A book and a movie

I handed in a paper today, one which has been looming over my semester, bogging me down, for several weeks now. Contrary to what I had expected, the “loominosity” hasn’t lifted.  This might be because the paper was fairly open-ended, so I had to set boundaries to it which seemed somewhat arbitrary to me.  It feels incomplete, but it probably would feel that way no matter how long I worked on it. So I handed it in.

Maybe that looming feeling relates to something else. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Strangely enough, I find early spring kind of depressing and bittersweet.  The melting snow, the mud, the cool temperatures.  I went for a bit of a walk the other day which was actually uplifting.  Maybe in spring my soul longs for solitude. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, last week I managed to watch one of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture: A Serious Man. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Job and the film is as open-ended as that Biblical book (as well as their film, No Country for Old Men). But the lack of clarity or resolution is, I suspect, partly the point of the story, so it didn’t frustrate me as it might have.  It’s a darkly funny film and the acting is terrific.  It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and bears repeated viewing.  4/5 stars.

Also, last week I read most of James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. It was an excellent book, which argued for what has been called “ancient-future” worship: appropriating the traditions and practices of the ancient (or even simply premodern) church into a postmodern context.  Smith is a proponent of “Radical Orthodoxy“, which is a position he argues for in the book, and he has piqued my interest in that movement.

My only critique of the book is that it focuses too much on the “emerging” church and the “postmodern” church, which, in my mind, seems to pin the movement to an “ism” rather than as an authentic form of church without strict ideological allegiances (such as “we are a postmodern church”). However, I suspect that one of the reasons he insists on doing this is because part of function of the book is a critique the so-called “postmodern church” which Smith argues is actually thoroughly modern (simply a revamped version of the “seeker sensitive” model).

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who are skeptical of postmodern thought and its relation to the Christianity and the church.

3 thoughts on “A book and a movie

  1. Toni

    Interest comment in the second section, Marc. I was wondering for a moment if RO was going to be like McLaren’s ‘generous orthodoxy’ which seemed to say ‘every and all tradition is good and should be included’. Instead what it seems to be saying – correct me if I’m wrong – is that we should carry on with our traditions in the way we always have, and that they’re right, good and we shall vigorously defend them.

    I can see why Smith would see the PoMo church as being at the one end of seeker sensitive.

    My biggest problem with the ancient-future worship thing is that *it seems* like practices are made valid and valuable simply by antiquity, rather than intrinsic value and relevance. That and it seems to be looking back to see where the church has been, rather than forward to where it’s going. However there does seem to be a portion of the population that actually find value in bells and smells, so maybe there is some value in these things. 😉

  2. Marc

    Hmmmm…I didn’t hear Smith simply affirming tradition for tradition’s sake (i.e. “traditionalism”). I probably won’t do justice to RO here, so I recommend you read the book (which itself only gives glimpse of RO). 🙂

    However, one thing that Smith does argue for (since you bring up bells and smells) is that the evangelical church has largely become rather dualistic and intellectualist. We stress intellectual assent to a series of propositions and sermons are often arguments for those propositions. And our minds are often set on “escaping this world”. These two things combined mean that we see no value in creation, in the material world. For example, only ideas and words (and I suppose, music) are appropriate mediums for worship–so the mind and the ears are engaged. But what about the other senses? The eyes, the nose, the hands? What place is there, for example, for “smells” (such as incense) or for art? What place is there for movement in worship (other than the usual suspects, like raising hands or jumping), such as some of the processions in more high church environments?

    That’s a bit of a jumble of Smith’s thoughts and my own. I should find some appropriate quotes, because there is a theology behind the traditions OR supports, as opposed to doing them simply because we’ve always done them.

  3. Toni

    Thanks Marc. While I identify with some of what you said, my experience of the church in the UK for the last 30 years is mostly different from what you might recognise as a typical North American evangelical church. There have been one or 2 preachers I’ve heard that do talk in the manner you describe of intellectual assent and propositions, and while stimulating on one level, they always leave me feeling dissatisfied with the apparent missing connection with reality.

    And involvement in worship to a greater degree than just waving one’s arms in the air is one of my soap boxes, as you probably know. Having said that, I’ve participated in meetings with ‘worship art’ going on and while leaving my cynical brain at home, it’s only really seemed significant to the individual artist doing it. Where I’ve had to take part myself it’s never really passed the ‘so what’ test.

    But I am trying to take a fresh look at how worship can be made more than Christian karaoke right now.

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