Making a Joyful Noise

Drum Circle Dancer
Image by milesizz via Flickr

There are these two sides to me.  Most people who know me casually, I think, would describe me as fairly serious, restrained, even inhibited.  But beneath there is this part of me that is wild, spontaneous and goofy.  There have been numerous times that acquiantances have caught me in a certain mood, and they have said, “Wow, Jeff.  I’ve never seen this side of you.”

There was a time in my life when this came more natural to me.  It was easier.  I was left filled with self-doubt and insecurity about being random and silly.  I’m not sure what happened.  But often I long for that ease back.

I have very fond memories of this time in my life.  It was during high school and college.   One of the things we would do some times, was gather together with drums and other percussion.  And we would beat out rythms, or we would dance to the rythms, and we would drink wine, and be so free.

Most of this crowd were neopagans.  I had no religious home at this point.  But I felt so close to that crowd, and I also felt so close to my creator, even though I didn’t know anything about him.  This experience is part of what convinces me that the Holy Spirit is alive and working outside of Christianity… even if it is only so that the Holy Spirit can more fully point us to the truth.

Sometimes, taking the Lord’s Supper puts me in a similiar frame of mind.  Sometimes, I long for this closeness with God.  These were the things I thought of, tonight, when I read this:

Could it be that the conceptualized and formalized worship of the “devoloped world” is actually designed to inhibit and control rather than foment joy?  … Empires and dictatorships mantain social control … by converting (or subverting) the energy of jubilant dancing into regimented marching.  Pews in churches… are a rather late architectural innovation added in the Middle Ages to inhibit the dancing that apparently spontaneously broke out from time to time… Straight lines, orderly rows, military conformity- these suit the civilized state better than spontaneous outbreaks of collective joy.” (Brian McLaren, referring to the works of Barbara Ehrenreich, in his book Naked Spirituality)

The implications of this are quite profound.  We Christians are known for being uptight, anal retentive, rigid, and incapeable of spontaneous joy.  These adjectives are accurate, more often than not.  And yet they are strangely at odds with our beliefs.  Which leads to a question: where did these tendencies come from?

I find it quite compelling, the thought that our socio-political systems have attempted to co-opt Jesus message for their own purposes.  It’s crystal clear that this has happened in the past in other areas.  (I’m thinking of the Religious gloss put on imperialism in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries)  It seems quite plausible that this is occuring here.

The idea that a Jesus-centered faith might embody those practices which I (frankly) miss from youth is really a fascinating possibility.  I’m not blind to the idea that I’m treading dangerous ground here.  It’d be easy to take all sorts of things that I used to enjoy and try and force them into a Christian context to rationalize still doing them.

Clearly this is an area where much prayer, reflection and study is needed.  I’d love to hear the counsel of those around me.  What do you think: Did our dominant systems try to stifle Christianity and use it to pacify and force conformity in it’s systems?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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