Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Aahhh... The Good Old Days....


There is a myth so dear to most Christians that we have developed various versions of it to comfort ourselves with. It goes like this:
Once upon a time the Church was perfect. Unfortunately in [A] [B] happened and things have never been the same since. For [A] substitute some date in the dim and distant past. If you don't know the date, a vague nod in the general direction of some past century or other will do. For [B] substitute the name of whatever it was that ruined things. A helpful list follows:

* the fall of Jerusalem
* the end of the New Testament era
* the Apostle Paul
* the suppression of the Gospel of Thomas
* the Reformation
* Vatican 2
* Sunday sports
* Constantine
* St. Augustine

The last two are particularly popular as villains because they each mark significant turning points in the development of the Church, very few people are as knowledgeable about them as they give the impression of being, and it's not difficult to find incriminating proof texts. I spent today listening as Andrew McGowan tried, and in my view, succeeded, in putting each into their historical context, and discussed each as an exemplar of a particular strategy for relating temporal power to spiritual authority. As Andrew pointed out, the Church has been conflicted and ambiguous from day one, as is to be expected of those who gather round one whose strength is demonstrated principally in an act of vulnerability and weakness.

The implications of the lectures we have received here have been discussed in caucus groups; yesterday I talked to other bishops and today was in a men's group and a group of people in their fifties. Discussion has been warm, and occasionally profound. Talking has helped me assimilate the material from Andrew and relate it to the not unrelated stuff I had been serendipitously reading before coming here. One of the theses emerging is the resonance between issues emerging around the formation of Christendom, and those emerging around its ending; a resonance important not because it marks out some golden era to which we should all strive to return, but because it shows the sorts of struggles we are likely to encounter as we learn to be a different sort of church than has ever existed before.
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6 comments:

Elaine Dent said...

Exactly. Over here in our corner, I am convinced that the church is in transition again, that somehow I am more like a midwife, but I don't know to what. In discussion last week with someone at Holden Village, WA, where lots of thoughtful conversation happens, she said being a pastor in a congregation is like being an interim. Pass on any helpful reading. Brennon Manning's "Ruthless Trust" at least reminded me of HOW to be in the church at this time.

Anonymous said...

"not because it marks out some golden era to which we should all strive to return, but because it shows the sorts of struggles we are likely to encounter as we learn to be a different sort of church than has ever existed before."

You are just assuming that you will be shaping the Church of the future. Are you shaping and changing lives now? Why not?

Elaine Dent said...

Hmmm. By God's grace and only God's grace, lives are being shaped and changed as we speak (write). I've seen it, and by God's grace we are sometimes being used as leaders in that formation. That by definition is the Church; it just isn't fitting into the conventional systems of the last century....and that, although it is hard for us to adjust to, is perhaps God's grace too.

VenDr said...

Thank you Elaine. Shaping lives is God's business. So for that matter is shaping the church. The dynamics I was speaking of aren't ones I am expecting in the future but rather ones I am encountering now. My task is one of listening and responding. Now and in the future.

Anonymous said...

hmmm.. . Being a Bishop or a pastor is then having an audience to pay attention to you . . . while you are listening to them? I'm Ok with that. But I think you both are fooling yourselves and I don't mind telling you that.

daharja said...

Sunday Sports can be blamed for a lot of things actually.

That whole "good old days" thing drives me nutty. The old days were not necessarily better - there were dumb people doing dumb things, just as there are now. And there were happy people too. And the majority just muddled along.

And the future is not necessarily going to be worse. There will still be dumb people doing dumb things, and happy people too. And the majority will still just muddle along.

The problem comes when we try to blame something other than ourselves for the way things are, and assume that we can't change them. It's the whole "let's sit back and blame X" philosophy that irks me.

Maybe we wouldn't have to blame X if more of us got off our overly padded rear ends and got active making our communities the sort of places where we can look back on history and say, "you know what? History sucked. Today things are much better. Thanks to us!"

Okay, now I'm procrastinating / waffling. Didn't you say something about that in another post? ;-)