“Innocence is overrated based on what you haven’t done.”
I have been discerning a lot about right living and being at peace with the world. In my Catholic days, I experienced this as “holiness”. Incidentally, I received a promotional copy of Tyler Braun’s Why Holiness Matters on the condition that I would write a review. Here it is on Amazon. Braun is a 27 year old seminary student, writing about how millennials struggle with holiness. I gave it four stars for being well-written and having a few insightful points. As I note in the review, I struggled to relate to some of it, being that I draw truth from many sources, not just the Christian Bible, and that his depiction of millennial ways of being sometimes seemed to be more stereotype than something which resonated with my lived experience. With that said, his eloquence in explaining his point of view inspired me to consider where my ideas of holiness lay.
Braun argues that we, Millennials, culturally devalue innocence, instead looking up to folks who have been around the bend, so to speak. He cites the pressure to have pre-marital sex and drink in youth and a focus on redemption in the evangelical community as examples. (Incidentally, Dessa refers to virginity as “a childhood disease” in “551″, something to which I simultaneously wince and chuckle.) He describes his struggle with these sin (all of which he deeply regrets), arguing that failing to live up to the expectations of right living hurt his relationship with God. Those chapters were familiar for me. Does distancing ourselves from our sense of what is right cause the same struggles with guilt, shame, and unworthiness that Braun describes? For me, it is.
He argues that right living, and innocence, is important because the damage done by wrong-doing is greater than the experience gained. Pretty much, the foundations are stronger when they are not made up of patched cracks. (For a different perspective, read here.) If you do not believe that pre-marital sex or drinking is wrong (like, uh, me), it is easy to get caught up on the details. I gathered from his discussion that there may be a sense in the Evangelical community that because God forgives, it is OK to sin? It was fascinating. I was trying to discern if there was a Unitarian equivalent, but we are not so inclined to legalism to struggle with a laundry lists of wrongs. What do UUs do when we screw up? How do we find redemption? (And tales of other posts in my drafts folder.)
Braun argues that Millennials are seeking to be holy, but it is misdirected. Instead of defining holiness as the markers of religiousity (church attendance, membership, etc), it should focus on spiritual foundations. He believes that this means focusing on a right relationship with God and living it out in the world. Braun argues that the evangelical community would be wise to focus more on why they have their rules instead of a “straightjacket of legalism” (page 88), a beautiful phrase that catches the problem so well. ”If holiness is first born with deep intimacy with God, and manifest in our lives through devotion to God, then we must look at engaging with our world as vital” (page 110). This probably resonates with a lot of UUs; that is, if we could say the word “God” without half of us becoming offended. The gist is the same: the UUs I know in the flesh and text seem to live their faith more in the world than in the church walls. At the same time, our membership often means church affiliation. I still drown in the acronym soup of YA organizations. Sometimes it can feel like I am with the world, but not my faith. It seems Evangelicals may struggle with this too.
In the opening quote, Dessa states that innocence is overrated based on what you haven’t done. I wish the book had taken a broader perspective on innocence. One has innocence is not just the failure to do wrong. Innocence is lost when we realize how harsh the world and other awful other people can be. Sometimes innocence is lost when bad things happen, or expectations of ease and fortune are crushed. Perhaps innocence was lost when so many found themselves under very heavy student loans. Or when jobs became hard to come by. That is not including the tragedies that life is inclined to throw at you. I think that being holy, however we understand it, can also be described as being strong in those circumstances.
The folks I have met who struck me as living holy were those who are hopeful, radiant, and caring. It is not that they necessarily do everything to save everyone, but they are drawing from a well that is full and replenishing. How do you understand holiness?