Overheard at "Bean Traders" - the coffeehouse that connects to my office:
"Some Christian just tried to save my soul. Don't those fools know they're the ones who need to be
After the Derek Webb concert on our deck behind 9th St, Sam, one of the other tenants in the building and a practicing Hindu, asks...
"Was this a 'no pagans allowed' event?"
Tim's pithy reply...
"It was BYOP. I would have invited you, but I think I was already someone's guest!"
From the film "Saved" — Mary, a senior at American Eagle Christian High School, fearing that she's pregnant and hoping for another explanation for her morning sickness:
"Oh, please, please, let it be cancer!"
Also from the film "Saved" — Tia to Mary while inviting her to a prayer circle for Mary's boyfriend:
"I'm sorry about your boyfriend's faggotry."
That might have been the point when the film's dialogue went over the top. I don't know many teens who liberally use the terms "faggotry," "fornicators," and "perverts" like the in-crowd at American Eagle High School. Or do I? When our group watched this movie on Saturday night, many us freely admitted that we are expatriots from the school of harsh religious dialogue. "Saved" is stereotypical, overly stylized, and entirely predictable at times. But the humor and the power of the movie resides in its stereotypes and the frequency of these heinous offenses in the dialogue between church and culture in the present.
The reactions to the film were varied. A few were offended and felt the need to defend the portions of Christian theology that were manipulated or skewed. Others wondered if anyone was that self-righteous and hypocritical. Sadly, I would have to argue against the latter point. Most affirmed, with no small measure of disappointment the accuracy of many of the stereotypes of the film.
Saved is certainly a religious remake of the genre of teen comedy that made John Hughes famous. The outsiders become the insiders. The insiders are publicly punished for their transgressions. The morally self-righteous are shown to be at best inconsistent, at their worst morally bankrupt. Friendship is sufficient to overcome the injustices of the teen social world without challenging the sacred value of personal autonomy. And, of course, the "right" couples get together at the end.
For our viewing crew, we lamented the state of the dialogue between the Christian community and our culture - morally, socially, artistically, and politically. If anything, this teen spoof is one more reminder of the desperate need to fashion a new dialogue between these parties.
Several asked on Saturday evening what this dialogue would look like. I have many opinions on this.
•A new dialogue between Christians and our culture would have a strong sense of "shared place" and "sacred place." By shared space, I mean that we cannot see ourselves as the rightful owners of our cultural values and cultural idioms. This sense of ownership drives us to not only inhospitality to those with whom we disagree, but to intentional efforts to eradicate these voices. Often the church's language and posture with its surrounding culture is militaristic. We dream of beating our "adversaries" with the bare minimum of marginaliziong and colonizing those who don't admit defeat. A sense of sacred space would acknowlege own ideological space while also acknowledging the ideological space of others. Sacred space calls us act respectfully while in the living room of another. Stanley Hauerwas and others have written powerfully and persuasively that we should see ourselves as aliens and strangers in this land. Such a recognition frees us to authenticity in our space, respect in the space of others, and collaboration in shared space.
•This new dialogue should be driven by the collaboration of needs and urgencies that we find in the shared space of our world. We have so many shared needs - the environment, the global impact of poverty and injustice, human dignity, and primary human needs. The urgencies of the shared space are so great that it makes little sense to spend all of our time in arenas of philosphical/ideological disagreement.
•This new dialogue would blur the lines between "in" and "out" from the vantage point of the church. This boundary has always been the province of God yet we have appointed ourselves as exacting stewards of this decision. In reality, the lines are deeply blurred. This does not mean that one cannot have a sense of inclusion in God's community nor allow for the most obvious exclusions. But so much of our efforts in clear definition are idolatrous demands for definition and control.
•A new dialogue would affirm that neither God's voice nor God's love is not confined to that which we call "church."
•A new dialogue would not water down the essential path of following Christ or the essential realities of Jesus' way. On the contrary, this dialogue would free us up to express this path rather than to defend it against intruders.
•A new dialogue would be guided by hospitality, humility, the fearful acknowledgement of the limits of our understanding and abilities to make boundaries, activism on the essential needs of humanity, love for all of God's creation, striving to embody the characteristics of Yahweh and the fruits of God's Spirit, trust in God's sovereign ability to manage the story, and a worshipful thankfulness for being included in these plans.
Such a dialogue would merit the grand title of salvation.