It’s a beautiful Winter’s day in Christchurch today. Clear blue skies, cool temperatures in the shade but warm in the distant sun. Travelling past Travis Wetlands on our way to church this morning our son Finn asked,
“Mum, why do Pukekos have red beaks?”
We’d been observing the flocks of Canada geese and pukeko congregating, and strutting about on the verge of the road.
“Its cause God made his greatest artists responsible for colouring the animals.” Was my reply as I imagined Picasso and Kandinsky (personal favourites) splashing colour palettes about in the zoological ‘creation’ stages of the Earth. “Imagine if all of the animals were one single colour, or only came in shades of pink, brown, and black?”
There were all around clucks and groans of disapproval from my lads. “You see it’s the contrast and the difference between each species and between humans that makes life beautiful and gives us meaning.”
I had planned another wee lecture on racial diversity and animal life as a metaphor for that diversity but this was far too much philosophizing for my fidgety five, and I could tell they were switching off as they began to wonder how Mr. Bean got his underpants off without removing his trousers.
With this notion of diversity in mind, I’ve lately been thinking about Peter Drucker who suggested, “Every few hundred years in Western history, there occurs a sharp transformation… within a few short decades, society rearranges itself—its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions… We are currently living through just such a transformation.”
Of course he was referring to the rise of post-modernism. I see the post-modern era as evocative, exciting and fresh. And while I’m clearly too old to be a millennial I fit right at home in this new cultural context that embraces diversity, contradiction, complexity, multiple readings and perspectives, and irony. I once got an A+ on a journalism paper asking us to argue whether or not the media could ever be objective. Of course I answered in the negative and figured my wonderful grade was confirmation of the ‘certainty’ of my thesis.
What has me excited today however, is that I’ve come to realise that our church is actually a post-modern re-storying of the Christian tradition. At the moment its being held hostage by modernists, but when it breaks free from this pharisaical head lock it might be able to breath out some its most stunning and glorious doctrines and theologies that will make our religion, the religion of the 21st century.
I’m saying this because today I taught Gospel Doctrine twice; once in my ward, and once at a Stake YSA conference. The more I thought about Section 121 the more it seemed to me that God was teaching Joseph that while the heavens are fixed and are cosmically oriented toward the perfection of the human species, mortality is a scatter shot endeavour with few assurances that a peaceful, untroubled middle-class life is a reward for obedience which, at its very heart is a post-modern notion.
On the other hand a close reading of the Doctrine and Covenants would suggest that we are required as our spiritual due, to be tolerant and inclusive; To eschew, disrupt and question hard lines of authority where that authority exercises dominion, and seeks to remove our agency. Furthermore we are to recognize that the journey of the church is fraught with good men doing dumb things, dumb men doing good things, and that we as a people are in constant need of God’s grace and mercy because of our fickleness and our recurrent denial of Christ. Our doctrine proclaims a gentleness and a patience with each other that is more than simply ‘good manners’ – it is a mark of our spiritual transformation.
Some people wonder why I stay in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I’d be lying if I don’t confess that I wonder this myself periodically. I’m no fan of the corporatization of our religion; I’m irate about the top down hierarchies that valorize church leadership over the sovereignty of God; I find the patriarchy oppressive, and I am aggrieved at the encroachment of American conservative values into our discourse, but I feel sure these notions have an expiry date. I do think that we are looking at our own cultural turn, because, if we do anything well as a religion, it’s our ability to adapt and change.
That change, I believe, is on the horizon but it won’t happen from the centre out. It will happen because Mormons all over the world will find their voice and demand a church that is not simply ‘international’ (in that it is everywhere) but is responsive to diversity; is culturally competent; accepts that social rules and morality are contextual; and begins to question patterns of organisation and leadership that are wedded so much to American corporate and cultural life at the expense of their own cultures and contexts.
When we can marry our theology and doctrine to our spiritual practices and turn them into self-conscious and informed cultural practices perhaps then, and only then will we have created our Zion, and I feel confident that it will be this post-modern turn that will force us to make this long awaited reconciliation.