Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Faith reclamation project

We are living in a time when the specter of theocracy is looming on the horizon. This reality is closer to fruition than most of us care to think about. Much of our current political debate is clearly wrapped in the flag of Xian dominionism, which has roots across the fruited plain.

Last night, as I was driving home from a new writer’s group that I’m thinking of joining, I was listening to Air America and Janeane Garafalo/Sam Seder. They had as their guest, Jim Wallis, a self-professed evangelical. While Wallis uses the term, his practice of faith is much different than the anti-gay, anti-abortion, “sack cloth and ashes” practice of so-called evangelicals such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and others on the religious right.

Wallis is an interesting man in that many of his positions put him in a line of succession with some of the well-known clerics of the late 60’s, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Sloane Coffin. With an emphasis on a gospel that seeks to lift the downtrodden and marginalized, it makes attempts at mirroring the essential message of Jesus, which was love.

Whenever I hear someone such as Wallis speak, it makes me reflect back on my own spiritual journey that’s left me where I’m currently at—someone who calls himself a post-Xian primarily because there was no place for my theology within any type of organized vehicle of faith. I use the term because it at least leaves a door open for dialogue occasionally with someone who claims to believe in God or admits to being a follower of Jesus. If I were to tell them I’m an agnostic, it freaks them out too much and often prohibits any discussion of spiritual matters.

I’ve spent time in my journey along most points on the American Xian continuum of theology. I’ve had a foray into fundamentalism (even attended Bible college, believe it or not) where I got to see the Elmer Gantrys up close and personal—let me tell you, it ‘ain’t a pretty site! This experience so scarred me that I spent a good 15 years away from any semblance of spirituality. I came back and made an aborted (ironic choice of terms, don’t you think?) attempt at embracing a more “toned down” and “loving” version of American Xianity—labeled evangelicalism—only to find it very similar to the fundamentalism that was a part of my life in my early 20’s.

Theology, like philosophy, sociology and other modes of study interests me. There are actually branches of Xianity where the mind and the spirit aren’t at odds—granted, these places are hard to find and not in vogue much in Bush’s America, but can be found if one takes the time to seek them out. I find I enjoy reading “liberal” theologians such as Harvey Cox, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich and others because they never shut off the minds that they were given in their quests to find God. They also didn’t make a practice of telling others how to live, either.

Speaking of journeys, you’ll be able to find some guideposts of my own spiritual journey on the net if you have an inkling to see where I’ve been at times over the past few years. If you plug “Jim Baumer” and either “Strange Days” and “Being Church” into Yahoo or Google, it will bring up things I’ve written while attempting to find some spiritual place of rest along my quest for truth. It’s interesting (and a bit scary) that your writing will follow you along the electronic thruways of cyberspace.

One article that I found interesting about the whole fundamentalist dynamic involves Jay Bakker, the son of the infamous Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It’s interesting in the sense that despite being burned by religion and spiritual charlatans, who happened to be his own parents, Bakker is trying to forge his own spiritual path. In doing so, I think he’s closer to the teachings of the gospels than his huckster parents were, as well as much that passes for Xianity in our current religious milieu.

I’ll end with this. One thing that Wallis said last night really stuck with me. He was talking about why he calls himself an “evangelical”, particularly in the context of how and by whom the word is currently being used. Wallis minced few words in saying that in his opinion, Xianity had been hijacked by people and politics for means that are not in the historic spirit of Christ. He mentioned that there is a spiritual tradition that hearkens back to people like Dorothy Day, King, Coffin and others, that has been stolen. Wallis said that it needed to be reclaimed and that is what he and his organization, Sojourners is trying to do. This tradition puts more credibility in feeding and clothing the poor and hungry than it does in draping flags over the American war machine. This tradition offers hope to poor women on welfare, rather than demonizing them and making them feel dirty and unwanted. It’s a tradition that would thunder loudly against a coronation that spends $40 million honoring a war criminal, when children are starving a block away. To that tradition, I offer a hearty “Amen”!

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