I read the NY Times online every morning. It's become something of a spiritual discipline for me--a lectio divina with a text other than the Bible. It's my way of keeping a God-world horizon in view, of not getting absorbed by my own little world. I admit, it's not always easy to be mindful of God as I read. It's certainly not a practice that yields easily some sense of God's movement or agency in the world. It's tough some days to read the Times and confess that the reign of God has come near.
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Mark 1:15 these days. I am using it as a little paradigm for gospel speech. I see four movements, or lenses there: the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near, repent, believe the good news. The last phrase always grabs me. Believe the good news. It's especially intriguing in the Gospel of Mark where no one seems to get Jesus' identity correct. Even the announcement of the good news in 1:15 is prefaced with the report of John being shut up in Herod's prison. It can be tough to believe that the kingdom of God has come near.
That's why I like Welker's assertion (see previous post) that the Spirit provides a focus on God’s work even in an overwhelming and confusing world. The power of this statement is enhanced by Welker's own diagnosis of how disorienting modern societies can be.
Modern societies are distinguished from earlier ones by what Drukheim, Parsons and others refer to as "functional differentiation." By this they mean that in modern societies there are "subregions" like economy, law, education, family, and even religion that function fairly independently of the other subregions. This is due, ironically, by a drive to function in their area on behalf of the entire society. As Welker describes, "They increase their competence and efficiency by rendering their basic operations and their forms of understanding more precise, by limiting their extension in many respects, by loosening or even doing away with the interconnections among themselves, and above all by giving up the notion of an overarching...order" (30).
Modern societies, as a result, do not have a common account by which its members make sense of their experience. Experience is fragmented, isolated, and individuals feel powerless or impotent in making an impact in a polcentric world. There is little left that can be termed "common" sense. The power of mass media in a world like this is its ability to give "plausibility and sensual immediacy" to a world that is otherwise "inconprehensible and remains uncomprehended" (31). But this mass mediated reality is a thin account of life, often more distracting than orienting.
In the midst of this fragmented world that no longer yields an orienting perspective, the Spirit works to make God's rule recognizable. The Spirit provides an orientation related to Jesus' presence in the world in the midst of our confusion and babble about life. The Spirit provides a witness to Christ in the world, a way of talking about God's presence through the testimony of our experience with God in the world. These testimonies are not total accounts of what God is doing, but modest fragments, that nevetheless point to the One whose power is perfect in weakness.
I love this notion. I wish I had owned this perspective earlier, to reflect on my experience of God the Spirit. I wish I had more wisdom about all of this. But it seems to me that mission cannot occur apart from this kind of work of the Spirit, this kind of orienting work. Unless God's Spirit makes clear Gods work in the world, we will be left to name for God only those things that seem impressive to us. And I'm pretty sure that's not the way to go.