Sunday, July 16, 2017

Other people's heroes

(NOTE: repeating a disclaimer from the first edition of this re-repurposed blog: "Evangelicals should probably move on.")

I feel the need to begin with the acknowledgment that I was never all that impressed by The Message.

I'm not sure why. It's possible that the "contemporary language" Bible versions available in my youth, titles like Good News For Modern Man (not good news for women of any age, apparently) or The Living Bible (it is an eternal shame that nobody ran with the horror-movie possibilities of that title) soured me on the whole project. For whatever reason, at that young age the "contemporary" language felt more limiting to me than enlightening (but I was a total geek even then). If anything those early hip-language versions helped form in me one of the few cliché-like statements I consider myself to have invented: "you can't say 'contemporary' without automatically saying 'temporary'." For all the hoopla about it, in my few forays into The Message or occasions hearing it used from the pulpit, it never got out of that box. It's not as if I'm immune to the power of re-contextualizations of the scriptures -- I'm a big fan of Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch translations/recontextualizations of most of the New Testament, but then those are a thing quite other, daring far more than Eugene Peterson's magnum opus.

The above disclaimer is probably not necessary, but is about as much as I thought about Eugene Peterson before this week's kefuffle on "Christian Twitter," in which Peterson first seemed to have declared himself o.k., if somewhat indifferent, with same-sex marriage, even allowing he'd officiate such a marriage if asked, then seemed to be under threat that his considerable arsenal of publications would be shut out from the largest "Christian" bookselling firm, only to (by the end of the week) retract, apparently, any sentiments that might have been expressed in the earlier interview about same-sex marriage. (You may speculate as you wish as to his motives for retraction; I have my opinion but no particular need to express it.)

(NOTE: let me be clear that I don't endorse Christianity Today just 'cuz I used a couple of links to them. I feel icky already.)

One can predict more or less the ebb and flow of the week's reactions on various social media. I have no interest in rehashing the evangelical side of that kerfuffle; I am not into banging my head against brick walls. But mainliners, I gotta talk to y'all. Mostly to the straight white folk among you. And mostly (not completely, but mostly) to the guys within that subset.

Can we please not get so hung up on seeking the approval of other people's heroes?

Apparently Eugene Peterson was actually ordained in the PC(USA), my denomination of affiliation and choice. That said, the arc of his career and writing make it pretty clear that in the current moment he's about as much PC(USA) as Donald Trump (which is to say, not). That's fine. He's made a life and a living in the evangelical pool, and might even be said to have some celebrity status in that particular stream of the church. As far as I can tell he's probably one of the less offensive members of that particular brand of celebrity, which is probably o.k. but doesn't really mean that folks in the mainline-progressive need to be clamoring for his approval.

To be honest, I'm kinda with this guy:

Would that we'd hear. (And yes, I'm an old straight white man.)

The mainline denominations have as members a number of LGBTQ+ persons who are the folks regularly getting kicked in the teeth by the evangelical wing of the church. I'll understand why a LGBTQ+ person would get excited by the initial Peterson reaction; maybe I'll get kicked in the teeth a little less. We are also home to persons of color who are getting told far too often to accept second-class citizenship by the world at large. We are home to immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants being scapegoated by this country's government. And yet rather than listening to those voices within the mainline (brothers and sisters in Christ all), we keep our ears cocked, it seems, for any sign of approval from an evangelical celebrity. 

Can we not, please?

Can we spend more of our energy listening to the voices of those getting dumped on rather than the ones doing the dumping?

Can we listen to the least of these, even if we run the risk of realizing that, just possibly, we might be the least of these too?

Can we worry about getting our own (shrinking but maybe a little less quickly shrinking) house in order, rather than worry what the doomsayers and vultures and vultures have to say about it?

Can we actually listen for the "sound of a sheer silence" instead of getting caught up in the yelling?

Maybe I'm naive or stupid, but I can't help but wonder if we mainline types (at least the straight white portion of us) would be better off if we didn't care so much what Eugene Peterson thinks, except to the degree that it harms our sisters and brothers in Christ. That's the thing to care about, not our puppy-dog need for approval.

In short, move on and listen to the folks who were really hurt in yet another round of crossfire.

He's made his bed, he may now lie in it.

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