Friday, March 22, 2013

Boring worship makes life always interesting

Okay, so maybe not THAT boring
(Photo by Louisa Billeter/Flickr)
If church-going Christians don't go through their work-a-day lives being surprised and/or offended by the ways of the world, the ways of the world have become the background by which they live those lives. This is a problem.

If church-going Christians come to worship expecting to be entertained (or even "inspired" or "recharged"), the ways of the world have become the background by which they come to worship. This is a problem.

The everyday practices of becoming the people of God are necessarily "boring" in that they must seep so far down into our bones that doing things such as praying, reading scripture, forgiving, making peace, raising children in the faith, loving neighbors and even enemies become second nature. Only when they become second nature can we begin seeing the world aright and stumble into more faithful being in the world as the people of God, hemmed into Christ's body.

Worship in this sense may at first seem "wasteful," as my friend Aaron Kauffman has recently said.

But here's the thing: When Christian worship and discipleship become "boring" in the (good) sense that they become our second nature, then life becomes permanently interesting. Once God's story and your place in it becomes the primary way in which you live and have your being in the world, then the world becomes rightly seen as the site of God's reconciling mission to all of creation. We want to run to the sites of God's healing and participate. We delight in forgiveness. We rush foolishly into loving enemies. We take joy in washing the dirty feet of sinners (including when those feet are our own in the hands of a sister or brother).

Yes, we will screw this up, making worship boring in the bad sense, in that it does not engage our entire body, not grabbing us by the guts, and thus failing to capture our imagination. Church will and often has become soulless drudgery and life-sucking rather than life-giving. But when this happens it signals a failure of imagination-capturing, and the remedy isn't necessarily making things flashy and exciting. (Seriously, click that link and hold on tight.)

Rather, we must be re-oriented, restored and re-storied to the ancient bodily wisdom of the church and capture the sense for why we're going through these "boring" motions and why they orient us by God's Spirit toward life abundant.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book reading update

It's been months since I've updated the "What I'm reading" Amazon widget off to the right, so I'm setting about doing that today and I'll make a few comments here.

First, I finally finished reading Chris Marshall's excellent book, Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice. In some ways it was the perfect book for me, blending my "theology and peacebuilding/restorative justice" background from grad school. Late last week I submitted my book review to the reviews editor at Political Theology, so that won't see the light of day in published form until late this year or early next. But there was so much richness in the book that a 999 word review couldn't cover, I'll likely draw on it in coming months in a variety of ways.

Next, even though it's been listed to the right, I haven't opened it since last fall - but I'm getting started again on Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I'll be reviewing this book for Brethren Life and Thought, but it's also been high on my list because of the splash its making in restorative justice circles. The critique she offers of the current criminal justice system in the US has a high degree of relevance for RJ practitioners working in and around the criminal justice system in this country. I'm only a chapter or two in, but the historical narrative she offers on the institutional forms of racism in this country is compelling.

Finally, I've realized that I need to read way more fiction that I had through my four years of grad school. When I was finishing my undergrad in English the few years before that, I had a mountain of novels I was reading regularly, and I miss that. So per some recommendations from a lit nerd friend of mine, I just got in the mail Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Zone One by Colson Whitehead. They might have to sit on the shelf for a bit as I finish nerd fiction piece, Lucky Wander Boy, which had been on my wish list since 2003! On the nonfiction front, I also received in the mail D.T. Max's new biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story - which I've heard is fantastic.

What books have y'all been into lately? Academic, fiction, nonfiction, or otherwise?