Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Perilous Times 2

Peril.jpgRobert Wuthnow’s newest book, Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats
, provides for us an opportunity to have a pastoral response to peril.

In the last fifty years, he argues in chp 1, three things have happened:
First, peril has become a constant.
Second, peril is now seen as the product of an organization — like Hitler’s Germany or (in the mind of many Americans) Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
Third, and this is a big one, the solution to peril increasingly is assigned to organizations and governments and to experts.
I’m hoping some pastors will weigh in on this one today: After reading the blog post, what are you doing in your churches to make sense of peril? What “story” or “narrative” do you tell? Now, to dig a bit deeper, what behaviors do you see and what stories do the behaviors tell? 
Peril has always been part of the human condition, but in former years it was otherwise. Listen to his words: “Were the problem solving involved to occur in any other era but our own, it would be tempting to imagine that it would entail religion, magic, and ritual. The danger facing the society would very likely be perceived as that of an angry god, the devil, or an evil spirit” (20).  He continues: “The ‘enlightened’ view is that people in earlier times were deluded.”

But he asks in this chp about how humans respond to peril, and I see four large points, and each of these is at work in every church and for every pastor because fear is at work in every parishioner:

First, denial. Folks just deny peril as a reality and try to make their way through life as if grave conditions don’t happen or aren’t happening. Denial, however, means that persons are actually being defined by and shaped by peril.
Second, escape into fantasy. Here he probes into fantasy movies and video games where violence is present and felt and managed. (I’m tempted to say many eschatological schemes are fantasies that alleviate fears.)
Third, social scripts that make sense of peril and life. Whether we are in denial or escaping into fantasy, one thing that happens with all humans, when faced with peril, is to find a social script that makes sense of what is happening. 
These social scripts are narratives, and these narrative “problem solve” at the deepest levels by putting the peril into a narrative that subverts it or manages it.
One of the major scripts today is this one: Government or organized groups can solve these problems. Science will point the way.
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posted May 13, 2010 at 10:21 am

This is an interesting series – and sounds like an interesting book. But I have to admit the idea of “peril” doesn’t strike me. In my youth when people talked about Nuclear War and pollution I felt something of a sense of peril. But this is not so much a part of experience today – even the threat of terrorism is ho hum.
Perhaps I am just blind to the general experience – but is this really a big part of our corporate psyche today?

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posted May 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

After reading the blog post, what are you doing in your churches to make sense of peril? What “story” or “narrative” do you tell? Now, to dig a bit deeper, what behaviors do you see and what stories do the behaviors tell?
I think the narrative we tell is the narrative of a fallen world that has become filled with peril but that God’s redemptive actions, justice, peace, and grace are greater than the peril, even if we “die.” Perfect love drives out fear and death has been conquered.
I remember hearing concerned parishioners that thought President Obama was the anti-Christ and responding with “Assuming he is and that’s what Revelation is about, why do you think democratic structures could prevent him from coming to power or that there is anything to fear because the consummation of history is guaranteed in God’s work.
Sorry if that’s garbled, just had a brief break from class to post.

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posted May 13, 2010 at 10:53 am

Not to be too quick on the draw, but I thought along the same lines as Richard, above. Our parishoners look at the serving president of the USA and think, “horror!” “peril”, etc. They fixate on the Fox News and political talking head yammering. It becomes so consuming they do not “hear” the voice of the pastor, who tries to bring good news, BALANCE, or shed light on scripture that teaches “be not afraid.”
Unfortunately, these “conservative” activities seem to bring them more terror or thoughts of fear. The constant listening to the talking heads gives them some fantasy that they “think” they can control these things. Yet, they are never at peace or resting in the faith they hold, etc.

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posted May 13, 2010 at 11:13 am

You said “four large points” but only listed 3 (all of which seem significant). Did you miscount, or leave one out?
I would also mention something PW @3 alluded to — with modern communication technology the sense of “peril” can be amplified and spread more quickly, both because of the speed factor and because the media has an interest in promoting peril narratives to keep people watching them.

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Alan K

posted May 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

Today, the story we will tell in our church is that of the Ascension. Peril is contextualized by the rule and authority of Jesus Christ. But I would never call Ascension a social script.
Another story we tell in our church is that of Job. Peril is recognized by both Job and God, but God reminds Job that he wrapped the sea in swaddling cloths (he diapered it). Night is always bounded by the morning. Again, Job is not a social script, but it holds together the reality of God’s sovereign rule and the presence of peril.

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Carl Holmes

posted May 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Many people have a hand in keeping us in a sense of peril. Politicians, scientists, academia etc. It sells, it keeps people enraptured with them, and it feeds ego.
Christ enters in the picture and says “fear not, I am with you always” and we have the Psalms and the Proverbs to properly ground us in the prescence of God in times of “peril”
I try and teach discernment and motive in all things. Who has the motive to tell you what you are hearing, what is the outcome they wish to have and why?
With so much talk of peril we are going to wear our adrenal glands into the ground, reach a state of emotional anhedonia and end up catatonic and following the whims and fancies of those who want to lead us in their way.
God came to give peace in the midst of the storm. I try and teach them to look for the peaceful moments.

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posted May 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

In my ministry and church I see a few things, especially among young adults…
1. Overwhelming information. We have a media saturated culture; internet, 24hrs news etc. The response is often to shut off to reality, there is just too much for one human to process.
2. Fantasy/escape. Partially because of what I said above… but many young adults who are beginning careers etc., escape into dating/relationships, going out, activities… it becomes almost a consumerist escape, except they are consuming new experiences and activities and the ‘high’ of meeting someone from the opposite sex.
My pastoral response has been similar to what you said Scot in your third point… I think we need new narratives/social scripts, and a new imagination. I focus on re-framing peril and it’s response, and telling a different story.
Yes there is peril. And yes it can seem overwhelming. But ignoring or escaping is not the answer. And we can’t just ‘fix’ this through programs and institutions… we need to join a Kingdom where God is restoring the universe. This means there is still peril, but there is also hope… not just idealism.
This also puts our own anxiety in perspective… it’s about God, not us. And most that live in America today don’t really have ‘peril,’ compared to much of what is happening around the globe.
I also think we underplay the role of ‘ritual.’ Most people have ‘rituals,’ there are just not Kingdom shaped. So I try to connect people to practices and symbols that will meaningfully shape us towards God, and a healthy response to the issues of our world.

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posted May 14, 2010 at 9:11 am

I’m a family pastor so I see peril in a slightly different light. Yes, there are many who would make us fear so many different things as Carl#6 points out. But the real peril that people feel is that which is most immediate in time or relationship.
Parent a scared to death of loosing their children. There is the peril of drugs, sex (or problems associated with sex), broken friendships, lost opportunities and failure of any sort. Parents fight this by pushing their children to succeed in everything.
Many men face the peril of loosing their jobs or loosing face with their employers thus loosing power and respect. They often fight this by working endlessly.
Many women face the peril of not being good enough for the husbands, children or their community. They often fight this by constantly heaping more pressure upon themselves to be the support that everyone needs.
What is the church doing to help with this peril. In all honestly, we are adding to the mounds of work and pressure, because we too feel a peril of loosing our place of priority in the lives of people.
I would pray that the church would rather take a position of offering the peace that comes through Christ. We should be teaching that bad things will happen, but bad has been overcome with good. Unfortunately, I think too many in the church have insufficient faith in God as the overcomer of peril.

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Jim Martin

posted May 14, 2010 at 10:36 am

Scot, this is an interesting series. What I observe in the church:
1. There comes for many people a time of peril which is life-changing. Many people go through their early lives and experience very little heartache or peril. Life seems to be smooth. Then at some point, they are experiencing peril personally. It could be divorce (parent’s divorce or their own) or it may be a Dr. telling them that they have cancer.
2. There is also the intense, 24/7 media that communicates all sorts of real or possible perils. Some people devour this with an ferocious appetite .
3. There are the themes that the culture creates which often form the predominant script. “The economic crisis” etc.
I think it is very important, pastorally, to hold up the larger narrative of Scripture as the defining story of our lives. Otherwise, the peril will be seen as larger than God’s story. Or as one person said, “That is fine and good but this is the real world! If something bad happens to me, I don’t know what I would do.”
Well God is greater and larger than whatever peril will or could occur. Jesus has been raised from the dead and has ascended on high. He will not abandon us in our peril but will see us through.

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Scot McKnight

posted May 14, 2010 at 11:13 am

Jim, thanks much for your thoughts. I believe Wuthnow’s book could be a most important book for pastors should they read it carefully. Peril is at work in so many scripts in our culture, especially the politically-shaped ones both from the left and the right.
A Christian response to peril deserves to be taken far more seriously by pastors.

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