Festival of Homiletics: Day Six

Posted by: Richenda at Friday May 23, 2008 in

Day six of a five day festival, you read that right. A five day festival with a blog for a miraculous sixth day. Lol (I arrived a day early. )

Today was a short day, two services, snack, and a lecture over about 12:30. Mom and I hopped a shuttle and here I am at the airport, post-Starbucks, awaiting a Northwest flight back to Portland. I hope my children remember who I am! (I hope they cleaned something!?)

A lovely final service today, Celtic themed with harp and flute players, dancers, songs of sprinkling, and communion. After five (six) days of this my heart is so full and my mind is brimming—so much so, that there really isn’t anything to say.

That said, can you stomach another mention of Post-Modernism? The complaint I am about to make will, sadly, likely ensure that I am not accepted to seminary in the fall. Life is like that. Yet, fool that I am, I just have to speak. So here I go. (Read no further if diatribes bother you. If, by some miracle you actually want to read more, see this blog or this one, where I’ve already addressed the subject.)

Between the two morning services we had a speaker who addressed Post-Modernism (postmodernism). Perhaps it is because I came from a literary background, but this concept is not new to me. In fact, this concept is old to me. But here it is again. As a consequence, I writhe in my seat. No! The last precious lecture of the conference, and it’s going to be on this subject?!

I start passing notes in class. I grab my spiral-bound and pour out my frustration. Sitting next to me, my mother gives me a sidelong look, then giggles. She leans over and whispers that we can’t all come from literary backgrounds and this is a new idea for the church.

I keep scribbling, but my frustration ebbs a little. Still…it seems a dishonest conversation because we aren’t talking about Post-Modernism in real terms. We are speaking of it as if it is now, and future. In fact, it is already past. But now that the idea has finally trickled down into the church, theologians are busy pounding it until it oozes.

Let me interrupt this rant with a couple of important notes. First, let me give credit to the speaker, he did the subject (Post-Modernism) justice. (And, to be fair, I was writing frustrated notes so I missed some of what he said. For all I know I missed the remark that will change the world.)
Second, let me say that this dialogue is really important—even if it seems to me to be a little late.

The trouble, however, still exists. The church is still an era behind—and clueless about it.


Post-Modernism is dead, people. Dead. Dead. Dead. Over. Gone. Splicko. Post-Modernism must have caught the church at prayer or sleeping, but it looked up to see that an entire era had passed them by. In church terms, we already had the pot luck.

The world today is what I would call ‘relational.’ And if you want to know what’s going on in the proto-relational world of today visit a local high school. Don’t look at the youth in Sunday school who have already learned to adapt to what the church offers them. (And we wonder why they disengage with church when they become teenagers.) Look at these kids in their cultural environment. (To be fair, there are many vibrant, relevant youth programs. But think also at the plummet in numbers of Sunday school attendees.)

So, walk down the high school hallway. Put aside your prejudices regarding tattoos and piercings, you are thirty years too late to judge. What streams down the hall are a generation you do not give enough credit or attention to. (This is a generation of readers!) And they have never experienced postmodernism.

These kids have global awareness and a relational worldview. The young have ‘plug and play’ wiring, they are little geniuses at integrating new concepts and ideas, weighing and internalizing them, and not just sorting them but interrelating them and even imagining and re-imagining them. They live in a web-like world where many outcomes are possible in every story and knowledge and relationship are always in flux.

Post-modernism would fail them utterly as a worldview. They are elastic yet cohesive. Throw something at them and they absorb it, and keep their feet. These kids play soccer, but they also play World of Warcraft. They are comfortable with the imagined, both the evil and the hero, and have the inner mental capacity to structure an abstract world. The tambourine and the bongos are ‘contemporary’ instruments of their grandparents’ generation. For God’s sake, listen up! Are you really so unaware that you can’t hear these kids? For they are literally screaming their faith—but not in church.

I scribble another note to my mother, complaining: Once the church was on the ideological cutting edge. What happened?! My mom nods sympathetically to my pain. She scribbles back, quoting Cliff Armour, a retired pastor from Newark UMC, DE: “When will the church stop being the taillights and become the headlights again.” To this I would say, Amen.

At my complaints my mother suggests I read Leonard Sweet. I am sour on that idea. To be fair to Mr. Sweet, I know absolutely nothing about him. Perhaps he will be the answer I am looking for. But I’m tired of being given reading assignments that do not offer true insight into today’s world. Our supposed champions are still standing in the back yard looking out. They tell us all about the front yard, but they haven’t actually made it there. They are translators, translating perceived new-world realities into old world language and understanding.

Is there value in this? YES. For those who are just now looking up, having those translations available to them is a very good idea. But I have long since stepped into the front yard. I know these authors are smart men and women. But still, it takes a pretty amazing grandparent to teach their grandchild how to force the final alien boss to surrender his hammer in Halo 2.

Why? I have some theories. I think perhaps Modernism was so unpalatable to the church that they just sort of ignored it. They reacted by blocking it out, perhaps, and looking away. And so, when Post-Modernism came along, they didn’t notice. Also, I think the baby boomers were a big, overshadowing (and often myopic, though good intended) generation.

[Note to the worship committee: “Contemporary” Worship services are not the answer!]

This is another thing that makes me incredulous. Some in the church imagine that ‘contemporary’ services are the remedy to post-modernism and will serve our current world. To this I say, ‘contemporary’ worship is great. I can find it very enjoyable. But it is OLDER than postmodernism.

‘Contemporary’ worship was a response to the stark intellectualism of modernism. Contemporary worship, (as a movement within an age where one era crashes tumultuously over another) is antique. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. But please, let’s call it what it is. When it comes to church service, contemporary means ‘baby boomers’ and that means grandparents.

Yet the church doggedly holds on to those coveted ‘Contemporary’ services. First of all, they can be very good, so there’s a big reason to keep them. They serve many people, and so that’s good, too. But the trouble comes when they are served up as a response to today’s world. Folks, we’re having trouble recognizing and responding to change. Is it that we are afraid of our own mortality? I mean, if ‘contemporary’ isn’t ‘it’ anymore, maybe we aren’t ‘it’ either? (Screaming follows this revelation.)

Baby boomers are a big generation, and I think that is partly why there is so much resistance to thinking of ‘contemporary’ as ‘old fashioned.’ No, they say, it was our grandparents who were old fashioned—and we have a traditional service for them. To which I might answer, your grandparents? You mean 1895-1920? Guys, we just can’t keep this up. We need to step into what is ‘now’ and respond anew.

Post-Modernism is history, folks. It came, it saw, it left its mark. It’s gone now. We are leaving huge numbers of people 40 and under unserved.

My mother reads my long scribbling diatribe and reminds me that many people in the church, including the pastors and the people in the pews, have never heard of postmodernism (or even care about it). So how can they make judgments about it? And it’s all supposed to be about God, anyway. She writes: Even as we grasp at the elusive, it moves on because it is what it was. It is like the mystery of faith: I was—I am—I will be. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is truth! (Her underline.)

Okay. I have to concede the point, and so I listen more patiently again. Then I write back: If we don’t have people who can help us grapple with what postmodernism was it is hard to process the movement of ideology into the present day. To this my mother nods. And you know what, she’s right. Maybe she can beat the boss in Halo 2, as well.

And so that leaves me wondering, who is Leonard Sweet?

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