Toward the vacuum

A number of years ago I had a dream where I was standing in a city square and on the opposite side of the square were buildings. I knew each one represented an institution that had been shaped by, and in turn, shaped the public square. Then at the same moment all the façades of the buildings came forward and then up so that what was inside became visible. Then at a point of time they all shut down again, with everything back to ‘normal’.

Have we entered a season again of the façades opening?

  • The paradise papers… tax evasion / tax avoidance
  • The sexual scandals in Hollywood and now in the British parliament
  • Spain… (more immediately below!!)

Restoring law and order. Really? Proclaimed by the party who have currently just under 900 national or regional delegates in court, on the way to court or suspects of breaking the law! Accusing the Catalan government of rebellion, sedition and misappropriation of money – so proclaims the party that have given no answer to where the 40 billion has disappeared…

Democracy means we can declare independence. Not a small change, but based on a turnout of 43%!

Law, order and democracy – all words that will have to be re-defined if the above continues.

(I think many political situations culd be added here: the Brexit also far from going the way promised. I seem to remember wonderful suggestions of so much extra money on the way to support the NHS.)

Have we entered a season again of the façades opening? I think so.

Back to the dream. The reason why the façades all closed up again was that the church began to sing a well-known song. The familiar was the place of safe retreat. I think it is vital that we grasp the role of the church in the public square. If Jesus has, and delegated, all authority it seems what the church does, how it positions herself is very key. The fallback to the familiar was what caused the problem. The closure then was cemented by the statement that:

It is the familiar that brings things back to normal.

So maybe we have a fresh opportunity at responding differently to singing the old familiar songs. Seems to me that the challenge of nor resorting to the familiar is that we have to travel on to ground that we do not know how to navigate – it is unfamiliar.

That means a leaving a place that has defined us, that has affirmed who we are, and being willing to enter a vacuum (by definition a place ‘vacated’ or ’empty’). What has the church vacated? One string violin – the calling as royal priesthood, the calling to see a world shaped by eschatological values, a living out of a new set of values (thank you San Lorenzo).

Into or toward the vacuum is very provocative and sounds just a little dangerous. Indeed it is, hence the important strong words of Jesus ‘I am with you…’ Time to go further than ever but with him. And if we don’t go further then probably the Presence of Jesus will be diminished where we are – though the corporate memory is so strong that we will still experience his presence – but mediated through the power of memory not the living presence of the Spirit.

The façades closed up, cemented back in place by that public statement. However, in that dream the audible voice I heard was somewhat different when it was clear that the church’s love of the familiar shut the façades back up. That voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo and brings things back to where they were.

Not a time to go back to where things were. Not a time to restore the status quo. (Gerald Coates once said that the status quo is simply Latin for ‘the mess we are in’!!)

These next months are months to prepare for the next stage of the bumpy ride. Old certainties being challenged. Time to anchor to the cross. ‘Take up your cross…’ and walk toward the unknown.

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3 thoughts on “Toward the vacuum

  1. Amen to all that Martin. Here in Canada the well that has been opened and must be dealt with is our relationship with indigenous peoples. And it indeed is proving a bumpy road, especially with a govt led inquiry into missing and murdered native women. But big questions loom on the horizon. What does it mean to reconcile with First Nations? What happens with land? Who owns it? Who administers it? What is the role of those who are not First Nations since all assumptions must be challenged. It is an empty place and we must decide how to fill it.

    What is interesting is to also watch the issues get played out across society in a myriad of ways from women in the workplace to precarious employment. Or energy production that takes away more First Nations land and buries sacred sites. So many issues are about inequality and control. Who has control? Who has the wealth and power to impose control? And why?

    Yes, the church has to position itself with the one it proclaims to follow. I recently read an article on the history of slavery in the USA. Seems evangelicalism’s (perhaps before we called it evangelicalism) original insistence on a literal reading of some bible texts was an attempt to justify slavery and resist shifts in power and control. Those kinds of roots are being exposed and must be dealt with when we seek to move on. I tell my students at college and university that they must imagine a better way but perhaps I am wrong – that responsibility lies on all of us.

  2. Nice one Martin. I thank God that His grace is sufficient for all of the uncertanties and questions as we seek to go down the untravelled road. As one who is in his seventy fifth year I do have a sense of a wider landscape before us, an opportunity to press into and explore creatively our walk of faith. Thank you for your post, every blessing!

  3. Meanwhile, it has become so much clearer what this dream was about, hasn’t it?

    So helpful at a time when Christians (and boomers) holding on to their ‘familiar’ allies their Christianity ever more thoroughly with a resurgent right-extreme populism (neoliberalism turning fascist) and the (apparent) political solutions of the eighties.

    Would all this mess be possible, if ‘the hearts of the fathers turned to their children’ (Malachi 4:6)?

    One must never forget the cost of us missing this happening: ‘or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction’ (God’s words, not mine!). God might come to the conclusions that heaven’s standards must be restored by giving us and ‘our’ status-quo world (the mess we call ‘normal’) over to judgement. As usual, it’s better for the Church to pursue her own revelation and divine correction rather now than ‘on that terrible day’ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 is followed by ‘Do not deceive yourselves. …’, verse 18).

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