Saturday, June 7, 2008

Submission and Authority

I found a draft from a while back, and I can't figure out why I didn't publish it. So from February:

Russ Adcox (one of the CofC preachers/thinkers who I find well worth the reading time) has an interesting post up on the issue of authority. The particular context is the idea of discipleship and submission to the authority of Jesus in Christianity. A member of the congregation apparently brought up the problem that the idea of Jesus as an authority figure could cause an individual who has been abused by authority figures in his or her life.

I think there's a difference between a spiritual authority to whom you submit to for teaching and guidance and who recognizes that your submission is only possible because you have a basic authority over yourself, and an authority that claims you have no real choice, you will submit, or else.

On Beale Street the other night (I had friends in town), a group of about three people were hanging out with a large sign, informing everyone there that if our names weren't found in the book of life, we'd been spending eternity swimming in a lake of fire. This would be the submit or else version of authority. This would be the type of authority that kicks my fight or flight instinct into high gear. Should I ignore them and go elsewhere on Beale? Or should I sit down in a half-lotus position and start chanting the lyrics of "My Sweet Lord"?

This second type of authority is destructive and oppressive. It's the type of authority that has to assert itself through violence -- whether the spiritual violence of being damned to hell for eternity, or the realized violence of destroying another's house of worship. The implication is that one does not really have a choice. Anything which challenges the hierarchical norm will be punished.

I can see the fundamentalist reply of tough cookie -- that's just how it is, submit now or burn. To which I really can't reply with anything other than -- no. Ain't buying it.

Free submission to an authority is a different matter, of course


Don't ask how my internet browsing ended up at But, eww! Shouldn't there be some sort of public outrage over this garbage being handed to girls?

"Shaving is a part of growing up. It's ladylike and fun so EMBRACE it."

Is bad grammar ladylike as well? That one I may have in spades. (Yes, the comma in the quote is also missing on the website.)

And just ugh! Not that I feel the need to be embraced as ladylike with my gloriously hairy legs, but . . . how on earth did this myth that women shaving their legs is somehow natural and innate become so f'ing pervasive? Oh, yeah, marketing. Like this crap!

Shaving one's legs is not a part of growing up. It is a part of a particular ideal of feminine beauty that one should feel free to participate in or reject.

As my sister -- who does shave -- says: They're your legs!

Calling Progressive Christians!

Check out this new carnival, submit your writing, and anticipate other writings!

July's theme is Community, and the carnival will be hosted at Reweaving.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Discernment is a Big Word

When one is the resident of a Religious Studies department, one sees a lot of flyers advertising meetings for the pre-ministry kids on how to discern the call to the ministry. With the combination of my background in CofC land and my cynicism of organized religion – I typically ignored them. Other than stopping to think: only RS people can come up with such a impressive sounding way to phrase that classic post-adolescent problem: what the heck am I doing with my life?

Now, the Metra is finding that she wishing she had better heuristic devices for dealing with said question. Discernment might have to be a foreign word to adopt into the vocabulary – like theois, or Eucharist, or sanctuary.

So why isn’t discernment a strong part of the Southern Restoration Movement heritage? Part of it probably the anti-intellectualism you get in CofC land. Discernment is just a fancy word with too many syllables. The Christian Chronicle has a rather nifty and informative little article up on the history of the Harding Graduate School of Religion. It touches several times of this anti-intellectualism. Even someone from my generation has probably heard the crack that Harding is where you go to graduate from religion. This attitude goes hand in hand with the notion that the Bible is sufficient for its own interpretation, and the sneaky notion that there is only one correct interpretation of the meaning of scripture which will be blatantly obvious to all people irregardless of gender, socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, etc.

(At the point in time, a quip repeated by Deryn Guest in When Deborah Met Jael comes to mind. If the audience of the verse: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman” is a lesbian woman, the answer is a hearty “well, of course!” At this point in time, I ask – how are we defining man and woman in this context? The social location of the person reading the text – it’s quite important.)

You can guess where I fall on the question. Firmly on the side of being an overly intellectual smart-ass.

But I think the absence of an idea of a process of discernment is also an effect of the CofC’s take on the priesthood of all [male] believers. For a long time, the idea of having a minister paid by the congregation was heresy. A preacher should have a job on the side to support himself (and his family). This is less en vogue today, but there’s still this assumption that every boy in the congregation should aspire to hold a church office. More likely the pressure is to aspire to be a deacon or an elder – the notion that God might call certain people to these positions and not others appears to be non-existent. (The notion that God might not be calling all persons in possession of an uterus to marriage and children is even more non-existent.) There is, however, a lot of effort put into training all the little boys for their roles in public worship. The attitude might be well described as: of course, God is calling you to lead the church, why would you need to discern that?

Of course, I’m not at all convinced that the Divine works like that. Nor am I convinced that view of the Church is Biblical, if we’re placing a great deal of emphasis on that element.

And, now, I’m off to continue looking for a good heuristic device to make off with. Lock up the techniques of discernment, my friends, Metra is breaking out the hunter's camo!