Posted by: rogermitchell | August 28, 2010

The Holy Spirit and narrative

Over the last week I have been immersed in the Jubilee Festival of Ashburnham Christian Trust so apologies for surfers and clickers who have been looking for new posts here. This has been a great hands-on hands experience of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and narrative. As I see it the dynamic relationship between the Son and the Spirit since the incarnation – the 33 or so years of Jesus human life on earth – is that the Spirit directly connects us to the narrative, or testimony of Jesus. This is very clear in John’s gospel “He will bring to your remembrance all I said to you” Jn 14:26; “He will testify about me” Jn 15:26;  “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” Jn 16:15. The deficit of the Holy Spirit in the western church since the fourth century has displaced not only the Spirit but the story of Jesus. Our theology has been starved of the radical Jesus in consequence. While this has many far-reachng implications, in particular this has resulted in the dominance of system over story in our experience and understanding of life. The visitations of the Spirit across the ensuing centuries, culminating in this last “century of the Spirit” have always been confronted by the constituted, institutional power of the systems that have taken the place of narrative. God does not reject systems, they have important, limited, uses. But systems belong in narrative, not the other way round.

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Responses

  1. You know, its kind of funny. Over the years I’ve realized I don’t really have much interest in systematic theology, despite having two (yes, count them, 2) graduate degrees in theology. But I still love Jesus. And I love the stories about Him. He is so incredibly interesting, and challenging, and radical. So the more I investigate Jesus through the gospels especially, and in daily experience, the more I become excited about Him. But systematic theology, bleh. Who’s got time for that stuff?

    The analogy in the spatial design field is planning, of course. And planning which is all based on reductionist systems thinking can be sooooooo boring, and despite all the best intentions, do a really bad job. However, that just gives politicians, developers, and architects the excuse to start over again every 50 years. Which one could argue is a really poor use of resources. The one thing I really noticed when I trained as a landscape architect is that the planning/spatial design professions, overall, hate story, hate people, hate having to deal with real life. Hence the really dead spaces that rule so much of the planet today. Perhaps a rediscovery of narrative theologically will open up new space in the way we plan and design our cities.

    Of course, Roger, you do know, that the feminists have been way ahead of you in this. They have talked about the importance of the subjective and narrative vs. the objective and rationalized systematic approach for years. In fact, a number have proved that, of course, there is no such thing as a truly objective stance which is the basic defense of a rationalized, systematic approach. I can offer you some radical feminist reading if you like.
    C.

  2. Thanks for your immediate, always on the ball responses like this one Cheryl. And yes I am aware of the helpful work by feminists (and also by gay thinkers) on this subject. However in my limited experience and knowledge, their views, like the neo-Marxists’, almost always if not invariably, end up with the full stop of autonomy. The story of Jesus always pours out, always flows on, through the cross. This is what I am trying to configure without insisting on my own way!

  3. I think the real issue is autonomy and individuality vs. community and shared story, the collective story. Christianity is supposed to be a collective story for the most part but we have turned it into the story of an individual’s salvation and discipleship and lost, in the process, the very meaning of both.

    The neo-Marxists, feminists etc tend to follow the Englightenment assumptions of the sovereignty of the individual as the highest good. So their stories almost always devolve back to the individual. Somehow, we need to recover the collective story, the story of the community in which each of us has a particular role to play.

    Our individuality is important, I need to be allowed to be who God makes me to be (notice I put that in present tense as God is always making and remaking us) but that can only occur within the collective, within relationship with God, other people and the earth and all its species. That goes back to those relational economics I am going to be working on for a long time (I think that will be a big topic for me in the future) and the design of urban space that supports such collective effort.

    In fact, the outcome of my research here in Italy is that I landed in a small city (it was 30,000 in the period I am studying) where because the water system was gravity fed into canals that powered the mills and provided some household water, as well as artisanal processes, the management of that system was a collective effort. Everyone was called into action at different levels of responsibility. The role of the city government was to prod and push and encourage that effort. It is really quite astounding as I have never experienced anything like this. And it was a mix of private and public partnership between consorti and the government for the public benefit. That does not mean it was perfect but in terms of the story of water management in Piacenza, it is a collective story, a shared story of individual and group efforts of people who managed their city together. There is something of the future in that past, I think.
    C.


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