Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Soundtrack to fresh thoughts about history and mission

Do listen to the new Eels album. You can hear the whole of Tomorrow Morning here. But it's worth acquiring for your iPod, car CD player, etc because it's simply lovely.

Great tunes, sharp lyrics, imaginative arrangements, the talented Mr E is feeling at peace with himself and it oozes through the whole album. It could the best thing he's done since Blinking Lights and Other Revelations.

It forms a suitable backdrop to much thinking about social status, place, relations in the Roman Empire and the early Christian groups. Two and half thousand words down so far, just 10,000 more to go (so it probably won't be written by close of play today!)

In the course of my reading yesterday evening I ended up in the Seventeenth Century dipping into a couple of Christopher Hill's books. It was good to be reminded what a great writer he was. But in the course of chasing down an argument about imposing present understanding and frameworks on past events, I came across this:

'In mid-seventeenth century England there were no buildings labelled "Baptist church", "Leveller party", "Society of Friends." There were individual groups gathered around a charismatic preacher or leader. From this milieu of free discussion Baptists, Muggletonians and Quakers ultimately emerged, after many disputes. We can see them as sects, retrospectively, because they survived. Ranters, like Levellers, Diggers and Fifth Monarchists, were suppressed because they were thought dangerous. They never achieved the degree of organisation which was forced on Baptists, Muggletonians and Quakers later in the century.' (A Nation of Change and Novelty p173-174)

He argues that in those turbulent years of revolution in the mid-seventeenth century, new ideas were emerging, taking wing or crashing in flames. There was no certainty that any of the groups generating those ideas would last long.

'It is perhaps misleading to differentiate too sharply between politics, religion and general scepticism. We know as a result of hindsight that some groups - Baptists and Quakers - will survive as religious sects...In consequence we unconsciously tend to impose too clear outlines on the early history of the English sects, to read back later beliefs into the 1640s and 50s. One of the aims of this book will be to suggest that things were much more blurred.' (The World Turned Upside Down p14).

This resonates in all sorts of ways with what I'm pondering in relation to the emergence of communities of Jesus followers across the empire in the middle years of the first century AD. It also resonates with my thinking on how the heirs of those groups are navigating today's choppy waters as they seek to embody the same values as their ancestors in such a different world.

No comments: