Some of the best feedback I got last week, when talking about Social Costructivism being my philosophical orientation within my chosen discipline of Practical Theology, came from WrdsandFlsh
Responding to my sentence: “I do not believe in the autonomous, selective nor the pre-institutional self. I am a social constructivist who believes that we are socialized, groomed and conditioned from day 1.”, She said:
Your social constructionist theory fits well within Serene Jones’ theology of sin. We are given “scripts” form the time we’re born. Those scripts teach us consumerism, racism, patriarchy, etc. So we are indoctrinated into sin in our very language. We are shaped before we have a knowing self into the language, patterns, etc of our families/communities. And, that includes being shaped by the societal institutions of sin.
I think there is much to explore in the idea that we can never get back to our “pre-conditioned” selves. We are always indoctrinated (for lack of a better term) into the communities in which we are raised.
I am always honored when someone asks about translating a theological idea into pastoral practice. It is literally my favorite thing in the world – next, of course, to reflecting on the perichoresis.
Four things come to mind initially:
- the first is a joke I got from Peter Rollins
- the second has to do with expectations
- the third deals with authority
- the last addresses translation
A man walks into a lawyers office to inquire about legal council and asks “How much does a consultation cost?”
The lawyer informs him that the fee is $200 for three questions.
Surprised, the man asks “Really?”
The lawyer says “Yes. Now what is your third question?”
Rollins used this joke to reflect on the nature of ideology: we find ourselves deep in the midst of it before we realize that we are even in it.
One of the most helpful things that we can do for people as pastoral leadership in the church is help them to realize the nature of inherited beliefs and assumptions. Through our preaching and counsel we can illuminate the nature of ‘what we are caught up in the middle of’.
While I tend to try and steer away from technological analogies for humanity, this is my one exception:
When people come to us they are often wanting help to fix A) a glitch with the program they are trying to run or B) a problem with the hardware.
Rarely do they want to address the operating system that underlies the problem. We assume the operating system ( the ideologies and assumptions behind that which we can see) and either want to fix the program we already use or to download a better version of it.
Getting people to examine the operating system that is in place is difficult because it is a much bigger undertaking than simply tweaking the program or trading out some hardware.
If what they are using was working they probably wouldn’t come to us – we wouldn’t even know about. Like a medicine woman or a computer repair person we see people when something is broken. Being prepared with how to access the operating system–and not just fixed the program that is running on it–is a gift we can offer people.
I have told this story before but it is illustrative for this point.
A man in my congregation would lose his job at the big factory in town on a seasonal/semiannual rotation. When the economy was in a rut, he remained jobless for quite a while and his family was devastated that God had let them down.
We prayed as a congregation, as we did for everyone, for his employment. It dawned on me, however, during this period that we might be better off addressing the systemic problem of how the major employers in our area conducted themselves.
In many circles the way we pray exposes a gap in our understanding. We are fine to pray for people personally and to focus on their individual piety/spirituality (mirco) And to trust in the heavenly/divine of some transcendent realm (macro). Where we are negligent is in the connective element of systems, structures, and institutions.
The work of folks like Walter Wink on The Powers is essential here.
We do people a great disservice when we neglect this essential component and allow people to conceive of themselves and their lives as individuals – and then jump right to the heavenlies. That enlightenment notion of self and society is deadly both to the soul and Christian community.
Authority: Whether you have a hierarchical model of pastoral leadership or a more egalitarian/communitarian conception, we each have a role to play. That role comes with some level of authority over a sphere of influence.
By first understanding, then articulating a better understanding of concepts like original sin (see part 1 of this post), we recognize and account for the fact that we are all caught up in a web of conflicting desires and motivations. This acknowledgment is essential for the way one conducts her or himself in Christian community and especially leadership within the community.
The people that we interact with and give direction to are as multifaceted, complex, complicated, conflicted, irrational, and erratic as we ourselves our! Knowing and confessing this at the beginning and in the midst of every interaction will necessarily cause us to temper our propensity to be prescriptive and formulaic.
Translation: In the previous post “Wrestling with Original Sin” some fairly elaborate notions of human and societal makeup were put forward. Contemporary work in the fields of sociology, psychology, and neuroscience ( just to name a few) have radically altered the way that we understand and thus talk about what it means to be human and to participate in human social organization (society).
A significant gap forms for Christians who’ve been look to the Bible for direction if they do not account for this. One gift that a Reflective Practitioner brings to a community is the ability to translate divinely inspired pre-modern notions in spiritual direction into the 21st century.
By helping people to understand the reality of the gap between some portions of our sacred text and the lived realities of modern society, we can bless people with the opportunity of insight and clarity. It helps no one to give old answers to new questions and call it being faithful. Being faithful is a willingness to up with new answers to new questions in a way that is informed by the way that the traditional answers were offered in response to questions within that historic context.
This is why I have little interest in the old ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ debates around notions like depravity. They just don’t work anymore. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince people or convert people to a pre-Copernican world view.
Those are the four things that came to mind in response to your comment.
I would love to get your feedback on my 4 and to hear what you might add or substitute.