JOY SYLVESTER JOHNSON: What Will The Church Keep / Throw Away This Time?

In light of recent political and ecclesiastical events, I have been thinking (again) about Phyllis Tickle’s thesis that the church traditionally has a giant rummage sale every 500 years. I like the metaphor because it puts theological considerations in terms the average American can readily understand.

For those who have not read Tickle, here is a quick look at her idea:

Tickle’s basic thesis is that every 500 years, the Church goes through a huge community wide rummage sale, and cleans out the old forms of spirituality and replaces them with new ones.

This does not mean that previous thoughts, rituals, liturgies, and practices become obsolete or invalid. It simply means they are no longer the dominant forms exemplified by current forms of Christianity.

She points to the past: Constantine in the late 4th century, early 5th, the Great Schism of the 11th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, and now the Postmodern era in the 21st century. For Trickle, these are the historical markers establishing the new forms as primary.

I wondered, as I read the Nashville Statement and all the commentary in its wake, what would be bought, sold, boxed and stored or sent to the landfill in this latest spiritual rummage sale.

I wondered in the aftermath of Charlottesville, and Houston and whatever happens next– how current events would shape what is considered “valuable.”

I wondered in light of the biblical illiteracy that plagues most churches if the study of scripture would move up or down in the list of “things to do” if you are a Christian.

I wondered if Christianity in America might manage to unglue itself from its culture of consumerism, violence and nationalism. And if that is not possible, at least recognize it as part of the deal.

Everyone seems to be at the sale. Some are whistling and others have dour faces. There is equal measure of anxiety and enthusiasm by those who are actively bartering and others who are ” just looking.”

What new “old” tradition will be rediscovered, cleaned up and placed in prominence? What “trend” that many thought would last forever, will find itself in the trash heap along with the hula hoops and chia pets. What idea will be “”recycled” into something new? What forgotten practice will be redeemed or restored? What will be kept, not because it is useful, but because it is cherished?

And when the sale is over–will we all just go home or will we remember who we met at the sale and decide to refresh old friendships found there and nurture new ones made there?

And when all the sellers and buyers and lookers leave- will the gleaners come out from wherever they were to look for something the rest of us missed? And is it possible what we left behind will turn out to be the most valuable of all?

Joy Sylvester-Johnson

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