Saturday, 6 August 2016

Making the old new

Winston Churchill said 
"One of the signs of a great society is the diligence with which it passes culture from one generation to the next. This culture is the embodiment of everything the people of that society hold dear: its religious faith, its heroes.....when one generation no longer esteems it's own heritage and fails to pass the torch to its children, it is saying in essence that the very foundational principles and experiences that make the society what it is are no longer valid. This leaves that generation without any sense of definition or direction, making them the fulfillment of Karl Marx's dictum, 'A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.' What is required when this happens and the society has lost its way, is for leaders to arise, who have not forgotten the discarded legacy and who love it with all their hearts. They can then become the voice of that lost generation, wooing an errant generation back to the faith of their fathers, back to the ancient foundations and bedrock values...
(Never Give In, The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, Page 190)

I've been pondering the above quote since I came across the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Paris - and I'm conflicted by its sentiment.
On the one hand, I want to claim its veracity as an encouragement to recover the roots of our Celtic spirituality, to mine the riches of that particular seam of Christian heritage, to return to a faith rooted in the earth and in social justice, particularly in response to the world today.
But, on the other hand, history (and heritage) is always composed and contextualised by one generation to make sense of the past for the next and thus given a perspective that may only be true in the eyes of the narrator.
In our heritage of faith, what is truth and what is relevant for this generation? Surely it is more helpful, not to bequeath a culture but to pass on tools with which to engage fully with the intricacies and peculiarities of life today. Tools that build resilience, that foster hope, that allow discovery of meaning. Those tools don't come neatly packaged but emerge out of careful consideration and discernment alongside those with whom they are fashioned. We don't indiscriminately hand on or plunder our heritage but, rather, sift and weigh what is of use for each generation.
Our task is not to woo a lost generation back to irrelevant practices but to create opportunity to see how those ancient rhythms connect with life today, to create space for contemplation, to create opportunity for action, to build community and accountability.
The heritage of faith is not an entity that one generation bequeaths to another but a feast from which one selects courses that appeal. And lest that suggests a lack of depth, there is the assurance of the prayers of the saints through the ages harnessing and releasing the power of the spirit, enabling wisdom and insight and revealing the presence of God at work in the world.
People of faith are the connectors, discerning God at work, creating sign posts and offering practices that create supportive communities in which individuals can find belonging and, together, create new stories.
Ours is not to woo but, rather, out of respect for our shared heritage of faith, to wade in to the melee, offering our vulnerability and love for our world today, forging new meaning from ancient ways.