Thursday, January 23, 2003

Churchgoers as tourists?

Kiwi, Mike Grimshaw (Canterbury University, New Zealand), in an essay that I’m reading at the moment, Tourist, Traveller, or Exile: Redefining the Theological Endeavour, describes the representative of popular religious piety/praxis in terms of their being “tourists” (an expression, not necessarily used or inferred in the same way by the likes of Pete Ward, and Gerard Kelly in his interesting little book called Humanifesto written in the style of a travel guide). No doubt, quite a provocative way of talking about many Christians and their experience of church.

The authentic Christian experience is typically a constructed and mediated one – most commonly the Sunday morning experience! The “tourist” seeks an authentic ‘travel’ experience by a ceremonial and spiritual holiday away from the mundane concerns and claims of their everyday, real world by participating in a service of worship [implication – an experience disconnected from their ‘everyday’, ‘real’ world]…

”As such, the clergy are primarily tour guides who weekly shepherd the tourists through a spiritual quick-stop tour, a greatest hits/snapshot/souvenir/tick-the-boxes experience that contains enough difference and content to hopefully excite, yet enough support and comfort so as not to upset.” In this the aim is not an ‘everything-included-in- the-price’, package, for that would undermine the tour operators aim of continued patronage. Rather it is deliberately incomplete with just enough to perk sufficient interest in repeat visits.

The “tourist,” as distinct from the “traveller” (orthodox theologian) and “explorer (modernist [and most likely ‘Postmodern’] theologian),” is the unthinking, religious amateur, with insufficient willingness or motivation to be anything other than one who is “guided” and has everything laid-on for them. One quite content with the superficial and the mediated; one who will not stray off the tourist bus, or beyond the most prominent sites in the tourist guide. The “tourist” is more than comfortable with “the security of pure cliché.” The tourist relies absolutely and unquestionably on the tourist guide. Theirs is the journey that “is expected to include the manageably different, the accomplishable challenge and experience that are to be found and located within a controlled and demarcated tourist zone.”

I’ve stretched his analogy a bit, but it’s been an interesting lens through which to reflect on and think about my church (in general) experiences…on what ‘church’ is, and on what ‘going to church’ is about.

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