The final chapter: assuming that our awakening survives the backlash, it will do so through the practices by which faithful people open themselves to the new movement of the Spirit. The First Great Awakening’s defining practice was prayer; for the Second, preaching; in the Third, practices of ecstatic worship and political action. In this Fourth Great Awakening, the performative nature of Christian activity will figure significantly; in this world, identity is always publicly negotiated, whether on Facebook, in public demonstrations, even in bumper stickers. Where once there was a clear distinction between the “private” world of the home and the “public” sphere elsewhere, technology has blurred this boundary significantly. Bass offer four core actions for performing this new awakening: first, to prepare by knowing the story of the Bible and the world; second, practice faith through spiritual disciplines and service; third, to keep an attitude of play in this; fourth, to participate, as this is not something we can just watch happen.

Although my greater interest is in practice itself, what I’m particularly interested in here is the vanishing public/private divide. Terri Elton, speaking to the First Third Dialogue/Missional Church Consultation last year at Luther Seminary, talked about the way youth today have to negotiate their identities in a connected world where they never actually get to leave the school social world and just be “at home.” Elton points out the extra need for support and identity formation in kids who experience life this way. To be sure, the rest of us carry this increased connectedness around as well, especially those of us whose family, friends, and jobs are accessible at the push of a smartphone button. We know that nothing we do is ever fully private; it’s as if everyone has moved onto a busy street, in a house with large front windows.

There’s both a challenge and a grace in that. The challenge, of course, is that venturing out into this world can be much more fearsome. We’re used to the polite distinctions that set deep spiritual convictions in the private realm, buffered by the public religious structures that keep everything “decent and in order.” In the old world, it was fairly clear where various kinds and levels of intimacy were appropriate – you could ask questions like, “Where am I?” or “Who is listening?” to help regulate the conversation. Now, it’s not always clear: when I post to Facebook, do you know (or care) that I’m sitting in the car between appointments? Do you even ask whether I wanted my words repeated? It can be hard enough for us to remember that the church service is a public space – some of us are uncomfortable having our worship service broadcast on community-access TV – but this world is now public. We don’t always want to feel like we’re on display.

At the same time, there’s a sense in scripture that Christians are called to be put on display for the world, specifically as a testimony to the new thing God is doing in us. The Presbyterian phrase is that the church is to be “a provisional demonstration of the kingdom of God.” We’re supposed to be the test plot for the new paradise, and part of that means sharing who we are and how we live with others. We’re called, in a sense, to be public figures as followers of Christ. There may not be (there may never have been) such a thing as a private Christian.

What does it mean to be public Christians, as individuals and especially as a community? Sometimes I wonder if the kingdom is well served by our big downtown street-corner building, but as a public display, perhaps it’s a part of what God can do with us. To be really relevant, the building (read: the institution) needs to be more of a monument than a facility. It’s where we happen to worship, yes, but perhaps it can also be a sign of the spiritual home we offer for all people – spirits, questions, doubts, and all. Our worship should be intentionally public, a way for us to reach out to people other than ourselves and make a place for even those who don’t feel like they fit with us. And it means taking the faith back out of the building again, in a public way. It means talking in very serious terms about the connections between what we say, think, and do on Sunday mornings and the way we interact with the rest of our lives. It means finding ways to live and practice our faith in ways that are real, genuine, authentic, and shared, with each other and the world.

To live this public faith meaningfully, we probably need to spend more time talking about the private work of faith. One of our weaknesses as a downtown, mainline church is that our religion has always been so public that our spirituality hasn’t found much airtime in our lives together. I’m seeing value in something like a cloister, where we publicly religious folks can retire for a while to refocus ourselves; indeed, Bass calls the church to generally “private” spiritual practices like prayer and yoga even in the process of directing us outward. Where we might need to grow is in the shared private domain of communal practices, where we’re not quite opening the doors wide, but we’re trusting each other as companions on the journey.

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