Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We have our houses and He has His

I was reading an excerpt from an address of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a congregation where I came across these words:

“We all know that Christ has, in effect, been eliminated from our lives. Of course, we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses. Christ has become a matter of the church or, rather, of the churchliness of a group, not a matter of life.” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer…, 43)

Every once in a while I find myself in a conversation about the value or need for sacred spaces (usually meaning church buildings). I’m not generally a big fan of church buildings and the building programs and financial indebtedness that it creates. But I think Bonhoeffer hits on one of the more subtle yet more tragic consequences of separate spaces for religious/spiritual activities. Our devotion to Jesus morphs into event-oriented, geographically-specific religious activities. It is no wonder that most Christians have very little daily connection to Christ and his call to take up the cross and follow him. We have compartmentalized Jesus by literally building physical structures for Him. Until our lives and homes become sacred spaces, we will continue to live duplicitously.


Kai Schraml said...

Thanks for this post. I appreciate it s perspective, but I have a caveat I would like you to consider. It is often noted that the workaholism of protestants (the so called 'protestant work ethic') is a reult of the destruction of the distinction between the sacred and the profane. We work too hard because we are to see all work as a sacred vocation...which leads to this crazy hamster wheel that America is on. I despise it.

So, how do you avoid this error?

M Crane said...

Kai, thanks for your thoughtful comment and question. Let me begin by acknowledging that I am no sociologist. I believe it was Emile Durkheim that proposed the notion of the 'protestant work ethic'. While our faith does encourage us to be work hard and with the utmost integrity, I would say that our unhealthy workaholism stems from other influences.

The late Lesslie Newbigin purpoted that the market-driven economy stems from covetousness (Foolishness to the Greeks, 31). In this climate the industrial era established work as separate from the home and family. For many it was out of necessity to feed their families that people labored long hours. It does not take long, however, for patterns to set in. The division of labor had far reaching consequences on family dynamics.

I would further state that what Newbigin calls covetousness is more commonly called consumerism today. I'm increasingly of the opinion that consumerism drives so much of what we do, think, and believe. As ones driven by consumerism, we must work obsessively to feed it. Tragically, technology now makes it possible to never be free from work (via laptop, pda, etc.). I have reflected some on that here:

Upon writing the above thoughts, I realized that I did not actually answer your question. Ultimately, we need a radical re-orientation to another type of life built on love, forgiveness, and devotion to the Creator. And I believe that consumerism and other deeply rooted problems have such a firm grip on our lives that enter into a new life with Jesus and part of that new life we should have transformed allegiances. We need communities of these radically-re-oriented ones to work together to promote living in ways that aren't captive to consumerism and other threats on our true humanity.

Kai Schraml said...

Ah yes, your last paragraph got down to it, didn't it?

While I am sure someone relatively recently coined the 'protestant work ethic' term, it nonetheless puts a label on a phenomena that is observable and has been quantified quite accurately. Not only is it a phenomena, it is a total distortion of the creation--a social evil if you will.

We can only avoid such structural social evils by having a right view of work, recreation, family, etc. I like your phrase of the "radically reoriented" as the model for a solution to the issue.

So, to tie it back to your previous post. Is it more accurate to say it is not a matter of infusing the secular with the divine so much as it is having a right view of all the spheres of action and being of our lives.

To make the point even more concrete; in your original post, you make the point that, "Until our lives and homes become sacred spaces, we will continue to live duplicitously." I think your point is correct, but insufficient in its explication.

Let me explain by way of a metaphor. In such issues as the sacredness or secular nature of a space, endeavor, or thought, or "area or our lives", the point is not always to make them as sacred as possible, however noble that may sound to us internally.

No, rather, it seems to me that the issue is rather closer to the way we should deal with humility. Someone is not rightly humble because they believe themselves to be a worthless turd. No, that is self-abuse. Likewise, one is not humble if they think their name as belonging next in line to "Peter,Paul, John and..." That is arrogance.

Rather, we say the most profound and right humility is found in the one which observes themselves with an accurate and righteous perspective.

It is the same with your question of the proper view of certain activities in their worth before God. In other words, do they have a secular or sacred purpose. In what manner are they "set apart"?

Yes, it is proper to see every act as being potentially spiritually fecund and fertile, but it is not proper to see all as equal in such estimations. I can sweep my front porch in the morning as a proper act of stewardship of the things given to me. That is all well and good, but if Lazarus is starving under my table while I have done so--it is to my loss, not my gain.

Accurately viewing the secularity and sacredness of each act is type of discernment you want to practice; although, again, I grant you your point that trying to infuse every act and sphere of action with as much sacred purpose as you can is a great place to start.

I am sure this makes no sense, but since it just kept falling out of my head and there are just "so many words"--I won't erase them now.

Sheesh, I really need an internal censor.