Here is the word of the moment (from Michael Frost);
…defined as the burial practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones. More of this later.
Frost gave a whistle stop tour around what he saw as cultural trends. He suggested that he was less concerned about the process of getting people back to Church, and more about the irrelevance of church within our cultural context; in particular, the fact that we have failed to pose the right questions, or to articulate alternatives.
He used the following analogies;
The Gate Lounge (Airport waiting room)
(An idea pinched from Martin Baumann.) The suggestion is that increasingly we engage with our world as tourists, in a place of constant transition. We live in, and create, sterile artificial environments that we pass through quickly, always on the way to the next non-real, commercially curated experience. This leads to a kind of life where we skim over the surface, living a commodified experience that lacks satisfaction.
It also leads to a disconnection from place, community, belonging. Frost mentioned the film ‘Up in the air’, which I reviewed previously on this blog here.
We are increasingly a culture whose head is down- always looking at our tiny screens. Life is lived in the abstract, and we develop two selves- a screen self, and a real self.
Frost mentioned the novel ‘The Lost Memory Of Skin’, about a man who is addicted to internet pornography, but has never had real sex.
Here the church may have contributed to its own disconnection, as we have presented a polarised perspective on everything- heaven/hell, earth/heaven, world/church, flesh/spirit. Jesus is presented as living in the soul and waiting in heaven, not incarnate- flesh blood and spit here, right now.
Likewise church has followed the same disembodification as the rest of our culture- we learn through sermon podcasts rather than the process of experiencing and testing truth in community. We create individual worship experiences in auditoriums with a stage at the front and us, eyes closed, seperated from those around us.
Back to the word, ‘excarnate’. We human beings are made to experience the infinite depth of what we inhabit. We are tingling flesh on tingling flesh. Strip away these parts of what we are, and all we become are dry bones.
Frost described a communion service he once attended- a large empty church with the floor covered in black plastic. In the middle of the room was a mountain of stinking, oozing, rotten rubbish- the human kind- every kind of filth. The putrid juices ran out in rivers into the room and the communicants struggled to stand clear, and to cope with the smell.
Then two people in swimming costume entered the room, and walked towards the filth. They waded in, first ankle deep, then up to their waists. From there they led a service of communion.
The imagery is astringent. We follow Jesus- God-who-took-on-flesh, whilst at the same time living a world that increasingly avoids touch.
I am not sure whether you find this analysis of current cultural trends to be exaggerated? Frost is of course an agitator, but I there is something in what he describes that make me sit up and pay attention. Whilst engaging with our culture, seeking to understand and participate within it, we also have a duty to understand the Zeitgeist, and where necessary, to oppose- and perhaps most importantly (in the way of Jesus) to oppose by example.
Frost described how his community (Small boat, big sea) are seeking to do things differently. They have agreed to apply this method, and to hold each other accountable for it. Each week they will;
Bless three people- with words, gift, favour
Eat with three people- sharing their table as an image of Kingdom
Learn from the life of Jesus
‘Sent’ consider life as a mission
In this way, we might not exist only in our ‘head’ (excarnate) but encounter God in practice- in the mess of real flesh.