Friday, April 09, 2010

Insurrection Tour Comes to Chicago

The Insurrection Tour facebook page indicated it would be a full house at Trace bar, but one never quite knows what to expect from facebook rsvp's in my experience. But we aimed to arrive as soon as the doors would open for the event. When we entered the upstairs of Trace there was already a good crowd and immediately met two people I knew who had seen my announcement about the Insurrection tour on Facebook. They wanted to know more about this, I didn't have any clue what to expect and still not having read any of Peter Rollins' books, couldn't say much more than this is somewhere in the Emergent Church conversation. By the time the presentation/show was to begin the place was packed.

What then took place is difficult to convey, because the components, Peter Rollins speaking and telling stories, punctuated with interludes of video montage and ambient music (by Jonny McEwen), and music and poetry (by Padraig O Tuama) were all in a strange sort of dialog, that didn't always appear to fit, but did create at times a sense of counter point, to what Peter Rollins said and the stories he told. The friend who came with us described it as mesmerizing. And there was something very much captivating about the form of the event (not exactly sure what to call it). At moments striking beauty flashed out, at times it was humorous, and at times labored.

Before I continue I want to say one thing: I came away feeling renewed. Something about the event continued for me the celebrations of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Meaning that whatever critique may follow something of the intention of this Insurrection tour did reach me as true. Also, I think any criticisms here, and expression of disappointment comes out of a longing for more, a sense that what was done paled in comparison to what was seeking to be expressed, and I admit perhaps that's the point.

Peter's portion of the presentation was a form of intellectual story telling that at moments approached preaching, and was supplemented by exhortation and explanation of the meaning of his parables and jokes. One aspect of this story telling fell flat because it was obviously a prop a tool in fact a deus ex machina (The first chapter of his presentation): The claim to have found a book that had his presentation in it, and all that would happen and had happened. He made constant reference to this non-existent book. It also meant that the event/presentation had a literary feel to it, that I found distracting; like labeling the sections of his presentation "chapters." As counter point to this was Padraig's poetry and song most of which were quite beautiful, though I found the poetry more compelling than the music (though that had more to do with my preferences in music than his musical talent). Padraig's pieces slowly introduced a location for the experiences that has prompted these various artistic and intellectual reflections and exhortations, Belfast, Northern Ireland. However, Rollin's was seeking to dislodge from his audience a attitude towards faith that I recognized as a certain form of Evangelicalism, and so I wondered why this continual reference to this religious other? I still do not have an answer. Of course an obvious answer is that this is Peter's native faith, though I have a difficult time believing that.

Disappointingly the whole event did nothing more for me than walk me down the early years of my spiritual journey, punctuated by the lament and recollections in poem and song from Belfast. Peter Rollins used slightly different language than I have used, though he quoted from two thinkers who are also part of my companions on the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Soren Keirkegaard. He referenced Bonhoeffer for his assertion and demonstration that our faith can be a faith in a Deus ex machina. Admittedly it was some point in childhood that I first realized this, it was part of my resistance to saying the prayer to accept Jesus into my heart that was offered semi regularly by a certain Sunday School teacher. Though it took a long time for this realization to mature and profoundly affect my own faith life, and only began to mature at some point in high school.

The second and third chapters took me through to my 20th or 21st year, as I embraced doubt as not only part of faith but connected up with Christ's Crucifixion. The origin of my adult faith is a vision of Christ crucified as the center of and holding together the disparate aspects of myself, yet that vision gave me no certainty and didn't resolve the doubt. I also remember coming to the realization that this faith that cries out with Christ "My God, My God why have you forsaken me!" moves on to the Resurrection and that the truth of the Resurrection is to be actualized in life. Rollins used the language of materialize or something like that- his exact wording I am forgetting at the moment.

So, I agree or have agreed with Peter Rollins. Yet as I left somethings weren't sitting well with me. Last night I described it to Kate and our friend as feeling that the whole presentation even as it exhorted to doubt and to embrace uncertainty was itself certain and indubitable. It was all enclosed in a smooth glass box and I couldn't reach in and grab a hold and wrestle with the experiences and ideas. As I have discussed and reflected and written this post I think I have been able to remove the glass box a little and get at some of what doesn't fit for me.

One thing that I recall was Rollins rejection of the function of church as that which can hold faith for us when we doubt. This he viewed as a lessening of the horror that Christ experienced of abandonment by God on the Cross. Yet, the actuality of Christ on the Cross is more complex, For it is the divine human who experiences separation from the divine and yet that separation is never actually complete. Of course this is a mystery and I hesitate to say more, except that this mystery itself posits the lack of truth of Jesus Christs experience of abandonment as actual and total abandonment. So, while I think I agree with Rollins' criticism of how people often use this actuality of the church to have faith for them so as to avoid the pain of doubt, there is a proper way for the church to so function, or so I would say, and it seems to me that what is needed is an articulation of the complexity of this mystery rather than a continual critique of what isn't working.

In the end I don't buy the bleakness of the resentations depiction of Crucifixion and Resurrection, because I wouldn't put so great an emphasis on a Christian's achievement of what we are given in Cross and Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Rollins is still seeking that perfect and pure body of Christ without blemish or stain, and it is good to so seek this. However, not if one is to seek it in our current historicity. This church has never historically existed, read the New Testament carefully and hypocrisy is no less rampant among the early and persecuted Christians than it is in our day. Rollins presentation is caught up in our contemproary allergy to hypocrisy, which prevents an enter into the complexity of our faith. There was a denial (paradoxically) of the tensions that Christian faith creates for us, and the longings it awakens as it tried to assert that we in our time bound limited ways can on our own fulfill these longings if we doubt and make material the Resurection in our own lives. This is itself a type of remaining certainty in the midst of the faithful doubt the doubting faith Rollins exhorted us towards. Yet the Insurrection Tour was also to awaken those longings it was also about the achievement of them, this faith in our ability to achieve these divine longings that I feel is a major flaw of the presentation and, possibly in Rollins own philosophy and theology (I don't know I'd need to talk with him or read his books, which I plan to do). Rollins actions are movement while standing in place, he is arrested by his own deconstruction that fails to deconstruct itself. People have built houses when they should have built tents and so he refuses to even construct a most simply habitation. There is only desert and it isn't clear whether any Oasis is actual or our imagination and so it is best to remain in the desert hoping by some impossibility that we may embody the Resurrection through resisting all visions of an oasis. This is the impression I am left with, and yet even so hope of a habitation breaks through, and as does the reality of the Resurrection that is even if we don't embody it.

There is more, but I think I will leave it here for now. If you were there last night I'd welcome your own experience to the evening and what you took away from it. I may write more for there was a great deal to ponder and reflect on, even if I also feel it is stuff I am very familiar with.