I am a child of postmodernity. My grown-up worldview is built on the foundations of questioning faith, generous orthodoxy and nuanced truth. I have a small selection of absolutes that I hold close. They make me feel safe in a world where nothing unmeasured is true and nothing uncounted is real.
I’ve learned how to discuss in the style of postmodernity. I’ve entered into the conversation, I’ve shared my truth, I’ve learned to view my opponents opinions with respect and the required nod to their validity. Even when I think they are being foolish, the new school rules say I must respect them for their folly; it is their right to err so far.
Yet we all know in reality that this is part of the game. If we didn’t think we were right and the opposite opinion was wrong, we would hold the opposite opinion, but rules are rules so respectfully nod, we do.
Despite this tear in the canvas, we paint on. I love that we are now free to err. It’s in this culture of freedom and folly that we will stumble upon the brave new world, hidden under some nonsense we were in the middle of espousing.
I’ve learned that tension and paradox are a virtue. We have learned to hold opposing truths in tension as we sign e-petitions calling for a Living Wage from our iPad Air, constructed on the over-worked, under-paid, exhaustion of Chinese citizens. Our philosophies and moralities don’t always fit together perfectly, but we don’t mind the sharp edges; they are part of who we are.
We have assassinated the experts and silenced the gurus, unless they’re baristas or microbrewers. Knowledge is crowd-sourced and invention is crowd-funded. We carry the wisdom of the world in the pockets of our jeans. Knowledge and understanding come to us in seconds; what we don’t know now we will within the hour. The expert is dead, long live Google.
In the corner of this world is the Church, a church, a part of the church. A community of light and life and joy and faith. A community as diverse as the community it exists within. Don’t believe the hype – the typical Christian doesn’t exist anymore than a typical child does. We are a broad and vibrant community.
But it is a vibrant community crying for release. For despite its wonder, often it is trapped in a system that contains its potential rather than releases it. The hangover of modernity lasts longest in institutions. Institutions that formed to support life can soon become chains that hold life back. Support begets strength begets power begets suppression.
Have the once wisely-designed systems that helped the life of churches thrive now become life-stealing and freedom-taking?
As the world has moved rapidly towards nuance and endless shades of grey, worked out in personal truth and self-determination, much of the church stood still, chained to a failing system. We are left trying to recreate a rainbow in black and white to a world that loves to paint in grey. We are told to see the grey areas as doubt and to doubt is to sin. We are told not to question just to believe. Being boldly positive is a virtue in this system even when we are playing with naive dangers on the edges of our theologies.
We must break out of the system and let life breathe from our lungs again. We must build new structures that support and sustain life and lead to health and freedom. We must communicate in the language of the world we live in; no more shouting absolutes at those who speak in relatives. It is often more important to be kind than to be right. It is not, and never has been, enough to label questioning and doubt as rebellious thinking and backsliding. Our teaching and learning must become collaborative. Our leaders must be facilitators, helping us to seek and find truth together, not just experts who tell us what truth they’ve found. We must allow our diversity to show and kill the fear of not belonging if we’re not quite the same as the others around us.
Acceptance and welcome aren’t real if they depend on one fitting into a culture-shaped box.
Many have written us off. The prognosis is rarely good and the odds of our demise are approaching ‘all bets off’. Yet where they see demise I see a perfect opportunity. Nothing galvanises invention like a need to survive. So now is the time to think and try and experiment. Now is the time to let go of our job titles and strategies and expectations. If we do what we always do we will get what we always get. The accepted wisdom isn’t working. We are dwindling away. It’s time to all jump in and build something new. It’s time to change. It’s time to reimagine and reinvent and rediscover our purpose as agents of hope and rescue and resurrection in every part of this world.
So church leaders, be courageous and ask yourself; is this working? Is this really what we are supposed to be doing with our time, money and energy? Church members, be creative and ask yourself; what should we be doing? What genius has God hidden in you that will bring restoration to your world? And those who have left church communities for a hundred understandable reasons, be gracious, and ask yourself; what kind of Church would I be part of again? What needs to change for me to share life with these people again?
If we can start there we are on the right path to the answers we are looking for; this brave new Church, hidden under the nonsense.