Sunday, August 12, 2007

Crappyjack Spirituality

I learned a new word this weekend—“crappyjack.” Catching up on some of my favorite podcasts while doing my Saturday errands, I heard “A Way with Words” host Grant Barrett report on the new words contest held at the recent meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America.

“Crappyjack” was introduced into the discussion by Erin McKean, chief consulting editor for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press. Somebody had made up the word during a kind of parlor game at an event she had attended in New York City. The word is obviously modeled on “crap” and “Cracker Jack,” and the definitions she gave were “any kind of food you eat that is bad for you” and “anything you can buy in a crinkly package in a convenience store.”

Right after the session in which someone made up “crappyjack,” an 89-year-old Anglican nun spoke about spirituality. “She managed to use the word ‘crappyjack’ eight times in her talk,” said McKean, taking it from its new but literal meaning to a spiritual meaning. Spiritual crappyjack, she said, is stuff “you bought ... for a quick spiritual fix and then the experience left you hollow and queasy.”

McKean said that everyone listening to that 89-year-old nun knew immediately what she was talking about. That’s because there is a long history of spiritual crappyjack—stuff that promises a lot, is kind of showy, and even, perhaps, gives you a quick rush.

What are the warning signs of spiritual crappyjack? Besides the vacant feeling that follows the empty promise, section 5 of the Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future notes these marks of fraudulent spiritualities: “legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, ... dualistic rejection of this world, [or] narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience.” So when one of more of those start showing up, it’s time to turn back to the biblical story and the context of the church.

The Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future urges “catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative.” It continues, “We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his body. ... These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call for a return to an historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.”

There’s some fancy language in there, but here are the key words: “based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative” and tied to “the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his body.” What have you got there? A church context in which people are trained to understand the story of God’s work for the redemption of the world according to the theological consensus that developed in the first five centuries.

Bob Webber’s 2006 book The Divine Embrace unpacks those ideas (book excerpt here; buy the book here). Read it if you haven’t already done so. It's not crappyjack.


spud tooley said...

i heard an interview with ken burns on the radio as i was driving to work yesterday. he of course is the filmmaker of "Civil War" and other documentaries. he's got a new one starting next month on wwII. he says the thing we need to realize most is that the same divisions that divide us today existed then - that the image we have of the country being fully united against "evil dictators" is only due to hollywood and a lack of seeing things as they really were.

my point is that "crappyjack" seems designed to pull us back to a day when christianity had all its ducks in a row, to a time when we apparently knew - and everyone knew - what real christianity was and wasn't.

the truth is that there were a host of people killed in the first 500 years AD precisely because they decided to voice differences with the "mainline" church's dogma.

to me, there is no "right" christianity. there is no common orthodoxy that we'll ever be able to point to and say, "hey - *they've* got it nailed" (pun intended). to deny that humanity has learned more about the universe around us and how the world and its people have evolved misses the opportunity to see chrisitianity as a similary evolving message. critical scholarship should not be shunned or ignored simply because we think we can spell out in detail what was going on right after Jesus' day; i think the gospel differences, plus the non-canonical texts, plus what we continually learn about other fringe groups in the BC-turns-to-AD window says quite clearly that there is no one-size-fits-all.

let's look forward, and stop longing for how it (never) was.

mike rucker

Brother Maynard said...

"Crappyjack" - I'll be adding that to my lexicon; hoping not to have to use it too often, but sadly...

Thanks for this, and welcome to the blogosphere.

DanutM said...

I disagree with Mike that that the AEF Call is 'designed to pull us back', although this condescending attitude to historical rooting is common among members of relatively young cultures (like the American one). We need to learn from the past, if we do want not to repeat the mistakes made in past times.
I do not share the typical Evangelical obsession with the rediscovery of the supposedly ideal primary church. It is sufficient to read the Scriptures to see that the Apostolic Church was far from ideal. Besides, we cannot go back, because there is no 'back' to go to.
At the other extreme, the modernist obsession with the supposed goodness of any new thing is equally faulty as a strategy for living.
The Call tries to analyze the present in light of Scriptures and dares to suggest that we may be more able to find solutions if we do not forget the past, but learn from the wisdom of the 'faith given to the saints once and for all'.
Danut Manastireanu