Today at a clergy conference with Diana Butler Bass the subject of discussion was postmodernism. To be fair, the subject was really congregational vitality and the results of the three-year research project she has completed for the Lilly Endowment. But when she began talking about the axes along which folks may differ (one axis is the liberal-conservative contiuum; the second is the “cultural style” continuum between what she calls “establishment” and “intentionality”; the third is between a “modern” worldview and a “postmodern” worldview), the discussion focused entirely on postmodernism, what it is, where the generational divide is between those who are “modernist” and those who are “postmodernist”, and so forth.
Interestingly, the clergy present, as a group, seemed to be of a mindset that said: “OK. Postmodernism is where it’s at. How do we move our congregations into postmodernism?” And my question is, “Is that what we’re supposed to be about?” Are we supposed to be moving people to adopt a postmodern view of reality? Is the postmodern worldview closer to God than the modern? Or should we simply be aware that it is one of many viewpoints from which people may be called to move closer to God? I think we are not called to move people into postmodernism.
We are called to move people into relationship with God, to assist them to hear, acknowledged, and respond to the presence and call of God in their lives. They can do that from any worldview — premodern, modern, postmodern, whatever.
On another note, and not specifically connected to the first, our chaplain (former PB Frank Griswold) introduced me to a wonderful quotation from St. Gregory Nazianzan, whose feast day this is. After retiring as Bishop of Constantinople, to a friend Gregory wrote the following words:
From councils and synods, I will keep myself at a distance, for I have experienced that most of them, to speak with moderation, are not worth much.
And then he was invited to take part in a synod by the emperor Theodosius, and he declined with these words:
I will not sit in the seat of synods while geese and cranes confusedly wrangle. Discord is there, and shameful things, hidden before, are gathered into one meeting-place of rivals.
And it is to synods of bishops that the Primates, in the proposed Anglican Covenant, would have us primarily entrust the theological teaching of the church…..
At the end of today’s session, three colleagues and I left the conference location and drove the country roads of northeastern Ohio, visiting vineyards and wineries. I much preferred the afternoon to the morning. (The picture is of the Methodist Episcopal Church that South River Winery, one of the places we visited, moved to their site and turned into a tasting room. It can be rented for weddings and one of our number had been there before to officiate at a wedding in the former chapel.)