Monday, September 20, 2010

"EPIC Culture: Are You Immigrant or Native?:

The new issue of Salt Fresno is in the mail, and online...
including my piece on "EPIC Culture: Are You Immigrant or Native?," inspired of course by St. Leonard Sweet:

Often in seminars, I ask people to raise their hands if they are married.

Then I add, "Keep your hands up if you are in a cross-cultural marriage."

Inevitably, hands go down.

Inevitably, I argue that every hand should have stayed up.

My comment at that point is "I didn't say 'cross-racial' marriage; I said 'cross-cultural.’ Culture can defined as a way of viewing the world, and a set of assumptions for behaving.
How many have noticed that no matter how similar you and your spouse are, at some point you say, 'We are from two different worlds?'”

Then laughter erupts and every hand held high.
All marriages are cross-cultural.
Every interaction with another human is cross-cultural.
All of us in this world are from different worlds.

Everyone reading this--especially those born after 1974--know that “the whole world” has changed in our lifetime. Whether you are talking our era’s information explosion, the role of church, expectations of teachers, music styles, or gas seems almost everything has changed in our culture, some things exponentially, and many things many times over.

One of the most helpful grids through which to understand this change is to grasp that we have moved from what academics call the “modern world" or "modernity" into the "postmodern era" or "postmodernity." Ironically, this can be one of the most confusing grids, too...since everyone seems to mean something different by the same terms!

My favorite, simplified way of explaining this shift we have all somehow sensed, comes from Christian futurist Leonard Sweet. In his book "Postmodern Pilgrims," Sweet offers the acrostic, "EPIC," to capture and summarize the postmodern times we live in:

E stands for Experience, P for Participatory, I for Image-Driven, and C for Connected.

 These are the foundational hungers of people in our postmodern culture and churches, particularly those born after 1974.

As compared to the “modern” world’s preferences, especially among those born into it; that is, prior to 1974:

 Rational (as opposed to Experiential), Representative (as opposed to Participatory), Word-based (in contrast to Image-Driven), and Individualistic (in contrast to Connected).
Too bad RRWI  doesn't spell anything catchy like EPIC!)

Which brings us to the question behind today's title:

                                           Are you immigrant or native to today’s EPIC culture?

Note that I didn’t ask you how old you were.

 An EPIC-oriented culture is indeed the dominant culture today; but within that broader culture are both those who prefer it and are "naturally" oriented that way, and those who prefer the orientation of the culture that was previously dominant. That culture,  the culture and mindset of the "modern" world, prevailed for hundreds of years (since the printing press, in fact)…until our lifetime. Sweet suggests that those born after 1974 or so, especially people young enough to have never known life without a computer, are "natives” to EPIC culture. People born before 1974 are thus "immigrants" in a new culture.  The world they were native to was rational, representative, word-based and individualistic.

It might sound obvious to conclude that most older people prefer the RRWI approach, and younger folk opt for the EPIC way. But one realizes there are exceptions to the rule. Leonard Sweet himself, for example, is even older than me (imagine that!), so he "should" be an immigrant who is uncomfortable with an EPIC approach. But he says EPIC is his natural wiring. It is likely rarer, but there are also surely some twenty-somethings who function out of an RRWI worldview.

We don't have space to talk about all the implications for church, and being salt and light in our day.  But begin imagining the issues that are raised. Traditional churches very often are Rational (logical arguments in defense of faith), Representative (one or two "professional" clergy to represent “laypeople”).  Traditional churches might fear being Experiential, but an EPIC would suggest that a relationship with Jesus, or a sermon, must be experienced.  Traditional churches tend to operate out of a representative leadership model, but EPICs actually want to participate. Traditional churches focus on Words, but EPICs are ministered to primarily by Images.

We are from two different worlds.
It’s extremely cross-cultural.

One can find Scripture for each culture.  As one example, recall that Jesus is both Word of God (John 1) and Image of God (Col. 1:15).  We preachers, especially those of us from an RRWI world should be thrilled that the culture actually would have us stretch, and become more like  image-makers (not as in worshipping images, but as in telling stories, as Jesus did; and incorporating art into worship gatherings).  Picture that!  We become missionaries in our own culture.
Ecologist Rudolph Bahro writes, "When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure."

Christian speaker Graham Cooke adapts the saying for Christians, "When the old wineskin is dying, the new wineskin is created by people who are not afraid to be vulnerable.”
Holy insecurity and humble vulnerability enable this old RRWI to become a better missionary in these EPIC times.

Sweet concludes that though there are dangers in accommodating to culture, the postmodern hunger (which we have often condemned as being wishy-washy and far from God) actually positions people to hear, see, and respond to the gospel in beautiful ways not possible in the modern world.   That is, if we truly “get” that:  Millennium Three, Christianity faces the most powerful intellectual and spiritual advance in the history of civilization. Internet technology is amplifying the worldwide flow of new kinds of experiences, interactions, images, and connections. The doors of the future are there for Christianity to open for the glory of God. Our ancestors helped create those doors. Will we their descendants open them? Or will we sit back, entwined like mummies in safety-belt strips of protection, fear and suspicion--all death sentences--and let others open those doors while the future flies by?

There is no door we can't open with EPIC love.

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