Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Velvet Elvis blog 2

Another from another RevGalBookPals book discussion

My own Velvet Elvis Blog 1

Velvet ElvisMichael Krahn linked me to his Velvet Elvis series... I'm planning to visit soon, and all the RevGals' comments have been thoughtful. I esp appreciate Songbird's observation that Sabbath-keeping is a week-long endeavor. During Lent 2004 I participated in a REAL discussion of Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath (finally out in paperback! Yay!) Velvet Elvis and the RevGals' thread makes me want to go back and reread it.

ReverendMother blogged,
It’s also a little unfortunate as a title because, as a professor told me in seminary, “Don’t ever give someone a reason not to listen to you.” The hip typeface and panoply of cover designs probably make it more marketable and appealing to people who wouldn’t give two hoots about Calvin’s Institutes...

I’m willing to forgive the kitsch and the hipness, though, because fundamentally, this book wasn’t really written for me. It seems to be written for people outside the church—people who may be intrigued by Jesus a great deal, it’s just “his family” that they have a problem with.
This second blog about the book most properly belongs on my "other" long blog, this far by faith, but 1) I need blog fodder and 2) I'm attempting to risk a little more public self-revelation and openness, so here it is.

In most ways this is a book for outsiders, but my insiderness has become too, too strained and painful; though in the past I've spent a lot of time reading theology (full meal type books, not exactly "snacks"), I'm truly exhausted on every level, and despite acknowledging many people have considered me a threat and have been just plain rude to me, even the ones who have been polite and welcoming have no clue where I live socially, culturally or theologically (hey, even people who've been in bible studies I've facilitated). So for me, it's high time for a sea change, and that means getting beyond concerns of polity, connectedness and ecumenical relatedness to the fundamental fact I'm useless to everyone as long as I'm not getting my own needs (gasp!) met, and my needs include using my gifts, education and skills to a reasonable extent if I'm to be reasonably whole, not to mention finding social opps with people who are aware of who I am and where I've been and who appreciate my uniqueness, whether or not they "get it."

Pastor Rob Bell cites the usual wisdom that one needs to hit the bottom before being able to change, rebuild, whatever...but my current situation isn't about having hit bottom at all. While the Cedar Fires I referenced in my other blog blazed away, as with my neighbors I considered what I'd take with me if we needed to evacuate (besides the obvious cats and some clothes), my choices were my very well-marked RSV (the first bible I ever owned), my academic transcripts and my letters of call.

I'd been so goal oriented, so disciplined, so sure I couldn't lose. For me, it wasn't facing my brokenness nearly as much as it was encountering my fallibility. Like everyone, I'd failed zillions of times, but finally, no matter how many new beginnings I made none of them bore fruit. I've sensed such an overwhelming loss of self; when someone loses a family member or close friend due to physical death or absence, people gather around them and support them. Is there no one for me? In the conventional mainline churches, maybe not.

I'm wondering if I dare blog this publicly, but for some reason I no longer trust myself. Walter Brueggemann says "bright, skilled educated people are valued and sought-after"; he also says there are people sitting in the pews feeling nullified (by life? by the church? by family, spouses, by whomever, I'd imagine). As I insisted some time ago, "These things don't happen in First- and Second-World countries." They happen to everyone occasionally, but what on earth and in the Name of Heaven has this been all about? Does it continue to be about?

Hospitality is God's first call to the people of God and fundamentally defines them. From the beginning, the uniqueness of the nascent church as it moved outward from Jerusalem was 1) its radical inclusivity and 2) "see how they love one another." No one lacked anything; everyone had everything in common, a true common-wealth, as the New England Puritans initially believed they'd be able to live. But it was not only about embrace and provision for the already-insiders; the first Christians embraced and provided for everyone, making no distinctions whatsoever. Just as "God is not partial," they "were not partial." The outsider became incarnate, enfleshed as one of them, becoming an insider. These past years, I went into one church after another, no longer someone called or employed by the church, but as a stranger, an alien, like Abram an Ivri, a Hebrew—one from the other side. One in the image of the Divine, of God from the very other side. In every case, I came bearing gifts, and it stills blows me way out of the water to think one person after another would dare not accept my otherness as a gift. The human insecurity doesn't amaze me in the least, but the blatant chutzah still does.

Back to Velvet Elvis and the mainline church. Sunday was the PCUSA's annual Pentecost Offering for at-risk children and youth. I love the Pentecost Offering and I love the justice and advocacy ministries all the mainline (Prot and RC) are doing. I grew up in a blighted, decaying very inner-city neighborhood, attending a crummy urban high school, and originally intended to become a social worker.

But on my first Velvet Elvis blog, Diane commented, "does the word "mainline" just mean 'boring, non-pentecostal, 9-5, hierarchical, set-in-their-ways', can't discern the wind of the spirit even if it is a hurricane? Maybe we need a new name..."

Finding a new name or not, as we've often observed, the old mainline now longer is the central or most prominent expression of Christianity in this country, and most fortunately, being a mainline protestant no longer is a given part of being American. Unlike the whistle-stop, sideline or spurline, but similar to the railroad passenger mainline of old and paralleling today's AmTrak (sometimes I watch the slick, California AmTrak in its glossiness slide through this town of San Diego, often called "Paradise" by the weather forecasters, and I think, yep, that's mainline). I'd say yes, indeed, maybe in too many ways mainline retains its original connotation of cultural Christianity, both from the old Philadelphia mainline that was exclusively and solely Episcopal and Presbyterian but later embraced other churches that were staid and pretty stoic in style, like Lutheran and UCC...a few months ago I got a possibly true email forward about a seminary professor beginning a lecture on Pneumatology when a student charged into the classroom in ghost-buster regalia, causing the professor to remark, "Typical Presbyterian response: extinguish the Spirit!" Of course—could've been any other polite denomination. During the years I actually served as a [Lutheran] church musician, the Assistant Pastor's wife nursed their baby in one of the front pews most Sundays during the early service. One outspoken woman informed us she was going to begin attending the Episcopal Church, because it was "a dignified church." I wanted to scream, "But was Jesus dignified?!"

Then there's that other use of mainline, to shoot a drug into your veins. Mainline a hit of Jesus straight into your veins, so the blood of Jesus courses through your entire being? Think about it!

End of blog 2.

repainting into a new reformation?my amazon review


  1. Hey,

    Thanks for the link!

    Michael Krahn

  2. I'm enjoying your comments and also your art. Food (and images) for thought.

  3. Hi, Leah! Thanks for you comment on my blog! Too bad you won't be there this weekend--you seem like a neat person and I'm looking forward to meeting you in the fall.

    Love your thoughts on Velvet Elvis! I read the book last fall and really enjoyed it. In fact (believe it or not), I blogged a little bit about it. If you want to you can check them out here:

  4. Hi Leah! Long time no blogosphere connection....

    Thank you for revealing so much of yourself to us along with your insights on the book. I am hearing excitement and passion in the first V.E. blog and pain and frustration in the second...both hallmarks of the Spirit birthing a new thing in our personal and ecclesial lives. So sorry to hear of the lack of welcome and honor for your gifts--I have been there and it's a true source of anguish.

    I admire your faith and courage and pray for that Spirit to fill you with consolation, peace and strength as you make your way on The Way.



  5. ...hallmarks of the Spirit birthing a new thing in our personal and ecclesial lives...

    Hi Laura, thanks! Oh, I know--except for some design stuff I've been blogging too little and reading not much more. Amidst all this pain and insanity, I so needed your comment, and in this case, the (albeit short) geographical distance actually helps validate your words!


thanks for visiting—peace and joy to all of us!