The Lightening Rod Moves Past the Storm Front

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Watching the Herd

I started reading Rachel’s blog years ago. The comment section was more fun before it got so big. Bigness in comments sections tend to be their death. Increasingly I went from reading to skimming to scanning the RSS. After a while it seemed I could pretty much predict the post first from the title and then from the just from the news story.

When there is a dust-up, like the Wheaton one I often compile a link of responses. The responses are the interesting thing to watch in terms of getting a feel for communities. I thought “surely Rachel is blogging on this” so I cruised over there to see. No posting since Dec 5 and that obviously not on the subject. The December 5 posting, however, did not disappoint.

A Lightening Rod Chasing the Storm

Rachel is smart and a good writer and it was easy to see early that her sincere, earnest voice could attract a following. She became the voice for a cohort of Southern millennials whose experience in American evangelicalism was increasingly at odds with the prevailing culture.

I wrote a review of the book in 2010 and tweeted in June of 2010 “reading Monkey Town by @rachelheldevans , the story of a nice evangelical overachiever meeting the information age”

That’s 5 years ago now and it’s helpful to do some summing up. Her December 5 posting does that nicely. She’s no longer newly married but now has a child on the way. I would imagine her career dreams have come true in that she is now a recognized author and speaker. Her blog posting has diminished substantially and where a few years ago a posting like that of December 5 would have quickly gathered hundreds of comments I noticed there were about 65 as of today. I remember she herself in a past posting offering advice to bloggers noted that regular posting is essential to building traffic. The reverse I assume is also true.

She had posts in Time, Salon, CNN and other major websites. When there was a controversy she could be counted upon to chime in and zealously pursue a cause. She’s still pretty active on Twitter in this way but the blogging has slowed down.

She made a name for herself as a lightening rod chasing the storm, but this posting, which I think in some ways marks her as less wandering and more settling means she’s no longer making an effort to always chase those storms.

The Prophecy

The prophecies from the right when she got started that she was simply making her way to the mainline. That prophecy seems pretty difficult to deny at this point.

While she professes to feel “arrived” in the post there still is a “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” quality about what she writes. That gets picked up by the “most liked” comment of her post by Gerry Dorsey (@hermitary on Twitter) who expresses how this is doubly hard for a queer person. The @hermitary twitter stream bears this out.

 The Wages of Skepticism

CS Lewis in the Abolition of Man famously noted

“You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.”

The “Why Christian” Conference clearly demonstrates that she intends to continue to advocate for her brand of Christianity, now aligned with the mainline, this brand has all of the difficulties the mainline has faced for not only maintaining their cultural and institutional vibrancy but also their “what for”.

The mainline attempts to attract a cultural population whose primary value landscape is material-only or at best spiritually skeptical. If what “God wants” is basically in near complete harmony with the prevailing moral assumptions of the moment then “God” is incidental. He might add some spiritual resonance or traditional nostalgia but it becomes quite evident that political movements are where the action is because the government, not the church, has the power to compel. The value of the church is found only to the degree that it has influence to move the political needle.

A leader in the UCC’s answer to the question of the future of denominations expresses it well.

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If you are skeptical about God’s ability to communicate with us seriously pursuing ideas about “pleasing God” or “living in his will” become terribly difficult and what prevails tends to be subject to basic sociology of knowledge.

While Rachel’s constant critique of the evangelical community is that this habit pervades evangelicals as well, often simply as parrot of the Republican party, holding onto a communal commitment to the authority of an ancient book at least affords the chance of seeing through a lens into a broader landscape beyond our own episode of concerns and fears.

“Most Fascinating”

My unbidded “MSN Online” feed this morning announced to me that Barbara Walters found Caitlyn Jenner to be this year’s “most fascinating” person. The comment section was predictable. Transitions grab our attention. It’s no longer “courageous” to be an openly gay person, now it’s a trans. What will it be next year?

Early on in reading Rachel I was concerned. Again it was easy to see how she’d become a lightening rod attracting the attention and the action of colliding high and low pressure fronts. She rode the storm and was able to make a name for herself, write some books, gather attention, etc. What’s next? You can only attract attention by being an “ex-evangelical” for so long. Transitions are by their nature transitional and once they “arrive” things settle down.

There is still plenty of energy in the storms by playing off the resistance of evangelicals to inclusion of LGBTQ persons, or the menu of other fronts where the political and religious communities clash. Her voice, however, after a certain number of years becomes predictably known in the culture war and therefore ignored.

“Professor’s daughter from Bryan College doubts menu of fundamentalist values” gets press. “Mainline woman foments for women’s rights, LGBTQ inclusion and political action” get yawns. Right now “a brown skinned female tenured professor at Wheaton gets suspended for wearing a hijab and posting comments on Facebook” is “fascinating”.

The lightening rod is no longer at the front of the storm. Such rods collect less lightening and in this market driven news context it’s all about counting the strikes.

The Person Behind the Drama

I certainly wish Rachel well in starting her new family and figuring out her career as she goes forward. She’s a good speaker, gifted writer and a sharp thinker. We’ll see what she has to contribute from the new identity she will increasingly be found within.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Institutional Church. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Lightening Rod Moves Past the Storm Front

  1. Harris says:

    A good speaker and a blogger. Hmmm. Sounds like some one else we know, only with fewer readers. 🙂

  2. Brian Tebben says:

    “A lightining rod in search of a storm” Paul, only you could come up with a phrase that so well describes the moral outrage blog industry. A very fine post. Keep up the great work. And thanks for a potential sermon title for the New Year. 🙂

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