Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I Dunno, LaShawn
Paradise by a Dashboard Jesus.
FREEDOM! LaShawn Barber is a highly intelligent and perceptive lady of great religious faith, and ordinarily I find much plain-spoken wisdom in her commentaries. Today, though, I found myself instinctively recoiling from this little vision of paradise she posted at her blog:
Have you ever wanted to retreat from the world? Just go someplace where there are no stupid or mean people, where everyone is selfless and thoughtful?
I daydream about living in a gated community town of nice, thoughtful, kind, and smart Bible-believing Christians. We have our own grocery and office supply stores. Christians run and work in the utility companies and gas stations and the DMV. School administrators and teachers are all Christians. The movie theaters, owned and operated by Christians, show Christian-friendly movies. The few people in town who own televisions watch Christian-friendly shows and documentaries that don’t distort the history of Christianity or feature so-called Christian scholars hostile to Christian doctrine and the Bible.
And no unbeliever would be able to enter through the gate.
You see what I’m getting at? I know Christians have their faults. We’re still sinners, after all. But I think about how much better life would be if everyone I met, everyone I heard, everyone I worked with, every writer I read…was a Christian.
When I shared this gated-community-of-Christians fantasy with my sister, she said something like, “You’re not talking about a gated community, Shawn. You’re talking about heaven.”
Indeed! That’s what I want…
Before I even got to the level of philosophical objections to this -- and there are a few -- my first, instantaneous reaction was: "B-o-o-o-o-ring! I'd go mad in such a place."
My next impression was visual, an unfair one perhaps, but one inspired by what seems her desire for uniformity, agreement, and utter acceptance. I see empty, smiling, well scrubbed faces at her grocery store and DMV and movie theaters, a kind of Stepford community of the "Bible-believing," with nary a hint of rowdy Irish Catholics (or Catholics of any variety for that matter), poets who are failed priests struggling with tides of faith and doubt, or scholars who dig through layers of ancient languages, layers of silt and stone, and layers of evolving scientific theory to reconcile faith with our continually expanding universe.
Yes, we all have dreams of escape, but this depiction of a gated community is especially alarming. It's as far as can be from a vision of real peace and serenity, which can withstand much mere human turmoil if they are nourished by the real treasures of creation -- the songbirds, trees, flowers, and streams of the land and its seasons, including the transcendent wheel of the stars and their galaxies above. The one is an infinite source of beauty and unfolding meaning. The other is a drab and sterile hiding place, a prison of stasis.
LaShawn's post sounds like the old plaint, "Stop the world. I want to get off." And perhaps that's so. It's all that turning and turning of things that created the protestant fundamentalists in the first place. They have always wanted the text of the Bible to stop moving around, to become a million word version of the original stone commandments. They want the ideas of man to stop complexifying into dangerous opposites of their origins, thus creating endless new categories of sin. They want the universe itself to return to the immanence of Genesis, with no uncomfortable infusions from the Hubble telescope, Darwin's perceptions of change, or Einstein's bastard spawn of quantum physics. They have even wanted to amputate the 1500 years of Christian history between Christ and the protestant fixers who would finally paralyze the whole mess inside a concrete totem of Jesus himself, cut loose from Judaism, historical ambiguity, and even the generations of non-persons who assembled their infallible, unquestionable [American English] Bible book by book.
Here, courtesy of Boortz(!), is the physical universe that corresponds to LaShawn Barber's gated community. It's modestly titled "The Earth Is Not Moving." Like her vision, this is a closed world that's small, well contained, black and white, and wearing the fixed smile of the unthinking cultist.
I'd like to suggest that it's not just the secularized and corrupted Christian traditionalists who have to find their way back to the basis of their faith if our nation is to survive the test of fanatical Islamic jihad. It's also the arrogant, overly certain exclusionists of the fundamentalist denominations who have to rediscover the infinite variety and vitality of a faith they seem determined to reduce to a lifeless fossil.
Maybe that's not what LaShawn means by her post. But it sure sounds that way to me. And I dare say I've been a "Christian" longer than she has. But if I ever passed through those gates of hers, it would be kicking like a mule and screaming bloody murder. I like to imagine heaven as a bit more colorful and exciting.
How about you?
UPDATE. It's even worse than I thought. LaShawn has now posted the following "addendum:"
Loyal readers! I’m not “back” two hours, and people already are intentionally misreading a post. Gee whiz. I know such a place doesn’t exist on earth, and it’s not meant to exist on earth. The Bible teaches that my place as a believer is in the world, allowing God to work through me to reach the lost. I’m simply sharing a fantasy, for crying out loud. I have this longing for heaven, and every cell in my body cries out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” And he said he would.My post wasn't "contrary-just-for-the-sake-of-being-contrary." It was a response to the red flag she's raised about herself. Her addendum adds fuel to the fire. She actually believes what I feared -- that her gated community is heaven itself, the place she will spend eternity after God is finished working "through (her) to reach the lost."
Then again, I suppose I invite contrary-just-for-the-sake-of-being-contrary comments whenever I open a post, so there you go.
She's not just in retreat. She's in full flight. What an impoverished existence she is likely to lead from here on if she doesn't pull her mind and soul out of this "Praise Jesus" coma. Sad. Very sad. Chances are, very very few of the "lost" are going to see any appeal in her vision of heaven. Not many people want to join a hideously strict club nobody interesting is allowed into. The members probably won't have any difficulty getting great tee times at the golf course, though. Small consolation, you say? Exactly what she's offering from the sound of it.