It wasn’t tongues of fire descending on the disciples in an upper room. Rather, images of burning churches flickered across the back wall of a basement room in McHugh’s Bar in Belfast. And on Tuesday of this past week, that’s where the Insurrection began.
The event was the launch for both the Re-Emergence Conference in Belfast, and the Insurrection tour featuring Peter Rollins, Padraig O’Tuama and Johnny McKeown. The Insurrection will continue with ten dates in US cities over the coming weeks.
I arrived a few minutes before the official start time and already all the good seats were taken. So I grabbed a bench near the stairs, where an eclectic mixture of Irish ceili music and popular songs filtered down throughout the night.
Acoustically, this was a bit confusing. But in some way, the chatter and interruptions from above seemed appropriate. Here in the basement, people who have spent some time mourning and critiquing the failures of a powerful, institutionalised Christianity, were abiding on the margins.
Abiding on the margins not just of the churches, but also pushed to the margins in a secular pub. That’s a reasonable enough context for setting out some ideas about what Rollins, the philosopher, is calling ‘religionless Christianity.’
The event itself featured artistic work by McKeown, music by O’Tuama and some sharing of ideas by Rollins. Images, Music and the Spoken Word, all three were designed to support each other in articulating what this Insurrection is about.
This is what I heard and saw:
- I started this post with the image of the burning church. To me, this signifies what is becoming a spectacular decline of some of our old, institutionalised expressions of Christianity. They are on fire, and are they worth saving?
- When old structures burn to the ground, it’s natural and healthy – though also heart-rendingly difficult – to experience pain and doubt. Maybe that’s doubt about God’s existence, doubt about how the Bible has been interpreted, or an acute experience of God’s absence. Enter into that doubt, embrace it.
- Christianity isn’t about what you believe, it’s about how you love. If old institutions and old creeds prevent you from loving the Other – whoever that may be – turn your back on those institutions.
- Our structures are broken. That includes not just church structures, but also our social and political structures. Injustice is institutionalised at the very highest levels, so that the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful and – more often than not – use religion in whatever way they can to maintain their position.
It was said on the night that ‘the resurrection is insurrection.’
All too often Christians have understood Christ’s resurrection as a ‘get out of hell free’ card, or an invitation to become buddies with Jesus. But here, the resurrection is an invitation to identify and challenge the unjust systems (principalities and powers, if you like) of the day.
The test of your Christianity is what you do, trapped as you are, within those unjust systems.
‘Go in pieces.’
That’s one of the final lines of the Insurrection event, delivered by O’Tuama. I think it captures something of the humbleness that comes from people who have been hurt and disappointed by the churches. They recognise that they are operating on the margins, trying yet failing to live authentically in a way that would be at least somewhat recognisable to an incarnated, justice-seeking Christ.
(For a recent review of O’Tuama’s music by Nic Paton, click here)