Communitarian Soul: Making Sense of the “Post-Modern Thing”Written by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been trying to figure out the “post-modern” thing.
I suppose I am being self-indulgent here. Most people live their lives, quite happily and productively without giving post modernism any thought. It seems I am no longer given that luxury. Over the last 10 years, a number of friends, colleagues and a few bosses have been quick to remind me that I live on the wrong side of a so called paradigm shift in our culture. It seems that this shift has been caused by those pesky post-moderns out there. Although no one is ever threatened in the church, it looks silly making threats in a clerical collar, the implication is clear: we clergy better give post-moderns what they want or be thinking of early retirement.
Since I am not ready to retire and I still like what I do, I better figure out the post-modern thing. So I have been on a quest. I have read articles and books, interviewed confessed post-moderns, done my share of soul searching, picked my daughter and her friends’ brains and sat in Panera Bread and asked questions of perfect strangers that harbor a post-modern “look,” whatever that is.
Whenever I have tried to put in words what I think a post-modern understanding is, I get shot down. Two young colleagues told me that if I had to ask what post-modernism is, I will never get it. Great, so I am doomed to early retirement because I am not cool enough to figure it out.
To sum up my journey to date, I have been told that “post-moderns” are “experiential.” Doing things out of a sense of duty or obligation is of little or no interest to them. In other words, they will not go to church meetings. They are reluctant to accept external and objective standards as normative for behavior. The rapid pace of change and the diversity of culture make such standards impossible to maintain. They eagerly wait for and will easily adapt to the next wave of change that will be washing over society. Post-moderns are reluctant to join organizations and community based institutions. That is why free masonry, service clubs and your friendly neighborhood protestant church are shadows of their former selves. It seems that President Obama was able to connect with post-moderns in 2008. He was unable to get them to the polls in 2010. It will be interesting to see where they will land in 2012. OK, post-moderns out there, how am I doing?
The late theologian, William Placher, suggests that pre-modern culture was focused on external realities — like God and Country.
These people gave us constitutions, and doctrines and methodologies for ordering our institutional and societal lives. “Modern” culture spent much of its intellectual capital on the internal realities: exploring the frontiers of the human soul. This led to the formation of numerous scientific, psychological, theological/philosophical and literary disciplines that have enhanced our understanding of our humanity. The work of our pre-modern and modern predecessors has made civilized community possible, perhaps even probable. This work has sought places where people who are a part of a larger community, be it a congregation, a city, or a nation can find some common ground with others to celebrate and perhaps not feel so alone.
This communitarian soul wonders where community, a sense of commonality, the idea that we are at our best when we commit to something greater than our own passions and desires, fits into the post-modern scheme. I am sure it does, I need some help in figuring it out. But if it doesn’t, I can’t help but to wonder if our future as a people will be one of continued fragmentation and balkanization. By the way, Happy New Year!
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor in Bowling Green, Ohio.