On the rootless (post)modern human…


I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s incredible book The Wounded Healer, well, since yesterday, and he’s really been laying it down hard! Here’s a few of his musings on the state of the modern person:

“Crucial for nuclear man is the lack of a sense of continuity, which is so vital for a creative life. He finds himself part of a non-history in which only the sharp moment of the here and now is valuable. For nuclear man life easily becomes a bow whose string is broken and from which no arrow can fly. In his dislocated state he becomes paralyzed. His reactions are not anxiety and joy, which were so much a part of existential man, but apathy and boredom.

Only when man feels himself responsible for the future can he have hope or despair, but when he thinks of himself as the passive victim of an extremely complex technological bureaucracy, his motivation falters, and he starts drifting from one moment to the next, making life a long row of randomly chained incidents and accidents.”

Now listen to this:
“When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberative power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future. But when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.” (Quotes from pp 8-9)

The last part, especially, is what has gotten me thinking. I think the post-modern person (whom Nouwen was describing unwittingly) IS ahistorical in terms of the value of the past and hope for the future shaping who they are TODAY. There are so many things that look like they’re spinning out of our grasp in the world today, along with a dizzying advance in technology, etc etc that lead us to a place of confusion and doubt that God’s really in control of history. It seems obvious to me that into this vacuum of trust has stepped the modern nation-state, which has (for all intents and purposes) assumed the position of God in our society: requiring some percentage of our monies, time, and energy to perpetuate, demanding ultimate claim on our lives, carrying the “meaning” of history. I’m not surprised that most of the people I know (including Christians) uncritically endorse the decisions and actions of our country simply because we believe it can do nothing wrong.

How do we emerge from this apathy to re-engage our brothers and sisters in Christ with the reality that God IS in control, and that it is not only possible, but necessary that we recover a vision for the church as the bearer of the meaning of history?

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