Thursday, 4 September 2008

Healer 2

I said I'd follow up the Healer post with another one.

I don't want to do a commentary on the scenarios related in the last post. I think, however, there are currents in Western uncivilization that are helping to bring about some of the difficulties and pain the church in our culture is at present experiencing.

The term postmodernism has almost become as empty as the unreality that it is supposed to describe. Nevertheless, it does help us to understand something of what is happening around us.

One of the features of postmodern culture is the rise and rise of the celebrity. Some have said we no longer have heroes any more, just celebrities. The difference in a hero and a celebrity? Hard to define, but try this: a hero denies self in the pursuit of something noble, a celebrity promotes self in the pursuit of fame.

There are hundreds of thousands of heroes in our churches. People who fight the good fight every day. Who deny self for the wellbeing of others. They'll never be on tv. They'll never become household names, but they are heroes, nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the church - evangelical and charismatic - has, to some extent, bought into the celebrity culture. And sometimes the celebrity is considered to speak with authority simply because he or she is famous. It is a reflection of postmodern culture in secular society - think pop stars / movie stars being ambasssadors for the U.N..

The rise and rise of the celebrity is bolstered by rampant consumerism in the West. We look for the best deal in every area of life, and as we all know, the customer is king (or queen, I guess).

Consumerism affects the church because the church is made up of people who have been schooled in consumerism by the media from childhood. So we end up assessing churches and church meetings in terms of what it did for us or what we got out of it. And church leaders have to face the pressure of that kind of consumerist mentality.

Symptomatic of this kind of outlook is the emphasis on story. Because postmodernism denies that there is one grand narrative explaining all of life - whether it be Christianity or secular equivalents like evolution or Marxism - the alternative is to tell our personal story. Obviously to be a celebrity, you can't just have an ordinary story, because the customers won't buy an ordinary story. And if you only have an "ordinary" story and you are a leader, might you feel the pressure to invent a more colourful story? And are church leaders vulnerable to this kind of subtle pressure? Or is it that we are just desperate for affirmation and confuse it with attention?

No doubt, one of the main reasons I was so impressed with Healer, was that it was sung by someone I thought was battling cancer. Had I known his condition was actually something more like Munchausen's Syndrome, I think I would have been less enthusiastic about the whole thing. That says a lot about the celebrity / consumer relationship.

Having read loads of posts on Healer I cannot help but pick up the cynicism that is colouring much of what has been written. One common line is, "Did no-one ask to see his medical records?" What? Have we really got to the place in our society that when someone says they are ill, we question it? Do we now have to verify illness as well as healing?

I hope that when things have settled down and there is a bit more space between us and summer 2008, that we might hear in the song Healer the cry of a broken society. A cry for the real healing that we need from the effects of a confused culture.

To find out more about postmodern culture check out Jerram Barrs' lectures. I listened to some of them recently when travelling to Ireland. Not as complicated as you might think! You can find them here

No comments: