16 September 2006

Creating Realities

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 12:45 pm

Things aren’t real in and of themselves. They exist, they have substance, but they have no intrinsic meaning. They just are. Only things that have been made meaningful are real. Realities are created by embedding stuff inside a system of meanings.

The reality of a thing is its substance plus its meaning. Here’s a thing that’s a potential weapon; it’s inedible but it can be exchanged for food; it’s measurable; it has a particular name – multiple overlapping systems of meaning shape our awareness of everything.

A creator alternately contemplates the stuff of material existence and imagines what the stuff could mean. Looking stimulates the imagination, while imagining opens the eyes. Thing is substance; idea is meaning; thing imbued with idea is reality. Substance alone is proto-reality, devoid of form and meaning; idea alone is mere possibility without its realization. To create a reality you need both substance and idea, idea wedded to substance.

Making something tangible out of nothing has been the sine qua non of godlike creation. We creators can’t do that – except maybe for those of us who know how to run a nuclear accelerator. We can, however, organize matter in clever ways, turning raw stuff into hammers, highways, rocket ships. It takes more than just an opposable thumb to do this sort of thing. Even fashioning a simple tool out of rock demands the ability to impose a reality on the rock, a reality in which rock possesses properties useful for grinding or bashing or scraping. A new product, a painting, a new household – even modest undertakings demand attention to a host of details. Still, it’s the larger intent that guides the work of creation, from the earliest imaginings to their full manifestation. The ideas proposed and the words for communicating them, the tasks accomplished and the tools for performing them – everything acquires meaning by its participation in and contribution to the larger vision. When you’ve finished putting everything together it’s as if you’ve just created a whole universe. Well, perhaps that is a bit of a stretch.

To create a reality you have to “make sense” of raw stuff. Say you want to take a photograph of a parade. Do you try to capture the essence of the parade on film, or do you try to embed the parade in a photographic aesthetic? Now say you’re an abstract painter. Do you try to envision an abstract reality and then represent it on the canvas, or do you bring the abstraction out of the interaction of paint and canvas? Now say you want to be a professional artist. Do you create artistic realities that you see, then see if people like them? Or do you try to figure out what kinds of paintings people like, and then paint them?

You’re a creator of churches: do you imagine what a church might be and try to make it, or do you see what a church already is and try to make sense of it? Do you put the church out into the world and see who likes it, or do you try to discern what kind of church people like and then try to make it?

The world is interpenetrated by multiple realities: linguistic, social, economic, political, technological, architectural. The people who participate in the reality of a church also participate simultaneously in these other realities. Does a missional church attempt to subsume all these other realities within the reality of the church? Alternatively, does a missional church attempt to embed itself within the meaning systems of the other realities with which it shares the world? Or does church reality exist in parallel with all the other realities, each one imbuing the world with its own set of meanings?


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