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01/20/2011

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Lee Wyatt

I think the analogy is apt as long as it is not turned into the next "thing" our enterprising spirits sieze on to market some new plan to save the denomination (as has happened w/ the "missional church"). If Lamentations is any sort of guide "exile" means an embrace of death that puts an end to strategic planning and forces us to do the one thing left to us - weep, lament, and cry out continously to God. Perhaps we should follow Bonhoeffer who thought the church after the war ought to go underground and restrict itself to prayer and works of justice till God brings it back to full life. I'm arguing thAt thesis inthe book I'm writing "Churchjness: Why Only Dietrich Bonhoeffer Can Save Us Now!". I believe he is right and I hope we have the wisdom and courage to take him ( and more importantly God) seriously. Thanks, Lee Wyatt

Charles Wiley

I find exile language both helpful and suggestive, and a bit misleading. I think it can be helpful in highlighting many of the points that Quinn made, putting us in a larger biblical narrative as we try to understand where we are. I appreciate Lee's words around not making this a strategy. But it can also be misleading if it causes us to not take account of the fact that we (the PCUSA) are still wealthy and with significant power and influence, even if that is severely diminished in comparison to a couple of generations ago.

David Gambrell

Thanks, Quinn, for this thoughtful and provocative post. I look forward to the next installment!

As I was revisiting this part of your essay, it occurred to me that Luther used a related analogy at the dawn of the Reformation, in his treatise on the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church." A significant difference, of course, is that Luther was quick to identify (and condemn) the enemy or captor. In our case, I think (in the words of a twentieth century theologian) "we have met the enemy and he is us."

David Gambrell

I should add that I do think it's a fruitful metaphor, and well worth further exploration - especially when we start talking about practices and identity.

Charles Wiley

"Captivity" has a pretty different valence than "exile," don't you think? My immediate reaction is negative toward Luther for being so confident in identifying the enemy. And I tend toward identifying "us." But I wonder . . .

Hans Cornelder

Exile? Wow!
God gave Israel over to the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and took Israel into exile. Why did God do that? According to Jeremiah (5:1), God's complaint against Israel was that there was not one righteous person in Jerusalem (Jeremiah didn't live in Jerusalem).
What reasons might God have for the PCUSA's "exile"?

Steve Salyards

When I think of exile it carries the connotation of possible or eventual return. (Not necessarily an intent of this essay.)

What if instead we were to use the image of diaspora. What if the age of institutional church is over and we must look to the future as a "distributed" or "local" form. There is no looking back but a need to be God's people where we are as Jeremiah encouraged the exiles and Chapter 29.

Jay Rock

I don't think that there is much of a parallel -- yet. The "dislocation" of the church here in the U.S. is not a forced dislocation, brought about by war and conquest (unless one wants to embrace the idea that certain sectors of our society are involved in the conquest and subjugation of the whole--which idea seems to me close to true on some days). The church has not been forcibly transported anywhere, nor its members forced into servitude (unless, again, to corporations, etc.) Finally, the PCUSA membership are not in exile - many are in leadership in this very society in which the church is "dislocated."
Seems more accurate to me to see the PCUSA being stratified and divided by the forces pulling our entire society apart, so that one could entertain the idea that "faithless" and "faithful" forms of the church are existing in very uneasy relationship in one national community held together with scotch tape, ingenuity, and sleight of hand.

Charles Wiley

Jay, I appreciate the insight. If we are, as you say, not even close to an exile situation,what is the power of exile language for us? I've heard a lot of people appeal to it.

Steve, I appreciate your diaspora alternative as well.

Hans, I think the natural reaction is to find the culprits in the PCUSA that have drawn judgment. My fear is that our common life, all of us together, may draw judgment.

Charles

Tom Boweer

I really appreciate your effort. Analogies are powerful and probably needed for us to understand our situation. Your comment about "successful" churches being somehow engaged in "false prophecy" - I'm sure there is truth to that. But why do even need to say that in this context? It is almost as though we can justify our decline by having "stayed true". I'm confused. Maybe we're in decline because we've been engaged in false prophecy for the last couple of generations. Maybe we have succumbed to Babylonian culture. Is this a possibility?

Quinn Fox

I’m grateful for all of the comments and interaction so far. Thanks to all, and I welcome additional conversation. I agree with Lee that we not try to “market” or in any way leverage the theme of exile for gain, the way “missional” has been (before missional, the word “transformational” was appropriated in the service of every conceivable church cause). And there is always a danger in facile comparisons, which I acknowledged in my qualified appropriation of the theme of exile.

Charles, Hans, Steve and Jay: I don’t disagree that in many ways there is nothing to compare between late/post-Christendom America and post-monarchical Judah (e.g., our wealth, and our high level of comfort within the culture). But there is nevertheless something compelling in the image. Charles, I actually find the image of “captivity” helpful in this context. But as David notes in his allusion to Pogo, the enemy (our captor) is “us.”

Neil Postman’s insightful book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985) began with the observation that Alduous Huxley, not George Orwell, was correct in his vision of the future. In “1984” Orwell alleged it is the things we fear that will ruin us. It hasn’t turned out that way; “Big Brother hasn’t come to get us.” Rather, Huxley’s “Brave New World” is the more accurate picture: it is what we desire that will ruin us in the end. We have, in a sense, taken ourselves captive in the culture of “commodification” and consumption (I think this is Lee’s point, that we try to market everything). Mark Labberton explores this in “The Dangerous Act of Christian Worship.” He observes, “the American church is in exile in its own contemporary Babylon… whether liberal or conservative, the church mostly looks like the culture around us.” To Hans' point, sometimes God's judgment takes the form of allowing the people to have what we want, along with reaping the consequences of our idolatry.

Exile, captivity, diaspora. All are suggestive images for the dislocation in which we, the church, find ourselves vis à vis the surrounding culture. Ironies abound in this. It is what we love, not what we fear, that is eroding us. Even as many in the PCUSA are enfranchised and in leadership roles in the culture. Tom has anticipated this in the most recent comment. Yes, to a large extent the solution of the church to our current situation appears to have been to “become better Babylonians.”

Dave Moody

Quinn, et. al.
Thanks for the thoughtful piece, I've gained much the last few minutes reading the responses. Postman is so wise, the Huxley vs Orwell thing rings sooo true.

A couple thoughts, which I hope add something helpful--

from my reading of the NT, exile seems to be the normative sense of things vis a vis God's people and the world I get from reading it. This sense is drawn from and has its roots from the soil of second temple judaism. Yes, everything has changed with the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the dislocation of God's people from the promised land/city of our citizenship has not. There is that eschatological sense of our salvation/new heavens new earth that we must continue to cultivate corporately- even as we live in the reality of God's Kingdom here.

The last couple hundred yrs in the US the church (mainline) has hit a sweet spot in history... perhaps parallel (to switch analogies) to Joseph in Egypt where there was a time of harmony and social integration, and influence that was God given. But, "then there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph..." and the people 'felt' the reality of being strangers in a strange land.

The structure's we build- be they modalities or sodalities (to use Ralph Winter's terms) - to conserve and extend the influence of the Kingdom (denom's, congregations, mission agencies...) are wise to remember this dislocation- in the good times, as well as the bad. We can plunder the Egyptians- the world- but the idols soon follow from that plunder- and quickly we begin to worship the plunder which we fashion and shape so well.

Just my ramblings on a Friday morning in Fairbanks... Thanks, grace and peace to you..

Fred Nielsen

My quetion is in excile from whom? I would suggest it is ourselves. We are bereft of leadership, the positional leaders we have have been working at odds with the folks in the pews. We leave the Biblical foundation of our faith to accomodate the social environment of the day, re-writing history to enable this.

Glen Hallead

Great post and comments. Thoughtful, but I'm still trying to get past the reality that the associates only meet for one hour a month??? I think there is more than meets the "ear" there...

I think the "accomodation" aspect is a very accurate an assessment of the current situation and certainly many members of the PC(USA) are every bit as much "Christian" and those in exile were "Jewish"...

I really enjoy reading this... keep it coming!

Charles Wiley

Glen,

We don't really like each other very much, so we only talk for an hour a month . . .

Actually . . . the Associates in the Office of Theology and Worship maintain a practice of theological reflection for one hour of our monthly staff meeting where one of the Associates writes something for the benefit of the whole. Two years ago our topic is "What is the Gospel?", last year was on the relationship of Christian faith to other faiths, and this year has been a bit looser focus on the Christian life flowing out of baptism.

This month was Quinn's turn. Make more sense?

Charles

Josh Kerkhoff

Quinn, this is a great thread. As I think about the image of exile, I think it would be shortsighted to think that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is any different than the rest of the church in the U.S.A. To me, it is more than appropriate to see the image applying to the Christian Church in North America. My gut says that our feelings of loss and disorientation will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.

Quinn Fox

Josh,
I can only agree with you. I think I mainly wanted to focus my comments on our own situation, but I meant in no way to be narrow or "parochial." I assume you saw the more recent posts as well.

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