Thursday, October 6, 2005

It has become my grand suspicion that the church has gotten out of the business of transcendence and into the business of ecclesimallogy[1]. I see many examples of cool ministry models, but not a lot of examples of a re-orientation towards spirituality except those focused on rules, doctrine, dogma, or woven into a code word subculture. Take this conversation, for example, loosely based on an exchange my best man and I shared about a year ago after he spent time trying to find a home church after returning from the mission field.

“So, I go to this church and the guy up front…”
“Fat guy? Skinny guy?”
“No. Regular”
“Ankle. Anyways, he says we’ve gotta be part of the cultural community of hermeneutical architecture and antidisestablishmentarianisms, or some crap.”
“Are you serious?”
“Oh, yeah”
“What does that mean?”
“I dunno. Anyways…”
“No, man - seriously. I went to this Pentecostal church last week and they had all kinds of weird rules and junk about how we were supposed to hear from the Holy Spirit.”
“Right! Rules like, ‘test it against the community bylaws for charismatic gifts in operation’ and ‘make sure you have the unction’?”
“Yeah! Like, what is unction? I think I had unction last week and it took me two days and three bottles of cream to get rid of it.”
“So, no connection with the spirit for you?”
“Me neither.”
“Zero. Have you ever?”
“Connected? Of course!”
“In church?”
“Yeah, we were at youth camp…”
“No, not youth camp. Church. Regular church. Old people, young people, silly songs, uncomfortable clothes, cool kids and rock songs, KJV, NIV, PowerPoint, media shout, Sunday morning coffee, toilet, sermon, offering, bulletin church?”
“Have you?”
“Once. I went forward for an altar call.”
“Did you have the unction?”
“It was to get rid of the unction. The cream didn’t work. But my point is that for once, for real, I felt God.”
“Okay. I went to Notre Dame when I was backpacking across Europe, and I felt God’s presence there. It was humid.”
“Like Kentucky in the summer.”
“Remember Cuba? It was like that.”
“The church part or the humidity?”

For postmoderns, models of ministry are quickly being exhausted. They tire. The experience of God, however, which I refer to as transcendence, never gets tired because it never repeats. Transcendence is always new, always fundamentally rapturous, always elevating us to a place we will not go a second time. The heights are never subsequently ascended; they are surpassed, paralleled, or forgone for another dimension entirely.

There are a few key arenas for this problem. First, corporate gatherings – church and alternatives to traditional church – have to be made more EPIC. Second, technology - specifically the internet, human performance technology, and web-based/gaming applications - has to be utilized to facilitate interactivity, conversation, and relationships. Third, individuals need to cultivate solitude and the interior life in such a way that it contributes to the larger community and can be used by that community as a narrative for spiritual formation.
With this in mind, there are a few pathways we might explore - images, metaphors, music, and fashion - in our efforts to create a tactile faith for the near future. Take the following conversation, again between my best man and I, as evidence of how these symbols evoke a torrent of meaningful connection to spirituality.

“Cool pants.”
“I know. The brahma bull in sequins. I have another pair with some Haida art on the pocket.”
“Dude – you have a t-shirt of Jesus looking like Che Guevara. My tattoo is Jesus as a conquered First Nations chief. We used it for that outreach to the Indians in northern BC.”
“Okay. What does your church think about it?”
“Yeah, they don’t like anything. I brought out some of the sketches done of Jesus by other cultures I found on the internet and they got mad. They couldn’t get into it. It went badly.”
“It’s cool, though. They don’t have to get it. You still reference that stuff. They don’t like our music either.”
“I told them music was our torah and they called me a heretic.”
“You are a heretic.”
“I know you are but what am I?”

Images, music, metaphors, and fashion are examples of things that touch us inside. They stir us emotionally and press us beyond cognition into volition and relationship. These are the tools of prophets and poets, and though they motivate us, the question remains: how do we facilitate the individual experience of God through community, and the communal dimension of experience through personal spiritual development? In other words, how do we simultaneously get the experience and community of Christianity in a postmodern world?

[1] From “ecclesiology”, meaning the study of churches, and “malls”, meaning large shopping centers. This is a term I have adopted for the mega-church envy of North American Evangelicalism.


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