Postmodernism 202

I will be continuing to study for my Social Work Licensure exam over the next few weeks. I will post when I need a break or if something strikes me as comment-worthy. The test is on the 26th and I am truly frightening by the amount and scope of the material I still have to learn...

This "final" essay will deal with the postmodern phenomenon concerning newly emergent social movements. I would propose that these new social movements can have a positive and negative impact on the way the world works. These social movements are, more often that not, local organizations that share particular narratives or concerns for particular narratives. This can have a great deal of impact on society. I think the bumper sticker that states "think globally, act locally" sums up this phenomena succinctly. We have more global information which makes the world a smaller place, but we have more regional specialization which makes the world more fragmented as well. It is the idea of specialization that I want to attend to first.

Several movements in the modern/postmodern church embody this phenomena. The most obvious is the contemporary/traditional worship split in most congregations. The division into preferential worship styles is a small example of how we are beginning to cater to the different narratives that people bring with them. There is nothing wrong with either of these worship styles (both can be equally meaningful or vacuous depending on how they are pulled off); however, what happens when the division of worship styles becomes a division in the congregation? What happens when the "traditional" folks don't know any of the "contemporary" people?

It seems to me that catering to individual needs in the context of the "body of Christ" will only serve to highlight differences rather than create the possibility of cohesion. This does not mean that individuality shouldn't be a part of the worship and life of the church, but the question is more about how individuality and community should mutually reinforce one another rather than detract from one another. The error I see is that we have created bodies of Christ within the context of what is supposed to be a body of Christ. That is, within one congregation new social organizations emerge that highlight the different needs of different congregation members and instead of dealing with them as a community of the whole, we might just let them go off and form their organization that functions within the walls of the whole, but is not really accepted as a part of the whole.

Sticking with our body metaphor, it is as though we are walking down the street and all of a sudden our right foot gets a hankering to take a different path than the rest of the body. So instead of working together to understand why the right foot might have a good idea or why some of its concerns might be valid we just hack off the foot and let it go its own way while we continue down our intended path. The right foot, regardless of its disembodied state, is still ours, it just no longer has a vital connection to the body as a whole and both move slower without each other. Thus, we have little in common save for a few strands of DNA and a corresponding wound.

Furthermore, as churches separate along these traditional/contemporary lines, what is to keep them from further separating? Why not a service for those members who prefer country music with ad hoc prayers and sermons under 12 minutes? This is the danger of increased specialization. Maybe not quite as absurd as my example, but we do end up catering to so many needs, wants or desires that we forget about the call to live in conversation with one another, not just with the ones who are like us or who we happen to like.

What is answer then? How are we to celebrate our togetherness and our separateness? How are we to understand the different needs and styles and narrative formulations that are present in the bodies of Christ that are called together? I am not altogether sure that we can answer this question in a manner that befits both the reality of our postmodern condition and the call to be the body of Christ. We are already a highly fractured religion even before we consider the internal fractured realities that individual congregations face.

I have to wonder if postmodernism might provide some of the answers we seek. If we head back to the phenomenon that originated this brief missive -- newly emerging social movements -- the word social stands out to me. If these new movements are indeed social in nature then a prerequisite is conversation, not agreement, but conversation. It means that regardless of how different the ideas are there is a commitment to the interpersonal. Moreover, to commit to the interpersonal is to commit to finding ways of remaining in conversation even when our views or our contexts may diverge completely.

We will always gather around people with whom we share a commonality. It is in our nature (or nurture) to want to be comfortable. However, the church has never been a place for comfort, and where it is change is necessary. The same goes for individuals and the movements they adhere to. Creating a new social movement that addresses the needs, desires and wants of a local context is wonderful. The "emerging church" can be an example of that. However, creating something separate in order just to be separate from "those people" or "their worship" or "that congregation" is not postmodern it is merely selfish. We cannot converse without a partner. Furthermore, there is nothing interpersonal when it just caters to the personal, nothing social when there is only one group doing the socializing.

The greatest opportunity that comes in the phenomenon of new social movements is the promise of new ways of talking about old problems. However, both the new social and old social must find a way to talk or a subject that both agree are important or both are just wasting air and contributing to global warming through the noxious gasses they emit when they sit and complain about one another.

There is one other hope that I will mention briefly. That hope is found in the idea that we are different and that we learn, worship and love differently. So much so that these new movements can awaken us to things that we have long denied or ignore in the interest of decorum or order. In conversation we may just find the new breath we seek when we enter the doors of a house of worship again or for the first time.

grace and peace...



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