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« Ancient Wisdom from the Desert | Main | An Enigmatic Thanksgiving »

November 12, 2006


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the reality which you express is a very common one and felt in congregations accross the board. The reality that we are not all post moderns, moderns, post, post, etc...presents the situation you shared. Our cngregation has been engaging in the same task as you and at times it is a challenge.

To answer your question, I think one way we can introduce more practices that stem from tradition is by creating a conversation of how words and symbols can shape. Moderns for the most part (and all of us) are operating in a world that is full of words and symbols, powerful ones. Words shape us in subversive ways and we are sadly unaware of it. likewise, branding (symbols) shapes us like pavlovs dog! Through the common liturgy of television, people are taught a way of being human that quite frankly is not human. Neighbour is competitor, or commodity to fulfill individualistic impulses and life is about getting needs met and having nice stuff.

With an open discussion of formation in the midst of a congregation, people can take seriously the implications of how they are shaped. It's at that point that I have experienced myself a desire and intention to take responsability for how I am formed. This is when the liturgy and symbols of our faith can prove powerful. People it seems are fine with the golden arches bombarding them throughout the day, but seem susposious and averse to icons and candles etc...

So, a conversation I think is the best way to start. A conversation that gets people thinking about the way the world around them can shape them and how that is not quite the upside down Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.

great questions,


"Jettison the consumeristic tendencies." Perhaps this is not the best phrase (even though I think that I understand what you are intending). Can we really "jettison" something that has become a crucial element in the identity of many American Christians without creating an atmosphere where they personally feel abandoned? Or is it more like working yeast through the dough?

It sounds like some people have more of an anti-Catholic mindset (a very common sentiment for many people, especially of the older generations, in my tradition). I agree that conversation is the way to go. I've been steadily trying to help moderns and pomo's understand that life is lived in a world that communicates through symbols. Symbols (whether it is words or pictures or signs or stuff) derive their meaning from us. If something is dead and empty, then we have assigned it that meaning.

Of course, this also presupposes that we need to be helping people learn how to have "conversations" that are healthy and respectful (which is another task entirely and is probably closest to your third question).

A great in this area is "Worship as Meaning" by Graham Hughes. New or unfamiliar symbols (which includes liturgy) are given meaning through the meanings that we have already acquired. As I have said to people many times, "We see the world as we are not as it is." (a very postmodern perspective, of course).

Guidelines? Every congregation is unique filled with unique individuals. Speed of introduction of ancient symbols depends on the ability of the majority of the people to grasped what is happening. we are living in a transitional time. I really don't believe that "postmodernity" is anything more than a transition to something else. Before you ask what that something is, I really don't know. Maybe we will never get there.

I guess that I would suggest you seek what it is that God is doing confirmed by those who you have surrounded yourself with (within the congregation). And be faithful to what you are confident that God is calling you to complete. I am constantly reminded of my own need to follow my own advice. It is not easy. But I affirm the direction that you have been called to (as I have been affirmed by many, many others).

In Christ,

John and Mark --

I appreciate the thoughtful and helpful feedback and insights from both of you. And increase in conversation (intentional, purposeful, and healthy) is definitely in order. The importance of symbol -- how it works, why it works, and how we can benefit, etc. certainly needs to be part of all this.

Mark, I also appreciated your gentle reminder to "follow my own advice". There has been, in fact, lots of confirming counsel over the past few years, affirming the changes we have been slowly making. I cannot afford to dismiss this. Thanks also for the recommended read -- sounds great.

John, I'm seeing a lot of wisdom in your suggestion to channel discussion around the topic of "how we are shaped" -- esp. by our culture. This sort of springboard into even weightier matters of influence really makes sense. Thanks.

Again, John and Mark, thanks!



An afterthought:

You challenged the idea of whether we're even able to "jettison our consumeristic tendencies", suggesting instead that it may be more like "working yeast working through the dough." You're probably right here. I "want" to jettison our consumeristic ways, yet I must admit -- if I'm totally honest with myself -- that it's far more difficult to accomplish than most of us (myself included) realize. "Wanting" to do the right thing is admirable, but accomplishing it may be miraculous!

Lord, give us a miracle.


I'm glad the suggestions are helpful. If I can clarify the importance of dialogue around ways in which we are formed, let me do so.

Pushing in this direction has the goal of making theologians out of the community. If we think about theology in simple terms - that every decision one of God's people makes is in some way saying something about God and their perception of him - then there is a corporate side to theologizing that extends past hired expertiese (pastor). This also moves people away from the consumeristic perception of having their spiritual needs met by Church.

What needs to be understood and realized in the community is that theology is much like liturgy, it's the work of the people. Once people begin owning this important responsability then they also take responsability for ways in which they are formed both positively through Kingdom values and negatively through culture. I think this posture puts people in a position to view themselves in relation to culture as ones who participate in redeeming it. a missional mindset if you will.


Is there a resonable (and defendable?) limit to how much cooperation and unity can exist between moderns and postmoderns within the Church? Is eventual and futher segregation inevitable?

I wonder about this alot. I expect the older people in my church to see things my way. But for them, nothing has changed. I honestly think that cooperation and unity will take us so far, but that there will always be a part of us that looks at the others and thinks "I will never understand them"

Maybe it is a miracle that I even want to get rid of the consumeristic worldview (worldview might be a better word).

Another thought: how dangerous is it to stand in the middle and build bridges? When conversations devolve into arguments and blaming, often the person in the middle (being a peacemaker by practicing reconciliation) gets bombarded by both sides because "if a person is not with us then he or she is against us."

I also appreciate what you said, John, about theology being the work of the people. I needed this reminder this week.

In Christ,

great post with lots to ponder. I don't have any answers so much as a thought to share. Missiologist David Burrell says, "we [must] take the sort of steps which are on a scale modest enough to be incorporated into our story ...if we begin to alter the pattern of our lives, however, we will have to explain those actions to ourselves and those close to us".

I guess in all this we need to hold in paradox the need to be patient and the need to press ahead. Not an easy thing to do!

What about those that are neither "moderns" or "post-moderns"? How do they fit in to the ministerial picture?

Just a great, great post that is so much where I am at in my own struggle with a pretty typical Anglican parish here in the UK.

Our distinctive legacy is a tradition which places a great value on something rock-like and unchanging. In a world that is rapidly changing, the very unchangability (is that a word?) of the Church is seen as a virtue. Problem is that we are contracting at such a rate that there won't be enough people to shape up for mission when we eventually do wake up and think 'we'd better do something here'.

And, like you, I'm seeing a misplaced confidence in the 'contemporary', late-modern worship style that no more connects with the culture than the stuff that it has replaced.

I'm going to post a reference to this post on my own blog. Great blog BTW, I enjoy checking out the posts.

I'm not sure that "late-modern" contemporary worship does not connect with the culture. I have observed that "contemporary" cultural forms of worship can connect and even impact people. The tension (or perhaps paradox) is that the "seeker-sensitive" model (and to a large extent much of its forerunner in the evangelical tradition--revivalism) has removed all the Christian symbols so that the culture is comfortable and familiar with what occurs in a worship gathering too much so. There is nothing different. There is nothing mysterious. There is nothing super-natural. worship becomes simply too natural.
The tension is creating a worship environment that uses familiar cultural forms (just as the Divine Liturgy was created out of familiar cultural forms so long ago and the four part voice harmonies of the early 20th century became a standard musical genre for many Americans) but at the same time facilitates a divine encounter with the "holy other" known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. An analogy (rather imperfect of course) might be teeter tooter where we keep sliding back and forth (hopefully not to the extremes) unable to find perfect balance because as soon as we seem to find that balance, the culture has already shifted.

Just some additional ponderings.
In Christ,

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