Sunday, July 23, 2006

An Email Conversation; Modernity and Post-Modernity

Below is a recent email conversation I had with the leader of our small group at church, which we call "Canvas Group". In it you will see that issues have arisen regarding the tension that have arisin in our world between the forces of modernity and those of post-modernity. I hope that the reader would feel free to comment on any important issues that arise in the conversation as the reader feels lead, as that was my purpose in posting the conversation here in this forum.


This is interesting to me. Certianly applies to our conversation on Sunday. Interested in hearing what you think...

Dear Jason,

I liked the article ˆ very nicely done. I would however disagree with the implication that the former is modern and the later post-modern (though I can see how some of the points could be true). We must be careful also about the strawman that we so easily put up just to knock it down with simplistic and dogmatic responses.

Again, I appreciated the article... it is definitely food for thought, and I like the Dorothy model much better than the Wizard model... but at the same time, that may simply be how I function and not how it is supposed to function (in other words, my opinion versus the actual truth).

thanks for the article,eugene

Dear Eugene,

Thank you for reading the artile. Although it is obvious to me that the ideas described by McLearen in the article are not definitive of the theories of postmodernity, it also seems obvious to me, in light of what postmodernity revealed about modernity, that McLearen's ideas in this article are in fact representative of the world of postmodernity, its conditions, and its hopes that can be applied to the church (and/or leadership) in a similar way that it could be applied to education (although I think part of the idea of postmodernity is not to separate idea and application). This makes me wonder what you mean when you say "scarecrow".

I've been thinking and praying about this stuff a decent amount while I've been on vacation the last few days. In general, both in this email exchange (although so far this one is brief) and in our conversation in your yard during July 4th, I am finding it difficult to get on the same page as you. I can't really figure out where you are coming from. If you don't mind, it would be very helpful to me if you could briefly re-state your own philosophical position, and also how you see it relating (or doesn't) to your Christianity. I think that would help our communication. Sorry if my not fully remembering what you said about that earlier is bothersome. I do remember some of it (I remember that you said you lean more toward Plato than Aristotle, and I remember that you mentioned Pascal, but I don't remember the conteext of your mentioning Pascal - I think you also mentioned Hegel (?)), but not all of it in a holistic way.

Thanks Eugene,


Dear Jason,

I think we’ll need to sit down and talk through this. I don’t have time right now to write it all down for you. I’m also interested in what your philosophical position is without the use of rhetoric or someone else’s formulation – just Jason. Let’s figure out a good time to meet.

By the way, I hope that agreement is not a necessary requirement for our continued dialogue. I’ve enjoyed your questions and comments, as they’ve helped to shape my own. I hope mine have done the same for you.

no reserve,no retreat,no regret...eugene


Before you read this, FYI, you will see at the end that it's purpose is not necessarily for you to need to take the time to respond (outside of when it is perfectly convenient for you). Just thoughts that, for me, need to be addressed. You will see what I mean when you read it...

I just wanted to address one of the things you said here in this email, you hope that our agreement is not a necessary condition for our continued dialogue. I'd say definitely not. I also enjoy our conversations. And I think they do help me to formulate better where I stand.

I think, however, that when it comes to a question of things continuing or stopping, the things that come into question for me are issues centering around Canvas Group. I think, for me, some (or much?) of the grounds of our discussions can be found in Canvas Group, how it operates, and its dynamics. In other words, our discussions do not just occur, are not just housed in the world of the language of philosophy or theology. The discussion for me is simultaneously happening IN Canvas Group, church and the world at large.

Now, as for any alarms that may be sounding in your head. I'm not saying that Canvas Group has to stop or anything like that. I think I might be advocating some change, but I'm not even sure exactly how or in what practical, concrete way. I can give specifics like that in Architecture, but not so much so in ministry. My ideas for change in a ministry context would be much more reactionary and contingent, and much less grounded in an overall historical and/or theoretical perspective (relative to my perspective on Architecture). Sorry.

I just feel like/sense lots of modern influence in the workings of our Canvas Group, partially in you and your background, it seems to me - I mean one obvious example would be your reaction to "post-modernism". That gets difficult for me, because much of my very walk with God has been a disenchantment with and distancing from modernism. Interestingly, for a while in college, much of my studying and thinking was consumed with pooh poohing post-modernism; but my understanding of the basic essence of postmodernism, especially when it is addressed from the perspective of Christ, has changed and is changing. I am seeing just how much "post-moderninsm", or at least certain essential elements of it resonate with me (I mean to refer to those elements as understood by post-moderns themselves, and not as understood by the reactionaries who hold onto the mythology of modernity). Post modernism at least resonates with me when considered in our current contemporary context/world. There are aspects of it present, for example, in the architecture and ideas of my favorite modern architects; but at the core of how the presented thier work and ideas, they were moderns addressing their own world and their own time (and I think they understood that, at least certain ones of whom I am thinking).

And part of my concern too is also beyond myself. To "evangelize" or "do church" in a post-modern world while holding onto the modern mythology that much of the mainline church adopoted (and still holds onto) is to talk at them rather than to them. Obviously won't get anwhere.

Also, just to prep you, or to address another aspect. When you say "without the use of rhetoric or someone else's formulation - just Jason's", uuhh, I wonder. That needs some clarification for me. Now when we think of rhetoric we pretty much think of useless subjective banter based on someone's personal opinion or position. My understanding of that understanding is that it is a modern one, based on the modern presuppositions of objectivity, universalism and individualism - key points of attack on modernism from the post-moderns - points with which I resonate strongly.

That brings up another aspect that needs clarification. I'm not sure what you mean by "Jason's formulation". I mean, maybe in 20 years I'll be much more able to have a "formulation". But I feel like, for the most part, it's another modern individualistic, rational, scientific assumption that there is a liberated Jason selfhood that not only deserves ("natural right"), but has the very possibility of having some pre-set "formulation". As I see it, any "formulation" (I don't really like formulas - but I'm not sure if you meant it that way) at which I arrive will come for me in time, shaped by time, circumstance, and my life story as directed by God. That might sound Aristotelian, but I am really just referring to how I will experience the process of my "formulation". I am not saying that there is no Jason; simply that the Jasonness, as it is experienced for Jason, is developed in his story of time as he imitates the things he sees and has seen around him. As far as Jason knows, Jason doesn't source his fomulation (although he may tell himslef that sometimes :), whatever one's position on the metaphysical status of Jason's Jasonness.

In other words my formulation of my world view is not a surgical operation on the world from a modern archimedian point outside of it, but happens within its ever-changing and shifting life and story. We unfold together, and any formulation of mine will be a position in the world, not a stance on it. That's one of those clarifications that is specifically necessary for our particular time and set of circumstances. That is to say that I do not say that (my formulatin is not a surgical operation on the world, but a view of it from inside of it) with the intention of arguing whether Plato or Aristotle are universally correct or valid. I say that with an understanding that there is a world (a Reality), Plato and Aristotle saw the same world from two different angles, and spoke what they saw. A body gets sick, enters a state of disharmony, when certain elements overwhelm the others and become forces of destruction rather than creation. To correct the sickness is not to kill it but to introduce the proper elements from, percievedly, outside the system in order to bring the body back into harmonious motion. Focault's background was medicine (and, if I am not mistaken, he was also not a fan of the modern Western practice of pill-popping to neutralize or kill "bacteria" in the body). So I am certainly speaking with a large-scale background, but I am not sure where you fit within that scenery.

This for me is prelim stuff to get on the same grounds to have a discussion. I mean, it is obviously part of the discussion, but these things get in the way in my mind before I can imagine upon what grounds we would have a real conversation WITH each other. That's just to say, if I were to sit down with you to have a discussion in which you wanted to hear "my formulation without rhetoric", the first thing I would have to do is ask you what you meant by that; and all these thoughts would be present in my mind to be addressed.

Thanks Eugene. No need to to respond really via email. I was more just letting you know beforehand about what's going on on my end so that there's not (for me) an overwhelming amount of ground to cover when we get together.


Dear Jason,

I wanted to, in the interest of time, just want to comment on one aspect of your most recent formulations (you can call it your story or narrative if that works better for you). You do have many good thoughts on the issue of identity, and yet one aspect that is missing is the tension between the self and the other. You seem to absorb the self into the continuum of history, as if we were simply being tossed to and fro by the waves of circumstance and experience. I would actually not disagree with you completely as I do partially. My disagreement comes out of my own self-critique, where I have often sided with your description of the self as a being of consequence. It is not that we are not slaves, but rather that we are given the (divinely bestowed) power to choose who are master is. When God asks us to choose life or choose death (as he did throughout Scriptures), He is not asking us to make ourselves into something new. Rather, he is charging us with the same commandment that has resonated throughout the history of creation and beyond: Love Me. To love me is to obey me. But quintessentially, I want nothing more than your love. This is the miracle of praxis – where we find ourselves acting out that which is implanted on our hearts. And if God is on hearts, then we will be serving Him naturally, not out of intentional acts of volition. Based on what I do know of you – I believe you’d agree.

Did I ever tell you that I see so much of my younger self in you. I too was a radical bent on changing the world – I actually still am one, but I’ve chosen a much gentler path to get there. I’ve said this before, but experience has taught me that I’m much less sure of the certainties in life now than I was 10 years ago. Though I hold some strong positions on many issues, I’m not as willing to stake everything on those claims. I’ve taken on the role of reconciler, of bringing together opposites and finding hope in community. We so often mistake commonality for community. We draw close to those who look like us, think like us, like the things we like, eat the things we eat. When in fact, community in its most authentic sense most embrace difference and discomfort, even disequilibrium. I disagree with both modernists and post-modernists, but I want desperately to bring them together in fellowship in Christ. I also disdain both Conservatives and Liberals (each for different reasons), and yet I want to build bridges and accomplish good without being tied to party labels (e.g., I want Conservatives to learn to Love and I want Liberals to care more about Truth). I fear the abuses of both Calvinists and Arminians, but at the same time, there is truth in both of their positions, a truth that should bring us together in Christ. [By the way, this is the context behind the statement I made in regards to the paradoxes in JR’s vision for the church].

One question for you – you said somewhere in your email that you wanted to “stop” in relation to Canvas Group... can you clarify? Above all else, I honor, love and accept you as a fellow brother in Christ. I enjoy our every conversation as it stretches me and challenges me – it forces me to articulate that which I assume is understood. You have great potential... keep seeking, remain humble, and always stay close to God.

no reserve,no retreat,no regret...eugene


As for your comment on what I was saying about self, and the implications of the relation to other and history - I'm not sure actually if I would agree. I certainly would have agreed heartily like a year ago. I think I have since then realized that my concern with practicing obedience to God out a "natural" love for God in my heart, at least in the way that I was thinking of it, was a self-made construct (in a way) that for me was a reaction to the mechanization and automation of modernity. Over the last year my experiences and studies have pointed me toward the ancient Jewish notion of discipleship as mimesis, the "Talmid" (Jewish word for "disciple") who "wants to be just like the Rabbi". At the same time, the Rabbi's love for me as taught me that the concept I used to hold about "loving him naturally out of my heart" just doens't hold water. I need to be confronted with the hard truth of my sin, and I need God and community for that. It ain't gonna happen out of the jolly love that naturally flows forth from my heart.

Now, as far as I know at this point, the current attitude in that regard could itself be reactionary and temporary, merely a lesson necessary from God to Jason. I mean, I'm sure that an awareness of the need for the Holy Spirit to show us about our sin was present in your statement about the love of God flowing from our hearts into our actions. At the same time, however, I know that in this teaching process in which God has Jason are issues of the tension present between the modern notion of the "liberated self" and the the ancient man who is engulfed in the mysteriousness of the great unknown and who is utterly dependent upon God, in need of being shown a/"the" way along the path. I think in general post-modernity re-opens the doors to a focus on mimesis of elders or "Masters/Rabbis" (actual, existing, physical, beings of substance) and away from the liberated, rational self who is able to abstractly and/or analytically interpret scripture himself, deal with sin in the privacy of his own closet and generally plan and manage his own life as an individual with authority, power and intellect. And that issue, in itself, I know isn't just some private Jason affair.

In other words, as far as I can tell, I think the issue you are addressing is typically referred to as "legalism", where the "solution" is to obey God out of love for him that flows like a fountain out of our heart. That in itself sounds great to me, but I think our conception of "legalism" is colored by a modern construct that itself can/should just be torn down, a construct that gives everything color and/or tint of uniform, continuous, homonogeous and mechanical. A construct built by a very simplified modern self whose goal is production, success, effectiveness and efficiency. When that construct is torn down, a whole new world appears before us, and we are left standing on the foundation. When that self stripped bare, he returns to his old complicated emotional self for whom "just going through the motions" is a completely foreign idea. This foundation that I've been coming to is the Jewish "root", or "vine", or at least something "like" it (I put quotation marks around "like" to highlight the idea of mimesis, since we obviously won't become ancient Jews).

So, all in all, I'm not sure how to say whether I agree with you or not. I do and I don't. Or maybe I do and I do, since I'm sure the whole issue of needing the Holy Spirit was present in what you meant by what you said (sort of in a way two separate issues, the thing about needing the Holy Spirit to show us our sin and the thing about obeying God out of the love of our hearts and not being legalistic). It's kinda complicated for me, but anyway...

Now, as for your requested clarification on the issues with Canvas Group. What did I mean by something "stopping", or something needing to stop in some way? Well, I think we should talk about it in person. Is that cool? Can we discuss it Thursday after Canvas Group - Audery, you and myself? Her and I have talked about it a bit. I've come at it from a different angle here, that's for sure. I want to talk about it in person dealing much more as much as possible with specific and practical things in Canvas Group itself. Plus, I'm just not sure what I want to say and how to say it. I feel like Thursday night would be much better. How's that?


Dear Jason,

I just have to laugh at myself for missing the mark with you again. I’m still not sure I understand (e.g., the difference between a “vine” paradigm and a “naturalist” paradigm), but at minimum I have some articulation on the matter from the one who should know – Jason, that is.

One thing I would have to comment on is the attribution of modernism to all things bad... this is the danger of reactionism (something we are all prone to), and what you call modernism, I would actually call post-modernism (specifically in relation to the anti-legalist movement that is characteristic of many Christian circles today). For you see, the post-modern elevates the epiphany above the enlightenment. It takes reason out of the picture, and allows for emotion to replace it. It makes all things subjective, and thus all things non-empirical. That is as far from modernist thinking as I can imagine – but once again, perhaps I’m just not hearing you correctly.

Let’s talk on Thursday (the sooner the better, since I’m always expecting the worst when it comes to talks like these). Nonetheless, I felt like I had a breakthrough on Sunday. I have realized something about myself and about all of you that I’ve (once again) missed this entire time (not that it’s been that long). In addition to whatever you want to bring, what I would like to hear from you (and Audrey) is: 1) what you originally expected out of CG; 2) your ideal of a CG.

see you Thursday,

Thanks Eugene,

Yeah, that's something I think about every now and again, or have thought about at least. Am I just being negative? As I work through through the issues more and more I am able to answer that question in the affirmative when it is the case and in the negative when appropriate. But, well, I don't have everything figured out, so...

But one thing that is ingrained in my thinking, something that jumps out at me when I hear you mention that post-modernism allows emotion to replace reason, is a knowledge and/or awareness of our ANCIENT history. When I think of the emotion thing, think of ancient tribal man, that's a big part the assoication in my mind with what happens when the modern self is "deconstructed". Honestly, I haven't really fully articulated in my mind where post-modernism fits in with that emotionally-colored picture, but all that just to say that for me I don't just associate emotion with postmodernism and rationality with modernism.

As for the "all things subjective, and thus all things non-empirical" thing, uuhh, yeah, I don't know. I mean, I know that it can seem that post-modernism is all about sujectivity, and therefore "BOOHH!" The problem is, when you address that issue within the framework, if you can call it that, of the post-moderns, the issue becomes not the debate between subjective and objective, but that modernism itself WAS "subjective". In other words that its claims of "objectivity" were themselves not so "scientific", but also "mythic", just like everything in history leading up to it.

David Fitch, for example in his book The Great Giveaway, talks about how in certain modern German circles the Jesus hermeneutic that was claiming exactly such "objectivity" had to keep adjusting and changing with the changing circumstances of history, AND that each time the change occured, they ended up with a different picture of Jesus that looked each time more like the new self in the new historical background.

As for the non-empirical aspect of post-modernism that you mentioned, honestly, I just don't know where you're coming from on that one. The beginning of Focault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, is simply a very detailed, graphic and descriptive story about a criminal's being tortured on March 2, 1757.

And I look foward to Thursday night. I wouldn't expect it to be so bad. We appreciate you, and see how you necessarily bring a vision and a stronghold that would otherwise not be present in our group.

Thanks again Eugene,


Aah, could be worse. Whatever the original article under discussion was, the link isn't there any more -- the signifier no longer connects to the signified. Anyhow, it reads as a fairly cordial exchange, with a little bit of the elder/younger struggle manifesting itself. Youngers always get labeled as emotional (i.e., immature). Also this thing about "you remind me of me as a youth" seems a little egocentric and perhaps controlling. No other specifics jump to mind to comment on.
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