Wednesday, July 21, 2010

church for the (kiwi) man in the shed

My interests include the relationship between church and society, gospel and culture. What is the role of the church in the world? How does the world see the church?

I’m currently enjoying The man in the Shed, a collection of short stories by Kiwi writer, Lloyd Jones, published in 2009, a commercial follow-up to the success (Commonwealth Writers Prize and shortlist for Man Booker Prize) of Mister Pip.

One story, Lost Cities, begins with Alice, who is painting her (rural Canterbury) town, building by building.

“And after the theatre, she plans an eating house and, next to it, a bar, and across the street a police station and gaol. And at the end of the street, a church of sharp cheekbones and high forehead. Within view of the church Alice adds the farmhouse.” (52)

A typical rural town, complete with to be expected church. The pages of the short story continue to turn.

Over time, Alice’s husband dies and her son, Mark grows. In time, Mark leaves for the bright lights (of Sydney). All the time, Alice continues to paint, the same picture, touched and re-touched, a visual reflection on her changing life in changing times. She paints and repaints. The tree grows, the buildings are modernised, threatres and restuarants are added, the city crowds are coloured in.

“Milling among the crowd over the ‘historic’ flagstone area are hotdog vendors, jugglers, pickpockets, thieves of all descriptions. There are yellow cabs, policemen on horseback, a flotilla carrying a beauty-pageant queen.” (59-60).

It’s a gorgeous sentence and a fascinating way to visualise change. The painting work as the still point, the canvas which captures change. So what will be the place of faith, the church, as times they are a changing?

“Over the church hovers Alice’s paintbrush. She hesitates to demolish it because the city will need a soup kitchen for the lives stranded short of the promised land.” (60).

It’s a fascinating glimpse, one perspective, on the future of faith in a culture of change. In the imagination of Kiwi author, Lloyd Jones, the future obviously needs a church. The reason is based on what Lloyd sees as the role of the church in contemporary society – to care for the broken and dispossessed. As it does that, it earns the right to remain in a contemporary painting, as it exists as a beacon of hope.

Yet such a place for the church, remains for Alice simply a painting. She might be grieving, she might be oh so creative. However, church remains for her an object painted for “them.” Never, for creative, middle-class, grieving Alice.

A fascinating way to paint the body of Christ into society today!

Posted by steve at 06:40 PM