A Prolegomena To a Living Magna Carta Beta 1
WE HAVE LOST CONFIDENCE in what we are seeing, hearing and reading: too much infotainment and not enough thinking; too many Churches telling the same stories; too much commercialism and not enough real living; too much hype making life a jaunt through a theme park distorting our view of the world.
WE HAVE LOST FAITH in the institutions of mass faith. A handful of well-groomed, largely Latin-Hellenistic, Christian memes now dominate 2 billion+ people around the world and impact billions more. Over a third of the planet is Christian in some sense and with this market share has come wealth and political influence unimagined in the occupied Palestine shared by Jesus and his first disciples. At a time when people worldwide face hunger, social disruption, war and ecological collapse the Church-with-voice has become fat and crass.
WE HAVE LOST HOPE that our revenue-driven faith franchises will act in the public interest. We have lost interest in the products and services of the empowered Christian elite that pander to the marketing manipulation of our species: greed, guilt and glory.
WE HAVE LOST PATIENCE waiting for reform. The corporations that are actively trading on the name and reputation of a homeless man will not be the source for personal healing, local renewal, ecological stewardship and international, interracial or intercommunal peacemaking so long as they find their purpose in the empty excellence of the various trickle-down spiritualities that make up Christianity, Inc.
WE IMAGINE A DIFFERENT SYSTEM—a system that is among us. The kingdom of an other that is by definition not co-optable. We see great promise in the open exchange of people connected by networks of travel and communication unprecedented in recorded history. We imagine a persistent proximity of difference that inoculates our inevitable provincialism with the virus of experience—of having to encounter those on the periphery of our comfort zones. Amidst these systems we privilege and savor the investment of physical touch and embodied time that is the space of our shared meanings.
The dominant churches have too often been on the wrong side of history choosing insular irrelevance over engagement; political complicity over prophetic dissonance; self-perpetuation over self-sacrifice. From the ethnic atrocities in Rwanda to genocide in Germany; from predatory pedophilia and a culture of carelessness in the United States to the exploitative, conveniently entwined missions of trade, gospel and civilization (all in quotation marks) that drove the British Empire the dominant Churches were there encouraging, giving cover for and often covering over the effects of these grand projects of injustice and domination.
We believe that there is an inherent risk in the theologies and ecclesiologies that have come to dominate the memory of the man Jesus. We envision a direct, participatory spirituality whose modalities rest more in the patterns of day-to-day life than in the cycles of attendance and consumption that have come to define the dominant brands soliciting patronage in the name of Christ.
We believe that the fattened, current systems of empowered Christianity are vulnerable to one thing: less. These systems are built on the presumption that people will always want more. The organizational master plans presume this. The staffing levels, the building projects, the criteria of success all circumambulate the idol of more. These systems are unable to cope with less: people who find community in the normal connections of their daily lives rather than purpose-driven programs with a community label; those not interested in the system’s alternatives to Disneyland and MTV, who don’t need another Jesus-coloring-book Adult Sunday School class or desire to contribute to the capital stewardship campaign to build the new wing.
Less brings with it the spectre of irrelevance. That gnawing sense that there may in fact be little purpose now in the things that have passed as Church. Those things that such systems purport to deliver being antithetical to the methods themselves and always already among those who thought that it was the system that brought them community and direction and hope when it was in fact they who brought it to the system.
The act of asking for less is a radical act. More radical than merely starting a new church or denomination or not-for-profit organization. The systems of organizational self-perpetuation and mass popular culture programmed life are sustained by consumption. Ask for less and the systems themselves are called into question. Ask for less and you free yourself from the things and programs and obligations that monopolize your time with the masspopcult substitutes for the normal human living that we are all already doing. Clear your calendar and mind of such things and you’ve made room for the imaginative work of dreaming up and living out radically different systems that don’t have to be purchased at your nearest bookstore or learned in the leadership seminars of the Jesus-celebrity du jour. These new systems are the local arrangements etched into the normal silences and interactions that make life life.
So we are inventing, for our families in these moments that are ours, a way of life with less. A way of life that does not compartmentalize the spiritual and vocational and political and academic and all of the other things that make us who we are. In making life with less we are asking the following question: Take away the Christian values of the modern experience that seek more—spiritual discipline as devotional literacy, spiritual life as attendance, the gospel as syllogism—and what is left? What is left when literacy, attendance and syllogism—the privileged trinity of Christian industry—themselves get marginalized? Themselves get reconfigured into the textures of hyper-literacy, networked living and enacted gospel—the bodily truths of a communally networked age? What could be in the open spaces and cycles made available by such choices? What does asking for less create more of? What new cultures and systems emerge from the new configurations and presuppositions?
Some say that this is happening in the structures of the older systems. I can only hope this to be true. This does not mitigate the central danger that looms over the emerging churches. The greatest danger is that these people and gatherings will let themselves be defined by the sensibilities, horizons and limits of the systems that are sustained by more. That the local projects of living with less will themselves become the domesticated programs of a larger affiliate that feeds off of more. That less will become the new more.
And so we strike out together to imagine these different systems in the choices of our lives. No longer desiring the priestly surrogates to mediate the divine; no longer needing the religious professional to collect our resources to do good on our behalf. We now seek to make more explicit choices that risk more and ask for less. That see the kingdom as among us.
The original version of this article first appeared at theyblinked.com