Ever since I started blogging, and even before that, I’ve tried steering as clear as possible from the term “postmodern” (or post-modern). It’s a minefield when you go out there. When I use the word I try keeping to a very general definition. I found Fritjof Capra’s A Web of Life to be one of the best definitions, although he doesn’t ever give a definition, but simply describe changes in science over the past couple of decades.

But sometimes, in ground-level conversations, we tend to be more prescriptive about postmodernism than descriptive. What I mean is that we spend more time telling people how they should think when postmodern than listening to how they think now that they are part of a postmodern generation. This typically comes out when people state, explicitly or implicitly, that postmodern is necessarily “good” and modern “bad”, and that on top of that, postmodern is what “I am”, and modern what those I differ with are.

We then hear things like all truth is relative (something which I think I agree with, wrote about it here), or that we should make room for different opinions (another thing I’m very fond of), and then try to force this into our own lives in unnatural ways. Two examples:

  • I joined a discussion a few days ago, and took some friends along. In the car on the way back, I started asking about their experiences (another thing I like to do at times), and onssaid that the problems with the discussions is that there isn’t really discussion going on. Everyone would just say what they think, and even differ, and then leave it to that.
  • I am currently attending a “seminar” by Roger Greenaway, an expert on reviewing. I’ve been using his model and some of his tools for reviewing for nearly three years now, and can tell amazing stories about how this has helped me. But currently I’m not that impressed with the experience I’m having. I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or the group’s, but somehow the conversation tend to get into the “let’s just get every opinion on the table and let it be”, or the “let’s get something nice to say about everyone, whether they deserve it or not” category the whole time.

This seem to be very nice, and very “postmodern”, but I think we are missing the point here. We could, for example, gain a lot from Roger’s work when using a word like “holistic” to describe postmodernism; Roger could then help us to not only listen to the logical argument going on, but also to the experiences people are having, which would help us get a more holistic view of what happened, or what is happening. Or what if we rather used a word like “relational”: I’ve written some time ago:

Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers.

When in conversation, differing is OK! Even arguing is OK. What’s not OK is saying that my way and my way alone may be correct. What’s not OK is saying that the logical argument I’m using must be correct because it’s logical. The physical sciences have shown over and over again that what seemed logical at one stage change when new information, or perspectives, get put on the table. So if differing, or even arguing, can help you to see things through the others eyes, through the eyes of another gender, generation, race, culture, or whatever else there might be, then maybe we need the differing, maybe we need to point out to people if there is a difference in how we see things. Not necessarily to be able to win the case, but rather to continue our search for truth and meaning relationally, rather then individually, or by only listening to certain “power” figures (whether intellectual, political, religious, or whatever might be found).

Do sharpen my thoughts on this if I’m missing the point myself…

round-table church

October 22, 2007

I’ve started this post a few days ago, but never finished it, so now I’m just restarting.

I gave some thoughts on Dwelling in the Wordlast time, what I’m writing here follows on this. The idea of the Round-table church is that everyone can participate on equal level, like sitting around around table, rather than in the pews. In systematic theology, but only for the Dutch (and Afrikaans) reader, the practical/systematic theologian Dingemans has used this idea in ‘De stem van de Roepende’. Doug Pagitt tried to make this practical (although working from a different tradition than Dingemans) in some of the chapters of ‘Church re-imagined’.

We arrive at the idea of a Round-table church from a number of directions. I’ll try and touch upon some of them.

Let’s start out with the most difficult one, which might also be the most important one. Philosophically, when we work with a new concept of truth, the this idea of church make sense. If truth is no longer something absolute which can only be retrieved by those most smart, or in a position of power (I think usually it was actually the second one that was at play), but something that is relative and relational, this idea will make sense. Truth is relative. This must not be mistaken with being relativistic, truth being relativistic would mean that there is no truth, since that which you consider to be true can be true, without regards of anything else. If you think of the spacial meaning of relative, it might help, I think. You can try to give my current position in cosmic coordinates at the moment, or else you can see where I am relative to something else. I’m currently at a certain position relative to the city of Twane, of the N1 highway, or the Kameeldrif church building. What I consider to be true is relative to my own experience, my upbringing, my current emotions etc. Everyone of us look at things through these, and other, lenses. We see truth relative to this, and therefore, since our lenses differ, we don’t arrive at exactly the same answers. And the answers of those in positions of power, is also scene through lenses. Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers. Thus we can really listen to everyone, and not only to the trained theologian.

The ease with which people can nowadays get information also play a role in forming this idea. It’s not only the trained theologian that have access to information, anyone can google a topic and get info, both good and bad. Theology is not only for those trained, but everyone can take part.

On a very practical point, I have a feeling that communicatively (is that a word???), the real questions and answers in a community are better addressed in dialogue, rather than monologue. When one person has all the speaking rights, they tend to get so high up in the clouds, that the real question isn’t addressed, or keep to some pet topics, which miss questions which some are asking, or simply don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds. Also sometimes, what is needed isn’t answers, but a place to ask questions, to connect with others that ask the same questions. The way in which we are currently doing church services is not addressing these needs.

However, I’ve been contemplating the role of pastors and trained theologians, and this post brings me to this questions. So I’ll address that in a following post.

Oh, and just for interest sake, I just discovered that my previous post was number 100! This is post number 101.