Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jackie Shaw on Postmodern Church

Jackie Shaw is the guest blogger this week 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 an English major in college, the term "Post Modern" was used to describe any literature written after 1945. This is not exactly what it means in discussion circles in the church. The definition laid out for me in college always made more sense to me than what I heard in seminary. The seminary discussion was too nebulous and I could never really get a grasp of what Postmodernity meant exactly.

We live in a world in which we can turn on our tv and see mass chaos and slaughter on the news or on prime time. We have the capacity to send a bomb that will burn hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. The bomb may not kill everyone, but it will poison the ground and the water. It will leave those who remain with scars that are unimaginable. And the psychological wounds caused to those who were bombed and those who did the bombing, even if only by proxy, would have been unimaginable to Jesus and his followers.

We live in a world that has to live with the results of the Holocaust, Darfur and Rowanda. These kinds atrocities may have happened in the Pre-Modern and Modern age. People have always found reasons to kill each other. But our Pre-Modern and Modern sisters and brothers, at least in some respects, had the ability to forget. They didn’t have the technology to record images of these horrible events for generations to come. They could talk about it and tell fish tales, but we have visual evidence of how horrible humans can be to each other and to the earth itself.
Postmodernity has also allowed us the technology to offer extreme compassion and care to and for each other. We can drop food and supplies to cities destroyed by hurricanes in a matter of hours. We can build bridges to places isolated from the world so the children living there can get books and learn to read. We can name post descriptions of vehicles used to kidnap children so in theory, the whole world can come together for the sake of a missing child. We have the ability to provide care and safety to every child born in this Postmodern age. We don’t always do our best of course, but we have the ability.

The church has a stronghold in helping us do and be our best. The church can be like Jacob and wrestle with the shadows in our proverbial closets, or it can be content to throw a huge table clothe over the elephant in the room and only fixate on an event that happened in our past instead of opening our eyes to what is going on around us.

Our theology was started on the story of someone’s death, and while we can never deny Jesus’ death or make it pretty, until we can work through the trauma of his death, we can’t really move forward. We are stuck at a moment in time. Jesus’ death was significant, but if God had wanted us to only focus on that, why didn’t Herod kill Jesus right after he was born? We don’t know everything about Jesus’ life, but we know he had one, and it wasn’t particularly short for the time. He laughed, he cried, he got angry and asked questions. Why should the church and its people be any different?

Jesus also lives on in every heart that believes something in the world can be different. The church can fan the flames of life and action, rather than continue to live in the unresolved trauma of death.

Communion can be anywhere, open to anyone, not secluded to members of a certain group in a certain location with specific rules and regulations. Communion can be breakfast on the beach. It can be any ordinary meal for ordinary people eaten in ordinary ways with extraordinary hospitality and care. And Jesus is there, living on through his followers, and smiling.

Jackie Shaw is a graduate of Eden Theological Seminary. She writes healing services for abuse survivors and attempts to write non-violent communion services. These resources are avalible online at Jackie Shawn Ministries. She and her husband, Andy, live in St. Louis.

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