"There are no Mrs. Browns in Utopia." so says Virginia Woolf , she was passionate about the need for her fellow writers to look beyond their Utopian ideals in creating fictional societies and to see the characters within the society where they dwelt..To see the Mrs Browns, so often overlooked in pursuit of ideals as significant and valuable and worthy of describing;
Mrs. Brown, Woolf says, "is just as visible to you who remain silent as to us who tell stories about her. In the course of your daily life this past week you have had far stranger and more interesting experiences than the one I have tried to describe. You have overheard scraps of talk that filled you with amazement. You have gone to bed at night bewildered by the complexity of your feelings. In one day thousands of ideas have coursed through your brains; thousands of emotions have met, collided, and disappeared in astonishing disorder. Nevertheless, you allow the writers to palm off upon you a version of all this, an image of Mrs Brown, which has no likeness to that surprising apparition whatsoever." She asks readers to stop being so modest and humble and "to insist that writers shall come down off their plinths and pedestals, and describe beautifully is possible, truthfully at any rate, our Mrs. Brown. You should insist that she is an old lady of unlimited capacity and infinite variety; capable of appearing in any place; wearing any dress; saying anything and doing heaven knows what. But the things she says and the things she does and her eyes and her nose and her speech and her silence have an overwhelming fascination, for she is, of course, the spirit we live by, life itself. "
Then she cautions the reader to be aware of the difficulty writers face in trying to capture this spirit. "But do not expect just at present a complete and satisfactory presentment of her. Tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure. Your help is invoked in a good cause. For I will make one final and surpassingly rash prediction—we are trembling on the verge of one of the great ages of English literature. But it can only be reached if we are determined never, never, to desert Mrs Brown."
Her plea was a plea for the soul to be seen, the character described not only for her appearance, but also for her inner self. Of course in the church we are not dealing with fictional characters, we do not need to construct them because we meet them day by day- but as we meet these folk do we recognise their value? Do we see the outer shell, or are we open to look past the surface image and to reach out to the person, the soul within?
I am sometimes concerned that in our search for a 21st century emerging church we have forfeited the ability to see the individual, and falling into an old trap for that same criticism could be equally aimed at those churches we see as out-dated , part of the old system! So I guess what I'm asking is do we as Christians often see the kingdom of God through Utopian spectacles- our own version of rose tinted glasses..... Is our talk of community unrealistically idealistic, or are we willing to enter into the hard way of living with and loving others for who they are- are we willing to see the Mrs Browns amongst us?
We say we want to be seeker sensitive, and there is a proliferation of emergent Churches who's ministry is to particular interest groups (surfers, bikers. etc)... are we in danger of seeing them en-block, and failing to recognise the unique individuals drawn together by a common hobby, but different often as chalk and cheese!
Int the same essay Virginia Woolf wrote; “On or about December 1910 human nature changed.” “All human relations shifted,” Woolf continued, “and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.”
We have recognised another more recent paradigm shift in our culture, and we are searching for a new frame-work to define ourselves and others in and through- in our pursuit of that let us not neglect the folk who are unique individual souls- for there may not be a place for Mrs Brown in Utopia- but the kingdom of God is open to all...
Matthew 20:1-16 (MsgB)
"God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.
"Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage.They went.
"He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing? "They said, 'Because no one hired us.'
"He told them to go to work in his vineyard.
"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'
"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'
"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'
"Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."
“If only people would forget about utopia! When rationalism destroyed heaven and decided to set it up here on earth, that most terrible of all goals entered human ambition. It was clear there'd be no end to what people would be made to suffer for it.”
Other syncro bloggers:
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
This-Worldly Faith at Elizaphanian
Bridging the Gap at Calacirian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship - The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah's Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike's Musings
Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes