Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Insurrection" by Peter Rollins: Church, let's sing suspended in space...

Long live the insurrection.

It's the only way our church will finally be able to sing while suspended in space.


We'll get to that.. but I would recommend all churches list that as an official goal or mission statement (:

I have been looking forward to Peter Rollins' new book, "Insurrection," (subtitle: "To Believe is Human; To Doubt Divine," so I was glad to be offered a review copy. (Here's my review:  Buy it yesterday).

I was thrilled to see that it included a whole chapter on my hottest topic around here (at least by number of tags, see "topical diving" in righthand sidebar):

the "role of the pastor."

So I'll start there.

The chapter is  called "I don't have to believe; my pastor does that for me."


Of course, no one would ever say it that nakedly (I hope!!), but that's what many of us (including us pastors) in reality do.  That  whole trick itself is one of the key themes and streams of the book: It really doesn't matter what we SAY we believe, as our actions very often prove otherwise.  We have a tremendous capacity for self-deception.  Our practices ARE our beliefs.

That's the good and bad news.
That's partly why Rob Bell says:

"In this book, Pete takes you to the edge of a cliff and pushes you off.
But after your initial panic, you realize that your fall is a form of flying.
And it's thrilling"  (front cover)
I need to be pushed.

Because  I now see "curator of honesty"  (my term, not Rollins' )as key to my role and "job description."

To the cliff:

Previously we saw how the structure itself believes on our behalf, thus protecting us from the experience of doubt, unknowing, and a sense of divine loss.  The structure itself is manifest most clearly in the words and actions of those who symbolize the structure, i.e., the pastors, priests, youth leaders, worship bands and ministry teams.  From the last chapter, one might think the way to change the structure is to convince the  people who run the structure that doubt, mystery and unknowing are all part of faith and should be experienced liturgically.

However the problem goes much deeper.

..At its most basic, church leaders believe on behalf of the community.  This seems to allow us the freedom to doubt...the pastor acts as a force field, holding the Christian trauma of the Crucifixion at bay.

In order to participate in the Crucifixion, we must find leaders who openly experience doubt, unknowing and a deep mystery. leaders who see these as a part of Christian faith...The problem is not that there are  a lack of leaders who have these experiences,rather, there is a lack of leaders who can admit to these experiences..

..On the rare occasion that a  pastor does stand up and declare his (or her) embrace of unknowing, a crisis among the congregants can ensue.  Not because the congregation now doubts, but because the pastor's belief provided a protective psychological dam that held back their doubt.(pp,64-65)

So, central to our calling is to "create structures that bring us face to face with the experience of doubt...such a community would need to ritualize the full range of human emotions, bringing radical doubt, ambiguity, mystery and complexity into the very heart of the liturgical structure itself.  Hymns would need to delve in to absence, sermons excavate doubt, and prayers prob the possibility that no one is on the other side."  (73)

Rollins brilliantly begins each chapter with a parable (one of his gifts is parabler),, draws delightfully from Kierkegaard, Žižek, and (perhaps most deeply) Bonhoeffer.  For those who have experienced Rollins via video, and are concerned his style is a bit, uh, nonlinear and academic, I noted several very helpful summary statements  (ex. page 162) along the narrative of the book that truly flowed the book.

You may not always agree with where he is going, but you will follow.

Rollins is exceptional on exposing our well-meaning cliche, "It's not a  religion, it's a relationship"
One way he calls our bluff:

"this enables us to ridicule the religious view of God intellectually while affirming this God in our practice..

This is an approach to Christianity that stands as the polar opposite of what we find expressed in the Crucifixion, for on the cross, religious belief is not intellectually questioned ("My God, My God") it is robbed of its grounding power ("Why have you forsaken me?)

 ...It is only as we are cult loose from religion in the very depth of our being (experiencing an existential loss of God..then we are free to discover a properly Christian exoression of faith (50-51. 62)

 A few more highlights:

1)As far as apologetics, he provokes us beyond "Does God exist?" to "What does it mean to claim that God exists?"  (126)

"Do you believe in God?"  'Ask my enemies."

Thus the book is eminently practical, missional...if mainly by subverting and reorienting not only our theology/Christology/ecclesiology but our missiology (Don't worry, nontechnical readers.. he doesn't use many of these words, they are presented here as a reference to current debates, see "Does missiology precede ecclesiology?")

2)Rollins is astonishing and articulate on our call to be found "changing the system by ignoring it."
He suggests that without the insurrectionist ignoring,  we inevitably fall into the twin traps of "token gestures" and "perverse protests"  (150-51)

Here's a clip of Rollins on "Changing the Structure":

3) This is one of the rare books that not only picks up helpful commentary on Christ,  church and church culture from The Matrix, but digs deep into the "not so evangelical" and uncertainty of the second and third Matrix films.  If those two films confused you and sent you into uncomfortable theological territory (for example, why was The Oracle a program of the matrix), it may be that  1)yes, the films are kind of a mess and 2)the films are far more helpful than we have noted.
Rollins shines in his brief section.

5)In applying this book, our church may not go as far as incorporating the "Hymns to Swear By" by Pádraig Ó Tuama, (though we probably should be that bold and insurrectionist).  
But we
But we will no doubt glean lots from the section of the book ("The Centrality of Absence," p, 175ff in which we are introduced to an example from their catalog.   About one song, Rollins comments, "this is not simply a song about suffering and the sense of cosmic homelessness--is is sung from that space (177).

Here's the song, but you are probably not ready to include it next Sunday.
Which is precisely why you should.

(P.S. Just tell your team it's called, "Maranatha," ....doesn't that sound safe enough?(:

Maranatha from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

Video excerpt on the "suspended space" we can live from:

Bottom line of the book:

"Resurrection as a mode of living that embraces the lived experience of doubt, complexity and unknowing, affirms life and accepts our responsibility in transforming the world:...in a way that is
"fundamentally violent":

And by the way, this whole falling off the cliff and flying process begins with us being willing  to admit and "fess up" that we deny the resurrection:


I love "The Rebel God".  Here is that  blogger's helpful review, which picks up some areas I didn't:





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