Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hell is Chrome

When the devil came
He was not red
He was chrome and he said

Come with me
Early in my ordained ministry, I took the Myers & Briggs assessment. For those unfamiliar, this assessment works with Jung's theory of personality types, particularly the four dichotomies. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can go to the wiki page on it. If you are very familiar with the assessment, you may be interested (and likely unsurprised), to find that the last time I took this my "type" came back as "INFJ." And you can lean heavy on the "J" portion of that.

As what's often called a "strong J," this means that I have a particular love for order and clarity. I would generally rather think and process my way through a situation than sense and intuit. This explains why, contrary to many clergy, I actually have a deep love for administration. I like putting things together and ensuring they run smoothly. I deplore messiness, clumsily orchestrated experiences, or situations where people are focusing on pure creativity, unstructured thinking, or anything that really doesn't have a clear and practical end.

Now, I'm aware enough to know that this is not all good. And anyone who works with Myers & Briggs assessments will tell you that no one is just one type, that we are all a blending of types. Indeed, because of my calling, I've spent a significant part of my ministerial life trying to cultivate those types that don't come naturally to me. And so I do sense. I've learned that messiness can be life-giving, that it can provide the ground for the movement of the Spirit. I know all that and strive to be balanced.

But still, in the end, I like order.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from a song called "Hell is Chrome" by the band Wilco. Since I first heard this song, I've found the opening lines provocative. I think a significant reason is because it rings so very true to me.

We think of the devil as "red." We think of him as an obviously wicked character, clearly identifiable, calling us to sins of a rather obvious nature. And sometimes temptation does indeed function in that way.

For me, however, the devil rarely shows up in his red outfit, complete with horns, cloven feet, and a pitchfork. Instead, he is chrome. And he invites me to come with him.

This means that he is clean. He is efficient. He is a capable administrator. Most importantly, he is orderly and very clear. He is smooth chrome. And like the song says, I can follow him to a place where everything is precise and towering, where I'm welcomed with open arms, where there is nothing to be afraid of... because everything is chrome. Everything is dead.

My personality tendency towards order brings some very real and important gifts to my life as a Christian, as a husband, and as a priest. But it also brings a subtle temptation to turn the world and the church into something clean, something well-oiled, efficient, and chrome. Something dead.

Real life is not chrome. It is a motley mix of colors, textures, and realities, many of them living in constant contradiction to one another. It is messy, slow, and inefficient. And the church is often this way too, not moving as quickly or as slowly or as well as we would like. It is full of people who are a part of it for all sorts of reasons. From priest to parishioner, the church very rarely meets our chrome expectations. And it's very tempting, particularly as a rector, to try to find ways to make the parish "chrome".... instead of looking for where God is incarnate in the messy reality of Christian community.

I suppose some might look at the Rule of St. Benedict as an exercise in control, in seeking to make the monastery chrome. And certainly, an important aspect of the Rule is the bringing of order to the shape of monasticism. However, it is a very Christian sort of order that finds wisdom in weakness and insight in that which is small.

For example, in Chapter 43, the rule says that when important matters are to be considered, it is to be done with the entire community. However, it is not so that the community can put it to some kind of vote. Instead, St. Benedict says, "The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best." The preference is for a discernment of God's will—not a clearly stratified process of decision-making.

He does not want the community called together to vote, to craft a vision statement, or to determine what will make the least amount of people angry. The community is to come together to discern the will of God, a discernment that is very rarely chrome and is usually messy, painful, and uncomfortable. They are to listen to the younger voice, not because we need to keep the youth engaged, but because God often speaks to the younger members of the community.

God speaks to the littlest. God speaks to the weaker members, the ones who know they don't have it all together. And we, if we are wise, will stop polishing our chrome statues of faith and will start listening very carefully to what God is saying through those who are young, new, weak, inexperienced, and unsure. Because they are the ones who still remember what it means to listen for God.

I'm trying to do better loving the incarnation. I'm trying to do better recognizing my own limitations and loving them. God, after all, did not create me to be a perfect chrome robo-priest. God breathed love into the messy dirt of the earth and said it was good. God breathed love into me and then called me to love all the other messy dirt people all around me, people who just like me are only held together through the love of God. We are not chrome. But we are alive with love.

Hell is Chrome Video

When the devil came / He was not red / He was chrome and he said  / Come with me 
 You must go / So I went / Where everything was clean / So precise and towering 
I was welcomed / With open arms / I received so much help in every way  / I felt no fear / I felt no fear 
The air was crisp / Like sunny late winter days / A springtime yawning high in the haze
And I felt like I belonged 
Come with me / Come with me / Come with me / Come with me / Come with me / Come with me / Come with me / Come with me

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