I have a new theory about what the church needs in order survive. I think this post rings true for non-religious people, too, so this is not a theology talk. But I do think that this is crucial for the churches to flourish whereas I think the secular academy will go on regardless.
But I think the church needs space to grieve. Most of all. Most importantly.
No, not grieve over sin. Although maybe some people do need to. Not grieve over lack of morality. Although maybe some people do need to.
We need to create a space, though, to acknowledge and feel a loss of certainty and stability.
Our culture has survived a lot. We survived two horrendous world wars that taught us that even modernity can’t will world peace. We can’t underestimate this one enough. We’ve seen mankind’s ability to kill millions of people, and it has driven us mad. It’s killed belief in God, in progression, in communism, etc, etc.
We survived the Vietnam war and saw that we can’t even trust ourselves to find the “right” side. On the recent Syria news, all the people have trembled in skepticism because hell, we’ve now don’t even believe there is a “right” side.
The biggest news in missions these days is don’t trust evangelical missions. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary writes about these problems. She’s a missionary, so she earned that right. But around the rest of the blog land, people left and right are tearing down evangelical missions, and they’ve never been overseas. Not because they don’t want to help. But because they are skeptical. Because gosh, we’ve scared ourselves sick. We can’t trust anybody anymore. Not the church, surely not. (And maybe we can trust these people more than we think, but we are walking around on a time bomb, convinced it’s about to explode)
We have no unified culture to fall back on. No unified narratives (or very few), no unified stories or unified preacher like Billy Graham once was. What is “American” culture? Sure, we are telling narratives, but is there one national narrative? Sort of there is, but then, there is so many people telling their national stories these days that the whole narrative is dilluted. (Yes, I’m glad about this.)
If you ask a teen today for the very most popular band, you will be met with a hmmmm, hmmm…and then they will finally give an answer like, “oh, the Beatles” or some other old band, not a 2013 band. Because today there is only “popular bands,” not most popular. We’re too divided to go there. While this may be good, it does mean we lack a solid culture to fall back on at the end of the day.
We all process this differently.
Postmodernism has done us a huge victory. We got minorities rights, gay rights, women’s rights, diversity, globalism, and so, so, so much more thanks to postmodernism. (BTW, postmodernism did not give us relativism. That came from modernity 200 years ago. Read Nietzsche.)
I want to see the church rejoin in all the greatness of postmodernism.
But what about the skepticism? What about the uncertainty? What about the down? What about the pain of horrendous evil? What about the fact that the church hasn’t allowed us the space to be a postmodern, the church who has tried to push us back as if we still live in the 1950s and we don’t?
The church needs to really open up space for our loss of direction.
The church needs to let us grieve.
Here’s a practical example.
This comes from Sheldon’s blog, a former fundamentalist, who writes that he has a problem with the idea that a God could exist who allows monstrous murderers off the hook.
The most perfect example of this is former warlord Joshua Blahyi, who is now a Christian evangelist, but before that, lead a rebel militia that committed horrific atrocities in Sierra Leone’s civil war.He freely admits to personally killing over 20,000 people himself (not counting the people killed by his troops), committing acts of cannibalism (I’m serious), and decapitating people, and playing soccer with their heads. Yet, no matter which view is taken, either the liberal/universalist view, or even the fundamentalist view of the afterlife, this man is guaranteed to go to heaven, despite everything he did, and despite the fact that he has never faced the consequences for his actions here on earth.
Sheldon raises some fantastic questions. While I don’t agree with Sheldon’s conclusion, he is an example of what I am saying about our generation having not recovered from the terror of evil. We have not resolved the horror of these genocides, and it’s left us on tiptoes, such that we are questioning. everything.
And so the church has got to open up the floor to grieve. Not pity, not even empathy. But the church needs to acknowledge that we are caught up in an uncertain and unstable time. Gosh, my generation is even facing the worst job market crisis in 80 years. We are not certain if we can even hold our own families together, let alone if we can – or should – stick out life with a community that shares a common narrative or *gasp* a church.
And it’s time for the church to say, “how can we be one of many narratives in your life?” Not, “oh, we have all the answers.” Look, we already know the church doesn’t have the answer to… [insert any word, such as horrific evil).
I hope the church will grieve with us.
It’s time to tell stories again. But this time, many, many different story. But *stories* something besides status messages and facebook.
I am not trying to say postmodernity is worse than modernity (you can’t really separate out the two, but suppose you could), or to say that antiquity was even better. We needed to create the space for postmodernism because we need minority rights.
But notice what I said. We needed to create a space for it. And I don’t think we have. I think the instability and uncertainty has been thrown at us, but I don’t think the church knows what to do with it. We – as in the church – are frozen. Christianity doesn’t know how to go on without a metanarrative. Christianity wants to answer questions, not ask questions. It wants to give certainty, not let in uncertainty.
So the church is so busy insisting that it’s the hero of the skeptical generation – so busy trying to throw “certainty” our way that it’s forgotten that they are not the hero. The church has not realized that we can’t ignore postmodernism because postmodernism didn’t ask if we wanted to believe in it. Look, the bomb fell; either you recognize it, or you live in denial. That’s your options.
But it’s time to let down our guard. It’s time to say, “we Christians loss something when postmodernism came, but that’s okay.” Because postmodernism was good. It was good for women, for gay rights, for minorities, and much more.
But as long as we ignore both the losses and the good, we are creating a vacuum that is unlivable for ourselves. This, I suspect, is one of the main reasons people don’t meet Jesus in the church anymore.
I think of the more “liberal” churches. I think they, too, sometimes forget that postmodernity came at a loss as well as a gain (I speak of a collective loss, not individual. We all process this differently). A loss does not necessarily mean that it wasn’t for our good. When I graduated from college, I felt a loss, an end of a season and a beginning of a new season. It was good to be done, but it was still hard on me because I was shutting the door on a significant chapter of my life.
Postmodernity did that for us. It shut a chapter of our culture. It opened up a new chapter. This is exciting. But we need to create the space to know this and to heal. I would insist that this is just me, but it’s not. Sheldon said it. All of the blog comments I’ve read this week about how Operational Christmas Child isn’t doing “good” enough said it. All the blog posts I read on problems of evangelicalism said it. The whole web is infested with skepticism and uncertainty. Most of the time they are right on the button. I am not telling people they are wrong.
I am saying that we are an uncertain and unstable generation.
We question at all. I suspect like good postmoderists, you all will also question this post. I hope you do. I’m one person’s opinion.
I also hope the church will grieve with me.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to tell my children, “When I was a kid, the church was not okay with questions, but now they are.”