When I was going through ministerial training the big thing was all about ‘post-modernism’ – the gift from the ‘modern’ way of explaining our world and existence to one which sought to embrace a different way of viewing pretty much everything. To put it simply, modernism was all about objectivity (being able to step back and neutrally examine and comment on something) whilst post-modernism was more about subjectivity (the theory that we all view the world through a set of lenses that cannot be abandoned – we are all biased one way or the other). Modernism seeks to prove ‘truth’, whilst in many ways pm asks ‘what is truth?’. This explanation is far too simplistic – but it’s a starting point far what follows.
All sorts of things are touched by this – not least how we view church, organisation and institution. Many in my training cohort were probably, like me, a mix of both camps – being children of modernism and yet enjoying some of the freedoms pm gave to us to allow our worlds to be shaped by our experience. We rejected a lot of the things we were told were ‘just so’ – we wanted to push boundaries, to be allowed to reinterpret our faith, our culture and our entire modus operandi. This brought clashes with ‘the system’ – and for many of us, deep suspicion of anyone making decisions that might impact our future – especially if we had limited say. And so we raged against ‘the machine’ – that unfeeling, all powerful unseen…ironically populated by people just like me.
I guess I would still count myself as deeply suspicious of institutions and hierarchy – although accepting that these are almost inevitable in any organisational culture. Our journey away from ‘church’ is partly shaped by this, as we have sought authentic ways of being community and sharing life and faith with those around us in our everyday existence.
So…where’s the link to the year of bible?
I’ve just finished reading a passage in Matthew (chapter 23) where Jesus rips into the religious culture and institutions of his day. Go away and read it…seriously…it’s an epic work of deconstruction (a very pm concept!).
It’s stunning – ripping away at a rigidly structured system which confers authority upon those with titles – those who see themselves as ‘experts’. Jesus hits out at hypocrisy, pulls apart the desire to be respected, reiterates the upside-down “last is first” nature of the kingdom. Beautiful!
He even talks about not calling anyone on earth ‘Father’ when we have a father in heaven – ha! Perhaps he had a bit of foresight about what lay in store for the emerging Christian community!
I remain utterly convinced that although church is a vital part of life for many, and does an incredible amount of good for both individuals and for communities, it is not what we’re supposed to be. It too often embraces all that is bad about the world’s way of doing business, perhaps unintentionally ignoring Jesus’ words on simplicity and humility and the reality of direct access to God that he makes clear.
We need community – please don’t hear me wrong. We need brothers and sisters. But I’m not sure what else we need. Perhaps we long to replace that direct access with a priestly model that gives over our responsibility for our spiritual life to someone who stands between a and God? Perhaps we don’t trust ourselves? I must be honest, I just don’t get it anymore.
We need accountability, we need ‘fellowship’. Of course we do. But I’m not sure if that’s what Jesus was speaking about. However – that’s the beauty of the bible – we can often justify whatever we want to think with quotes and interpretation that serve our view (but then – that’s a very pm thing to say!).
I don’t think it’s about cutting ourselves off from 2000 years of church history, of declaring ourselves as right and ‘them’ as wrong. Do we take what is useful and use it to help shape the future as well as define the past?
We need to share life. We need to seek to follow faithfully where we must – to continually reinterpret what it means to follow Jesus every day. To be courageous in living out what we think it means.
I’m deeply flawed in all of this – I’m sure I often get it wrong…but it seems better to be here than there.
All from a relatively short bit of text…I’m enjoying this…!