Over the last week a blog post made a small ripple in the post-evangelical world. It was by an author who does not travel the circuit of conferences and is not generally exhibited in the somewhat desperate celebrity culture that has arisen in our current rebranding of Christianity. The person who wrote this article was also a part of a non-dominant Christian religious group whose principled approach to pacifism and aggression has sometimes landed them in our country’s most notorious Federal Pens. I am talking about the Quaker Micah Bales from Washington D.C. The article called, “Should We Give Up God For Lent?” is Micah’s response to Peter Rollin’s Atheism For Lent or as others call it Giving up God for Lent.
If you are expecting to read Micah’s article in the location it was originally promoted, Red Letter Christians, you will not find it. It has mysteriously been removed by the editors of that Social Justice aggregator. Why would a group of Christians interested in justice quietly distance themselves from an unambiguously justice oriented author? Especially one whose critique of a public intellectual is about elitism and a lack of just corporate salvation involved in a Lenten practice that is focused hermetically on four White, European, male intellectuals. There is a valid critique here that is not anti-intellectual, it takes seriously the nature of those who do not have the capital or resources to create existential angst for a holiday. Yet, I do think there is a both/and nature of this.
As much as I agree with Micah’s justice oriented critique, I am less bothered by practices attempting to produce or affirm Dark Nights of the Soul. These are essential to both those who have power and those who are disenfranchised. The deconstruction of one’s faith and intellectual mores can be a beautiful way to refigure your existence on this planet and help to restructure a fractured being. This is why I respect Peter Rollins, yet wonder (worry) about the seemingly obsessive focus on doubt. It is in my own struggles with doubt and the fairly limited scope that I experience God that I project on the this project as both incredibly affirming and unnecessarily bourgeois. In my estimation, if it furthers one’s full humanity then I have little to practically despise.
Now to the real reason that I support Micah Bales. It is similar to why Jay Bakker and other’s reacted with disappointment to a public critique of Peter Rollins. Jay posted on Twitter, “
@TonyCampolo I’m disappointed that RLC would promote this article about my friend @PeterRollins, his work is vital to many,including myself.” In a similar vein I am friends with Micah, have worked closely with him and deeply respect his spiritual commitment to society’s transformation.
A little personal narrative is now in order. I originally knew Micah from Twitter. My most detailed memory of interaction was his passionate assertion for pacifism and my obfuscating responses. My view of him changed dramatically at the beginning of Occupy DC in McPherson Square. In the midst of the two General Assemblies was this soft spoken man with fiery red hair and a beard. When I asked the small group that gathered about him someone said, “That is Micah Bales. He is the reason we are here. He helped start this camp.” What drew me to the camp was a direct result of Micah’s conviction. The original GA’s were set up on Quaker consensus principles and the park’s code’s of conduct were beautifully based on mutuality and respect.
After introducing myself a wonderful relationship flourished. Jeremy John, Micah and I shopped at Target, using my pastor’s discretionary money to buy a tent. Then we took leftover alters and pictures from my church to fashion a church in the midst of Occupy. Micah struggled spiritually during the time with the camp changing from Quaker to more generic Occupy consensus principles. Yet, I always felt the presence of God in him. During those months of intense advocacy for justice we spent hours afraid, angry, joyful, sad, desperate, resolute, goofy and in mutual prayer. There were often times that I know our small group stopped violence. So, I would be lying if I didn’t say that Occupy was the crucible that has transformed my spiritual existence. It would also be a lie to deny that Micah’s resolute faith helped me make it through some Dark Nights of the Soul. I know that he will not get the due he deserves, but I also know that thousands of activists have Micah to thank for starting something in DC.
Many of us struggled with the all too public critique by well established social justice organizations during Occupy. Some of us had spent countless hours working for and promoting these same organizations in the past. I think the most bitter rejection was from post-evangelical organizations who seemed more interested in media and fundraising than standing physically with the poor. Their rejection, public lectures or silence was a harsh rebuke. That probably clouds my entire view of the xian social justice world. Yet, I am still deeply disappointed with Red Letter Christians. It is an organization I have deep respect for. I know that I am not on the evangelical spectrum, but I have supported many of their public assertions in the past. I guess I expected more from them than they can provide. It is my hope that they would not merely bow to power because someone critiques a public intellectual’s highly promoted Lenten practice.
It is also my hope that both Peter and Micah would flourish. The role of academic and public agitator is one where there is an expectation of public unease and criticism. As one who has been publicly pilloried I know it is no fun, but I am not responsible for other’s opinions. I hope that both increase in wisdom, humility and generosity. It is something that I think that they both possess in great supply.
Read Jeremy John’s excellent post on the same subject: Waiting for God in the Dark Night of the Soul: On Peter Rollins’ Atheism for Lent