Neophilia [5] Subvert the Fantasy Church

Links: Neophilia [1]  |  Neophilia [2]  |  Neophilia [3]  |  Neophilia [4]

Anyone been finding blogging more difficult than it used to be? Lost the novelty a bit, and now what seemed so easy and freeing is more of a chore at times? Lots of people I’ve read seem to have done recently… Welcome to the fantasy cycle of the neophiliac.

I’ve linked to the other posts in the series above – and in the right bar under the series clicks – but to summarize, I’ve been fascinated by Christopher Booker’s work The Neophiliacs – Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties and believe it has strong messages for us as an emerging movement.

Why? Because he identifies the potential pitfalls of newness: falling into a neophiliac fantasy cycle:

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Blogging may be a good example:

You’re looking for a way to network/communicate

You start blogging. Everyone’s got one. It’s brilliant. You can’t wait to do the next post. Loads of hits.

But after a while it gets frustrating. Not as many people are visiting or commenting.

Then it seems no matter what you post, no one seems interested, or the feedback is negative.

So you chuck it in, and look for the next best thing that people are doing.

Familiar? You’ve just enjoyed a classic fantasy cycle: the stages of anticipation, dream, frustration, nightmare and deathwish, that fool us into thinking genuine newness is among us, but spit us out with little of substance changed at the end.

Of course, we go through these cycles all the time, and they are actually part of our learning and maturing. But, as Booker surprisingly suggests at the end of his book:

“In the events of Passion Week we see the portrayal of the fantasy cycle, moving from the Dream Stage of the entry into Jerusalem, through the frustration stage of Gethsemane, to the Nightmare Stage of the betrayal… And so to the Death Wish Stage of the crucifixion. Yet, on Easter morning comes the resurrection, completing the full cycle of the perfect man; who had acted out the pattern of the world’s sins, and yet was reborn.

The re-birth of Christ coincides, of course, with Spring – the rebirth of the year. But it is also a rebirth which can coincide with the inmost experience of every man who goes through the same pattern: of dying in his fantasy self, in order to live in his real self – the real self which, because it is part of God, goes on for ever and ever.”

In other words, these cycles need to actually help us to put to death our ‘fantasy self’, and live to our ‘real selves’. In the previous post I touched on how important this was for us individually. But I think it is going to be vital to the longevity of this ’emerging movement’ – whatever that may be – that we are aware of the issues corporately too, and are consciously trying to avoid the projection of fantasy onto our corporate expressions, and to keep subverting them back to reality.

People are excited about this new thing happening. There’s been mainstream media interest in projects in the UK, and the whole Emergent thing in the US. This is great. But it carries with it the dangerous opportunity to project a fantasy. To project an image of things that suggests ‘this is it, this is the real thing, this is perfect and great.’ Because most likely, it’s not. We carry our imperfections and pains, and need to make sure people recognize us as imperfect. If we project perfection, then we encourage people to enter fantasy cycles and cults of personality.

So how might we try to avoid this?

1. Keep it real. Keep the dirt on show, and avoid temptations to project an image of things as better than they actually are.

2. Keep the feedback loops functioning. If communication is good, people are less likely to be able to project false images, or believe them.

3. This probably means that structures will need to remain flat and open. In my experience, the more hierarchical you get, the more likely it is a protective fantasy image will be projected onto the leadership, and from them to the wider circle.

4. Accept the death of the temporal when it comes. The Church will never die. But churches will. And we need to help them have good deaths when they do.

If we can do this, then genuine newness, real, lasting change is possible. We won’t succeed perfectly. Not this time round. But at least we might peel one more layer of the onion, get that little bit closer, and avoid the burning out and bleeding fallout of nasty collapses, deflated mega-visions and disappointed utopians.


7 responses to “Neophilia [5] Subvert the Fantasy Church”

  1. kester,
    couple of things: first of, great post. On one level i would say the structure of modernity (and it post-) is based in this passion for the new, and that the fundamental fantasy is that there even is something new. I had a professor who said roughly, “modernity is the endless circulation of the same under the illusion of the new”. (he might of gotten that from Vattimo).
    Also, this sound very much like Jacques Lacan and his idea of the mirror stage in the development of the ego, where we project and ‘ideal’ ego, our fantasized and complete selves, covering over our inner fragmentation. The moment of the psycho-analytic cure is the ‘traversal of the fantasy’ which is subjective death. of course, he didn’t have any view toward resurrection, but that’s what theology is for.
    lastly, your warning and hope for the emerging church is apt. Tony Jones was recently at a gathering we host, and he pretty much said that he’s trying to do all the things you listed. but it’s a lot of work, and people are constantly projecting their fantasies onto church leadership.

  2. “modernity is the endless circulation of the same under the illusion of the new”
    That’s a great quote. And sound thoughts. You’re right that resurrection is the absolute key – it breaks the cycle, and thus provides hope. I’m glad people are reflecting on this stuff… Fantasy projections / idealization of leaders is such a huge problem, and such a major tripwire for new movements. What were Tony Jones’ thoughts?


    And therein lies the rub, old bean.
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    Release the Trixter within, upload a ridiculously sized animated sig onto a forum near you – or link to mega-JPGs; construct spiralling links to oblivion and tab them wherever you may roam; or simply spam until you can spam no more, and if you wanna be really trixxxy, throw in the occasional piece of wisdom in amongst the piss and wind… my favourite source is Hagakure…
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  6. Well dang my photoshop… I told it to make the colour the same. Will have to look into it. Some day.
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    Industrial processed ball-meat needs love too!