Friday, February 02, 2007

Keep it real!

Keep it real! is a slang term these days with a host meanings determined mainly by context. It can be both compliment and exhortation, critique and confirmation. However, at its core is the truth that pretense is a bad idea. We should be grounded in reality, not in what we would like reality to be or what think reality might be. I am an Episcopal priest and one of the things I love about the Episcopal tradition is its willingness to shed pretense in favor of reality. Now, most of us in the Episcopal church would read my last sentence and at least scoff but more likely outright laugh in disbelief. Truly, one of the things that bother me about the Episcopal tradition, or more correctly Christian congregations in general is our stupendous ability to be pretentious. Indeed, the practice of 'putting on airs' may have literally begun in American churches. I certainly would not be surprised if it did.

However, if we look closely is that really what is happening at church? Are we really pretending to be something we aren't, pretending to be better then we are? In some sense, yes we are. We are at church to practice being the loving creature God intends us to be. Just as God is love we are fated to love divinely. The problem comes in when we believe or pretend to believe that we are somehow better then other folks. We aren't! Everyone is just as intended, just as fated for love as we are. But we need practice at being what God has made us for, and we need reminding of what that is, and we need correction when are not becoming that. So in actuality we aren't pretending to be someone we aren't, we are pretending to be what we are becoming and what we already are. (I realize that sounds like a contradiction, and I promise to post an explanation later...wait for it!) For now, there is another problem. We, to often in our congregations, act like everything is perfect, that there is never discord or strife, and if you just follow the rules your life will never have any pain or suffering. This is when we are no longer Keeping it real. Indeed the scriptures tell us a different story. The scriptures both Hebrew and Christian tell us that the path to being what God has intended is through the wilderness, through the rough, torn, disorienting landscape that is the desert. We can not avoid pain and suffering, and when our worship denies that reality then we are definitely not keeping it real, and we are no longer relevant to any experience anyone might have on this planet. We see this most often in our church music, especially a lot of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). To often in a CCM worship song life is just a little too perfect a little too wonderful to be real. Walter Brueggemann in his book The Spirituality of the Psalms put it like this:

The problem with a hymnody that focuses on equilibrium, coherence, and that it may deceive and cover over. Life is not like that. Life is also savagely marked by incoherence, a loss of balance, and unrelieved asymmetry."

This is where the season of lent functions as a corrective for our natural tendency to white wash things. Lent invites us, for a time, to strip away all pretense, to ask who exactly we are, to be brutally honest with ourselves and to "keep it real" not so that we keep things the way they are, but in order for us to move through the wilderness to the promised land. Moving from pretending to be the body of Christ to actually being the body of Christ in the world.

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