Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dethroning the Big Stories

In all the commotion created by the debates surrounding same-sex marriage, I have to wonder if there isn’t something else going on, something that reaches beyond this topic to a larger cultural upheaval.

There is an interesting characteristic of the shift in western culture that philosophers and theologians refer to as “postmodern.” It’s a kind of vague term that points to a movement in culture after the modern period, a period in history marked by the certainties and perceptual frameworks that emerged out of the Enlightenment.

There were a lot of assumptions about life that came about over the last few hundred years—assumptions about dominant power (mostly white, male, and European), marital relationships (exclusively heterosexual and linked to both the state and the church), economics (increasingly dominated by what people are now calling “the haves”), science (marked by the belief that people can be purely objective in their observations), and religion (mostly dominated by western Christendom).

Each of these assumptions carried the conviction of a larger story that drove actions and practices. And as long as the people who constituted a majority kept the story alive, the domination remained in tact. That’s sort of how the thinking goes.

I wonder if the dismantling (okay, redefining. Whatever) of traditional marriage is part of the larger culture’s willingness to deny the power of any story that claims dominance over competing narratives. After all, the gay community is a very small percentage of the overall population (probably somewhere around 3%). Yet, almost half of the US population is in favor of gay marriage. Half of the citizens of the US are willing to let the old story of heterosexual marriage as the exclusive and dominant story of committed relationships be removed from its prominent position.

In a similar way, we’re seeing that in other areas of western culture. The Occupy Wall Street movement, as scrappy as it was, was an attempt to dethrone the powers of western economics. The attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular may be an attempt to dethrone faith from its position of power and favor.

Indeed, there may be something bigger going on.

So, again, I have to ask: In this new world of uncharted waters, what will be the church’s posture? We can hunker down and reinforce our walls of protection, keeping all new ideas out. We can take the walls down altogether and embrace everything that comes our way, allowing the shifting preferences of culture serve as our interpretive guide for faith. We can embed our convictions in our preferred political party and hope for shelter and a renewal of our power. In my view, each of those options are perilous in their possible consequences.

Maybe, for we who follow Jesus, it will become a time to rediscover who we really are when we no longer enjoy a place of favor and prestige in the culture. As Christians—particularly in the western world—are increasingly marginalized, we might have to recapture our identity without the advantage of cultural dominance.

As the accouterments of power and dominance are slowly stripped away from the western church, when our resources dry up, we will look around and wonder what has happened to us. What will we see? Will we see nothing? Will we see a purely secular world where faith has no impact or place? Or will we see “. . . Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”? (Hebrews 4:9)

Remember: When it comes to Jesus, where there is death, there is always resurrection. Resurrection is not resuscitation; that’s just the reanimating of something that’s dead. Resurrection is new life altogether.

1 comment:

Dave Jacobs said...

I like: "As Christians—particularly in the western world—are increasingly marginalized, we might have to recapture our identity without the advantage of cultural dominance."