What is "authentic" spirituality? And why such a following for Anne Lamott?

Ok, so I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith here recently, which I’m assuming is supposed to be the rousing, critically acclaimed Traveling Mercies Jr that everyones raves about and gives their kid when they go off to college. I’m not impressed. Well, let me qualify that a little; Anne has some very insightful things to say about the reality of life. However, in terms of her thoughts on spirituality (in which her voice is considered “prophetic” by many), Anne strikes me as a relativist in search of meaning. Nothing more, nothing less.

To commence with the discussion going on inside my head (don’t be taken aback, I have these kinds of discussions with myself often. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m narcissistic; though open to suggestions I am)…

Anne has an uncanny ability to nail down the “blah” times that happen in all our lives and deal with them in an incredibly straightforward fashion. The glimpse she gives us into her interactions with her son are hilarious, and her willingness to be candid that she quite honestly can’t stand him sometimes are refreshing (They should be to her son, too…he’s now free to say, “Mom, I really don’t want to be around you right now because I want to be alone…plus, I feel like I really want to deck you right now, but I won’t because I love you too much…and Mom, give me a little leash here; it’s getting suffocating around here.”) If in every parent/child relationship, more freedom existed in conversation to unload emotions each carries in more of their initial stages(with limits, of course), I’d imagine you’d have a lot less roiling, messy stuff going on under the surface which ultimately explodes in nasty episodes and deep wounds. My father and I struggled deeply with this in my adolescence. As a result, I pushed him away for the duration of my college years (at least emotionally). Thankfully today I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my father for anything as we’re learning to be much more open with one another and trust one another more, which is leading to the willingness to be more vulnerable and share each other’s burdens.

Back to the original line of thought; you know what really bothers me? How everyone around me loooooooves writers that can be “spiritual” while swearing like a Navy sailor; and on top of that, hold them up as examples of an “authentic spirituality” we should all strive to be like. Honestly, I think that’s a load of horse pitooty. It bothers me greatly when folks like Tony Campolo and Stanley Hauerwas (two writers and followers of Christ whose writings have impacted me greatly) pop off and swear just to mix an audience up a little bit, be irreverant, and have those who always wanted to be irreverent swoon on their every word.

The classic one, if you’ll allow me to be a hypocrite for the sake of an example, was when Campolo was speaking, and this is what he said (paraphrasing).

“You know, the reality is that millions of people in Africa are starving and dying right now, and you don’t give a shit about it. And the worst thing is, you’re more upset about me saying shit than the people dying in Africa.”

Sooooooooo many people at seminary swoon over this phrase, and I hear it come out every two months or so. What’s the point? Why? Does it give us street cred? Do we feel like this is the pinnacle of spirituality; that we can spit out of our mouths anything we want, as long as we love Jesus? Lamott’s writing is chock full of f-bombs, s-bombs, and whatever other bombs you can think of, and the masses are applauding her to virtual popedom. I’m sorry, I don’t want to hold up traits like this as something to aspire towards. I don’t deny that Campolo, Hauerwas, and Lamott are trying to be provocative, but I have a newsflash for them. You don’t have to spit out certain words to make following Christ provocative…the gospel is inherently provocative. No, I’m not talking about the “Roman Road,” “Will you accept Jesus Christ as your PERSONAL Lord and Savior,” gospel that our culture says, “Meh” to. Not the domesticated Christianity that has dominated for 1,500 yrs now that has a prevailing message of love, yet adherents that are willing to kill you if the country labels you as “evil” or the “enemy.” Not the domesticated Christianity that enjoys an unholy marriage to the state; where instead of holding leaders accountable to Christ, we lower the goalposts enough that we can call leaders “Christians.”
No, the last time I checked, the gospel for the early church consisted of one core proclamation; “Trust and believe in Jesus Christ, whom God has made Lord and Messiah.”

Early Christians knew two key things regarding this proclamation:

1) There is no Lord but Jesus…if I am asked by the government of the state of which I am a part to carry out any action that runs counter to my commitment to Christ, that government can expect me to disobey that order. Whether they’ll kill me for it or not.

2) In order to believe in Jesus, you need to know what the life of Christ represented as an example here on earth in order to follow that example. So they relied on first-hand accounts, and collections of teachings and example of Jesus that circulated through the church and eventually turned into the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. More than anything else, the prevailing pictures of Jesus’ life were humility, servanthood, and a willingness to go to any lengths so that others would know their lives were valued and important to God, even to die for the sake of them knowing it (sacrificial love). The early church understood this. The church today (at least in the West); doesn’t.

Sometimes I am sickened, pessimistic, and cynical that the church here in America has any hope of being faithful. But then, if I open my eyes and focus beyond my cynicism at the prevailing message, I see more and more wonderful people around me who aren’t toeing the line of the status quo of what “Christianity” has become to live exemplary lives of radical love. Tom Fox is one of those, along with a few I could tick off that I see day-in, day-out who carry this same ideal. The Bible is ultimately a revolutionary document of a dream of God that his people would live without artificial barriers, share their lives with one another, and serve as an example of humility, servanthood, and boundless love to those around them. Now THAT’S love.

This is why I say openly to Lamott, Campolo, Hauerwas, and whoever else thinks it’s trendy to swear openly and without remorse for the sake of being provocative;
I’m disappointed that you couldn’t devote yourself to thinking deeper than you did for the sake of what you consider an ‘authentic’ spirituality. Hold yourself to a higher standard, because Christ does. And (more specifically for Campolo and Hauerwas), keep publishing your books like Adventures in Missing the Point and Resident Aliens that are deeply faithful and deeply provocative in all the right ways.

Resident Aliens called me out of the lackadaisical approach to following Christ I had to ask myself and others hard questions about faithfulness.

And to Lamott;
It’s time to leave the 60’s, where you and I could carry a surface spirituality, live and speak the way we wanted (often a contradicition to our stated spirituality), and have people laud us for it. The Hare Krishna movement is a joke, following Christ isn’t…you can go deeper than dropping the f-bomb. And please, please, work on the distrust of authority.

I guess I’m more disappointed than upset with the three aforementioned writers because I think they have such great potential, an audience that appreciates their perspective on life, and a commitment to boundless love for others. I just have the feeling that their words get in the way of their message; harming its impact. We need more folks like them, and someone to hold these folks accountable ultimately to Christ.

Now THAT’s off my chest. Feel free to shred me for taking this stance…I like a good, rousing conversation!


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