‘In this our time, the minds of men are so diverse, that some think it a great matter of conscience to depart from a piece of their old customs; and again, on the other side, some be so new-fangled, that they would innovate all things, and so despise the old, that nothing can like them but that is new.’
Thomas Cranmer, Book of Common Prayer 1552
Quoted in the introduction to The Neophiliacs
Christopher Booker’s ‘The Neophiliacs – Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties‘ has, I believe some powerful messages for us as an emerging movement. The book is an analysis of those remarkable years when much of the West did undergo a remarkable shift in attitudes and major new forms of music, theatre and political mood took root. By weaving together events from the worlds of music, film, literature, politics and fashion, Booker presents an extraordinary take on a very exciting time in history, prompting Malcolm Muggeridge to hail it as a “remarkable book. Immensely stimulating”
Booker’s concern is to explore how much of this supposed revolution was, in fact, little more than a collective fantasy, a mass of culturally spun sugar that appeared on the surface to be offering some genuine new order, but in fact collapsed into little of real substance.
My concern, using some of the thinking from his book, is to consider how we might avoid that path ourselves. In other words, how can we best help the Emerging Church movement to be something that effects genuine change, rather than a revolution that over-eggs its own importance and does little to change the reality on the ground.*
Firstly then, some thoughts on The Cult of Sensation.
“If we consider the exemplary expression of fantasy of mass-advertising we can see at once that a great many advertisements associated with pictures of pretty girls, burning flames, jet airlines, boats rushing along in water, speeding cars […] and such words as crisp, instant, ice-cold, compact, high speed are built up, regardless of the product they are selling [see this post], of nothing more than indiscriminate collections of vitality images.”
Booker is writing at the end of the 1960s, nearly 40 years ago, so his idiom is bound to be slightly archaic. However, he touches on something very important. The new movements in all ares of the arts, politics and fashion were very much about sensation, about getting closer, touching. And at the same time were very much about a new vitality.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with that per se… but, as Booker carefully sets out, fantasies are about promising this vitality through what he calls “nyktomorphics” – night images, cats that become fierce tigers in the darkness of our imaginations, lingerie-clad advertising that promises vital sex, but doesn’t deliver.
In other words, to avoid being swept along in fantasy, you need to avoid promising more than you are delivering. Avoid spin. Let the truth be on show, not some projected idealized image. Don’t fall foul of sensationalism.
This can be harder than one might imagine, as often it is others who do the projecting for you. This was certainly true at Vaux, and I know through many conversations with Jonny about Grace too – the huge international image, with the local reality somewhat different.
So the first point to take from him is this: don’t allow the projected image to distort too far from the reality. In other words, keep it real. If we can do this, and not overblow our claims or influence, we’re one the road to avoiding entering a fantasy cycle… which will be the topic of the next post, and which I fear much of Christianity has fallen foul of.
*If you’ve read the book you’ll recognise that this is one of the major themes in it. Unfortunately, I came to Booker’s book too late to integrate it… Hence this attempt now!
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