Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hail the Good News

The story goes that a student once asked legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, out of the blue, what he thought of a new book by fellow poet Robert Creeley. Ginsberg responded in a way that disregarded the student´s obvious disdain for the book: "Whatever Bob´s doing, I´m for him."

I like the vibe of that statement; Ginsberg didn´t endorse a book of poems he hadn´t
read, but neither did he give credence to some random critic´s random negativity. In a move that was at once deftly political and defiantly apolitical, Ginsberg declared himself as for a person, regardless of their product. It´s probably as Jesus-y a statement as a legendary Beat poet can get.

I think it´s a fair critique of our statements about this or that particular thinker
whether, regardless of our opinion of their positions, we leave room to still be for them as people. It´s the rough terrain that Democratic senators have had to traverse this year, as they´ve critiqued longtime friend and frequent ally John McCain as the opponent of their guy, Barack Obama.

McCain himself has had to walk similarly precariously, making the case that the United States shouldn't take a risk on a candidate who isn´t ready to be president, without implying that Obama is effectively incompetent-just in case he wins. That´s not a matter of his own political equivocation but rather a question of the national interest: if half the country thinks that our new president is dangerously unqualified, no one benefits and everyone suffers.

Other arenas, I think, could take a lesson from such political parsing of language-particularly in ongoing conversations about Christian theology. I've run across a number of people lately who are worn down from all the flak they take for asking the questions they're asking, for entertaining the notions they're entertaining. It's one thing to challenge a person's thinking; it's quite another to pass judgment on them, to declare them to their face or to a roomful of people--not sure which is worse--anathema.

Theological controversy as much as anything requires careful management, so that in our attempts to throw out bad bathwater we don´t lose our babies, or that in our attempts to prune back a flawed system we don´t hack off a limb we´re going to need later. At the end of each day we should not have pummeled one another so ferociously that we can´t kiss and make up and even look forward to our next round of partisan bickering.

It's hard to have people against you. Or so I'm told; I've never really suffered significantly for my opinions. If ever I do, however, I'll experience people's opposition against a backdrop of confidence--not in myself, but in grace that's rightly described at least in part as unmerited favor.

In writing Deliver Us from Me-Ville I took great encouragement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer´s description of Christ as pro-me. It´s a nice foundation on which to build a critique of self-absorption: Jesus is for us enough to become us and join with us, then separate our sin from us and die for us, then resurrect to us and go on ahead of us to prepare a place for us.

Today the Emergent Village announced its new direction as a network of networks. Emergent has had to walk this ginger path since its inception, and it's also had to carry the burden of people who have opposed the ideas that come out of its generative friendships enough to oppose the people that populate the Village. I've been impressed with the Emergent Village, as much as anything, for their capacity--by and large and with occasional exceptions--to keep turning their other cheek when someone throws stones at them. So at the end of Emergent Village as we know it and the beginning of Emergent Village as we don't yet know it, and most particularly on the last day of Tony Jones's tenure as national coordinator, let me paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, unknowingly echoing Jesus: "Whatever EV´s doing-right or wrong, to be judged and discarded or to be embraced and celebrated-I´m for them."

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