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Do not be conformed to the Present World (Romans 12.2)

Jacques Juillard
Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
Should we conform or not? In one case there is the risk of never having anything to say, in the other of being cut off from others. One solution let us be informed, or in perpetual transformation.
A good recipe for a sermon, as well as a political speech, a technique which is tried and tested, is to begin with the most sombre analysis possible of the time in which we live: a corrupt society, a perverted world, no more respect for values, young people who are moronic, egotistical, indifferent. When the blackest picture has been painted, the moment comes to bring into view the one who will save everything, who will bring salvation, meaning, light: Christ for example, or a providential political messiah!
“Do not be conformed!” In other words: be one of the non- conformists. But what if in the end the most comfortable, the most conformist position was that of a theoretical anti-conformist (some people have even made that their profession)? In this way religious or political extremists, by their polemical simplifications about the world or society, block any possibility of change or of opening to a new future. What if all of that had as its only goal stopping the clock, not wanting to discern that the world is in perpetual transformation?
But how to cope with life if one is not “conformist”? In a fragile society where it is so easy to become lost, to be cut off from others, to become marginalised, we have to conform. To what? Obviously the first thing is to choose, or to make oneself choose one’s model and then to conform to that, for fear of losing one’s norm, of being deformed, of becoming formless, of no longer existing in the eyes of others, and in the long term in one’s own eyes. There are conformities in which many find themselves, with a whole agglomeration of shared evidence, but also with small variations according to age or other criteria. There are also non-conformities which define themselves by opposing other conformities, but always in order to avoid the formlessness, the isolation, the impossibility of defining oneself, of making a place for oneself, with the fear that this self might be only a void, a mystery, an open question agonising about unknown depths.
Happily those who call themselves Christian have a model, Jesus of Nazareth, a non-conformist, definitely, if we at least avoid shutting him up in dogmas, rites or frozen speeches. This man seems in permanent reaction against the evidence of the world which surrounds him, in conflict with those who seem the best conformed of his time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, seeking out rather those on the margin, the rejected, the misshapen, lepers, tax collectors, the sick, prostitutes. He takes as models of the world to come those who are still in formation, in transformation, the children. He opens a way for creative displacement in relation to all conformism, a way of wandering and adventure. To follow this way, is to begin by opening oneself to the forces of transformation at work in this world despite all the temptations to freeze, to close, to lock out the present; it is to rediscover that everything is on the move.
We hear still from time to time that Protestantism is being diluted through losing its identity, perhaps through too great a conformity with values which are becoming commonplace. Must we try to rediscover this identity in losing it, or on the other hand regressing into childhood, on the way towards a formless future or one that is not yet formed? So much the worse for our identity and indeed let us be proud to lose it! Let us keep this creative discrepancy which sometimes is called humour, everything which moves us out of the norms of the present, the problems that close us down. What if our only true identity was in not having one, being in becoming, not conformable, in discrepancy, in childhood, in adventure?

À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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