather not do. We end up in a grotesque religious parody of the worst aspects of the world; much like Jeremiah’s temple. Do you realise that your decision “not to be that involved”, to stay with the people you already know, to put your own family first is never just that, it is a decision to pass the hard graft of church life to someone whose life is probably less full, less successful, less materially fulfilling than ours, to deny them the very thing that they really need from the church, the very thing that Jesus offers them.

It does all feel like far too much to fit in sometimes I know. But here’s the thing, middle class busy people oppressing and using the weak in church life is not an option. If we feel like some other choices we have made about our work, our relationships, our family stop us caring for the weak among us; the other choices need to change. Jeremiah’s temple isn’t there any more, because what use does God have for a community that bears his name but oppresses the weak that he loves, died for, became one of?

 

Forgotten Fridays

This guy had a minor career in the naughties and resurfaced on this year’s series of the voice. But how this was not a bigger hit is a mystery to me – it’s like a really really great Stevie Wonder song.