“CHRISTIAN HIP-HOP’S FIRST OPENLY GAY RAPPER IS DONE EVANGELIZING” The headline did its work: grabbed my attention. It reached into my insular Roman rite, mildly progressive, liturgical-musical worldview and got me clicking into worlds I barely knew existed, much less knew anything about.
As I read the article, I found myself encountering Jeremiah Givens (rapper name: JGivens), and a synopsis of his personal journey of faith, encounter with his deepest self—including his addictions—and his decision to become an evangelizer for Christ. It also chronicled his ongoing journey out of the world of overt Christian witness to become an artist whose work still has a spiritual aspect (Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper are mentioned as artists in a similar vein), though not substantively connected to Christ. JGivens has stopped evangelizing.
Underneath the sensationalism and exoticism that I confess lured me in, I began to sense a certain resonance with the experiences I know my colleagues and I have gone through. JGivens inhabited a religious context that, though not a church, seemed to have an ecclesiology of sorts, and certainly has its own rites. It was a world he had fit into a certain way, but when he continued on in that world after coming out as gay—revealing his truestself, dealing with his addictions—his relationship with that world began to change. Those tensions and conflicts are what brought him to the point of deciding to cease evangelizing.
Back in my own world, I began to think about my friends and colleagues who have, for roughly twenty years now, described themselves as “hanging on by a thread” to their relationship with and participation in Roman rite Catholicism. The Vatican rejection of the 1998 ICEL Sacramentary and the promulgation of Liturgiam Authenticam was a significant contributor to the thread-hanging, as were nearly contemporaneous revelations about clergy sexual abuse of minors and subsequent episcopal cover-ups.
Further fraying seemed to occur around the 2010 translation of the Mass, and the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. In addition to the “hanging on by a thread” talk came dire predictions of people evacuating the pews in droves over clumsy collects and having to learn what “consubstantial” means. (My own view was that if the sexual abuse/coverup hadn’t driven people from the pews a decade earlier, adjustment of liturgical language wasn’t likely to.)
A more recent liturgy-related, thread-hanging announcement seems to be the one from the USCCB about its impending work on a document related to the Eucharist. Commonly viewed as a forthcoming weapon to use against politicians, it seemed to produce (in my admittedly anecdotal experience) another flurry of thread-hanging. (It did surprise me that I encountered no objection among my liturgical cohorts to the bishops’ isolation of the eucharistic elements and reception of communion from the broader eucharistic liturgy, nor to the co-identification of “eucharist” and “communion”).
With Her impeccably quirky sense of alignment, on the day I’d planned to post all of this, we received the explosive news of Pope Francis’ abrogation of Summorum Pontificum. Like those plants that flower once every ten years and die, I knew that liturgyland (me included) would have attention or energy for little else for several days. Instead of posting, I invited That Wacky Paraclete in, since She regularly draws my attention back to my prideful tendency to worship at the Church of Just-Like-Me. So I meditated a bit more on the spectrum of people with liturgically-generated thread-hanging.
I’m sure that there are people (though I may not know many) for whom this papal pronouncement has them making their own “by a thread” declarations. I also recalled the times during the late 1960s and beyond when the reforms of Vatican II (legitimate though they were) left people in thread-dangling circumstances. It was relatively easy to recall how many of these people I encountered as I progressed in my liturgical education and ministry. Also easy to recall the times I’d not listened, the times I had been dismissive, the occasions that I gossiped about or belittled them (or both). I’m likely not the only one who has some similar sins to confess.
Though I inhabit the liturgical publishing world in an editorial capacity, I have had enough contact with customer care to know this maxim: for every person who contacts you with a complaint, there are others who have remained silent and likely walked away. I believe there is a strong corollary in the realm of liturgy and church. While I do know some people who have publicly and vocally left a denomination, or Christianity, or organized religion, or belief itself, I’m thinking that there may be far more who, like JGivens, have decided to keep some continuity within their life, perhaps still attending church on occasion, trying to live an ethically-intact life, allowing the best of their religious background to remain—if silently—as a positive force.
For all the statistics in circulation about various aspects of faith, religion, church attendance, spiritual practice, and so on, I have yet to see the inquiry made among those in an attrition group about whether their leave-taking was vocal/public, or silent/private, or if the transition was made in an instant of thread-breaking, or if it was a slow, ongoing fraying that resulted in the fabric just no longer being there. Dissolving. Dissipating. Dissapearing.
I’m sure there are numerous—countless—members of the heavenly host who persevered, endured, and evangelized through far FAR worse. Quite likely they are having a good laugh at the luxury of my puffball persecutions. The light shed by their hilarity—their phos hilaron, if you will—turns my eyes again to the Cross, which points me toward Christ and, in hope, leads me on. I know their robes have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb; perhaps some day I will get a closer look at those robes, where I fully expect to find, like the still-visible wounds of Christ, worn fabric, and many a perilously-frayed thread that did—not quite—break.