I may or may not have stayed up passed 3am finishing that paper for Cornerstone’s conference this weekend (you can get just a paper proposal accepted you know-and why write a whole paper until you know you’ll get to present it?). If I were to have done this, the main reason is because the paper I will be presenting is not the paper I was initially intending to write.
When first asked to submit a paper, I was just going to Christianize and shrink my graduate thesis about the economy which I should have titled “Moving Beyond Modern Capitalism & Communism: Economics for a Postmodern World” (that is so much less of a mouthful than my original title). But in the process of attempting to do this, I realized that I wasn’t interested in talking to Christians about the economy in terms of discipleship. Okay, it was more than disinterest. I felt it to be an entirely bad idea, at least for me.
Still, I wanted to present on positioned reconstructive deconstruction, the method I propose for creating and revitalizing our communities, systems and organizations within our postmodern context while avoiding modernity’s imperialism. If that sounds confusing let me put it in another way.
We live in a world more and more suspicious of anything claiming to be THE answer for all people, at all times. Many of us feel that it’s unhealthy for strangers to come into a community foreign to them and claim to have THE solutions to that community’s problems. Modernity was all about proposing and forcing upon others what it believed to be THE answer. These answers were supposed to be timeless and perfect. They were not, thus our suspicion.
Part of the purpose of this method and my paper is to say just because we no longer believe in THE answer does not mean there are not many good answers and also some bad ones. Beyond that, I want to clue more people into the positive creative potential of postmodernity. You see, beyond the arts, many people seem not to grasp the beautiful resources that postmodernity lends us. Christians tend to just bemoan the growing pluralism and universalism of our world. Academics tend to spend too much time fretting that they can’t propose THE answer anymore, or immobilized by Foucault’s assessment of power, or endlessly deconstructing without ever constructing anything.
In ways that I wasn’t expecting, my paper has become somewhat of a celebration of many of the potentialities I see opened up to us in our postmodern world (for those of you who will be able to hear my presentation, I won’t give it all away). What I’ve come to realize is that what is at the root of many people’s problem with postmodernity, is exactly what I’m celebrating.
Postmodernity tells us that reality is dynamic, complex, contradictory, and historical. It tells us that the past and the present and the future are always in a very complex dialogue so that we can never entirely move past the past. All of this strikes me as so obviously true it doesn’t need argument but it means something very exciting. It means that our systems and communities and organizations need to be dynamic, open to change but also respectful of tradition, and they need to be complex and layered. Simple, objective answers and cold, anonymous systems are no longer an option. I love that because they are almost always a bad one. (If you are aching for me to give you practical and grounded illustrations, you will either have to attend the conference or wait for my return).
Of course, I have to talk about more than just postmodernity and my method in this paper because it all has to tie into discipleship. Being a philosopher at heart, I had to include a definition and expanded explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I spent some time revisiting what Stanley Hauerwas has to say about discipleship in A Community of Character for guidance. As a result, my definition ended up stressing that being a disciple means that we are now, not only included in Christ’s story, but are a part of the greater story of God with the world before and after Christ. As I dug into my definition, I came to a beautiful revelation that part of our calling as followers of Christ is to be storytellers.
If more Christians structured their evangelism like storytelling, how radical of a difference would that make? I think I’ve told you before, stories are not benign things. They are how we translate our world, how we come to understand who we are, what our purpose is and how to relate to the created world. These stories we’re meant to be telling aren’t the watered down tales in Sunday school classes, they’re gritty and layered and complex. They’re impactful without being “preachy.”
What’s pretty cool is that Christians are both storytellers and also characters in the story. This is where it all ties into what I’m presenting about postmodernism and its potentialities, because how we live matters since our story plays a role in a bigger one. Because in this story, we have a calling to reflect God’s goodness in our quest for justice, our practice of mercy, our demonstrations of love. Our calling isn’t confined to our church ministries. In a postmodern world, in which we are allowed to use our identities as resources, in which we are allowed to locate ourselves within our communities and speak into others (as long as we do not oppression them), we aren’t confined to simply building churches but are able to be a part of our broader culture. This is incredibly important to me.
Honestly, when I first saw the title for this conference I was reluctant to be a part of it. Though I freely write about my faith and Christian experience, I do not feel this is my one and only identity. I do not feel that I exclusively belong to the Christian community at the cost of our broader culture. Something that I noticed, and was very much bothered by, as a student at Cornerstone, is that when Christians talk about how to live in the world they often imagine the world as entirely Christian. It’s a troublingly inaccurate vision of the world. As Christa pointed out to me, if I take issue with this than I should challenge it. So, my paper concludes with an opening to our broader context and offers up a way for Christians to be a part of creating a better world without committing the sins of the radical right.
*The title for my paper is inspired by a line from Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s poem “Ode” that I shared with you a while back which I work into my introduction.