Friday, March 11, 2005

being truly counter-cultural

we have been reflecting recently on the amazingly transient nature of our generation - particularly in Oxford. on our recent weekend away, when people presented objects that represented hopes or dreams for the future, the vast majority of people spoke of something that involved travelling or living elsewhere. i'm not knocking that necessarily, but it has massive implications for building church together - when there is such a high turnover of relationships. for us in Oxford, it also has to do with things like the exorbitant price of housing which makes it very difficult to put down roots. anyway, there's a great piece from Jason about this sort of thing on his blog:

"Anyhow that got me mulling over, how despite the fact that our lives are so short, we get more and more fadish as a species. Maybe part of the postmodern condition is that we flit from one thing to another, unable to committ to anything, fadish, and living for the now, in our brief lives. Maybe being counter cultural isn't about not having sex, maybe it's about committment, to others, to settling, staying and dwelling. No one seems to stay any more. We withdraw as consumers at the drop of a hat, from work, places we live, friendships, our churches. Have we lost what it means to do life together in proximity, over time?

What if staying in one place, being accountable, working through the difficult issues of life, staying committed to each other rather than moving on to fresh fields, was one of the most radical things we could do. In a culture that tells us to keep our options open, in case we miss out, maybe we are called to lay aside our options for the sake of others.

What would our community look like if we built churches, that we did life together in for 40, 50 years of more, rather than micro churches that are here today and gone tommorow. To celebrate births, growing up of children, marriages, and deaths, to retell and incarnate the christian story with a group of people, in a place for the whole of our lives?

Or are we keeping our options open, scared of missing out on something better, when maybe we have something better within our grasp already?

In a life that is brief, maybe the biggest risk I can take is to stay where I am, to invest everything I have and not leave, to dwell, to develop long memories and connections to a place and people."


Chris said...

This is an issue that is close to my heart, but in two fundamentally different ways:

First of all, I should say that I think if you were able to offer me a 'perfect' packaged life: a wife, kids, a house and a secure job when i woke up tomorrow, I would take it in a heartbeat. It is my vision to create and thrive in a Christian community with my family and friends back home and wholly (/holy) invest into that. There is nothing earthly that I want more than this...

On the other hand, deep down inside I desire to travel and not just see but experience as many cultures of the world as I can, and that takes an investment of time. Sure you can tour India for 2 weeks and get a sense of the people and culture, but you can't fully grasp it. This is important to me as a citizen of the 'global village' as I don't believe we can afford to be ignorant of the others with whom we share this planet. Christian community at its best can truly change the world by being a blessing to it, bringing the kingdom of God in all that it does, and this is what I hope to participate in during my lifetime. At its worst however, I'm afraid 'Christian' community can be exclusionist, xenophobic, and even violent. To be completely frank, I think the problem with the United States is that many of its citzens are ignorant of the world beyond their borders, and such ignorance leads to the unfathomable death, destruction and devastation that we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as New York City itslef...

So where's the balance? Obviously you could live 10 lifetimes and not even see a whole continent, let alone the whole world. Yet I am uneasy about "settling" without ever experiencing another culture...I don't care how well-read you are, reading about something will never increase your empathy in the way that living it would. Which is not to say that one should be a nomad, but rather just that one _shouldn't_ be a hermit. I met one 90 year old woman who told me that she had lived all but 2 years of her life in Sussex, and I just thought "how sad...what wasted potential..." I'm sure she did a wonderful job raising and supporting her family, and was a staple to her community, and she should be commended for that, but how much richness and variety did she miss out on?

Hmmm...I guess I've been arguing a lot against stability and commitment, and I don't mean to be...I suppose that the benefits are so apparent to me that I thought I should play devil's advocate. I'm certainly not against it by any means, however I would also like to point out, with complete sincerity and without any malice intended, that I think it is easier for married men in their 30's with Masters' degrees (both you and Jason) to believe that everyone should settle down and invest in a single community/location than it is, say, for a 23 year old who is still single and searching. In true postmodern fashion though, I'd like to point out that this is all just my opinion (and not even a very solid one at that), and one should feel free to take all, some or none of it to heart. :)

TB said...

The ironic thing about Chris' posting is that it is the 90 year old woman in Sussex that makes Sussex a place that you want to visit.
The transient nature of society means that the homes and communities of transient people become transient places. That's the problem that Matt was speaking to and Chris acknowledged.
But then we talk about wanting to have a look round, be part of the 'global village' and understand each other a bit more. Well it's not going to work if we're all travelling round looking at each other. The 90 year old woman in Sussex has a clear local and, even, cultural identity and makes a massive investment and impact in Sussex. When people want to have a look round, it's her and the fruit of her local life that they're wanting to see. Just because India sounds like a much bigger adventure than Sussex, we don't note that the 90 year old Indians who've never even been 20 miles down the road are the ones who make India so interesting!
It seems that travel and inter-cultural stuff is a good thing. Maybe, but if we all become a compost of cultures and local identities then we'll all look the same. And compost is the right word, because the stuff that those cultures and identities are made of will start to rot and be lose their life.

Matt said...

thanks for your posts Chris and Tim. i think you make a very valid point, Tim but I have a certain sympathy with what you wrote Chris. the point you made at the end is a good one - it's all to easy for people like me in their thirties to bemoan the fact that people are so transient when 10 years ago i was mostly uninterested in settling down. and actually there is good christian precedence for a sacred kind of wanderlust. the early celtic monks were sometimes known as _peregrinati_ which meant spiritual wanderers. they would travel 'for the love of God'. unlike the monks in monasteries in mainland europe who took a vow of stability - vowing to remain in the same monastic community for the rest of their lives, the celtic monks took no such vow. they were occasionally known to set off in their coracles from the coast, not knowing where they were going but believing that God would guide them to where he wanted them to be. when they hit land they would preach the gospel, convert the local tribe, and plant a monastery! they were pretty hardcore.
so, chris, perhaps you have something of the spirit of perigrinati about you!