Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Best St. Patrick's Day Blog Post I Never Read

It's funny (as in funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha) the stuff you can find poking around on the Internet. And I don't mean porn or new ways to bash George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi or even former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Actually, I try to keep as far away from all of those particular opportunities as is humanly possible. No, I'm talking about thought-provoking, interesting stuff you just happen to stumble upon by innocently clicking your mouse.

For example, just today I discovered this one, originally published on March 17, 2008, in “The Guest Room” section of a blog called “Steve Brown Etc.” that had this additional caveat up front, “We have a number of regular guests on the talk show. When they're not talking, many of them are writing. This is where you'll find their stuff. The views expressed by our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of sane, moral and/or reasonably intelligent people. Jesus may or may not be pleased (or even care). And what's more, they certainly don't reflect the views of Steve Brown (I'm not even sure he knows any of this is going on).”:

Finding the Good Stuff: Discovering The Christian Year
by Michael Spencer (March 17th, 2008)

I grew up in the 1960's in a small city in Western Kentucky among fundamentalist Baptists who were sure their kind were the only Christians on the planet. My ignorance of the broader Christian world was too abysmal to be described with normal adjectives.

When I became aware of other kinds of Christians--around 1972--I was frightened of them. Methodists actually scared me. My best friend was an Episcopalian. He came to my church all the time. I would have sooner asked for a root canal than go to church with him. The first time I attended a mass, I got so frightened I actually ran out the back door.

All that to say that it's a miracle I heard the phrase “Palm Sunday” and had some idea that those words related to Jesus. Good Friday was a day the Catholic kids got out of public school to go to mass. Easter was resurrection day, but its deeper meaning involved wearing new clothes and bunny rabbits.

Yes, Easter and Christmas were what was left over of the Christian year when my fundamentalist tradition got finished with it. Advent? Lent? Pentecost? Holy Week? Good Friday? Those were the property and invention of those not-to-be-trusted Catholics.

“But isn't it all about Jesus?” Who's asking that question? Bring me that kid so I can smack him.

We had our own calendar at our church: Revivals. More revivals. Fourth of July. Halloween. (Oh yeah. Back in the day.) Thanksgiving. Valentine's Day. And the biggies--Mother's and Father's Days.

My tradition couldn't comprehend arranging the days of the year around the life of the Lord. Easter and Christmas were supposed to be about Jesus, but they were examples of the secular world ruining our Christian celebrations with their rabbits and Santa Claus.

The truth was that we were ruining it all by ourselves, by believing the ever-present evangelical lie that everything starts and ends with my church, my pastor and my Bible. My tradition was constantly susceptible to anyone who said we were going “back to the Bible” or were practicing “simple” New Testament Christianity. We called ourselves “old fashioned” Baptists, but as far as the Christian tradition was concerned, we were a plague of tradition-eating locusts.

The fact is we were functionally rootless and woefully ignorant of whatever roots we'd once had. We had cut ourselves off from the whole of Christian history and were convinced that inside our building, with our preacher and our Bibles, we were as right as we could be. There was us, our parents, our grandparents and Jesus, a KJV-English-speaking Baptist white man from the United States. With short hair.

In fact, we were celebrating the secular calendar and then bizarrely carping about what we were major contributors to--the secular invasion of our little world.

Years have passed, and God has led me to an appreciation of what Robert Webber called “The Majestic Tapestry,” or The Great Tradition that Christians all hold in common. I've learned that the Christian year is mine because it is about my Lord. The roots of my faith go deeper than the reasons Christians are in 20,000 different denominations, to the times when blood and necessity held Christians together in a common faith. Our Christian history is yours, mine and ours. I don't have anything that I didn't receive, and that process goes back considerably farther than I ever knew.

I've taught my children a different version of the faith. I am still a Baptist, but my daughter is an Anglican, my son a Presbyterian and my wife is a frequent attender at mass. As we enter Holy Week, we're one in ways deeper and more meaningful than my family ever celebrated in the past. We're all part of a church that embraces many traditions and differences.

As a post-evangelical, I am committed to undertaking the journey of salvage and recovery in my own tradition. We have sold, abandoned and thrown away the precious belongings of our ancestors. These aren't just antiques for appreciation; these are the pieces of our own identity as evangelical Christians.

We will never undo the reformation, nor should we. But we can come to a place we lament its necessity and we see beyond it to the centuries when there were no labels or denominations. We can take up the year, the liturgy, the heritage of saints, the path of devotion and the love of the whole people of God that characterizes “the majestic tapestry” on earth.

Have a wonderful Passion and Easter season. Appreciate the gifts these days give to all of us, and love one another as brothers and sisters.

(Michael Spencer is the popular blogger, podcaster, and self-described post-evangelical also known as The Internet Monk.)

So, Michael, what I would like to know (this is rhymeswithplague again) is, was it coincidental or on purpose that your post was published on St. Patrick's Day? I mean, is St. Patrick's Day secular or part of the Christian year? Obviously, “Saint” is part of a Christian's vocabulary, but I'm talking about the way the day is usually celebrated, with green beer and shamrocks and leprechauns and all. I used to work with a guy, a great big 305-pound Jewish guy from Burlington, Vermont, who wore a bright green suit every year on March 17th and altered his badge to read, “Sanford J. O'Epstein.” That's what I'm talking about. Michael, row your boat ashore and help me out here.


  1. Thanks for unearthing this great article and posting it for us to read! I may send it to my "tradition-eating locust" brother.

    Its a fine line to walk in a balanced way between getting too caught up in tradition and forgetting tradition. It easy to get carried away with the past and ignore the here & now, or to get carried away with the here & now and ignore the past.

    A couple years ago I started ordering the Society of St. James Calendar, which lists all traditional Church festivals for East and West. Next Sunday (Mothers Day) is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, as our pastor calls it.

    Thanks again......this was very good. I've often visited the Internet Monk site.

  2. Jeannelle, thanks for your appreciative comment. In keeping with the post's opening line about things you find on the Internet, I happened to click on your yellow flowers and found at the bottom of your profile that you a whole other blog about hymns! What a treasure! I have about 15 hymnals (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Assembly of God) in my library myself. We sang many of those you included out of the old Cokesbury Hymnal in the Methodist Church when I was a boy. (Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury were the first two American bishops in the Methodist Church, and lent their combined names to Methodism's publishing house in Nashville.) And many of those songs I never heard of before. Two old hymns that I have come to appreciate later in life are "In Immanuel's Land" and "Sometimes A Light Surprises." I hope you plan to continue that blog.