Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Deconstructing Solomon's Box: Derrida and Paggit

As you can see, the last building we nomads of Third Day Fresno rented for a celebration center/HQ was a bit outta the we winkingly nicknamed it "The Box". Designed by respected architect Arthur Dyson, it had won numerous architecture awards, was famous/infamous for it's completely (!) mirrored bathroom , and was a blast to meet in. It was recently bought ..believe it or a dentist for his office, so we had to move out. We miss it. The real estate promo sheet called it's architectural style "whinsical" (perfect for church, eh?). Some neighbors called it the spaceship. We called it home.

So we took pains and steps to make it feel like home.

Physical set-up..especially of chairs/sofas has always been intentional and strategic for us. Not because we want to be hip or emerging or creative; not because we are pomo-driven, but simply because seating charts are theological; they preach just as much as I do. We want to sent a message (through the medium, which may be the message) that, a la 1 Corinthians, all are important; all can participate. I have often set up the space to send/incarnate the message that there is not one "professional" or "lecturer." Hence, though you see me here in a backsliding momement speaking from a music stand up front; we have no pulpit; let alone pews. Several times we have arranged the space so everyone is facing other folks, as in Jim Rutz's suggestion for "Open Church."

If you are familiar with Doug Paggit's Preaching ReImagined , and our church's DNA, you might guess taht this book has been huge and helpful in letting us know we are not alone in seeking to restructure and reimagine. Anyone that includes a chapter on "Physical Setup" in a preaching book...not to mention their church's "rule" about cell phones ("We say, 'Keep 'em on, something important might happen!'" p.130).... well, that's just gotta be a Kingdom thing! We're out of the same box!

Anyway, in the aforementioned chapter, he quotes the following blog post by Micahel Toy, relating the exeperience (medium and message) of watching the Derrida documentary:

there are a
couple of beautiful moments (in that documentary), and i thought
i would try to share one of
them here.

they try to do the normal
"sit the thinker down in a library
and have them pontificate" scene. as i
watched this scene, it was like derrida
vanished and i was listening to

Interviewer: "You're very well
known in the united states
for deconstruction. Can you talk a little bit about
the origins of that

Derrida: "Before responding to this question,
I want to make
a preliminary remark on the completely artificial character of
situation. I don't know who's going to be watching this, but I want to
underline rather than efface our surrounding technical conditions, and not
a "naturality" which does not exist".

I've already in a way
started to
respond to your question about deconstruction, because one of the
gestures of
deconstruction is not to naturalize what isn't natural – to not
assume that what
is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is

he is
refusing to pretend to have a philosophical
conversation in front of books, but
instead insists on beginning the
conversation with a recognition of how
unnatural it is to be sitting in
front of a camera, talking to people who aren't
there, and pretending not to
be talking the whole film crew, who is there.

i think people love
different things about jesus. some people love his
compassion for the poor,
others love him because he walked in power and could
turn water into wine.
listening to derrida i think i realized that i love jesus,
to a great
extent, because he was like this. you want to have one conversation
him, and he wants to have a deeper one with you. in order to invite you
the deeper conversation though, it is almost as if he has to destroy the
language you have used all your life before you can hear him.

Paggit sifts all the above, and concludes:

"This is a call to be prophetic in the deconstruction of systems of power. When we are willing to notice, point out and name the issues of power in our settings, we're creating a better situation in which the gospel can be preached." (210)

That is good news enough, but if Walter Wink is correct, there is also a deep dismantling and defanging of systemic evil in simply "naming the powers" and even noticing the systems that we can become embedded and enmeshed in. Even rearranging a few chairs can be strategic level spiritual warfare (as anyone who has messed with the seating chart in a traditional church has undoubtedly learned!).

A few years ago, my son, now 12, said "Daddy, what do you call those long, uncomfortable things we used tos it on in church?" I smiled as I brough the "pew" back to his memory. Then just last week, I mentioned the word "pulpit," and he quiized me "What's that?"

Hey, I am glad for churches that are blessed with pews and pulpits. It's just not us. It's just that for us, there is no going back. I might even buy an old pulpit one day just to chain-saw it (see this unforgettable account!).
But we also agrre that just monkeying with the chairs, and adding a few couches, doesn't bring the Kingdom down, and doesn't automatically demolish the strongholds Wink has identfied. Heck, it could even be just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

But it is one practical way we have found, in our exeperimental church, to facilite and foster a context where
we have powerfully heard the voice of the Lord through those that would never be allowed to speak in most churches, when we would have missed it if so-called "laypeople" were not given the floor, "pulpit"..and space to speak. The only alteranative would be what Paggit calls "sit there and take it" church. Paggit claims that, despite the fears of "This (letting the saints talk) will lead to more heresy," it leads to less. Our church can amen.

One church with a sense of humor (may that tribe increase), in their hilarious, tongue-in-cheek but dead-serious "bulletin" , feels the need to explain and justify this practice of "letting the unwashed masses actually say something in church":

We like to share the wealth. Seeing as most of our ministers with bible school
training got it via mail order, we don't feel that hearing from God is something
only one of them can do. Everyone in our church could potentially be sitting on
a great sermon, so we like to let everyone get a chance to speak. So we have a
five minute slot. Occasionally we get some weird discourse on helicopters and
UFO's, but 99.9% of the time or more it is a good message.

That's a good perecentage. And worth a little deconstructing, reconstructing... and thinking a bit outside the box. Even if its a Dentist Office Box that looks like a UFO.


  1. Dave,
    Great site! Can't wait for more!

  2. Thanks, Antioch! Now that you have registered on Blogger, I want to see your blog!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!