Back in ’98 as I sat in my Brit Lit survey course, we were discussing the various “isms” of literature. There’s Romanticism. There’s Transcendentalism. There’s Modernism. There’s other “isms” that have influenced literature, music, culture, philosophy, and the like over the centuries. And so, I raised my hand and asked “So, what ‘ism’ are we in now?” The professor paused and said “That’s a good question, it’s to soon to tell.”
Fast forward a year or so and while in my capstone class for my English major, we began to look at something called Postmodernism. What in the world is Postmodernism you might ask. Well, it’s after Modernism. It is a response to Modernism. Well, what’s modernism then?
Modernism has its roots in the Enlightenment (bare with me, please, bare with me as I get a bit more heady) a movement started in the 17th century. It was a response to all the violence and wars that had ravaged Europe for years. It was thought that humanity could attain perfection by using reason and logic alone.
Now, fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries. Modernism meant that we could do all things right by ourselves. There was no need for religion or spirituality. In fact, if there was religion or spirituality, you had to come up with a rational reason to have it and then keep it personal. With Modernism, human beings could do it all if they try hard enough.
So, comes along Postmodernism. No one really knows where it came from or when it started. In 1966 Thomas Pynchon came out with a book called The Crying of Lot 49 (which I read in my English capstone class). It is hailed as the first Postmodern novel. It is messed up. 30 years later, someone had the grand idea of redoing Romeo and Juliet with Romeo + Juliet. It is a messed up image filled, twisted relook at the play. But it is thought of to be truly Postmodern in its re-adaptation of something familiar.
One thing I do know is that in the Enlightenment and Modernity, truth was absolute. You could obtain truth through reason, logic, and hard work. Not so today. Truth abounds amongst other truths. The truths trump the Truth. And this is where Christians, Christianity, and what not are struggling. They had found ways of working with the Enlightenment and Modernity, but this new stuff today, it just confuses most of them. What’s going on? What happened?
Who are we?
In his book Write the Vision, missiologist Wilbert Shenk says that we are now living in Post-Christendom. For him, the worst thing to happen to Christianity was the Roman Emperor Constantine legalizing Christianity and then making it the official religion. That wasn’t good. And now, centuries later, through philosophical wars and cultural misunderstanding, we are in a time post Christianity. Christendom is no more.
To be honest, we’re a fractured people. We’re splintered. We collect our truths from a buffet line like you do at Old Country Buffet. Truth itself is stranger than it used to be. There is little truth and an abandonment and even denial of the big Truth. With so many truths found in such a pluralistic world, pick and choose and find your own narrative along the way.
We are spiritual beings. Born mind, body, and soul. Even if you deny the existence of the soul, you still agree that there is a psyche, a mind, a cognizance, some form of moral understanding, within a person. Psyche (where psychology comes from) comes from the Greek word for soul. Even in Atheism there is a belief system. Even in Agnosticism there is a belief system. Even in philosophy there is a belief system. In all of these “isms” there is one for of spirituality or another.
Yet our spirituality lacks identity in an age lacking identity. Whatever you might call the age we’re living in, it is an age that craves the spiritual. It is an age that craves something more. A better understanding. A better view of the world. A larger narrative to live under. Genealogies are huge right now. The commercials for Ancestry.com prove that. We want to connect with our past. We want a bigger story. And we want something spiritual to hold on to.
But spiritual what? Spiritual how? There is no central cultural identity in our fractured existence to live this spiritual that we crave. We try different identities on like we do clothes at TJ Max. What’s the best bargain? What’s the best look? And over time, our look, our style changes as does our spirituality. Some say they’ve evolved into a higher spiritual awareness, accepting and living with a plurality of spiritualities. Yet with a plurality spiritualities, there’s still no central identity.
We are fractured. There is no center anymore. And even if there was one, it wouldn’t hold. We are searching for some for of identity. What is it? Where is it? We want a spiritual identity in this fractured intersecting pluralistic world.
There is a Truth out there. A Truth that gives identity to your spirituality and an identity to life itself. But in order to know this Truth, you must come to be familiar with the Truth. For this Truth is also the Way and the Life. When you come to know the ultimate Truth, you begin to find identity. (And you probably know where I’m going, right? This is Spiritual Musclehead you know).
There is a new identity in Jesus. A new spiritual identity in Jesus. A new understanding of community that brings us together in a fractured world. A new life. A new existence. But you first must lay aside the little truths, to begin to be in community with the great Truth found in Jesus. But this will take time.
So begin a journey. Take time to begin to know this Truth Jesus. In an age lacking identity searching for spirituality, there is an identity, a new name, a new life, found in Jesus who is the ultimate truth.