Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Church Obama v. Church Clinton v. Church Anti-Cool

Okay, I've been trying to put off this post and don't have time to fully develop it I am sure, but here goes anyway. Everyday seems to give me more fodder for thought.

Also, disclosure up front: this is analysis and might tend I suspect to be seen somewhat as pro-Sen. Obama, so just wanted to say I support in the primary Sen. Clinton and voted for her here in Oklahoma in one of those reddest of red states where she won 2-1 on super tuesday over Sen. Obama. I'll support him in the general if he wins the nomination.

And this is going to be about culture and religion.

Looking at the Obama campaign is like witnessing the postmodern turn in church culture. To use Leonard Sweet's terms, it is exhibiting a primacy of experience, participation (from bottom up), image-driven, and community connecting. It is EPIC. This will seem ironic to some in terms of experience since the political rhetoric has thrown this around so much, but what I mean is that the Church Obama provides an experience, and that is more important, or inspiring, than knowledge about an experience. Experiencing God vs. Knowledge about God or God-Talk. Yes, Sen. Clinton has more knowledge about...fill in the blank, but that isn't any longer what is valued the most, nor in a media-saturated empire how best to be emperor even. Obama's campaign is inherently native to this culture, in large part because of generational tides; whereas Clinton's campaign is, in Sweet's terms, an immigrant to this culture. Obama Church is like a real church begun in 2004 (yes, of four years ago and not of 2008), and Clinton Church is like a real church begun in 1992, both exhibiting the DNA of their originating times. Obama's imagery, Obama's we-emphasis (modern age was Luther's Here I Stand; postmodern age is Here We Move, see commentaries after Iowa on the rhetoric and imagery of the two campaigns), Obama's strategies of fundraising and of local connecting, are all right out of the postmodern emergent church playbook of the early 2000s.

Church Clinton is modernistic, knowledge-based, more print than aural (you can see it in their websites too), and expecting people to connect with her and her national organization (like denominations that think people should join them just because they were raised in them, or even--and this is related to the recent Pew study and the discussion on Philocrites about UU number and attendance and membership--just because they actually identify with them, as if identity and identification were the issue when it no longer is) instead of incarnating an embodiment of herself throughout the country in an organic way--that is beyond those who already "get her" for she is, of course, who she is, and those like myself who see ourselves and our journeys and our battles in her navigate to her naturally, as do those whose life journeys match up more closely with Obama's. She should have known this going in and found ways to counter-act it, just as, if he eventually wins, Sen. Obama better know about the inherent weaknesses of the EPIC approach that will do to his governing, and just as quickly, as what Sen. Clinton's campaign strategy from the 90s did to her. We are on the cusp still of native/immigrant which is why the race is as it always was going to be, very tight, and why the general will be again also. But the 2008 race is a reflection of the kind of candidate and campaign we will see more of, at least for another eight years. And even though many like myself will be enthusiastic about whomever eventually gets the Democratic Party nomination, because of the culturally epic battle between Obama and Clinton, because it is the way they inspire people based on people's own life journeys and demographics, whoever wins will have a lot more wounded people on the other side unlike what we have seen in recent elections. Imagine if a church did in fact present two candidates to be the new minister and the church had to vote between them, and imagine the typical UU church and imagine some kind of close stand-ins for Obama and Clinton, complete with age, race, gender, were the two candidates. Imagine the after-effect of the vote. People themselves, even more than is usually the case, will see their very selves as being rejected, because they have participated so fully in the experience of the one seeking to be leader.

(I have a hunch that if you did a comparison of the actual two churches where the Senators are members, Trinity UCC for Obama in Chicago I know but I don't know where Clinton is now worshipping in NY? Or is it still primarily at the D.C. UMC church where they did during 92-2000? that if you compare the church styles related to this modern/postmodern shift, that you would see the difference show up there too. Love to hear from any who have been in both.)

We live in an increasingly EPIC world, but we haven't fully gotten a glimpse of its shadow side.

Against all this there is the Church Anti-Cool. It is the church of those who find Obama and his EPIC strategies and embodiment too cool for their taste, too much like the kind of advertisement they have been exposed to all their life. I don't know if it is the Church of the Fringe, of those who seemed to gravitate to Gravel and Kucinich and Paul and now Nader as a way, deep down, of reclaiming politics from the media narrative stranglehold, of those young millenials who don't turn into the cable news and not even the Colberts and Jon Stewarts but live in an increasing internet and small tribal connection of their own. I read the latest Adbusters issue and it seems to peg for me what I see as the downside of the idolatry of the Church Obama that is a creation of the EPIC sense that is mired in the American Empire in the way it questions the cultural coolness and emotional emphasis that have become marks of the new Media/Entertainment/Business Empire that dominates culture. I sense that the Church of the Anti-Cool, which will grow and be the next wave, as are those milennials who are rejecting the boomer evangelical postmodern churches, see Church Clinton as irrelevant and Church Obama as too hip.

So, as the political campaigns have or should have understood church culture changes and the effects on their campaigns, so church leaders should be paying attention to this political year and what it reveals about the world in which the church, one would hope, seeks to be a mission embodying God's values.