It was hard to believe but there it was on the news. A new and previously unknown civilization had been found in the depths of the South American jungle. The people who discovered it named it ‘Morphtopia’.
On hearing about this new people group mission organisations decided to make it a priority to send missionaries. Only those highly experienced in cross-cultural mission were chosen, ones that had proven experience in and fruit from reaching new cultures, and they included linguists who were trained in learning new languages.
On arrival in ‘Morphtopia’ the missionaries set about the task of learning the culture and its language. However, they soon discovered that this was no ‘normal’ missionary venture for the culture they encountered was not like any previously experienced. They soon came to realise that the key word that summarised ‘’Morphtopia’’ was ‘change’. It was a culture constantly in flux, with a ‘Humpty-Dumpty-ization’ of language, where words could mean what an individual wanted them to mean on a given occasion and something else on another occasion. So once the linguists had learned them they found that the meaning changed, and so the language had to be constantly relearned.
In the spiritual realm, the people were thorough pagans, worshipping a whole range of different ‘gods’ from which each individual selected their own set to worship. Again this ‘worship set’ could and did change at personal whim according to what was perceived to ‘work’ for the moment.
‘Morphtopia’ was a society where not only religion was individualized but also ‘Truth’, so what was true was what an individual decided was ‘true’. This meant that in fact, ‘Everything was true, while at the same time nothing was true’. For missionaries dealing with and attempting to proclaim God’s singular truth in the bewildering fluidity of ‘Morphtopian-think’ this was a severe challenge.
It was not just the constantly morphing ‘Morphtopian-think’ and use of words that was so strange, but the same fluidity applied to ‘Morphtopian’ social structuring. Any vague concept of ‘family’ was a liquid mix of male, female, gender-fluid adults and children in a bewildering combination of variations.
The unnerving reality was that the only stable aspect of ‘Morphtopia’ was that nothing was stable! Missionaries, whose missional strategies had worked so well for centuries in a whole range of pagan settings, were totally befuddled by the ‘Morphtopian’ socio-spiritual mindset. In fact, they discovered that they had to seek to understand what was a totally alien view of the world, of language, of truth and of social structures, all of which was constantly in flux. Persisting with their tried but no longer true missional strategies, as they rather foolishly did, just resulted in a chronic lack of missional fruit.
The task of Mission-Morphtopia is of course an allegory of Mission Australia where the prevailing mind-map of the inhabitants is a religio-cultural kaleidoscope of ever changing sociological and linguistic truth constructs where the only constant is that nothing is constant. Thus the idea that a model of church developed in European Christendom communities (where if there was any change at all it was snail-paced) can be the vehicle for the ‘Morphtopian Odyssey’ faced by the church today, can only be considered fanciful.
For the missional journey into Australian ‘Morphtopia’ with its unique characteristic of ongoing, rapid change there is actually no roadmap, indeed the map needs to be written as we go. However, no sooner have we written it, we will find that it is out of date and we will have to start writing again!
Understanding the ‘ever changing-change’ characteristic of 21st century western ‘Morphtopian’ societies like Australia demands that intrinsic to the DNA of a 21st century missional church is the ability for constant reinvention. For the characteristic unique to our times, and one never previously experienced in human history is the reality of constant, continuing and accelerating socio-cultural change.
The extreme challenge of our own Morphtopian Odyssey, is the constant need to be re-writing the map for the journey. This requires that, while the singular ‘Truth’ of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanged, the ‘church’ must learn to think and speak ‘Morphtopian’ in order to communicate that ‘Truth’. It must also be completely reimagined as the platform and the vehicle for the journey.
2 thoughts on “The Morphtopian Odyssey”
This is very interesting, Martin. I’m of course familiar with your ideas on structures, or lack of them, but here you’re touching on language – “the ‘church’ must learn to think and speak ‘Morphtopian’ in order to communicate that ‘Truth’.”
Have you ideas about language? I have a few, but I’m interested in yours.
Hi. Thanks for your comment re language. Language is of course our primary means of communication, whether it be written, spoken, computer language whatever. The meaning of language is also conditioned by the mind map of the recipient of a communication and the medium by/through which it is communicated. So the topic is vital to gospel ministry. To big a subject to address by response to a comment so I’ve written another post to say a bit more.
Thanks again for stimulating my thinking.