Tuesday, April 17, 2012

the stories we tell, the implications for change

I’m currently reading Gerald Arbuckle’s, Culture, Inculturation, and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique, 2010. It is an accessible overview of culture and the implications for mission. His argument is that issues around gospel and culture is the drama of our day. And being an anthropologist by training (as well as a Catholic priest), he is concerned about how poorly the church understands culture and is aware of the massive shift in contemporary analysis of culture.

Which makes us naive at best, dangerous and destructive at worst.

Anyhow, Chapter 5 Culture as Narratives Negotiating Identities (63-80) is really insightful. Arbuckle begins by arguing that while myths help a culture clarify a past, stories clarify the present. He then suggests seven types of narratives often present in cultures.

  • composure – stories that, for the sake of peace, overlook painful parts of a past
  • romanticism – stories that not only overlook a painful past, but do so in ways that re in fact inventions
  • nationalism – stories that manipulate history in order to impose a current purpose
  • minorities – stories in which identity is founded by placing oneself as on the edge, as marginal
  • refounding – stories in which the past is told in a way that brings founding energy into one’s future
  • marketplace – stories in which new insights are added to a past, often for the commercial advantage of a certain group
  • grieving – stories in which loss in acknowledged

While Arbuckle is not explicit, my sense is that in terms of the church and change, he would encourage stories of refounding and stories of grieving, but is uneasy about the others.

As I read, I began to think of what stories the church is currently telling about itself.

  • an email overnight from a colleague, expressing concern that his church was overlooking a painful present, in a sort of “it will be all right” type of process
  • books that argue if we just return to the New Testament church, we will be alright, a romanticism that ignores the conflict in Corinth, the ethnic tensions in Acts 6 or the lack of response in Athens
  • the placing of American flags in a church as a sign of nationalism
  • a realisation within myself that I have placed myself (downunder Kiwi), and the emerging church, as a minority, in order to gain traction
  • the commercialism of Christian music as a story of marketplace

And I think of the work of Andrew Dutney, who in the Uniting Church has offered a story of refounding, explored the Basis of Union as a mission document, around which much energy and potential for renewal has occurred.

Posted by steve at 01:35 PM

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