Thursday, August 04, 2005

Back from England

Hey everyone

sorry I've been incommunicado. I was all set to be very in-contact in England, but nooo: my inline surge protector blew the first time I plugged it into an English socket. After that, with no time and no especially techie people there to help quickly, I just had an extra five-pound weight in my backpack to toughen me up. I was using other people's machines for email when I could, and I didn't want to hog them for blogging as well. next time, better.

great trip. for me personally it was great; I could vacation hard for a year in Britain and not tap out the places I wanted to go and stuff I want to see and experience. the wedding in Bath was great, but chaotic enough that I wasn't able to make it in to town to actually tour the Roman baths there that gave the town its name. I did get to go with my sister Katherine and her English husband Mark to Fountains Abbey, near Ripon north-northwest of Leeds. Chris McMains accused me of being out to "bag" World Heritage Sites (which I guess both Bath and Fountains are) the way climbers bag peaks.

the overall impression from the trip was to reinforce what I suspected going in: that Europe in general, Britain in particular, is further down the postmodernizing social shift than the US is. That may be welcome or terrifying news, depending on your assessment, I suppose. I think it's fine, especially as the second part of that observation is that the denominations, and in some cases the churches, in Britain are also well ahead of us in adapting to the new intellectual and cultural environment.

It may well be, of course, that the reason is not that they are especially foresighted compared with us, but merely that the culture they work in is more fully transitioned than ours is. Or maybe more importantly still, I think a large part of British Christian willingness to adapt to culture change is the glaring obviousness of their predicament. Unlike us, they cannnot pretend to have a triumphal, victorious, possessing attitude toward their society. The church is largely irrelevant there. It is tiny, and on the ropes in most places. But whether necessity is the mother of invention or not, extremity is sometimes the parent of honest assessment. Public relations drivel, hype, self-congratulatory praise are not only uncongenial to the post-war, post-Empire British cynicism, understatement, and self-deprecation, they are also laughably untenable when applied to the church in society. We still dream of a Christian takeover of the courts, the schools, the media, the government. The prospect is ludicrous in England. Desperate men take desperate measures, and at worst this means that there is a lot of grudging adaptation in England. But there is also much more enthusiastic adaptation, too.

Another factor I think plays in. It is that we can confuse cultural adaptation with pop culture fads and styles. I think England is slightly less gaga over consumerism than we are anyway, but with respect to emerging church stuff, I think there's a much grimmer recognition of how close the church is to utter disintegration, so adaptation is consciously about survival and identity and transformation, and much less about finding out what the cool kids are into this season.

None of this is to say that the English have a successful "model" for us to follow. They've only had modest success, in the first place, and I don't think models are useful in highly localized, relationship-driven, highly transient situations anyway.

but I do think that there are missiological patterns at work than we can, mutatis mutandis, apply in our circumstances.

more later soon.



Blogger Lorenloo said...

what we found that was interesting where we were in england as whereas people didn't have the same assumed belief the way they might in america (like, "oh yeah, of course i believe in God"), they also seemed to lack the same kind of impression of christianity as many people in my circles do in the US. that is to say, they did not equate Christians with the negative stereotypes of loud, "preachy", aggressive, or hypocritical that many folks in the US have. so when i said i was a Christian, it was surprising because it was uncommon, but wasn't a big deal.

also, re: postmodernism in england, we found that in our circles, while in some ways a lot of gender constructions have been broken down insofar as general equality, the roles are still very much in place. so while it is assumed that women are equally intelligent and capable, etc., it is not ok for them to like whiskey or ale instead of malibu or sparkling wine. curious.

glad you're back!

3:38 PM  
Blogger some chick said...

see, now if you can just make all what you just wrote make sense to the church at large in America, then. well. I don't know. but it would be good.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Wow. Very interesting! Great comments! Personally, I am very encouraged by the church in the UK...and elsewhere in Europe (and in Oz and NZ which seem in similar situations). I for one have learned...continue to learn tons from them.

4:23 PM  

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