Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Transitional Leader of the
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
I spent a lot of my childhood in the Chicago projects visiting my cousins. My one cousin, Opal, loved to dance! She was older and would take all of us little ones, put on a stack of 45s, and line us up to teach us the latest dance steps. Wait, I guess I have to tell some of you what a 45 is! When a hit song would play on the radio, I could go to the record store and purchase the song on small wax disk with a big hole in the middle. The disk went on a record player and played at 45 rotations per minute (rpm)- a 45! Radio hit, record store, record player, and 45s are ideas that defined my youth, but are hard to find today.
There was a time when the only way to hear music was on a limited number of radio stations. These stations were responsible for what we listened to, and what little kids in the projects danced to. In a way, it was a centralized system that created a national consciousness about what was a hit and defined the music of a particular generation. Today, I don’t buy 45s or listen to music on AM radio. Instead I listen to Spotify and create playlists of songs that are provided by an alga rhythm that listens to what I’ve liked in the past and feeds me what it believes will appeal to me. It is individualized music that doesn’t depend upon greatest hits.
Music is just one of the many centralized concepts that has been decentralized in the past 30 – 40 years. In his excellent book, Age of Fracture, Daniel T. Rodgers argues that after World War II American culture experienced a period of centralization. This centralization fell apart beginning in the 1960s and since the 1980s we have been living in a time of fracture. He writes, “. . . in the last quarter of the (20th) century, through more and more domains of social thought and argument, the terms that had dominated post-World War II intellectual life began to fracture. One heard less about society, history, and power and more about individuals, contingency, and choice. . . In political and institutional fact and in social imagination, the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had been an era of consolidation. In the last quarter of the century, the dominant tendency of the age was toward disaggregation.”
The disaggregation of society has been felt in the life of the church as well. I believe our denomination has shifted from a broad brush centralized authority that is represented in our center in Louisville, and authority has shifted to our individual presbyteries. Now, even the presbytery is challenged to be sensitive to the geographical issues within its bounds. These issues are further fractured into regional differences. Giddings-Lovejoy is not defined by the issues of St. Louis. It is responsible for understanding Southern Missouri, the areas of Illinois over the river, the Metro St. Louis suburbs, and all of the towns and rural areas in-between.
In an age of fracture, it is more difficult for us to agree on issues. Concepts of centralization and connectional church must be redefined during an age where the individual congregation matters more.
I am writing this reflection in the shadow of General Assembly that is coming to St. Louis. Our denomination needs prayer as we continue to figure out what it means to be a centralized and connected church during an age of disaggregation and fracture. I believe God is with us, and God will lead us into the change that is needed for the times in which we live.
Rev. Craig M. Howard