Sorry for being a bit brief on my ideas for a Lenten discipline this year. Here's another crack at it with some more elaboration and hyperlinks.
Step One: I've been thinking about about the question of atheism differently ever since I read a lovely and provocative speech by Rowan Williams that said basically atheism doesn't exist. Not as we usually think of it as a kind of coherent anti-Christian or anti-God party like the one organizing marketing campaigns in the UK and Canada. Rather, Williams begins with a discussion of the martyrdom of Poly carp who was killed for being an atheist . He goes on to say, actually, the case is we have kinds of denials of kinds of Gods and so we have in fact atheisms. And he goes on to suggest the fruitfulness of thinking through what it is that we don't believe, a kind of positive engagement with rejections. Here's Williams:
It seems that, in differing degrees, most major religious discourses require and cultivate unbelief – that is, unbelief in a divine agent who can be thought about as an agent among others, an instance of a type, a kind of life that can be defined in terms of something other or prior. Thus when we try to consider and understand atheism of any kind, our first question has to be what it is about some particular piece of speech about God is causing trouble, and whether it is in fact essential to a religious tradition's understanding of what it means by God or the divine. It may be, of course, that what is objected to really is what a religious tradition believes; but even if it is, it is crucial to explore where the points of strain are felt, so that convictions may be tested and if possible reinforced. So the challenge of atheism in its various guises is one that has the potential to deepen what is said about our commitments; not for nothing did Olivier Clement, the French Orthodox theologian, write about 'purification by atheism'. To come to the point where you disbelieve passionately in a certain kind of God may be the most important step you can take in the direction of the true God. Read the rest here.
Purification by atheism. Now that sounds like a Lenten discipline. Are you with me?
Two: As I've listened to the innovative work of Pete Rollins and IKON in Belfast, they have consistantly challenged me to break open the church and its habits of being to radical conversion to those not 'in church', not in the circle of belief. One way to do this, he thinks, is to read critics of the faith during Lent as a discipline, as a way to let our convictions be burned, purified as Clement says, and find in the experience of death the space for God to speak anew. i love that idea. Here's a link to IKON's course for this Lent. I happen to be leading a reading course on postmodern ethics and ministry reading Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals and Foucault' s Discipline and Punish (as well as Taylor's A Secular Age) so that provides some insight, but that's not exactly what I'm thinking.
Three: I recently read a wonderful paper on the barren matriarchs narratives in Scripture (think: Sarah, Rachel, etc.) in which the author read their barren lament as counter testimony to the testimony of God's faithfulness. This framework is from Walter Bruggemann's Theology of the Old Testament. the function of counter testimony is, in part, honesty about the brokenness of life and its articulation adds complexity to the sometimes simplistic praise of God for all good things. These tensions exist, he argues, within Israel's life. I wonder if they don't just generally exists, especially in a post-secular pluralist culture like ours.
So finally, four: Over the last few years I often use a technique I playfully call ‘Music Video Divina’, starting with the common experience of a contemporary music video and building reflective conversation from that experience. What might God be saying to us through such art forms? Such things – film, music video, or even music, are so alive in our culture and they can't find full voice in text even when very gifted writers evoke the tenor and timbre of the experience (this ought to warn those who seek to ‘read’ culture following the catchy but ultimately misguided approach of ‘cultural exegesis’). So perhaps something needs to be explored that would be a new kind of publication: online, digital, with hyperlinks to YouTube, MySpace pages, Wikipedia or otherwise connecting visually and experientially to the material people are engaging. Who knows what is next, but for the sake of God’s mission, and the presence of Christ already present in culture working reconciliation, we must join in the fray, patiently taking time, as C. S. Lewis counsels, ‘to look, listen, and appreciate all its contours’ before moving to the best theology of culture we can offer.
In that light, then, I've especially wondered if we could fruitfully listen to those who offer musical renditions of loss of faith or critiques of religion. Might this be a way to fruitfully hear the voice of counter testimony in the culture. Versions of rock music--including espeically punk and metal--are espeically good at this. I think of U2's amazing song "The First Time" from 1993's underrated Zooropa or the haunting tale of Jesus of Suburbia on Green Day's 2004 album American Idiot (e.g. Green day's forthcoming album reportedly has a rant about organized religion written after billie joe armstrong attended a baptism of a friend's child). Here's 'The First Time', played live for the first time on U2's Vertigo tour a few years back.
Consider it a first installment of Atheism for Lent: practicing music video divina.