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The Rev. Mark Sargent Mark Sargent

Mark Sargent is a retired United Methodist minister who works in the private sector and resides in Rome, GA.

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I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

May 08, 2009

Of course, when Carole King sang about the earth moving under her feet, she was singing about the delirious effects of love.  But, for different reasons, we in the Church know something about the experience of shifting earth and tumbling sky.  There have been profound shifts in the world over the past 400 years or so, culminating with what amounts to the end of the world which the Church occupied and dominated for so long.

For one, The Enlightenment and the Modern Period brought an end to any intelligent attempt to interpret the Bible literally.  Of course, many Christians refused--and refuse--to accept this reality, which gives rise to the kind of mental gymnastics that produces things like "creation science."  And, as Karen Armstrong notes in her excellent book The Battle for God, the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism first appears in the late 19th century, in response to both the work of Charles Darwin and the even more earth-shattering rise of modern Biblical criticism.  But, that's not all that changed!

Over the past 100 years or so, this big old world in which I was reared in the late 1950's and 1960's has become quite small.  Rapid communication, rapid travel, and the effects of globalization have combined to shrink the borders that used to divide the people of the world.  We have witnessed in the recent economic collapse a perfect example of globalization, where ecomonic distress in one corner of the world can have widespread impact on other economies.  We are a global village, and a small one at that!  The world that I knew as a child was a racially segregated world.  While racism still exists, we no longer live in a world dominated by white people.  The world I knew as a child was effectively a Christian world.  We prayed in public school, using the Lord's Prayer, even though there was a Jewish kid or two in class.  The world into which I was born was still making up its collective mind about issues pertaining to human sexuality, and as recently (even though my children wouldn't say it was recent!) as my childhood, homosexuality was still viewed as some sort of perverse aberration rather than a deeply constituted psychosexual way of being to which people are inherently oriented.  In the year of my birth, my denomination chose to ordain a woman to ministry for the first time; yet, there are many corners of Christianity still dominated by men.  Never mind that the world into which I was born was still in many ways a "religious" world, which is no longer the case, given the increasing secularization of much of the planet in recent years. 

Well, the earth did move, and the sky did tumble down, and the world into which I was born came to an end.  We do live in a post-white, post-segregated, post-male, post-Christian, post-modern, post-Enlightenment, even post-American world, as Fareed Zakaria has noted in his recently-published book.  And yet, the world that has come to an end is the world in which orthodox Christianity flourished.  What's a Christian to do?

Some seek to vociferously defend Christianity's traditional claims--that women cannot be ordained, that Jesus offers the only way to practice authentic human spirituality, that homosexuality represents some sort of perversion, that human beings are somehow inherently stained by what has classically been referred to as "original sin."  Frankly, i don't subscribe to any of those convictions.  And, neither does most of the world.  What many in the Church fail to recognize is that the world is leaving the Church behind, and the sad estrangement that characterizes the Church's relationship with the world grows each day.  Most of Christianity in the world today retains this pre-modern, pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment feel.  But, what about those of us who see ourselves as Christians and wish at the same time to embrace the realities of a changed world?  That's the challenge that faces us here at Day1.  Many do not recognize the fact that the progressive, kind, intelligent message that we at Day1 call "the message of the mainstream Church" has actually become the message of the minority.  But, it is this minority voice that has the opportunity to meaningfully re-connect with the world and bring the smart and kind message of Jesus to bear upon the experiences of our human family, even as we Christians embrace and celebrate the truths that other faiths bring to our mutual human experiences.

I have written and spoken about these things previously, and you can find some of those thoughts in my three-part series called "Into the Brave New World," also available in CD form:

Part 1: "The Big Page Has Turned"
Part 2: "The Hospitality House"
Part 3: "Living Belief"

I'll be back to begin thinking more explicitly with you about the implications that the moving earth and tumbling sky have on the Church.   


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