My future and the Emergent Church

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world or creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections.  We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad based change.–Margaret J Wheatley,  “Using Emergence to Take Social Innovations to Scale”

This next week I have the opportunity of participating in a conversation taking place regarding the future of Emergent Village, a central voice within the larger emerging church movement.  The quote above is part of the reading we were asked to do as we prepare for the intensive time together.  It’s encouraging because it invites people into relationship–and that’s what this upcoming time (and really the whole of the emerging movement) seems to be about.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I imagine there will be a deeper experience of the stories of God’s creative energy moving in and through people.  I hope that the relationships built during this time will begin to help create a ferment for meaning and hopeful engagements going forward, in many of our lives. 

I have to confess, in some ways Ifeel like an outsider to “the conversation”.  I’ve spent the last decade taking a “time out” from sexy culturally relevant “church”.  Instead I embraced a deconstructed “primitive church” model, filled with “flat leadership” and intentional proximity community.  It’s been a great ride, but it also makes me feel as if I’m playing catch up on “what’s going on”.  On the other hand, perhaps this last chapter in life might provide a context to share more deeply from.  I feel like, in some ways, many of the ideals being touted today, can come across as high intentioned theoretics.  But part of my life has been trying to “work those out” and take them to their logical conclusion. God, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I feel like an 80 year old man sometimes.  At times I’m too exhausted to imagine “what next”.

Whatever these next steps are for me, they will be ones laced with a sense of being compelled forward.  They can’t be the next thing, or the cool thing, or what seems right…they must truly be a propelling ahead.

Certainly things are shifting, all over the world, I don’t think it can be seen any other way…People are exploring the lines of intersection between faith and culture, between content and container, between the things we thought were essential but were just applicable to an other time…Now, that’s an interesting dialog to be a part of.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

A Third Space

I grew up in a typical “churchy-church-McChurch” environment.  No crazy scandals.  No heavy handed shepherding.  Largely my experience was “non-denominational” in nature–no deep sense of exclusivity (just your average exclusion of the poor, the self medicating, the repressed, depressed, homeless, culturally diverse, and otherwise marginalized).  But I want to emphasize the typicalness of my  “sacred environment”.

One of the memories that I associate with growing up was my great friend, let’s call him Joe, running into the “sanctuary” with his hat on.  He was skirting the edges, not making a scene, when one of the members of the congregation charged at him demanding he take his hat off.  I remember Joe being so extrememly angry about that–hardly understanding why.  The answer is one that you will know: “This is God’s House. It’s sacred!”

Another memory of talking in the back row, chattering while the pastoral monologue when on…guess who got called out from the pulpit?  We did.  That’s right. In front of 300-500 people we got called out.  For what? Because the monologue is sacred…the place is holy…the atmosphere is un-interruptible…

Well and the truth is, I’m just bringing to mind some atypical experiences to show a point: there are rules of engagement in churchdom.  The place is sacred.  And no matter how cool or how sheik or how urban hip your sacred place is it still works differently than your work or your house or your local coffee shop.  It is it’s own peculiar identity. Sacred. Removed. Away from the world and all the secular ravages such as science, entertainment, dialog, distributed leadership, and open source learning. Safe.

But at some point for many of us it became unsafe.  I, along with millions of others, retreated from the retreat space.  We went to the holiest, safest, most personally familiar spot we could imagine.  The home.  Home church.  Church in your house.  Sort of.  In my experience we worked hard to circumnavigate typical church models transplanted into a home…we tried to go beyond radical.  But the funny thing is, in many ways we couldn’t escape the psychology of the space we inhabited.

A home truly is a castle.  A well guarded fortress where the draw bridge is lowered only to our intimates, to those whom we have background checked, interviewed, screened, accepted, or pronounced “on the same road as we are”.   And, if you are one of the lucky ones who is allowed in there are rules that need to be followed.  Think of the elements in our language that confirm this: “house rules”, “inside voices” etc…  There’s a psychology of propriety and best behavior which may actually rival that of the sacred space.  It can (though doesn’t have to) culminate into a unspoken motto of: “we allow only the best on their best behavior into this sanctuary”.

I know all of this is stereotypical generalities.  And that’s unfair. It’s unfair to talk about sacred spaces as stuffy because not all are–in fact many are increasingly NOT. My friend Joe might not get a second look for wearing his hat or jeans these days.  And all my talk about the “sanctuary space” or “home church” environment is unfair also–this isn’t the experience for countless others who deeply value this.  But the reason I’m able to make generalities is because these are GENERALLY understood emotions and thoughts that are provoked by those spaces…people get what I mean when I say this…even if it’s not your experience–it is for many people–and even more so, it’s in their head…they believe these things…even if they haven’t experienced it for themselves.

All this to say–there is a 3rd space, as some authors have called it.  A public space.  The places where our best conversations go on. Where we “go to catch up”, go to confess our failures, go to reconnect with peers, go to unwind after work, go to get a break from the routines of the house, get into heated mutual disagreements, get challenged, get a beer, a coffee, or a piece of pie.  In the din of noise and focused clutter people are able to be their Attention Deficit Disorder selves. They’re able to cry and laugh and disagree.  They’re able to stand up at inappropriate times and even wear the clothes they feel.  They are free to get lost or be found.

There’s a psychology at work.

And I wonder…if the sacred space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with other believers away from the world” and the sanctuary home space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with acceptable and accepted secure peers away from the church”…what would the third public space emphasize?  Might it not influence people to imagine they are “on display”, they are “salt and light”, a city on a hill, or simply available to be engaged and interrupted…there for others?  Could that be?

I know this isn’t a new concept.  But, as one who’s experienced the first two spaces intimately, it seems very real.  I wonder what others are finding about the public space?  How has this been a positive experience, spiritually and personally?  Is it legitimate?

church of the margins

Many of us will never make the transition into a post-Enlightenment world.  There is nothing wrong with that.  However; we can allow others to begin to create environments, systems, and structures that will support such environments where this kind of life might emerge.

We need every kind of intelligence fully engaged and playfully and creatively leveraged for the kingdom of God.  We need women and men who have previously been on the margins to come forth and lead us.  We need mystics. We need poets. We need prophets. We need apostles. We need artists. We need all types of people to reclaim or discover faith in new ways.

We need a church from the margins, drawn from the places and filled with people and shaped by competencies formerly thought to be of little account.  In fact perhaps it is such marginal communities as these…that influence will begin to spread outward into communities and into new lands that have never been explored and also to those who have been domesticated in the modern world and thus rendered docile.  We need a wild vine to be grafted into the branch.  We need a church from the margins–a minority report that sees the unseen.  We need alternate takes on reality and environments that nurture and release the imaginations of God’s people.  No only so, this imagination must extend out into creation of which we are a part for the love of God and the sake of the gospel of his Son Jesus christ. –(Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadershi, pg 138)

This is the kind of church/community/band of friends and followers of Jesus that I want to discover and need to to explore…

I feel on the fringe of being domesticated myself. I hate being written off as “the theologian” or “a thinker”…of which I surely am…but I don’t want to limit myself…and we can’t limit each other by boxing one another in such narrow constraints as the patterns we have observed in the past or learned to behave in…we are all so much more than thoughts and things…

we each have these incredible creative and artistic elements which we must explore…and all the more so in the light of God’s deep desire for a community of imagination and inspiration.

I want to be a member of the church of the margins, a place that explores and creates the space where interpretation and imagination meet.  I need, as maybe we all do, to live “faithfully into the tension between the head and the heart, the left and the right hemispheres of the brain, the West and the East, the cognitive and the intuitive.”

Story

This afternoon I was in a workshop with Don Miller (the author of runaway bestseller “Blue Like Jazz” that put my old stomping grounds Imago Dei and the emergent church on everybody’s map)…he gave his standard schpeel…”Story”….I was very moved.

So everything’s about story right?  And God doesn’t talk in propositions, instead he inspires people to tell and to write and to live stories.  For example David and Goliath doesn’t end with some great point: “…and the moral of this story is…” or as Don said: “and the five stones represent: faith, hope, love, tithe, and tie”…instead it invites us into a climactic narrative where our lives are inspired and challenged.  He doesn’t have to come out and say what the point is because wherever we are…that’s what the story ends up being about…how amazing is that?

Anyhow…it was beautiful and it inspired me to remember this fact: there is an epic story being told, the central character, the protagonist, isn’t you or me…it’s God…He’s the character who everyone revolves around and relates to and engages with.  His Story. And all the pain that he endures…the changes…the exhaustion…the promises and the breaking of them…all of them impact him…yet here he is…he is telling his story…but it’s an open source tale too. In other words the parts we have to play haven’t already been written for us…we write them ourselves.  We write our own parts and all building up to the climactic conclusion in our own little sagas (hopefully and desirably) of “well done thou good and faithful servant”…how will we arrive there?  Will we tell tales of new and shiny trinkets where we as character’s spend our energies and resources on securing, as Don said, “new Volvo’s and new gadgets and get to the end of the movie when the credits role and say…”wow…how unmoving!”…or will we live out our parts making decisions that matter…matter because they’re interwoven with the central character’s own journey…the central character, God.

Because it’s all about Story.

Boundaries

I’m finishing my degree in human development. My last class was called “Learning Theory” and the teacher is of the school of thought called “constructivism”… Now, if you don’t know what that is–well, you probably do but maybe not the word…instead of giving the child or student the answers these teachers “take a learning journey” with them. It’s not a matter of goals or destinations but rather of “process”.  And generally speaking–that is my thought too. That resonates with me–that’s my “tribe”.

The only problem was that this particular teacher used this rather nebulous form of teaching styles NOT TO TEACH!!! She didn’t teach us, no joke. The first week it was tolerable but the further the classes went, the more apparent it became that she was (and as a consequence WE) were clueless. It was a horrible feeling. As I student I felt powerless to “take the road less traveled” or “explore new thoughts”…I picked discussion topics that I understood already (or already had written a paper on)…etc…Because I didn’t know what was going on I stuck to what was safe and easiest…which sucks when your trying to learn.  In short, the class was a bomb.

Compare that with my new instructor and class. She is tough. She has clearly defined expectations. She is frightening…And here’s the deal–she doesn’t give us the answers either (she also would categorize as a “constructivist”)…but her boundaries create an environment of learning. I feel challenged and engaged.

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And then there’s the human body…turns out in the prenatal development of a child, the ambiotic sack of fluids restrains the child…it is a boundary. But without that boundary, that flexible, non-rigid, non-concrete, yet still clearly present enclosure, the child would not be able to stretch, flex or grow properly. You can feel a philosophical interpretation coming on, can’t you? Yup…Proper boundaries, flexible and liquid, provide us the ability to grow…

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Another example: The dutch. They’ve taken out the lines from the roads…because they’ve discovered that, psychologically speaking, humans tend to exhibit greater restraint when there are NOT defining markers…So people hug the safe edges and secure center when they don’t have lines…WHICH MEANS THAT WHEN THEY DO HAVE LINES THEY FUNCTION IN A MORE FREE MANNER!!! Lines cause people to branch out more NOT less.

It all seems counter intuitive to my rebellious mind…boundaries and structures and forms giving greater freedom. Weird.  Clearly drawn lines leading people to pursue with greater movement and creativity…Creepy.

And here’s where I’m headed…I think that the big juggernauts, the super saquatch style programs aren’t the answer or anything…really, believe me-that’s not what I’m saying.  But, the Bride of Christ is compared to a body–a human body with skeletal structure holding her up, shoulders distributing weight from the head to the body, skin binding it together, etc…structure, form…boundaries… She is not, never, not at all, compared to a jelly fish or an amoeba, those formless structureless gooey gobs of goodness and equality.

Flexible. Liquid. But…Forms…Lines…Boundaries. They cause us to grow, to stretch, to move more freely than we wish to acknowledge…more freely than I care to admit.

Your thoughts?

True Worship (an out of context quote)

I found this…I love the definition of worship it provides…Worship is movement…it’s being moved. Truly and positionally moved…great stuff

True worship is:

When we willingly forgo other things to come together as a community and put ourselves under the Word of God- when we listen to Him, and allow Him to speak to us, push us, challenge and change us- that’s worship. When we respond inwardly and outwardly…saying “Yes God- You are more worthy than my job, than my possessions, than my hobbies and than myself of my love and devotion,” we worship.

Worship is trusting God, not myself, and it’s loving God- not my idols. It’s actively pulling my focus from myself and my wants and putting that focus on Him- His desires for this world. I think about who God is, what He’s done for me, and I am moved.

The whole point of worship is to “move us.” But when I say that I’m not talking about simply whether or not we had an emotional, charismatic-like experience. When I say “moved” I mean: If we don’t find that our hearts have been moved from idols, whatever they are, toward God, we haven’t worshiped.

Find the rest here…It’s interesting and I’m thoughtful about it’s implications within the original context it was written in–provoking I must say (especially from a house church/organic/emergent type perspective which tends to reject [along with the rest of modern culture] the role of sermonics)…

Living in the buzz

I have friends who are dubious of movements (one friend even compares “movements” to bowel movements and says that the only thing they’re good for is to be flushed).  In general I suspect that most of us sit within the confines of a love hate relationship with trendiness.  Ever since the dizzying highs of youth camp were followed by the soul crushing shallows of “back to school” we learned to be wary of “riding the wave”.

And I can’t help but wonder if there were some disciples (maybe Thomas) who were dubious of the explosive growth of Pentecost.  Maybe they were figity and thought that “this Jesus Movement” was catching on to fast.  I’m certain that the Jerusalem gang was annoyed and suspicious of the newly developed Gentile market Paul had targeted.  Because…maybe…world over, time tested, human conditioned, we would rather be unique.  There’s a desire to be the ONLY fan of that really obscure band (and then when they hit Billboard’s Top 100 list we call them sellouts even though their music hasn’t changed a bit from when we LOVED them).  There’s a guilty pleasure we take in knowing that we were the FIRST to read the book, sign the petition, or discover the latest experience of the Spirit.  And then…then…then when others read, sign, and discover we label the whole a MOVEMENT and demand that it be flushed.  Because we’re not into living in the buzz.  We don’t like buzz, can’t handle the noise of other’s clamoring for our pet project.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the original “emergers” emerge to something else; the alt-worshipers will find a new alternative; the house churches will recklessly move forward and find a smaller and even MORE insular world (maybe a closet–imagine CLOSET CHURCH)…because that’s what we do when others come on board–we jump.  That’s what I do.

So in a way the anti-movement folks who protest vehemently our participation are really just the master movement–the original movement–the matrix around the matrix.

I’ve got an idea…let’s stop competing to be in or out of movements…let’s just learn to follow Spirit…if only with a hundred and twenty people in an upper room or five thousand in an ornate courtyard…let’s just keep following him…isn’t that the important part, his movement?

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