Emerging Church: Game or Ritual?
As The Believer points out, one aspect of games such as Dungeons and Dragons is that of fantasy. When you enter a game, you are entering ‘role play’ – becoming someone else. Becoming a fantasy self.
This is something I have critiqued in more detail here. But to summarize, if the Emerging Church risks being seen as a game for some – with rules and power accumulating – then the parallel risk is that it becomes a fantasy, and will inevitably suffer collapse at the end of a fantasy cycle. It will become an ecclesiastic Gizmondo (beautiful article, well worth reading).
So what might be a way forward? How do we avoid the game, with its disjunctive effects, de-marking winners and losers? How do we avoid the unhealthy tendency to masculine competitiveness?
We might meditate on the gospel as a D&D scenario. A wise wizard gathers characters around him. They journey from place to place, meeting monsters, overcoming problems, asking questions. They have a quest, they are immersing themselves in a new kingdom. For some, the quest is a game – there are going to be winners and losers. And certainly, Jesus plays within a defined set of rules. He plays a part.
But, firstly, he also subverts the games different groups want him to play: he plays dirty. By bending the rules he subverts the the boundaries of the game, and thus begins to play in a whole new dimension. Others cry ‘foul’ and get him sent off… But it’s at that point that Jesus refuses to engage in this mission as a game at all. By dying, by ‘losing’, he presents the ultimate criticism of the competitive, religious fantasies that both his followers and opponents projected onto him.
Secondly, he presents a criticism of the power-accumulation that defines ‘good play’ in so many games. He empties himself. He works in the economy of gift, passing things on rather than pooling wealth.
Thirdly, he rises again to present an entirely new concept of play. The universe is now fluid and self-organizing. Where there were once rules, there are now governing dynamics. Where there were once blocked walls, places our characters could not go, limiting screens, there is now freedom to roam. Spirit. No temple.
Interestingly, it seems that games are heading that way too. Check out Spore (review here) – a game from the creator of the Sims series that begins in the primordial soup, and can zoom in and out between organism and galactic levels. Players evolve species – and their characteristics are totally within their own control. The game doesn’t have a stock list, its governing dynamics simply work out how a fish with 3 legs and a huge head might move. Species then create cities, interact on-line with other cities other players have created, and take on whole different galaxies. Due to be released in Spring next year, it promises to be an extraordinary experience.
If we can face down the fantasy-self of the emerging expressions we are a part of – as Christ did in the desert – we can evolve something truly new. But unless we do so, we are destined to create something competitive and regulated, with its own winners and losers, its own D&D neeks and sports jocks. Let’s hope we do so. Let’s pray we don’t go Gizmondo: promising so much, disappointing so many, costing someone a fortune.