Shuck and Jive

Friday, May 22, 2009

Peter Rollins: Ikonoclast

The latest issue of Christian Century arrived today. The cover story, "Seeds of Doubt" is about Peter Rollins. I like this guy. He has started a group called Ikon that "leads some people out of the church and some into it." He says that Ikon is for "Atheists and theists, liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics, gays and straights--the whole works."

They meet in a bar, talk religion and politics. They have some kind of drama, poetry, whatever, without having to believe a bunch of stuff. The part I found most interesting was his comment on caring for those who attend:

Paradoxically, I say, "Ikon doesn't care about you. Ikon doesn't give a crap if you are going through a divorce. The only person who cares is the person sitting beside you, and if that person doesn't care, you're stuffed." People will say, "I left the church because they didn't phone me when my dad died, and that was really hurtful." But the problem is not that the church didn't phone but that it promised to phone. I say, "Ikon ain't ever gonna phone ya." Pete Rollins might. But if he does, it will be as Pete Rollins and not as a representative of Ikon. Ikon will never notice if you don't come. But if you've made a connection with the person sitting next to you, that person might.
Ikon is like the people who run a pub. It's not their responsibility to help the patrons become friends. But they create a space in which people can actually encounter each other.
I think Rollins is truly on to something here. There is time before and after the official gatherings for people to connect:
The most important part of our gatherings are pre-Ikon and post-Ikon, but you can't have either of those whithout Ikon itself. We have about 45 minutes before an Ikon meeting starts where people just have a drink and chat, and the same for a couple of hours afterward.
That is exactly what is missing in regular church. People think they are going to get something out of going to a church service and then are disappointed when it doesn't or when they don't find community. The good shit happens before and after when we actually get to know people. Unfortunately, we don't structure the time so that happens. Come at 11, leave by noon. It puts way too much focus on the clergy (or whoever it is) who runs the show. Those who attend don't take ownership for making community.

The best church I have ever done was at my last place. We had a thing on Saturday night. We had time to gather before, then did our relatively unique service that I called Rock and Roll Religion. It was good. We had a band that played secular tunes. We always had ritual and time to talk. Then we ended with having some kind of common meal. I hope I can get something started like that again. The reason it was good, or at least one part about it that was good, was exactly what Rollins is getting at. We created a space for connections rather than pretend that we could fill that need with a worship service.

Check out his article when (if) Christian Century puts it on-line. Or read from the Ikonoclast himself.


  1. Um, Amen. Church has nothing to do with the actual worship service. It's just an excuse to actually have church (the before and after the service). That's teh meaningful part, to me. And I think the service (and reasons we are there) tend to foster the befores and afters.

    Nicely done.

  2. The Saturday evening service John led in Billings was really nothing less than miraculous. We miss it very much. Imagine, if you will, the most eclectic group of people coming together for fellowship, worship and discussion. We don’t believe that anyone there had exactly the same perspective on religion or God. But, what was so wonderful is that we all appreciated everyone’s individual perspective, without judgment. We think the reason it was such a strong weekly gathering was that we learned that our individual histories all make us unique and therefore, because of those histories, we are all going to have different beliefs and we truly loved each and everyone for their uniqueness. We learned that each of us are on our own faith journey. We don’t think anyone there felt as though they “have arrived with all the answers.“ What worked for both Mike and I was the fact that we could admit that we had more questions than answers and yet, we found strength in having those questions and having a place to ask those questions. Last, but definitely not least, was the development of a completely safe environment. Our differences brought us together, the appreciation of those differences and the love for one another - made us stay.

    It is sad, that a person can be more honest and comfortable in a bar among friends than at church because of fear of ridicule.

    Gin and tonic anyone?

  3. John, I know it's not on topic but you perhaps need to read about the Church of Scotland General Assembly. They just voted to uphold the ordination of a gay minister in an active relationship.

    You'll find details at either the CofS website or the newspaper

    The article is at the following page

  4. Thanks David!

    Starmley (Tony & Mike)! So cool to hear from you! Those were good times! See you this summer!

    Stushie, Rock on Scotland the Brave.