Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Narrative Sickness

I almost ran the red light.

Not because I was reading while driving; as usual.
But because for once (okay, twice: read here about the other shocking time), I was listening to Christian radio while driving.

Which is potentially more dangerous is up for grabs..

"God has given us the Bible," the preacher said, "so we don't have to think."


Because of what he said next, I am pretty sure he was winking as he offered that terrible wisdom (What he meant us, one shouldn't have to stop and think abouty whether or not one should steal or cheat; it's already clear in the Bible).

But I worry that this is often what folks hear us preachers saying, or implying.

Or worse (?); "God has given us preachers and teachers, so we don't have to think."

As Friere characterized what he calls the "banking" concept of education (in a sense his critique of this model is so revolutionary that it led to the "invitation" by his homeland of Brazil to leave his country!) : "The teacher teaches and the students are taught; the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing; the teacher thinks and the students are thought about" (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.59).

Bono has already lamented, in another satire, that "banks feel like cathedrals."
I fear our cathedrals and churches feel like banks, in the context of Friere's terminology.

"A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level...reveals
its fundamentally narrative character...Education is suffering from
narration sickness.

The teacher talks about reality as if it
were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he
expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the
students....The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education,
then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power" (Friere, 57)

Sounds like church. I fear you can bank on it. A good grounding in set theory, and quantum physics should cure the church of any concept of reality (and Christian life) as "motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable." But we are too busy listening to the sonority of teachers. And this fourold message is, ironically, what we often export, as we "come dancing across the water...with guns" in the name of missions..

And Friere midwifes me into wondering: With the "incredulity toward metanarrative" that has been suggested as so inextricable from postmodernity; perhaps an appropriate (and even postmodern-sensitive) metanarrative is possible; even inevitable.

While we pastors/teachers continue to build the banks of "narrative sickness"; could it be that God is calling us to so embed ourselves in radical community (especially among the oppressed) that we might learn the one metanarrative that empowers the transformimng power of words and education. It must be a brutally honest paradigm.
(Note: I want to hear more on this topic from the St. Happy Juancho, as she is a Latin American poeta-pastora who has written well on the Chilen church and metanarrative..)

Another provocateur who has spent time in Latim American communities, hoping to be undone of empire, Bruce Cockburn, helps a lot here. Through the crucible of hiw own experience
and faith (see "I became a Christian, and my marriage fell apart."), he

... knows postmodern despair. But in the face of the Other, and in
the face of radical evil that admits no postmodern deconstruction, he has a
feeling--granted it is no absolute moral order, but just a feeling--that comes
on so strong that he cannot deny it. This is a feeling of profound ethical
normativity. Cockburn can deconstruct the lies of modernity with the best of
them. Yet he goes beyond deconstruction. And this "beyond" is rooted, most
fundamentally, in a radical eschatological hope. Here Cockburn is blissfully
unpostmodern. Such a hope requires a decision in the face of undecidability, a
place to stand in a world that seems to be composed of cultural quicksand. And
that decision and that standing seem to us to be inextricably connected to
embracing a grand narrative and to being embraced by that narrative. Simply
stated, without a metanarrative, without an overarching vision of the story of
the world, hope is literally impossible.

"Who tells the world's story?" Douglas Hall asked. If we listen to Cockburn's telling, it is clear that his metanarrative and his hope are not naive, blissfully unaware of the fires of cultural decline and personal failure and brokenness. Rather, this is an eschatological hope for a broken-wheeled world. It is a hope, like all biblical hope, born in suffering and tested by fire. It is the hope of a second naivete. This is a hope that can passionately ask: "so how come history takes such a long, long time when you're waiting for a miracle?" ("Waiting for a Miracle," Waiting for a Miracle, 1987) Cockburn can ask the question honestly and passionately precisely because he has a genuine hope in a God who, beyond modernity and postmodernity, brings life out of death. Such honest questioning and radical hope are indispensable if there is to be Christian faith in a postmodern world. (Brian Walsh)

It's the "honest questioning" (maybe that itself is a metanarrative..at least betanarrative...that we should test-drive) that I fear we have not even begun to explore; as we spend way too much time...and currency..at the bank.

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!