Friday, February 20, 2009


A couple conversations I was listening to earlier today have me bustling with thoughtful imagination about the Christian meta-narrative that might best perhaps be re-framed as pneuma-narrative. While its frequently a challenge to track one's thought processes I'll try to share the dialogue that was racing through my head this day through some random sharing in hopes that I get the point across for what I'm curious about today.

I woke up early today, like 4:41 a.m. early, because I have another paper due for class on a book I hadn't before today started reading by Judith Butler Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. The book is a critical response to post 9/11 life and our responsibility as a nation to find ways of reflecting on our own actions in partnership to a greater global power structure rather than the framing of events through our own USAmerican eyes.

The first essay of five, "Explanation and Exoneration, or What We Can Hear," highlights what Butler calls the "rise of censorship" and "anti-intellectualism" that occurred in response to challenging and probing questions surrounding how such an events could have happened in the first place but were quickly dismissed as attempts to exonerate "those" terrorists.

Of particular interest to me in her development of this topic surrounds the notion for how the story has been told, who's doing the telling and how it serves to justify war and demonize any who stand against it. While I'm guessing not many will disagree with her critique she puts forth giving it a fair hearing, it is equally interesting to hear some of her quotes through the lens of church as the primary power reference point in place of the Bush administration. Her driving question is this: "Can we find another meaning, and another possibility, for the decentering of the first-person narrative within the global framework?" (7)

Other helpful quotes that frame her argument and at least, give this reflective church person, some curious imagination for how we are missing the point for broadening our discernment of the unfolding story of God at work in the world.

"If we are to come to understand ourselves as global actors, and acting within a historically established field, and one that has other actions in play, we will need to emerge from the narrative perspective of US unilateralism and, as it were, its defensive structures, to consider the ways in which our lives are profoundly implicated in the lives of others." (7)

"My sense is that being open to the explanations...that might help us take stock of how the world has come to take this form will involve us in a different order of responsibility. The ability to narrate ourselves not from the first person alone, but from say, the position of the third, or to receive an account delivered in the second, can actually work to expand our understandings of the forms that global power has taken." (8)

In closing her first chapter Butler suggests the solution lies in "hearing beyond what we are able to hear. And it means as well being open to narration that decenters us from our supremacy, in both its right-and left wing forms." (18)

Secondly and shortly following my reading of this first chapter I checked my twitters to find that Phyllis Tickle was lecturing at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and that iamjoshfrank (thanks Josh, btw, nice to meet you) was twittering it (or is it tweeting it? not sure the lingo on this quite yet). One of the tweets he wrote from a comment of Phyllis was this question "how are we becoming literate in the 21st century? how does the church become literate?"

While I wasn't in attendance at this event, though I was present for The Great Emergence in Memphis, I believe I understand some context of where she is speaking from and I replied with the following comment: "perhaps literacy comes in the space we make for reading, or hearing, in new ways that allows church to b decentered." You may begin to see that Butler's thoughts on deconstructing power in allowing others to help generate a greater narrative is the back drop for my response. And so my thoughts continue...

What if literacy, as asked by Tickle, also wonders who gets to help tell and discern the story? How broad can the story be told and by whom, without and in any way, diluting the story that has been gifted to the world through the story of Jesus? Maybe we need to move away from the idea that there is a meta-narrative as a story already completed and accomplished, but one that is still being written and in need of continuing discernment. It seems to me, especially if we start probing the question of authority, i.e. sola scriptura, we need to wonder who's the authority behind the narrative?

If the location of authority is the church, then in many ways, we loose the ability to keep an open ended listening and dynamic perspective for what God is up to in the world and how God is calling us to be on board. If the church is the authority it sets up a dualistic sense for defining and defending instead of discerning. There is a massive distinction between these concepts. Don't we also acknowledge this authority to exist primarily with God, i.e. Matt. 28? So it would make sense then that the church isn't the one and only body that holds authority but perhaps is the body calling the world to discern a greater pneuma-narrative. We call others to the table to wonder with us a story larger than ourselves.

What if we aren't the primary story tellers as much as the story-reflectors, and like the incarnation, it is God's story taking hold of us and being told through us? What then? I suppose we could enter a little more freely and non-anxiously into this story as curious adventures waiting to discover how and in what way God's presence is emerging in the world. Maybe our function as church is to convene the space and open the conversation for where we are to discern (sift) through the global partnership trusting that as life unfolds God's very Spirit is what is being lived through us. It is a shift from defining to being, from epistemology to communally discerning existentiality, a shift from objective knowing to knowing "in, with and under," radical subjectivity.

Even our practices have different implications when we don't hold the narrative as belonging primarily to us rather than to the One who claims us first. Even our prayers could be understood not as our own, per se, but God's praying through us for the life of the world. Thus Paul suggests that "the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." And what of worship, reading Scripture, hospitality and generosity? Again perhaps the very breath of God's Spirit making its way through us for the life and common good of the world.

So here it is, some initial theological meanderings in and around how church could be engaging God's pneuma-narrative. What do you think? What are your thoughts?

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