Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and for the space of three days I was transported to the Pacific Crest Trail. This isn't the usual memoir about someone who loves to explore, has the requisite skill set, and then sets out. Cheryl knows nothing about backpacking nor does she know too much about how to select adequate boots for a 1,100 mile trek.

In August the Vail Daily reported that Jim Ellison, a former twenty-year marine, had cycled 71,000 miles and planned to continue until all the U.S. troops are brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

On January 10, 2013 a writer, Paul Salopek, began a long walk that will take him from a small Ethiopian village in Africa—through the Middle East, then across Asia—to Alaska, down the western United States—then through Central America. He'll end up in Chile. The total miles— over 21,000.

According to newspaper reports he's replicating our ancestors who made the migration over a 50,000 year span of time. One of his sponsors, National Geographic, dubbed the expedition: Out of Eden. He'll write one long article for them a year and every 100 miles he'll write an update. Paul is not someone for whom writing is a secondary activity—he's a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

He told the Associated Press that "Often the places that we fly over or drive through, they aren't just untold stories, but they are also the connective tissues between the stories of the day."

Paul Salopek has specific plans—walk with local people, learn new languages. He hopes that people will want to read his long pieces. We live in a society filled with people who read their information in small bites. Paul's stories will be long-form journalism and the story will unfold slowly—episode by episode.

Cheryl had no sponsor. She had a friend. Before leaving on her trip Cheryl made up boxes with supplies for each leg of the trip—a clean shirt, new socks, supplies for her feet, a twenty-dollar bill, and always a book. Lisa sent each of these boxes ahead to the drop off points.

Paul is following the migration trail for an estimated 30 million steps over seven years. According to the December 2, 2012 Harvard Gazette Paul's project was "Incubated at Harvard where he was the inaugural visiting Nieman Fellow."

"This walk" he said,"is about the poetry of hidden connections that I missed as a writer and foreign correspondent."

In order to keep his stories coming every 100 miles all the latest technology will be employed—everything from video cameras to satellite phone. He'll use web posts and blogging to tell his stories.

Cheryl's mother dies of lung cancer and Cheryl's world falls apart. She drops out of college, her marriage disintegrates, and indiscriminate sex and heroin can't pull her out of the place of deep sadness.

Four years after her mother's death she sees a pamphlet about the Pacific Crest trail. At the age of twenty-six she's working as a waitress, still at odds with life and she concludes that she needs to do something. That something is to hike the trial—alone from the Mojave Desert to Washington State.

It's 1995. She sets out with a backpack so heavy that she can barely lift its weight and dubs it the Monster. Along the way she loses toe nails and chafes her body raw where the backpack straps rub against her skin.

Despite the weight the box that Lisa sends ahead always contains a book. When she finishes pages she tears them out and burns them to lighten the load.

Her accommodation— a small tent. Her security system: a large loud whistle and a Swiss Army knife. Along the way she encounters unbelievable physical difficulties, hunger, and other hikers. Only once is she really terrified of two hunters she meets who have strayed off their trail.

When she arrives at her final destination she's different—internally and externally. She doesn't write her story upon her arrival in Portland—in fact the story isn't written until she's forty—married with two children. There was no blog, no web presence while on the trail.

When Cheryl reaches the end of her trek she sits by a river and writes:

On the other side of the river, I let myself think And something inside of me released

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Generous Orthodoxy

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN By Brian McLaren

My church offered a four part series on the Emergent Church. It wasn't a call for a move in that direction, it wasn't a call for denouncing or acceptance. It was instead a look at what is happening in one segment of Christianity. Some people call this the Emergent Movement. I rather think that new ways of looking at something are often termed movements by the people who espouse those beliefs.

One of the books listed as a book explaining the movement was the above book with its long and catchy title. I found one copy in our library consortium and made a request and the book arrived three days later. I expect that there isn't a groundswell of people seeking to read the book despite its gloriously long and catchy title.

I read with an open mind and also to try and understand what the core beliefs were of this movement. I sense that the church in this era, as in previous ones, is in the throes of change. Some of the change is cosmetic—hymns and music reflect some of our present day culture, labels are more fluid. Some churches eschew denomination labels and their names reflect their core beliefs. But there is also this emergent movement and even after the four sessions I was unclear as to the core beliefs.

McLaren says that the church needs to constantly think about new ways to think about God. He also notes that in the present we are seeing more cross pollination between groups. In other words when you go into a church you will find that in their regular practice elements of other christian groups are in evidence.

McLaren's Christianity is a cafeteria model, a model that takes from a number of different groups to forge an emergent church. What he doesn't like or he feels is archaic he leaves behind.

When McLaren presents each one of the titled groups he stresses those elements that can be embraced by the new paradigm. One person said that McLaren "widens the tent" to include more people under the umbrella of emergent christianity. He says that the Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu can remain within their denomination — just add a belief in Christ. And what does this mean?

McLaren asserts that no definitive truth about God can be known therefore the Bible is seen as an ethical document, a local myth. The Bible is the story of a people dealing with God, but not a "propositional truth about God."

After reading through 300 pages I was somewhat confused because I wanted to know what McLaren or the Emergent Christianity movement believed.

I found that one aim of his thinking was to erase some of the barriers between different traditions—an ecumenical view. The audience McLaren addresses are those people who have either left the church or have become dissatisfied with the church and are in the throes of leaving.Despite where they are on the faith journey they still maintain an attraction for the figure of Jesus.

It was Hans Frei who first used the term Generous Orthodoxy—so at some point I guess I'll need to read something that Frei wrote!

I think that McLaren is stating that in order to come to some understanding of truth the Christian community needs to look at all the experiences of Christian faith to arrive at some "kind of truth". In some ways this is seen as a new beginning, a start over.

McLaren spends a good deal of the book discussing why he is a Christian by looking at seven different traditions: Conservative Protestant, Pentecostal, Roam Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Liberal Protestant. Anabaptist and Liberation Theology. One could question how intimately he knows each of these traditions.

He spends a bit of time telling the reader that he is missional which should not be confused with being a missionary. He is also each of the strands mentioned in his title and explains how he is part of that particular strand.

The book ends with McLaren's statement that he is hopeful as he looks forward and not backward.