Sunday, April 21, 2013
the challenges in fresh expressions: a counter spirituality
“For the essence of modernity is economic development, the vast transformation of society precipitated by the emergence of the capitalist world market. And capital accumulation … requires the constant revolutionising of production, the ceaseless transformation of the innovative into the obsolescent.” (Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Themes in the Social Sciences), 64)
I wandered my garden over the weekend.
Recently planted broccoli seeds are up, tiny leaves seeking light. The blessing of something planted days ago, which in time will yield nourishment for the Taylor table.
The leaves of kale, seedlings planted some two months ago, now stand proud, nourishment now for the Taylor table. The blessing of something planted months ago.
Some autumn bulbs have suddenly flowered. A dash of crimson, fragile and beautiful, has emerged from what was dry. The blessing of something planted years ago.
Pioneers like to plant. I noted last week the challenge of fresh expressions. How much of fresh expressions is simply the church entering into “the constant revolutionising of production, the ceaseless transformation of the innovative”? What does it mean talk fresh and emerging in a culture that plans obsolence, privileging the new in a relentless search of the next fashion trend?
Yet such analysis ignores a significant dimension of the practice of fresh expression. I’m talking about the emerging trend of recapturing the ancient, when what is new is in fact a deliberate reaching for what is old.
Doug Gay captures this superbly in his book, Remixing The Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology. He describes the practice of “retrieval”, the ways in which new forms of church cultivate ancient paths, retrieving from history and from the church worldwide.
This move stands at odds with Connerton’s analysis – of “the constant revolutionising of production, the ceaseless transformation of the innovative into the obsolescent.” (Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Themes in the Social Sciences), 64)
(Although it could still be a problematic manifestation of postmodern consumer culture – for more on this see my discussion of the ethics of sampling in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Chapter 8, Postcard Samplers)
Which returns me to my garden. The bulbs are an ancient planting, the kale an earlier planting, the broccoli recent. They involve multiple moments of planting. They rely on more than one pioneer.
This is one posture by which pioneers might respond to the spirituality of our age. We will cultivate crops recent and ancient. We will consider as important the seeds that yield instant results as the seeds that might take months to grow. We will plant in expectation of seasons with rain and without. We will partner with other pioneers, honour their historic acts of grace, deliberately plant things we know that we will never harvest, glad that another will enjoy our fruit.
Such is God’s economy.