Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On Hats and the "Problem" Lent is for Moderns

In a blogpost here, Alastair Roberts makes a brilliant observation of what the practice of Lent is like for Modern Christians:
Perhaps a parallel can be drawn between the ways that hats function in men’s clothing today as opposed to a century ago. Whereas the hat was once ‘uniform’, signifying one’s office or station in life, and was worn by almost all men in certain contexts, now the hat is an item of personal and often eccentric expression. When I wear a hat today, I am typically expressing my personal style and individuality in a manner that makes me stand out from the crowd. Even were I to wear the exact same clothing as my great-grandfather, I would communicate a sharply different set of social messages. The contemporary aficionado of traditional liturgy can be akin to a man wearing a top hat: whatever he may intend, it will be perceived—and will all too typically function—as a personal affectation, rather than a uniform expression of his submission to an identity held in common with others. The passage from a world of given identities to one of extensive choice isn’t easily reversed, as even in our attempts to accomplish such a reversal we are typically often reasserting the semblance of the former through the mode of the latter.

I am struck by the degree to which our choice, autonomy, and individualism shape even those concepts that we may appeal to against them. In our celebration of ‘tradition’ we can often be little more than appreciative consumers of some nostalgic antiquity, rather than being subject to the tutelage of our forefathers in the faith. ‘Liturgy’ is often less about common worship than it is about personal aesthetics. ‘Community’ can stand for individuals’ quests for the ‘passing frisson’ of togetherness (Searle), rather than a genuine submission to the Church and its leadership as defining realities in our lives. For all of the celebration of ‘story’ over the last few decades, the ‘big story’ that people speak of is seldom permitted to assign its meanings and assert its authority within our lives and world and rather becomes a source for the individual religious subject’s selective self-definition. In our quest for authenticity, we risk establishing a simulacrum of the historical Church, a sort of ‘living museum’, which looks like the original reality on the surface but whose deeper dynamics have been substituted for radically different animating forces.
That's not to say that it has no value, (and Roberts isn't arguing against the practice), it's just that its full value will never be appreciated by us who breathe a cultural air (personal choice etc) which is so different to the one in which these practices were birthed.

So God bless you if you are marking Lent in some way, and God bless you if you aren't doing anything specific.

Whatever your choice, (and that's kind of "the problem…") may you know the living God better and more joyfully by the time we get to Easter.

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