His Boxing Technique is Terrible. But, Since This is a Ballroom Dance Competition Not a Boxing Tournament, He Gets Full Marks...
In his Feb 2nd Article for the New York Times, David Brooks critiques the video "Why I hate Religion and Love Jesus", published on YouTube by Jefferson Bethke. In less than a month since it's publication, the video had received over 18 million hits.
Is it any good?
Blogger Kevin DeYoung points out here that the video is passionate, authentic, and well produced. And also, well, wrong. As in, factually inaccurate in many spots. His critique is clear and comprehensive, and it's also gentle, respectful of Bethke and appreciative of what he's trying to do.
Bethke wound up reading DeYoung's post, and responded in an email:
I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church... ...If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked... ….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth...
The details of the ensuing exchange, published with permission on DeYoung's blog, are a heartwarming read. They're also, in my opinion, where the heart of the story is found--and they're completely misinterpreted by Brooks' New York Times article.
Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.
We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.
The Article is titled "How to Fight the Man", and maybe, as a critique of Bethke's man-fighting skills, it has some merit. But it completely misses the point that Bethke's not trying to start a fight, he's trying to start a conversation.
What Brooks sees as Bethke's "retreat", I see as humility and a desire for collaboration--an understanding that getting to wisdom is more important than being right. What Brooks sees as "vague" ideas for solutions, I see as a recognition that none of us will be the owner of a complete plan--it will be something we create together. What Brooks sees as an original video with holes and inaccuracies, I see not as a flawed end product, but an excellent conversation starter. What Brooks sees as a Fight with the Man, I see as a dance. You expect to move back, to turn--and what you create together is the product. Nobody wins over anybody else. Especially in Church.
Because, Bethke's a part of the Church. The people who really have no use for religious institutions aren't making youtube videos about them. They're off doing spiritual community in other ways (or not at all). Fighting the Man is what you do when the Man has a lot of power over you. Which is no longer the case for Religious Institutions in Canada. And in the cases where the Man is continuing to fight and refuse to change, he is finding that increasingly he is fighting with an empty Church, while former parishioners are off creating new kinds of community.
It's important to be having these conversations in Congregations, because there's great potential for clashing paradigms in that setting--and also great potential for mutual gain when we communicate well. Bethke himself points out how greatly he benefitted from DeYoung's experience and institutional grounding. And, 18 million hits on youtube is something we could all learn from.
A rigidly held institutional mindset can stifle the viral potential of Unitarian Universalism faster than you can say "Committee to Study Web 2.0 and it's Accompanying Cultural Shifts With the Goal of Producing a Report and Communication Strategy with Accompanying Social Media Policy for the next AGM". We need to analyze, yes. And at the same time, we need to try stuff out. Start conversations. Plan to fail 90% of the time, and see what works. We need both.
Above all, we're going to need a solid understanding of one another's perspectives. Because when some people are boxing and some people are ballroom dancing, people are going to get bloody noses. Also, those heels really hurt if someone steps on your toes.
So, let's all be careful of one another's toes.