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Source: (consider it) Thread: Street preaching in the 21st century?
SvitlanaV2
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Wow. To British eyes, that reads as a very American, and indeed, a very exotic experience. Our lonely and generally insignificant street preachers would be utterly taken aback by such a scenario!
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LutheranChik
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It is, I think, a product of American extroversion, plus the polarizing, conflated religious and political zealotry that's been in ascendancy in our society for the past 40 years, plus the cultural DNA of the non-mainline churches here. Whatever it is, it ain't pretty, and it certainly has nothing to do with "good news."

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Kaplan Corday
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At a purely anecdotal level...

A few years ago, some of us at church were sniggering rather patronisingly about an obscure group who regularly preached outside a local supermarket.

Then a woman piped up and said, "I got converted by hearing them".

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SvitlanaV2
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Kaplan Corday

That's encouraging! I wonder if she ever went and told them?

To a certain extent I'm sure our disapproval of street preachers has a touch of snobbishness about it. The individuals and groups who do this kind of thing aren't usually affiliated with the sensible historical churches that produce learned theologians. They don't build cathedrals or even grand churches of architectural merit. Their preachers haven't been ordained or trained by a well-respected body....

The American situation apart, as a Methodist I find it hard to condemn these preachers, though; 'vile' street preaching is what made Methodism famous, even though mainstream Methodism soon became as respectable as any other church. These preachers might have a strange theology but they go where we refuse to go, so how can we complain?

The other thing that occurred to me is that these preachers are always men, despite the increasing number of women in the pulpit and the preponderance of women in the pews. I find that interesting.

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by pydseybare:
I'd be curious to hear what others would think of other religions/sects doing this.

How about - to take a very extreme and random point - the Church of Satan or Al Qaeda firebrand preaching on a soapbox?

Personally I can't stand the sound of a Salvation Army band. I think they're barely tolerated by almost everyone, religious or not.

I find the local Hare Krishnas to be either pleasantly cheerful or mildly annoying. It depends on my mood. The one time someone tries to give me a Hindu tract I politely told him I was already devout and wasn't interested. His attempts at persuasion were entertaining, in an amateur anthropologist sort of way.

Doesn't bother me. They have the right to make noise and speak within a certain level, and I have the right to keep walking. Christians annoy me a little more because I feel like they're misrepresenting me. I occasionally have to stifle an urge to start a debate in public.

[ 16. January 2014, 01:08: Message edited by: Bullfrog. ]

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Bullfrog.

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quote:
Originally posted by pydseybare:
There is an interesting divide in my town in the mid 19 century regarding the Temperance movement.

We had a single large industry which employed a lot of people. There was a 'mission' to these people, set up by a non-conformist group, but evenually taken on by an Anglican foundation*. This was always a lay movement, and ran from a very run-down shack for getting on for 60 years.

The Temperance Movement, in contrast, was run by ordained clergy - largely from the Anglican church, but also other large churches in the town.

Reading newspaper articles from the time, the suggestion appears to be that the mission was of very low status, whereas the Temperance meetings were of much higher status - reflecting, perhaps, the idea of a 'worthy' and an 'unworthy' poor.

I was just reading a book on Chicago history, and this was exactly the conflict between the WASP protestants and the immigrant Catholics in the 19th century.

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
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Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
I wonder how many street preachers are motivated by a sense of "divine ought-ness" - "Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel!" - and even guilt rather than a simple desire to get a message across?

I don't think guilt was ever a factor for me, but I think there is something in Paul's declaration. Open air preaching is a challenge but, depending on your personality, can be very fulfilling, as I posted upthread (hopefully without being a complete turn-off as some have described).

It's quite something to get to the heart of the gospel in your presentation and see in your audience people who have quite clearly never ever heard anything remotely like the gospel in their lives, and be gripped by it.

Paul says a lot more about the gospel being the power of God for salvation and also about preaching being the mad method by which God has chosen to save. I think there's something in that which the post-modern church is in danger of forgetting.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
It's quite something to get to the heart of the gospel in your presentation and see in your audience people who have quite clearly never ever heard anything remotely like the gospel in their lives, and be gripped by it.

Three things there:

1. Yes, if done well that kind of evangelism can be the (?only) way of reaching people who would never darken the door of the church - I said as much upthread.

2. Clearly, when what you describe happens. you are genuinely communicating to folk. Problem is, many street preachers don't do that but simply preach "at" people using their own language and their own agenda. That's a waste of time. It may be "mad" to preach in the open air ... but there's a right and a wrong kind of madness!

3. Do I detect a hint of the Holy Spirit's work in opening people's eyes and bringing comprehension?

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LutheranChik
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quote:
At a purely anecdotal level...

A few years ago, some of us at church were sniggering rather patronisingly about an obscure group who regularly preached outside a local supermarket.

Then a woman piped up and said, "I got converted by hearing them".

Except that a lot of absolute rubbish in Christian culture -- whether heretical preachers, antisocial behaviors, studied ignorance, etc. -- is excused with the attitude, "Well, as long as it brings SOMEONE to Jesus..." People are brought to Jesus DESPITE, not BECAUSE, of irresponsible/poorly articulated/just plain wrong words and behaviors on the part of Christians.

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SvitlanaV2
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My impression is that people are brought to faith in all sorts of ways.

The sociologists say that the very strict forms of faith often generate more conversations, even though strictness drives quite a few people away too. However, some of the converts do migrate to more mainstream forms of faith later when their faith matures, and so long as this 'processing' continues perhaps it's unwise for mainstream Christians to protest too much about bad theology elsewhere; they might only be helping to stem the supply of people to their own churches in the long run.

[ 17. January 2014, 01:42: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Squirrel
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I work in Harlem, the famous African-American section of New York City, where there dozens of churches and almost as many street preachers. Religion is taken very seriously there. Still, almost everyone goes out of their way to avoid the street corner evangelists, regarding them as either hustlers or loonies. And if you listen to them for any length of time it's clear that most aren't wrapped too tightly. I suspect many are mentally ill.

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Penny S
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There was a period when our local Exclusive Brethren took to preaching in the pedestrian areas of our local towns, and it didn't come naturally to them. The men took turns, holding their Bibles, and speaking quietly of repentance and accepting Jesus, while the headscarfed women stood behind in prayerful pose. I don't know what they would have done with potential converts, given the closed nature of their worship. Nobody I saw was taking notice, though I smiled at them as they included parents of pupils.
The most inappropriate lot I saw was in Peckham, a group of young men of the 6th Form/Uni Freshers age range, fit types with the bearing of the cadet force, standing on a very raised platform, well above the crowds, with a megaphone, and the usual message of accept Jesus or go to Hell. They were all white. Most of the crowd, which was taking very little notice, was black. The sort of black, that, come Sunday, would be dressed up in their best, suits, dresses, hats or headwraps, and gathering at one of the multitudes of churches which open along the sides of shops in that area. The lads would have been doing much better down on the level with a trestle table meeting the passers-by eye to eye and learning something.

[ 17. January 2014, 13:01: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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Baptist Trainfan
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To my shame, I once accepted an invitation to take part in an open-air service in Henley-on-Thames one hot Sunday afternoon.

We went down to the meadows by the river where people were chatting, sunbathing, playing games, eating ice-cream and so on. The leaders of the group - all in sombre suits - gathered around the preacher, all facing inwards, who then proceeded to harangue the folk around (who clearly didn't want to listen).

It was so culturally inappropriate, and so apparently judgemental of people daring to enjoy themselves in the sunshine, that I edged away as far as I could. I have rarely felt so embarrassed in my whole life!

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Al Eluia

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I've never seen street preaching have any kind of success, at least where I live.

I do think visible witness out on the streets can be a good thing. This Ash Wednesday our priest stood out on the sidewalk by our church and made imposition of ashes available to anyone who wanted. A few people did stop to receive and were very appreciative.

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SvitlanaV2
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Al Eluia

Of course, not every church will be able to offer this because it's not part of their tradition. And many people won't have a clue what it's about. I'd feel a bit strange about it and I'm only a Methodist!

I think the basic reason why hell-fire preaching is inappropriate is because that sort of thing simply doesn't make an impression on people today. And as has already been said, sometimes the preachers just come across as a being mentally ill.

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ken
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quote:
Originally posted by Squirrel:


[...]
Still, almost everyone goes out of their way to avoid the street corner evangelists, regarding them as either hustlers or loonies. And if you listen to them for any length of time it's clear that most aren't wrapped too tightly. I suspect many are mentally ill.

Once upon a time they might have been "Holy Fools". All those old Greek saints who sat on pillars or wandered around mumbling unintelligible prayers, or livd in caves and had visions, were probably just as crazy.


quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:


I think the basic reason why hell-fire preaching is inappropriate is because that sort of thing simply doesn't make an impression on people today. And as has already been said, sometimes the preachers just come across as a being mentally ill.

I think we have a sort of cultural accquired immunity to Christianity. A sort of vaccination. Like cowpox making you immune to smallpox.

People have enough folk-memory of it to think they know what Christianity is and think they've rejected it. But most of them don't and haven't. School RE lessons and Christmas carols on the TV and half-remembered stories your granny told you when you were a kid make up a big enough infection to make you immune to a full dose.

So evangelistic methods that worked on those who saw Christianity as new and weird might just bounce off those who see it as old and boring.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by ken:
I think we have a sort of cultural accquired immunity to Christianity. A sort of vaccination. Like cowpox making you immune to smallpox.

People have enough folk-memory of it to think they know what Christianity is and think they've rejected it. But most of them don't and haven't. School RE lessons and Christmas carols on the TV and half-remembered stories your granny told you when you were a kid make up a big enough infection to make you immune to a full dose.

So evangelistic methods that worked on those who saw Christianity as new and weird might just bounce off those who see it as old and boring.

I agree entirely ... but street preaching may not be that method!
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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by LucyP:


It seems that Jesus never had any trouble attracting and keeping an audience's attention, though not all of those became loyal followers. The preaching-to-unconverted-groups in Acts often seems aimed at a particular audience with a background level of understanding in common (such as those attending the Jewish synagogue, or alternatively the philosophers on the Areopagus). Is street preaching more likely to be effective when there is a uniform culture, so that the message can be appropriately targeted? Do any shipmates have experience of cultures where it “works”?

I don't know if anyone's addressed this part of the OP yet. It would be interesting to hear about street preaching outside of Britain and the USA.

It also occurs to me that it's not just audiences that have changed, but also the preachers themselves. Jesus was a charismatic man and obviously a skillful preacher. We're not in an age of such preachers, at least in the UK; and indeed, we're suspicious of any preacher who seems to be like that, since for most of us our only cultural reference point for such people today is the untrustworthy televangelist. Today's street preachers have neither charismatic presence nor the calm pastoral persona that we expect from religious leaders - i.e., the clergy.

Yes, the age of the freelance Christian leader is long past in the indigenous British culture, which means that any non-affiliated person speaking up for Christianity is likely to lack authority; schismatics and break-away groups attract little attention. Public Christian spokesmen are now expected to be backed by a reputable denomination, and such denominations don't do street preaching on the whole.

[ 17. January 2014, 19:21: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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South Coast Kevin
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I think it's important to note that street preaching was, so I gather, very much part of Jesus' world, whereas most cultures nowadays have different modes of public communication. Public proclamation of the gospel of Jesus is IMO very much something Christians should do, but that doesn't mean specifically street preaching. That was simply the way people spread new ideas and messages in 1st century Palestine and the wider Roman Empire.

Mind you, the drama-based approach that Eutychus (and others?) mentioned upthread sounds pretty neat and with a far greater chance of not being horrifically jarring in most present-day cultures! So perhaps on-street approaches can still work, just with a bit of a twist...

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SvitlanaV2
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Yet street preaching - or an outdoor presence, let's say - is appealing in that it doesn't necessarily require access to lots of expensive gadgets, which not everyone owns. Nor does it require great technical expertise on the part of the preachers.

Moreover, the internet is such a crowded medium that most people won't have any interest in looking for Christian information there unless they already have some sort of connection with Christianity, or their curiosity has already been whetted some other way.

Street preaching is immediate, potentially allows for face-to-face interaction, and reaches people who wouldn't look for religious material or contact elsewhere. It's also very local - it's great to have a website or Facebook account that could potentially reach millions, but if you primarily want to be a 'local church for local people' (since not everyone is willing or able to drive to church) then having an occasional outdoor presence in the area as part of a wider commitment to the community might be very useful.

However, I think it all depends on what a particular church or evangelist is trying to achieve. And on the demographic that they're trying to reach, probably.

[ 17. January 2014, 20:17: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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South Coast Kevin
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
Moreover, the internet is such a crowded medium that most people won't have any interest in looking for Christian information there unless they already have some sort of connection with Christianity, or their curiosity has already been whetted some other way.

True, but... People can have a public profile (local or wider than that) that doesn't just rest on their being a Christian. At the local level, I'm thinking of people like community activists, maybe local councillors, shop owners etc. - people who are in the public eye and can proclaim their faith in Jesus through that existing communication channel.

Maybe this kind of approach is better suited to most cultures today, given that people (on the whole, in the UK at least) are less trusting of authorities and more receptive to ideas coming from people they already have a connection with.

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by South Coast Kevin:
People can have a public profile (local or wider than that) that doesn't just rest on their being a Christian. At the local level, I'm thinking of people like community activists, maybe local councillors, shop owners etc. - people who are in the public eye and can proclaim their faith in Jesus through that existing communication channel.

I'm sure this happens in some cases, probably in fairly homogenous small communities, and in some fields of work rather than others. But British Christians usually want to separate their religious identity from their professional identity, at least for public consumption. This is understandable - they're not paid to be religious, and in a pluralistic society they have to be acceptable to people of all religious beliefs and none. Appearing to evangelise on the job has got some Christians into trouble, as you know.

IME Churches don't normally give their members advice as to how they might share their faith without causing problems - or offer to support them if they do have problems. But some churches do take 'friendship evangelism' seriously. The Alpha Course mostly relies on the recommendation of family members and close friends.

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South Coast Kevin
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
...British Christians usually want to separate their religious identity from their professional identity, at least for public consumption. This is understandable - they're not paid to be religious, and in a pluralistic society they have to be acceptable to people of all religious beliefs and none. Appearing to evangelise on the job has got some Christians into trouble, as you know.

Yeah, I think you're right. I didn't mean explicitly evangelising on the job, though; more like making it known that you're a Christian and then seeking to develop relationships and generally be good to people through that. Not so much with clients / patients as that's fraught with ethical issues, but with colleagues I think it's feasible.

I wonder as well if British Christians are a bit more keen than we ought to be to keep our religious and professional identities distinct. I'm not saying we should go around proclaiming our faith to everyone we meet - 'Hello, I'm Kevin. Pleased to meet you. I'm a Christian, by the way.' [Hot and Hormonal]

But I think we need a pretty good reason not to be upfront about our faith, like when we're asked to say a bit about ourselves or when we're having the 'how was your weekend' Monday morning conversation.

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SvitlanaV2
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I think it's often the other way around; we sometimes need a good reason to do so....

In one sense it's because Christianity is so privatised now. Telling someone you go to church is almost like admitting to something terribly personal, and you're not always in the mood to be judged on something that's an integral part of your identity. But it does depend on who you're talking to.

I think being a street preacher would be simpler in some ways. You've psyched yourself up, prayed hard, prepared your theme and your answers to a range of objections, and wrapped up warmly. (And if it all goes pear-shaped you won't have to see those people ever again, hopefully!) Maybe we should always be so well-prepared (1 Peter 3:15). But the Christian community doesn't seem to expect this or give much encouragement. It's not the subject of sermons, and small group discussion can be very vague, IME.

I can almost understand how some people end up becoming freelance street preachers, doing their own thing without waiting for any theological guidance or encouragement from the churches. In some churches you'd be waiting for ever.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by LucyP:

It seems that Jesus never had any trouble attracting and keeping an audience's attention

Are we missing something else, too? Many (most) street preachers seem to model themselves on OT prophets or John the Baptist, telling people they need to repent and generally giving them a hard time.

Now I don't deny that Jesus did something similar with some folk (the Scribes etc.); but with the general public he was far more engaging, often using stories and parables to make his point.

I grant that he was talking to an audience who shared many of his religious assumptions (although even then folk did struggle with some of the meanings). Perhaps we are too earnest in trying to "preach the full Gospel" and it would be better to tell enigmatic stories and hope to engage people in personal conversation afterwards.

After all, why should people listen to an anonymous stranger who seems to be interested only in telling them off, using religious jargon they scarcely understand?

[ 18. January 2014, 08:01: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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LucyP
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Yes, enigmatic stories and dogmatic, succinct "explanations of the gospel" seem to be poles apart - though I wonder if they need to be.

I don't know why Jesus in his explanation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 implied that he was being deliberately obscure.

quote:

13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [....]

15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. [....]


Was Jesus being obscure here just because the Passion & Resurrection & Ascension hadn't happened yet? And so are the sermons in Acts much more clear because the mystery has now been revealed and therefore must be proclaimed as fact rather than promise?

Or did the preachers in Acts partly model themselves on Jesus in their use of stories? We only have brief, summarised reports of a minority of their sermons - but certainly some of the sermons (like Stephen's) retell the story of the Jews with a new "twist" at the end. Tom Wright's book on Acts emphasises this. Also, the parables of Jesus would have been repeated as part of the oral history that preceded the written gospels (though could have been taught to people after their conversion, not before.) Given that Paul could speak for hours at a stretch, perhaps there were stories within his sermons - the stories and the dogma don't have to be mutually exclusive, as the rest of the Bible makes clear!

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by LucyP:
Some of the sermons (like Stephen's) retell the story of the Jews with a new "twist" at the end.

That of course was speaking to Jewish people who shared the story. What common story might we be able to use today - something from the News or from a Soap, perhaps? Problem is, most Street Preachers are in thrall to both Biblical literalism and Propositional Theology.

[ 18. January 2014, 10:16: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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LucyP
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Simon Schama wrote a book about the history of the Netherlands in the 1600s called "The Embarrassment of Riches".

He says that after the "Dutch" - a collection of disparate villagers, fisherfolk, farmers, merchants, bankers, university city dwellers, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, humanists, speakers of multiple languages (eg Frisian) - became independent from the Spanish, there was a need for a narrative to draw them all together into a united nation.

They needed to answer the questions about themselves as a group: Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going?

Schama says that the Dutch drew on both ancient legends of their ancestors standing against the Romans, and even more strongly, from the Biblical narratives of slavery (to the Spanish), redemption into a promised land, and safety (from flood, famine and foe) as long as they obeyed the Covenant of obedience to God. While individuals in the Netherlands were free to ignore "the covenant" and live as they pleased, the "official" storyline was strong enough to bind people together in cooperation, especially since floods, disease outbreaks and war were recurring threats.

In general, I suspect that Westerners in the 21st century answer questions of identity at an individual level (often defining themselves by their "choices" in consumption - ipod music, branded gear, house design - as well as career and significant relationships) but not on a group level. Perhaps this leaves a void that many people are not even aware of - do sociologists still take the concept of anomie seriously? If so, this could be what the stories need to address.

I think the actual content of the stories -whether myths from ancient Greece, legends from China, soap opera storylines or celebrity biographies - is less important than the application. And for people to keep listening up to the application, the story teller has to be someone engaging who can hold the audience's attention.

Posts: 235 | From: my sanctuary | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
Palimpsest
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# 16772

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"The embarrassment of Riches" is a wonderful book. I'll note that the Dutch unification trod very carefully around religion and the religious covenants. There were a lot of Catholics in various cities and Protestants in others, and the late unpleasantness with Spain. The Jews and Anabaptists found a tolerance that was rare in Europe because there was a need not to be dogmatic about having the right religion.


Schama mentions the story of the pump room; a cell with a treadmill pump that could be flooded so that the idlers imprisoned there could chose to pump or drown. It's not clear if it actually existed, but the metaphor did. Holland was a raft that needed cooperation to keep from drowning. That's the real national myth, that success came through communal effort, be it dykes or global trade that was making enormous amounts of money. As you wander the city, you're going to run into people of different or no religion and you can preach but you don't have a captive audience.

He also describes the ennui that came with the money. While some were devout in their religious community, a lot of people were trying to decide what the meaning of life was now that it was not the struggle to get enough to eat all winter. This is the beginning of the modern age. Money and the distraction of luxuries brought a discontent. This may seem familiar to those who see an indifferent reaction to street preaching. There were certainly religious people, but a large part of the city street (and canal) life was secular; the bustle of trade and the moving of people to their individual houses and workshops.

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LutheranChik
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# 9826

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To me, as an observer, it seems like many street preachers' motivation is less about evangelism and more about Following a Rule: "Preach the Gospel to all nations." "I hear and obey." Gold star on the heavenly merit chart for them?

It seems to me that if they actually cared about evangelism they'd be engaged in relationship-building activities in the community that reflect God's love and grace...and that if they had a healthy understanding of God's grace they'd do those things out of love and gratitude, not out of fear of getting it wrong OR fear of "losing" someone (not in their pay grade).

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Simul iustus et peccator
http://www.lutheranchiklworddiary.blogspot.com

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Bullfrog.

Prophetic Amphibian
# 11014

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I do recall reading somewhere that there's also a popular eschatology that believes that the 2nd Coming can only happen after everyone on the earth has at least heard the gospel.

So for some it seems an incentive to preach without even bothering to try to change people.

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Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train. --Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

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