Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
--Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer, page 219
This video is still an oldie, but I do loves me some Annie Lennox once in a while--and particularly this song.
Oddly enough, what triggered me this morning was an article in one of the Roman Catholic e-zines, about a Jesuit priest had written in a Vatican-vetted publication. He described some aspects of the emerging church in the language of computer geeks, making a big distinction between "hackers" and "crackers."
Here's the short version: Hackers create things; crackers destroy them. Hackers are playful sorts and enjoy exposing the "revealed truth," and are usually more than happy to share it in an open forum. (I take mild issue at his assessment they "distrust authority," but I'll get into that later.) Crackers desire to make things unusable or create havoc in an open forum; they're more or less the anarchists of the computer world.
I've been thinking about this in terms of the collect with regard to that phrase "unruly wills." Sometimes this distinction between "unruly" and "not unruly" lies in the eye of the beholder. Many things have crossed my mind in scanning my Facebook page this morning...Episcopalian friends who lament their bishops don't allow lay preachers, Roman Catholic friends asking, "But what's wrong with women's ordination?" and my continuing observation that my clergy Facebook friends display a huge spectrum of how they choose to display their personal Facebook persona.
What I've suddenly come to realize is that the "emerging church blogosphere," of which I am now a seasoned citizen, is...well...a community of theological "hackers." We are more or less of two flavors--either lay folks with a heavy desire to uncover "revealed truth" on our own despite varying degrees of theological education/lack of formal seminary training, or the "collared set" who has experienced some degree of discovery that "this is not our grandparents' church," and yearns for their ministry to be more than that--so they divulge not-so-secret-secrets to the rest of the community.
I kinda like it.
As the author pointed out, there is an ethics to hacking, as opposed to cracking--which is why I disagree with the "distrust of authority" label. No doubt, there are certain types of authority I instinctly distrust, but that's not true of all authority. It also doesn't change my obedience to something bigger than myself. For instance, I don't trust the motive behind the rules of Medicare billing, but I don't disobey the rules as a result. But when I signed on the dotted line to be a provider, I agreed to live by the rules. As best as I can tell, I've done that to the best of my knowledge. When I didn't know, I've tried to find out.
I like to think I do that theologically, too. I have read and re-read and re-read some more the Baptismal Covenant in our Book of Common Prayer. I re-visit it on a regular basis as a "conscience check." I try to be as serious and diligent about that as I do Medicare billing rules. Frankly, Medicare billing rules are easier.
Therein lies the two pronged conflict.
On one prong is simply that "the theological hacker" is in a realm where some of the rules and boundaries have yet to be determined, but are there for a perfectly benign reason. Theological hackers simply wish to uncover more spiritual truths, not just for themselves but to share with their world, in the hopes that others' "hacking efforts" add to that knowledge. That can appear to be "disobedient" or "willful" at times--particularly to insecure authority figures or if the discovery is not popular in the historical theological sense. Theological hackers simply both love to learn and love to share, and in their mind it is part of how to tell the Good News in Christ.
The other is the sometimes imperceptively fine line between being a theological "hacker" and a theological "cracker."
Personally, I find that my obsessive-compulsive tendencies can get me in sticky places at times. I can hyperfocus to such a degree that I can totally block out my surroundings, and many times in my life I suddenly find I have crossed a line with people and don't realize it until it's too late. I sometimes need to constantly ask myself, "Is what I'm saying building up the Body of Christ, or is it tearing it down?" and no two people may get the same answer on that one.
It is, simply, a new twist on the age-old "Preacher's dilemma." In preaching, there's a fine line about the little word "I" in sermons. I've seen some authors say one should NEVER use the word "I" in a sermon--that it always has the potential of alienating someone. Yet, where would we be if Martin Luther King hadn't preached "I have a dream?"
It's a tough paradox, and it really pushes constant back checking of "ego vs. humility." As we know, not all attention over what one writes is ego, and not all deflection from self is humility. But I do know this: it will continue to be something that all of us in the spiritual blogosphere will constantly have to address in ourselves, in our own faults. In those times, we are victims to our "unruly wills."
I'm reminded of a (now-funny) story from my childhood. As many of you know, my grandpa had a route of coin-operated machines--pinball machines, jukeboxes and such. In the old days, there were not pre-cut glass tops available for pinball machines--my grandpa would order some large panes of glass, and cut them to fit.
One day, when I was about eight years old, he was using the glass cutter. I was fascinated how this dull tool could cut glass. When he was finished, he gave me some of the scrap glass and told me I could practice on it, but be careful not to cut myself. He got called out on a service call. I said to him, "Can I play with the glass cutter till you get back?" His answer was, "Okay, but don't cut yourself or I'll never hear the end of it from your grandmother."
When he returned from his service call, I had not cut myself, just as I promised--but I had taken a six by eight foot pane of glass and managed to cut it into six to eight inch square pieces.
Obviously, he was furious. That pane of glass was not cheap. As he was whipping my behind, I cried, "But you didn't tell me not to cut up that piece!"
Suddenly, he stopped punishing me. What had resulted was just as obvious. I was so enamored with the details of cutting the glass that I had no thought whatsoever that I had destroyed an expensive pane of glass. I knew it was expensive, but the thought of that never crossed my mind. I just got obsessed with cutting up the glass into even squares. I knew in my heart I had done wrong by being thoughtless, and my exhortation was the only chance for a reprieve I had. My obsession of "making little glass squares" overtook a more nebulous sense of a vague rule: Don't tear up expensive stuff.
"You're right," he said. "I didn't. But you know now, and don't ever do it again." I never did. Once the line was drawn, once the boundary was firm, it was understood.
But in that story, I am reminded that in this swift and varied world of ever changing ways of communicating with one another, for all of us in the blogosphere and the spiritual social networking community, to be ever mindful of our individual willfulnesses--and to strive to ever keep the cross before us. As for me, I desire to be a hacker, not a cracker. My prayer is this, "Lord, help me to cut the glass that needs cutting, but make me ever mindful not to make others walk on broken glass as a result of it."