I just finished a DVD viewing of Saving Private Ryan, one of the more intense movies of recent years. It takes a second or third viewing to really capture the institutional cynicism of the movie: The war was not about freedom or liberation; it was about brothers. The mission wasn't the defeat of fascism; it really was a man, or a few good men.
The same theme is sounded in Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers: soldiers fight for their comrades in arms, not with any eye to the stated goals or war aims of politicians or chiefs of staff. At ground level, those larger aims lose their relevance and come to be seen as irrational, counterproductive, or even messed up beyond all recognition (MUBAR).
So here's the question: Is relevance or existential meaning to be found at the global level or the local? Do institutional, corporate, political goals matter, or does the scope of what is important in life effectively shrink to the range of our close personal relationships? That seems like a particularly relevant question for the five or six million individuals who belong to a self-consciously institutional Church that beams worldwide Conferences around the globe twice a year, while at the same time belonging to a local church of two or three hundred people who are seen several times a month and with whom one interacts rather closely. Is it possible that global Church goals or plans are as MUBAR as war aims and strategic goals are often seen to be, while to the foot soldiers like you and me doing the grunt work in local churches all that really matters is the well-being of our fellow ward members? Of our home teachees? Of the fellow two rows up in Elders Quorum who helped you move your refrigerator last week? Of the old couple down the street whose fence you painted, sort of, with the ward youth last month?
Well, it's an intriguing idea. It's not hard to find biblical support for this viewpoint, from the Good Samaritan and the father who forgave his Prodigal Son, on the positive side, to the poor folks who get to go swimming with a big millstone around their neck for offending or harming a child, as a negative example. The New Testament doesn't have much good to say about the hierarchical and bureaucratic Church, an institution that didn't really flower until the fourth and fifth centuries. The nice thing about this sort of local theology is that it seems relatively impervious to global goals or doctrines that get messed up beyond all recognition. Another nice thing about this local theology is that it is non-sectarian. It doesn't just work for LDS congregations vis-a-vis the LDS Church, it works for just about any congregation as against its episcopal superstucture with its programs and policies. Not that there is any such thing as Mormon congregationalism — LDS wards don't even own their own chairs! But the local theology is there for those who need it. It might just be the narrow path the saves a cynical Brother Ryan or two.