Becoming an obstreperous old woman

Is planned neglect the sin that others want me to think it is?

In the midst of my blogging on the power of the well-discerned No, I am noticing some fascinating dynamics.  As I wrestle deeply, I realise that there are contexts where institutions draw no boundaries on their demands upon the roles within them.  And I am asking, in these places, what does creative resistance look like?

This is more than saying No.  Sometimes an institution sets itself up so as to make the saying of a No nigh-impossible.  It shuts down the fora for conversation.  Or it holds them open but controls which issues receive how much airtime.  It hides behind role and impersonality.  Talks systems and structures, blames the requirements of efficiency and compliance.  Compliance with the enemy at the door or with the nameless, faceless system which demands obeisance.

Subtle, all of it, in this silencing of the No.  And forgivable, too.  For those who conduct these games find themselves a victim of role, raised on a platform with baton in hand and expectations piled beyond capacity to engage.  Forgivable, yes.  But none the less real for that.

For the little people, sometimes saying No is like speaking into a vacuum.  No air means no possibility of the vibrations of speech.  A reality shut up so closely, as with a seal, that no air can come in-between.  Sometimes saying No resembles an exercise in wasting your breath.

When a No is choked before the point of speech, what then?

Do we waste our breath anyway?  Or do we hold silence?  Do we comply?  Or do we engage in creative strategies of resistance?

I don’t know yet what might be of him.  I know only what I heard myself say the other day to another.  I told him I thought it possible that I would opt for becoming obstreperous.

Not now.  Not tomorrow or even perhaps next year.  But, at some point with the world moving in the direction which I have perceived in recent years, I am likely to engage in a diligently-calculated and militarily-executed programme of planned neglect.  With me, it has to be planned.  Blame the personality type for that.  Or perhaps the City training.  I (almost?) never drop a ball on what I have said I’ll do, on what someone has asked me to do, on what someone has hoped I’ll do.  So neglect doesn’t just happen.  If it does, it has been carefully planned, options weighed one against the other until I have calculated that to drop the red ball rather than the blue one is better, that to do so then rather than three days earlier is more appropriate.

But, drop these balls, I expect I will.  For I am not a company man.  (Or woman.  But that is not how that phrase goes.)  I err, I tell my students, far on the communio end of the ecclesiological spectrum.  And so I tolerate institutions only as a necessary good.  Or evil, depending upon my mood.  I understand Christian authority differently than many and I expect that, until the coming Day, all institutions will eventually calcify and lose their spirit.

Or succumb to the kind of spirit about which Walter Wink writes so powerfully.

And so I find the expectations of institutions something of a curiosity.  As I said with great conviction once to some poor unsuspecting boss, I will not be owned by this institution.  I will not be owned because I am owned by another.

I stand by that.

I give thanks that I have the freedom to stand by that.  And I contemplate what are the options for creative and Christian resistance to the totalising dynamic by which members of an institution can become crushed by the McDonaldisation narrative, the steamrolling of persons in pursuit of process.

For now, and where I can, I say my No to the institutions when my Yes to him requires it.

As for when that No is spoken into vacuum?  Perhaps I will begin simply to drop a ball.  Or, more simply, ignore the request to pick up a new ball whilst juggling the many already in orbit.

And maybe, just maybe, I will begin work on becoming an obstreperous old woman.

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One thought on “Becoming an obstreperous old woman

  1. Dear Chloe,
    Perhaps I’ve been fortunate in that though having ministered in a mainline denomination, I have felt that initiative rather than conformity has been the expectation, although there have been moments.. As I have read your blog I have wondered if Philippians 1:12-18 would be pertinent. Paul is in prison and in chains (bound and extremely institutionalised!),yet nevertheless he Gospel is advancing through him and all around him. It is as if he is declaring that though he is bound, the Word of God certainly isn’t. And so the whole tone is one of joy (the epistle of…) and not, as might be humanly expected, one of resignation.


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