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franciscan - September 1996

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1996

Gospel and culture

by Brother Samuel SSF

‘Life is not a lottery . . .’ began one of the group statements made at the recent Gospel and Culture Conference for SSF brothers and sisters at Hilfield. The Lottery was much on our mind at the time as there had been a ‘double roll-over’ jackpot the previous week worth £42 million.

The Lottery, it seemed, was a symptom, an icon of what is happening in our late twentieth-century western society, and part of the aim of coming together was to try and understand the culture of this society.

Of course, it is easy for us to be sniffy about the National Lottery, to tut-tut about the dangers of gambling and to warn about Mystic Meg; in our three days, we attempted to look deeper. The first part was entitled The Truth of Reality and involved reflecting on our own experience of life and society. Newspapers and magazines can be a useful mirror of people’s concerns and aspirations and we spent an entertaining evening making collages, building up pictures of the world as we saw it from cut-out adverts, pictures and headlines. The exercise itself was perhaps an expression of contemporary culture: visual, playful, incorporating diversity and change. In subsequent discussion, we recognised some of the negative effects: isolation, insecurity and cynicism.

The second part, The Truth of Faith, focussed on the questions ‘Where is God in all this?’; ‘How can God be known and experienced in our culture?’ We shared a deep conviction that God is to be found in uncertainty as much as in certainty, in change as well as stability, and is often revealed through the unpredictable and the absurd.

This is a God of extravagant generosity and infinite ingenuity, always participating and improvising in order to bring creation to fulfilment. At the same time, the God of Jesus Christ is God in the gutter, God on the margins, alongside us in tragedy and suffering, bearing the cost of the freedom of choice to which we so much aspire.

We looked at passages in Scripture which question our assumptions about God being found principally in order, givenness and control. We were affirmed in our conviction that there is indeed Good News which can be articulated in the language of our culture and yet which also challenges it.

In The Truth of Action, we moved on to address the issue of our response as Franciscans. We saw that Francis’ relation-ship with the God of generosity and graciousness in creation and in redemption, which led him to address all people and things as brother/sister, can speak powerfully to the sense of isolation, insecurity and cynicism which so many in our society are experiencing.

We recognised that Francis’ intimate awareness of God in all things can be a way for the many who are longing for a living spirituality; and again, we found that the poverty and foolishness of Francis can witness to the presence and power of God for those who are denied the ‘blessings’ of choice and competition.

We believe that we have particular gifts to share – from our Franciscan roots and from the way of life that has grown and developed in SSF over the past 75 years – gifts of community, of marginality and of simplicity to name just a few. These both challenge yet are strangely in tune with much in our culture and are precious resources for the task of mission in God’s world. f


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