[This blog post is part of series on metamodernism and awesomeness. If you don’t know what metamodernism is, read this first, otherwise you may be left in the dark. I’m developing some thoughts here, and reactions are more than welcome.]
Pete is an adventist. Pete believes in heaven. Pete believes Jesus lives there now, and will come soon to pick the faithful up. Pete wants to believe he can join Jesus in heaven. Pete thinks heaven is awesome.
Pete could never be an Adventist. Pete knows that heaven is a fallacy. Pete knows that the idea of heaven is just used to bribe us to be good. Pete doesn’t even want to go to heaven. Pete thinks heaven is awesome.
Pete is both of these things. And neither. Pete is metamodern.
Heaven has been part and parcel of Christianity since the beginning. I could spend a thousand words describing and dissecting heaven, deconstructing and reconstructing it. But I don’t need to, a couple of paragraphs is enough.
Heaven is awesome! Heaven is the ultimate utopia. Heaven is a perfect place, without pain or sadness. Heaven is where life can be lived like God intended, a wonderful life without hardships.
Heaven is the hope for which Christians live. The hope that keeps them going. Heaven is that what awaits all those who are faithful. Heaven is the utopia that all Christians share.
As I write this, the world is gearing up for the release of the final The Hunger Games movie. In Mockingjay, Part 2 we will finally see the climatic victory of protagonist Katniss and the rebels over President Snow and the ruling elite. I hate to have to do this [spoiler alert!], but don’t get your hopes up.
I don’t know where the movie will go, but the book’s plot is quite complicated and convoluted – expressly so. The rebels attack the Capitol of Panem. Eventually they beat the oppressors, but in the attack most of Katniss’s team die. She makes it to the presidential mansion, but upon arriving a hoverplane drops bombs on a group of children. Medics rush to help them. At that precise moment a hoverplane drops a second load, killing all – including Katniss’s sister. Katniss is knocked unconscious.
Upon awaking she finds that president Snow has been captured, but he claims that the hoverplane was not his. It was the rebels themselves that did this. For them, the end must justify the means. The true nature of the rebels, led by new president Coin, becomes more apparent when the children of the old elite are forced into another Hunger Games.
Katniss sees that Coin’s rule is equally bad as Snow’s. When she is meant to execute Snow, she kills Coin instead. Hoping against hope that this third rebellion will preserve the possibility of a fair government. She is tried, but exonerated. Ostensibly on grounds of insanity, the true reason is much more daunting. She reflects:
The truth is, no one quite knows what to do with me now that the war’s over, although if another one should spring up, Plutarch’s sure they could find a role for me. […]
”Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.
”Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,“ he says. ”But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”
”What?” I ask.
”The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.”
The rebels might have won, but they simply replaced one dystopia with the next. Coin was no better, and no worse, than Snow. Even when Katniss won again, destroying the short-lived Coin regime, the new promise of utopia is immediately rendered short-lived. But at the same time, there is the desire – hopeless as it may be – that this time there will be true, permanent utopia.
Whether or not the utopia lasts, Katniss experiences the founding of it. She lives in that utopia, but the dystopia from before lives on. Years later, seeing her children play she reflects:
The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them at school […] My children, who don’t know they play on a graveyard.
The world itself is scarred by the past, and the people living in it are similarly scarred:
But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away. I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
But there are much worse games to play.
There are worse games to play. Katniss living in the long-awaited utopia, is hopelessly scarred by the past. She lives in the utopia she dreamt of all her life, but that utopia does not really exist. It might be better than the past, but it really is not that great.
Most important is the only thing that keeps her going. A repetitive counting game of acts of goodness. She doesn’t focus on the big world-changing events and she doesn’t focus on the (one would hope) newly formed, benevolent government. Katniss focusses on the small acts of goodness that she personally experienced, that is her hope in her utopia.
What is utopia for Katniss? Is it the new world order she helped create? I don’t think so. Her utopia is only when she remembers the goodness that people did for others. She does not focus on the ideological utopia of fair government and equalitarian society, she scans the world and sees little bits of utopia reflected in the acts of people.
Returning to the church, you must surely have noticed that many young people are disillusioned? Young people worldwide are calling the church out to stop wasting time. To stop talking about details – theological or other – rather than helping the needy. Young people are calling all to hit the streets and do something, anything.
In the Adventist Church, Global Youth Day and Impact events are thriving. The first is a Sabbath where the youth ‘live the sermon’. Not going to church to listen, but going to people to help. Impact events are large events where a big group of young people try to make a lasting impact on a city or community through acts of kindness and help.
This need to do some good, no matter how small, is a worldwide, fundamental phenomenon in the church. And I’d like to link it to metamodernism.
This generation is made up of Katnisses. They were born into a world that has been ruined. A world that is being ruined by their parents. A world of climate change and economic crisis. A world of governments who can’t get their acts together. A world where Europe, the unified nation of hope that they were born into, is falling. A world where the hopeful multiculturalism of the 90s has turned into discrimination made possible by terrorism. A world where refugees are not welcome. A world where conservative nationalism is growing. A world where the Arab puppet dictators have fallen, and nothing better came in their place. A world where the bad debts became dangerous for the first world, not just the far away places. A world where neoliberalism rules free creating more inequality and more environmental disaster.
This generation was born into a world that has been ruined, and all it has is hope. Hope for a better future, hope for a utopia. But they are not idiots. They know that utopias don’t exist. Can’t exist. But, and this is the big thing, Utopias are useful.
As an impossible possibility, utopia should not be perceived as a new ideological blueprint, however. Much rather, it should be understood as a tool, say, a looking glass, for scanning this world and others for alternative possibilities. [Vermeulen & Van den Akker (PDF)]
A looking glass for scanning this world, not an ideological blueprint. Katniss is not interested in the new, fair government. She is not interested in the free society she helped create. The ideological blueprint means nothing, she is scanning the world looking for possibilities. Looking – in her case – for goodness.
Now, do you see where I’m going. The church has a Utopia: a never-ending theocratical kingdom of love and equality. A metamodernist can accept and love that utopia. It is the impossible possibility, the hope in something that will never be. But in the mean-time, they can use the kingdom as a mirror for the world.
The Adventist Church talks about heaven a lot. The Adventist Church’s reason for begin is preaching Jesus’ soon return to take as many as possible to heaven. But should this be the focus?
If we want to be a church that reaches contemporary people, if we want to be a church that changes the world, and ff we want to be a church that keeps focussed on heaven, we need to stop preaching heaven as a destination. We must preach it as a looking glass.
We must look into the kingdom and scan the world, looking for possibilities. We must see that while the world is ruined, we can make a small local difference. We must understand that making a difference, locally, is all we need to do. All we want to do. We can make the church a force for good in the world, as a reflection of the kingdom for which we hope.
If we want to be a church that meets contemporary culture, we need to be a church that reflects the good of the kingdom in the world. Treating the utopia that we hope for as a tool for alternative thinking in this one. We need to go and do, not sit and talk.