Are You a Secular Christian or a Practicing Christian?
This question was asked to me tonight by a young Jewish man. I'm in Detroit to give a talk to the youth workers from the Jewish Federation regarding emerging trends in technology, how teens are using the Web, and what it means for our concepts of community, authority, and safety.
As we examined the ways in which teens are (like a lot of people) using the web to tell stories, collaborate, and form communities, many in the room knew that they had to walk a delicate line in order to engage young people in their community of faith while also properly helping young people navigate the perilous road that is any teenager's quest for identity and belonging.
We talked about Facebook and Wikipedia, but we also tried to grasp what it all meant. And thus the question from the young man.
As one who (proudly) claims Nashville as home, I understand that I (by default) become associated with the good and bad that comes with others' impressions of the city. As a hub of religious activity, I don't think I'd ever be asked this question in the Music City. It's nearly nonsensical for southern, Christian minds. In a place where conservative evangelicalism is embedded in nearly every aspect of life, the words 'secular' and 'Christian' come off as oxymoronic at best and moronic at worst.
As we briefly discussed what he meant by the question and why he asked it, I wondered, Is that question so ridiculous? Sure, it's a foreign concept, but only because of the language he used. In reality, we live in a world full of 'secular' Christians.
I personally don't like it when the terms 'secular' and 'sacred' are pitted against one another. When we use such adjectives to describe parts of our general culture, like music, movies, clothing and locales, we create a subculture that is less than inviting. We create permeable monasteries, encouraging people to live a life of Christian gyms, coffee shops, CDs and T-shirts, isolated from those who don't.
And we think this is what 'practicing' Christians do - they dress the part in order to be a part, but only end up being apart.
And, when a subversive religiosity pervades political and social structures, we bless a secular Christianity that claims many members but few adherents.
So, Ezra, all I can say is that I am a Christian. Sometimes I practice being one, and sometimes I unfortunately claim the benefits of membership without deserving it. But I'm working - er, practicing - on that.