Thursday, December 19, 2013

Proclaim (shame, protest theodicy, and the book of mormon)

I'm blogging for Advent, following along with the themes that we're focusing on at Crossroads. I talk more about why I'm doing this in an earlier post. This week's theme is "proclaim."

I just got back from this great musical written by Irish theologian Pete Rollins.

Oh wait, no. Sorry. It was written by the creators of South Park. It's called The Book of Mormon.

Anyway. It was hilarious. Truly hilarious. Worth seeing just for the creepy Mormon hell dream sequence.

The easy post here would be to compare the sort of proclamation of good news personified in the musical by Mormon missionaries trying to get everyone else to be Mormons--accompanied, of course, by plenty of racist and colonialist overtones--with a more holistic understanding of what it means to proclaim good news.

But I sort of preached about that on Sunday, sans Mormons, so I thought I'd try something different here.

The musical provides a contrast--a hilarious, entirely-inappropriate-for-grandma contrast--between the chipper optimism of the Mormon missionaries and the Ugandan villagers that they are supposed to save. While Elder Price dreams of a paradise that looks like Orlando--while everything is shiny and happy, and fake; while the missionaries melodiously remind each other that the proper response to any feelings of doubt or fear or, for that matter, same-gender attraction is to "turn it off, just like a light switch;" and while Elder Cunningham realizes that he's going to have to do what Jesus would do and "man up" (in a musical number that could probably also be an opening worship song for Mark Driscoll's church), the villagers sing a song called "Hasa Diga Eebowai." I'll let you look up what that means, but it involves flipping God off.

By the end of the play, though--dozens of genitalia jokes later--villagers and missionaries have discovered a new sort of faith together. It recognizes the real struggles of people instead of spiritualizing everything away. It empowers people to stand up against oppression. And it leaves room for doubt, including doubts about God.

At a conference last year, I was introduced to a  concept called protest theodicy. Theodicy basically means an explanation for why there is evil in the world, often phrased as "why do bad things happen to good people." Protest theodicy is basically the concept that when someone is suffering, rather than try to explain away their suffering by saying things like "God has a plan" or even "it's going to be ok," that the best thing to do might be to stand with the person in their lament and their protest. Jewish and Christian scripture is, as it turns out, filled with great examples of protest theodicy. It's a connectional move, not a distancing move. An empathetic move that leads us to sit with someone in their suffering, rather than to try to make everyone feel comfortable.

So I think The Book of Mormon teaches us, among other things, not to be so quick to shut down the folks who are singing "Hasa Diga Eebowai." Not to let our sensibilities be offended by an anger and lament.

As I watched and listened and laughed and laughed, I thought about this book I'm reading by Brene Brown (see my last post for a great video narrated by her). In it, she talks about vulnerability and shame. I started thinking about it because one song, "Man Up," is literally the words that Brown identifies as the primary shame message that men receive (women, according to Brown, receive shame messages predominantly around body image and motherhood).

And I think that there's a link between these two concepts. That protest theodicy is what Brown calls a shame resilience strategy, a way to challenge a "let's make it all ok" sort of discomfort with weakness and suffering.

Jesus, contra Mark Driscoll and Elder Cunnigham's solo, did not "man up." Jesus struggled, and so do we. To proclaim good news sometimes means to sit with bad news, to let discomfort and hurt be experienced, to create sacred space for mourning. Not to fix or to save but to embody. In a "man up" culture, it seems weak and unsatisfactory. But I think it's ultimately what saves us, after all.


When you're dealing with the heavy stuff, of course, it helps to have a soundtrack. I recommend The Book of Mormon.

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