13 October 2009

American Christianity Notebook Reflection

I pledged not to post, but already completed this assignment. We were asked to prayerfully consider our notes from the first part of this course over reading week and write a 500 word reflection of what God is saying through the course material:
As an American and a Christian, I am woefully predisposed to personally identify with the material we have encountered this semester in this American Christianity course. After prayerfully browsing the motley gamut of characters in my notes: Puritans, Anglicans, Mormons, Clerical Economists, New Lights, Abolitionists, Domestic types, and Missionaries, I see me. I see my shortfalls and my poor readings and dealings. I see my victories and where I was both a right hearer and right doer. I see where I have distortingly merged my piety with the surrounding culture. I also see where the Gospel has redeemed that culture and proven wiser and more pure than my piety. I see cautionary tales of triumphalism, fundamentalism, racism, classism (insert –ism here: ____). I have also seen the growth of a national “experiment” to such a point that it has forgotten that experiments typically thrive on their awareness of their past failures. It is with all this in mind that I humbly reflect on this semester’s exploration of my own heritage as both an American and a Christian.

Throughout my notes, the Bible repeatedly availed itself as perhaps the most controversial and duplicitously used document in the history of our country. By recounting the showdown between staunch slaveholders and ardent abolitionists, based heartily on opposing interpretations of the Bible, that I become aware of my own blind spots for the Gospel’s implications for race and justice here and now. In viewing images of exalted printing presses, I become aware of my confusion between media and message, and my tendency to elevate what I read on a page above the active work of a living God. Far from suggesting that Scripture lacks authority or importance, it has instead become all the more pressing for that crucial authority and utmost significance to be rightly received. God has certainly revealed my own myopic tendencies in the American Church’s (in all its varieties) historical array of ungainly biblical interpretation.

As I leaf through, I hold fast to what these questionable biblical hermeneutics of yore have to bear on my life, but I still catch myself throwing stones from my glass house of piety. I consistently question the purity of these Christians’ motives. As Separatists themselves, how could the Puritans be so quick to alienate opposing Christians in New England? Why did democratization of the State and Church mirror each other so closely during the Great Awakening, despite their functional separation? How does the Church forget its own lessons of caution so fast? Sitting in this class and paging through the notes, echoes, to some extent, my study and devotional reading of Israel’s salvation history in the Old Testament. No matter how many times I read and recognize my ancestors’ failings, and marvel at their enduring ability to veer toward unfaith and perversion, at some level I too own that tendency. As Cotton Mather defined it, “History is a story of events, with praise and blame.” Instead of seeing these as merely unforgivable gaffs or disembodied events, I am learning to critically (and self-critically) engage American Christianity’s history as a narrative of my own triumphs and collapses, writ large.

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