On Salutary Rebellions and Neglected Trampolines

Joan Chittister inspired Stanford’s class of 2012 with words such as these:

“If you want to save the age, the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly writes, ‘Betray it. Expose its conceits, its foibles and its phony moral certitudes.’ Remember that there will be those among the powerful who try to make you say what you know is clearly not true, because if everyone agrees to believe the lie, that lie can go on forever.”

“If you want to be a leader, you must refuse to tell the old lies.”

“rebel against the forces of death that are obstructing us from being fully human together.”

“To be a real leader, by all means make a difference. Rebel, rebel, rebel – for all our sakes, rebel. For if the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.”

I confess to finding her words moving. I find myself living in a strange space between loving the old Story and seeing repeatedly that the story must be retold in ways that challenge the old tellings–and old livings.

At one point, Chittister calls the people to allow nothing, not even the rituals of the religion in whose ways we walk, to get in the way of our mission to those whom we serve.

She might have said, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice.”

I see this impulse playing out in Rob Bell’s work as well.

In Velvet Elvis (a chapter of which I read in the free Rob Bell Reader), Bell uses a trampoline analogy to talk about Christian faith as having a purpose, a purpose to enable us to soar, dangerously. What we believe are springs that enable us to engage, to take flight.

In contrast, we too often use our beliefs to create walls which are stationary and built to inhibit movement. We use them to judge and demarcate. And those inside aren’t jumping very high.

I found a great deal of affinity in his call to “judge,” if we must, not by the question “Who’s right?” but instead by “Who’s living rightly?”

Maybe this is where “Rebel, rebel, for all our sakes, rebel” comes in.

I’ve heard it said that each generation (of Christians, specifically) needs to write its own books. Fair enough.

But perhaps this generation is also finding itself needing to ask whether writing books and believing what they say are all they’re cracked up to be when it comes to faithful following of Jesus.

Perhaps it’s time to point to various ways of construing faithful Christianity and say, just loud enough for the folks around us to hear, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

If we’re building the walls rather than walking in the way, we might discover, to our deep surprise, that we’re shamefully naked.

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