Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Postmodern Opportunity: Releasing the Power of Being White and Letting God Work

I have been traveling in Ghana and India since this class began and so I have not had a chance to participate. I have prayed for you and taken some quiet time to reflect, again, on issues of white privilege and how it has affected me. Nowhere do I see it more on display than in how I view my role as a follower of Jesus in the world. The following is not a poem but a reflection on releasing my white power and letting God’s Spirit work. It views postmodernism as an opportunity to seize and not a reality to fear. All the best. Robb Davis

Writing in Harpers Magazine (Dec 2007) Curtis White talks about how belief has become so personalized that it has come to mean, essentially, the right to hold tightly to our own personal heresies. Later he sums up how we "postmoderns" view truth noting:

"Shall we turn against pluralism and relativism in the name of obedience to a single authority? I don't think so. The credibility of univocal meta-narratives of a traditional sort, or any sort, is gone. Those tablets are indeed broken. The innocence that allowed us to come as children to a singular faith, to faith as a revealed Truth, was always a dangerous innocence. But a freedom to believe that is nothing more than freedom in an abyss is no less dangerous, as both our domestic and our international antagonisms testify."

While it might appear to followers of Jesus, committed to the uniqueness of him and his message, as a direct frontal assault--indeed a denigration of who we are (as people who DO accept the credibility of a single univocal meta-narrative)--it actually presents us with a wonderful opportunity to escape the modernist paradigm in which we seem to be trapped. It contains a number of important points: 1) propositional truth of any sort (be it the dogma of religion or the promise of scientism) is dead. Statements of truth are bound to deceive and disappoint. However, we are not left adrift in a sea of pure relativism because, despite the loss of "truth statements" we still have our stories (our narratives). Sure they will not be accepted as meta-narratives by anyone outside the story holder him/herself but they are valid because they are someone's story. 2) Relativism is also dangerous and the "freedom" to believe nothing is as potentially devastating as belief in univocal metanarratives.

What does this mean for those of us who--driven by the innocent faith that the author finds dangerous--hold strongly to a narrative that motivates us and guides our daily lives? Modernism pushed us to try to prove that our story was not only rational but of sufficient historical certainty that it could stand up to rationalist inspection. Some even suggested that we could "prove" (in some quasi-scientific way?) that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical fact. Further, modernism "empowered" us to believe that WE could save the world by liberally applying the tools of marketing, sociological analysis and political science. Interpreting our violence assured white power as a sign of God's blessing we went forth and "conquered" conveniently jettisoning historical realities, developing self-serving eschatologies, rejecting a strong ecclesiology and reducing our pneumatology to (if anything at all) mere external displays of "spirituality" (but denying its true power).

Of course the things we did and what we became were all linked and enabled by the "rightness" of our white privilege. We traded participation in God's great program of reconciliation and healing (our birthright and only raison d'ĂȘtre) for a "stew" of nationalistic allegiance and the worship of violence that served our salvific purposes, but not God's. We needed and need liberation from all these failings and postmodernism, despite its own temptations noted above, provides a way. It does so because it forces us to reexamine our ecclesiology and our pneumatology.

We DO have a story and while it is a bizarre and seemingly tribal narrative (in human terms), part of the narrative is that it is really God's story of reconciliation of all things and we, far from being "chosen" for our goodness or some other reason are chosen merely as agents of reconciliation. In other words the story says we are part of the story not because we are heros but because we are normal folks who only exist to show an "open hand" of mercy living and love. Because the story is so bizarre--filled with resurrections, cosmic battles, weakness as strength and poverty as wealth--it can only be heard and adopted by an act of God's mercy. It can only be "believed" and appropriated by an act of God's Spirit. As ambassadors and messengers we tell stories and God works through them. This is a right and strong pneumatology--God's Spirit given free reign to "save".

However (as NT Wright has pointed out) we not only tell the story (or stories all of which are part of THE STORY), we also engage in symbolic acts--acts that not only point to the coming unwinding of the fall but that embody the coming reality in the present. This is where a renewed ecclesiology is critical. Solitary actors may gain their 15 minutes of fame but only a faith community, living in and as community within broader communities can hope to have the staying power required to live humanly and authentically. This is the church's purpose--to be a community of praxis living the reign of Christ in the day to day pain, joy, hope and suffering of our world. Church was never a place to go but a community to be.

In all of this it becomes clear that the church has nothing to prove, no project of our own to advance no salvation to assure. It merely needs to be a community committed to engaging in symbolic acts and telling the stories of THE STORY to a world that can only accept the validity of any narrative to the extent that it touches it where it is. The touching is God's work.

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