Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Becky Ragland on Postmodern Church

Becky Ragland is a guest blogger for the on-going blog series called PomoChurch, which features a variety of people reflecting on the meaning of Postmodernity and its implications for the Church.

As a graduate student in Art History I learned about Postmodern Architecture. This was my first introduction to the term, twenty years ago. The visual representation of Postmodernism was playful, disjointed, colorful, and subversive. All the old standards of architecture were re-tooled and toyed with. Who would have thunk to make buildings that looked like they were made of Legos or corrugated cardboard and tinfoil? Who would add a paladian facade to a skyscraper as if with a gluestick? And why? Postmodernism seemed to take all the old universal axioms of aesthetics and point out the false assumptions and pretensions that trailed in their wake. These buildings constantly asserted that materials are contrived into a balance, precariously co-existing and this is the grandeur of life; the fine balance.

I think of Postmodernism as the current era in which we live, not in the bind of meta-narratives, but in the poetry of a million voices speaking in constellations of truth; together seeking that fine balance. We have moved beyond the naivete of believing there is truth outside of conversation and inclusion. The fine balance is between the chaos of a million lives lived without conforming norms, and the interconnectedness of those lives which makes them capable of great collective good or apathy.

Postmodernism brings good change to the church. As an Episcopalian who celebrates our rich liturgical heritage, I find that what people crave and resonate with most is living within our heritage in a way that acknowledges its affectations. We still seem content to live within the basic framework of its beautiful prayers, creedal formulae, and structures.

We have some serious liabilities for a postmodern time. The songs we sing are so very old and the words and theologies don't really fit us anymore. And we Episcopalians are so bookish - we use a prayer book and usually two hymnals on a given Sunday. I suspect these will be the areas where we begin to change first.

I've just finished Phyllis Tickle's book The Great Emergence, and I found it enormously helpful for framing the changes that are happening in the church. My dream is an Episcopal-Emergent congregation, run by a team of priests, that meets in a modern space very open and flexible but somehow ornate, with adjacent meeting areas. The prayer books would be owned by members, otherwise, all liturgies would be projected on the wall. The music would span the ages, maybe even in one song - from ancient to modern. There would be smells, and bells, and kneeling, standing, crossing, and dancing. There would be couches and kneelers. What fun! I'm eager for the changes and the challenges that the church faces. I think we will be the better for them.

Becky Ragland has been ordained since June, 2008. She currently serves as Assistant to the Rector at Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri. Ragland founded and coordinates a local ecumenical clergy group committed to racial justice called Webster Groves Clergy Alliance for Racial Equality (WG-CARE), and is the Diocesan Coordinator for Youth Ministries, Diocese of Missouri.

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