Reflection from the Emergent Village DC o9

PERSONAL THOUGHTS

I had a distinct moment this weekend where I recognized I didn’t have a dog in the fight; this fight or any other for the time being. It was an odd realization. Frankly, I’ve never been able to make that sort of statement. Nor, when thinking about this, can I remember a time that I would have blessed such a feeling either. Normally I associate those sentiments with apathy and some kind of lame-duck-so-called-transcendence. When I confessed my agenda-less state to a friend, they wondered if I was condemning having an agenda. God no. That really wasn’t my point. I just noticed it in myself—like looking down and seeing, to your surprise, that you’ve lost a leg somewhere in between here and there. That something you’ve lived with for years is just…gone, and effortlessly so. What a strange surreal place to be. Somehow, in that odd and neutral space I discovered my own presence. I can’t explain what that feels like. It just is. I was aware of myself; every last shitty thought or emotion. I was also painfully aware of others; their movements, their turmoil, and their hopes. It’s probably appropriate that hope comes into play. Because more than any other sensation present was a silver stream of Hope (against hope). The possibility of the glorious, diffused from expectation, separated from the check list of should’s or could-have’s or might-be’s.

Some of this feeling came from the fact that I was bombarded by new friends wondering what, exactly, it is that I do. You know, what I do in life. Not my job. What I do. It reminded me of the sort of question that a kid asks about a toy super hero figurine. “I like the cape and the helmet…but what does Captain Obvious do?!” You’ve heard that question before, right? After about the fifth time I started hearing something else entirely. What do I produce? What do I contribute? What am I bringing to the table? What is my value? I’ve used that question so many times before, in an unconscious way of discovering the Other’s worth. And for some reason I started to feel like shit… Well, at least I should have. My answers were non-existent. I couldn’t come up with anything. At one point I rambled off something about how I’ve spent the last decade living into flat leadership models and intentional Christian community, how I’ve helped plant house churches, how I’ve begun to imagine a different creative space here in Portland. But all of those sentiments felt like cold ash in my mouth. They were true but sounded hollow to me. Funny enough, the last person who asked me the question, “Brittian, what do you do?” got a shrug and the admission, “Nothing man. I’m fucking useless.” Then I laughed. Because in that hilarious moment I realized I didn’t actually believe what I had just said. That I didn’t have an agenda; that my do-ing had nothing to do with my be-ing. For that pristine second in time I wasn’t searching for a better God, or a purer Church, or even for the goals of the weekend. I was just there. Willing. Moveable. Shapeable. Liquid. There.

MORE TANGIBLE OBSERVATIONS

Signifiers like “insider” or “outsider” broke down the first night. It seemed like three fourths of the friends gathered used the word “outsider” to describe themselves. The cool kids, it turns out, were actually pretty normal. Tears from those who had “cut their teeth” on Emergent Village came the quickest. Tears from the rest of us followed. There were laughs and gaffs. There was poetry and at least two new songs written. There was Tai Chi, sort of. We heard Elizabeth O’Conner and Henri Nouwen (masterfully pronounced by the reader as “AWN-RAY”). I have to say, everything about Emergent Village was exactly as one might expect, in the best possible sense. The heart that forged the “generative friendship”, the restless gut-on-my-sleeve spirit, came through. Truth and beauty and love…over all things…love—before whom even Faith and Hope must finally bow reigned. It wasn’t exactly, as some asked, a “love fest.” Still, the words “over all things—Love,” are the most fitting I can use to speak about it.

It was clear; I think to many, that national presences will find themselves more distributed into regional and local coordinates. As we, individually, imagined our future in five years the absence of a National Directorship was apparent. The Kingdom of God, breathing and naturalized among us, was dreamed outloud (to which the Spirit and the Bride say “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”). Communities of restorative justice that lent themselves to transformative coalitions among groups that God is already using were birthed in the language of hope. The artist and dreamer were invited once more to cultivate their gifts and tend to the thing of beauty that is to come. Theology and Philosophy, those most subversive of all talents that Emergent has hoped to possess, were re-imagined as drawing from new and collective voices. These were the optimisms of the moment.

NOT ENOUGH..?

Some will be quick to point out that nothing actually happened. No monumental decisions were made. The heavy lifting goes unhefted still. Maybe so. But, perhaps that’s always been the frustrating intangible of emergence. Complexity Theory in science dictates the now cliché truth that a butterfly’s movement in China may cause a Hurricane in the Gulf. Cause and effect are no longer the conjoined twins we once imagined them to be. Everything is connected to everything now. Quite frankly that means we just don’t know how the hell things work any more. Oh, we have rough estimates. We write Theories and Laws. But increasingly the certitude of Newtonian physics doesn’t apply to Deep Math. Isn’t that funny? The very word “emergence” is borrowed from the science of complexity. It speaks of the way intricate systems come out of a “multiplicity of simple interactions.” In other words, the little thing that barely moved at all, that hardly seemed to even give off a shudder, just changed the world without our noticing it. How odd. Something about this reminds me of the Genesis narrative describing Spirit hovering over the waters. Motionless, save for some faint gasp and tremble—Spirit drew forth something New out of the primordial waters of Chaos and Uncertainty. Spirit is a weak force. Emergence, too, invites us to imagine a conflagration of “weak force,” inviting the New to rise up and be proclaimed as “Good, good, very good.”

WORSHIP AND DOUBT

One of the facilitators reminded us of the powerful closing scene in Matthew, where doubters stand with worshipers and witness the resurrected Christ. It is a fitting ending, then and now. There are, as others have already reminded us, lingering questions that we, the worshipers, are still left with.

• Who needs this conversation?

• Are we here to serve the Other? •

 How do we have perimeters but not Gates?

• Are we more useful together than separately?

• What is our Gift? What will we be for?

And more…

FINAL RELFECTION

There, in that space, being as present and agenda-less as I’ve ever been, I saw with feeble and searching eyes something straining to be birthed, to be visible…now, as it has ever been. I come back to Portland knowing that I’m the steward of a terrifying question, “What if…” How can we invite people, just as we were invited, to unpack the Miracle? What would be different in our lives if the Resurrection occurred in this moment, in this space? Can we bypass fears, or better yet—include them? How do we become imaginers once more (and not just managers)? I’ll be honest; I’m not content with deconstructing or deducting. I want to stand with those who are willing to draw out new growth; that will look up at the sky while the prophets of Baal dance longer and cry louder; who will call down something that consumes our lives.

Hopefully (and I mean that word with all the power it has to offer), I leave changed. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who does so. Hopefully, the next time I’m asked what it is, exactly, that I do, I have the prescience to answer, “I dream…I dream.” And that will be enough.

Bono Wants Your Soul…

Bono wants to know where your soul is this year.

I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.–READ MORE HERE.

Shifting Social Structures

I remember how I used to think about systemic change, even though I probably didn’t use those words.  First, you needed a vision from which you then developed a strategy.  You then, either vaguely or concretely, outlined a time line of what you needed and when, and then you formed alliances.  People who bought into the vision were considered extensions of myself, little mirrors of my identity.  People who did not buy into the vision as outlined, quickly descended down the path of 1) The Other (not quite me…different…) 2) The Stranger (unrelatable…completely removed from my experiences…viewed with suspicion) 3) The Monster (vilified…often necessary to destroy or remove altogether). 

Underlying that kind of “strategic planning” were some basic assumptions.  Change was perceived as being top down and as requiring a level of management or control.  Change was viewed as a slow moving creature with long range implications with behavior as a mandated commodity, enforced by rewards/punishment.  Additionally, large scale changes were seen as depending on large scale efforts. 

But this really is inconsistent with how we view life at work in the world around us.  Margaret Wheatley, writer and teacher, suggests that the complex “emergent” phenomena follow a specific cycle: local action —> connection —->system.  Interestingly, within that little formula the only “controllable” aspect is the conditions for connectivity.  In other words, the thing that happens at the individual or local level is fairly free form and spontaneous.  The large scale “system” is almost unmovable or irreversible by the time it emerges.  This leaves only the middle point, connection, as within our ability to modulate or mediate.  In other words, if we are interested in “global” systemic change we ought not focus on the large system or the local network; we must focus on the place for committed connection.

I’ve been mulling these sorts of thoughts over in preparation for the Emergent Village “re-imaging” event.  How do I apply these types of thoughts to that environment?  As I’ve considered it, some of my brainstorming has included the following directive/suggestive thoughts:

1. Major on connecting:Internet, social networks, forums, conferences, etc

2.  Promote learning: resources, innovations, experiments

3.  Evolve Practice

In order to do these effectively it might become necessary to:

1. Cultivate institutional resources to develop connections

2. Bring practitioners (and curious) together more often for “think-tank” experiments (not unlike this upcoming one)

3. Seek Divergence–bring people from other idea fountains and experiences to share. Provide a space for insiders to become outsiders again…opportunity for conversion.

4.  Support local movements/cohortsthrough providing resources, ideas, on line forums, etc…but also encourage them to gather in regional connections.

In principle create an environment that supports local experiment that watches for and supports supportive dynamics and belief systems. 

All of this falls within the framework Wheately nicely establishes,   “Support diversity AND viability among practitioners”

It’s a tight rope being walked, there’s no doubt.  However, with imagination, authenticity and experiment I believe it can be done.

God, rid me of God

I’m on a journey.  Since having left the wild and wacky world of “primitive Christianity” (house church with a splash of new-monasticism and a strong sprinkling of fundamentalism) I have essentially been searching high and low for a place to hang my hat.  It is taking me across some interesting places.  Many of the posts I’ve thrown up in the last several months are themed towards this.  It isn’t exactly a worldview, but I am attempting to come to grips with both the content and implications of the places where I am.  In response to a recent comment I posted the following, and I think it’s a fitting description of where I am currently and what interests me:

The Project: Religion With/Out Religion

For the past while, I’ve been attempting to find some sort of working model for what Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity” and Derrida called “religion without religion”. Those seem, to me, to be very important concepts–and they resonate with me, they speak to me. Can God be the good news of the religionless without converting them to being religionFULL?  I would say, yes…and I’m trying to flesh out what that means. Part of what my war on certainty has affirmed is that almost everything requires a choice–a value decision. There really isn’t anything that is just “plain truth”, no matter how much science (or their kissing cousins fundamentalists) believe so. They are choosing the narratives that make sense to them. I believe this is Polkinghornes point from my last blog post of quotes(by the way–his charge was, i believe, more or less leveled at rationalists who come up with a utilitarian model of a clocklike universe…that lacks any sort of life, beauty, mystery, or wonder…).

The (Un)Wholly Other

I have also been meditating on the im/possiblity of God.  Or rather the impossible as God.  One way of thinking about this is that God is wholly other. In other words, we mostly fail to see God. Our intellect, our very ability to perceive God, is what is ill-equipped to witness God. Another way of thinking about this is that our imaged thoughts of God do not allow for God. This is why Meister Eckhardt cries out, “God, rid me of God!” Our concepts of God prevent us from experiencing God…often. However, God cannot be wholly other…else we would miss God altogether. There is, admittedly, an element that lies within our constructs causing an awareness. We are not totally oblivious to God.  There are aspects of the unknowable which, surprisingly, are  knowable. 

Here comes the first critical choice…on one hand you could say that the human species has evolved this collective consciousness of God…it cannot exist without having an Other to live with…This view seems to say that there is a God construct that our survival instinct depends on.  But that is a supposition, an interpretation, and hardly the only assumption to be drawn (I would also add it’s not even an assumption that bears out in our normal existence.) Far more common sense, frankly, is that the thing which we desire, and can sense (if not altogether perceive) is communicated by that which desires us (and wishes us to sense it). Just as hunger testifies to the dependence on and the existence of food, so too our own awareness to the wholy other speaks of the wholly other which is in relationship to us.   This to me, makes God, once more–loving, relational, and personal. God as being, or more than being, or less than being (I don’t know) is engaged in whispering and wooing.  Our awareness describes not constructs but communication.  I recognize that this is as a subjective choice, a value decision…but to me it paints a much more beautiful picture than the other subjective choice that opts for the other side of things.

Loving Love

Having said that, I’ve taken up the Augustinian question, that Caputo alliterates, “who do I love when I love my God?” And I’m trying to find a working articulation of what exactly I mean when I speak of God. Personally, I am coming to the Johannian (as in the epistle writer) view, that the first name of God, is love. That love, in all its forms, pure love is God. Love is something intangeble…always drawing us into action, but never quite resolving in that event…it requires more of us. God is that which we desire, but also that which desires us and pulls and propells us towards the event of love. Love in this case is so deeply intimate that to describe it impersonal, or unrelational, would be to demote it. Love requires such relating and such personhood.

If God is Love…Then Who Are We?

“If Love is the first name of God, then ‘of God’ is the name of those who love”. We’re always looking for who’s in and who’s out… To me, love, is the dividing line…always. This is why a secular person who’s life is for the other, is always a religious or God filled life. And a religious person who is only for themselves and what they consider right and wrong is not at all religious and God filled. The people of God are those who are lovers.

The (non)Spiritual Journey

The spiritual journey then is discovering that love…both in terms of our own sense of Belovedness and in terms of being a channel through which that love may flow.

So…these are the places I am coming to…I’m using, perhaps, overly vague language…and doing so because I deeply believe that the Christinese that we have so often used, no longer has place in this world. It has lost the right to speak. it has, to often, been complicit in evil for to speak of lofty good. It’s words are poison. This is the project I’m attempting to develop. I recognize that both cardinals and ordinary Christians alike may not be very happy about the direction its going. I suppose that’s the price I’ll have to pay for thinking about Christianity without Christianity.  But, I have to try…I can do no other.

Who do I love…

Augustine’s question, “who do I love when I say I love my God?” is an apt one.  It’s honest.  For all of our highly articulated dogma’s or “namings” we must acknowledge, in the end, that a question mark lingers with the person of God.  The face of God, unrevealed to Moses, is still no more revealed to us.  A hazy gauze lingers there, and a promise that one day “we will know even as we are presently known.”  In other words, the “event” of God–the experience–is still a Mystery (something known but not understood).  While we have many names for this underlying event (and it takes all of them to even begin to touch the event they house), no one of them takes the cake, so to speak.

But my point isn’t that we shouldn’t attempt to give name, or honor the particularity of names (such as Jesus).  Like the writer of the gospel of John, I think it would take all the words in the human language, and fill all the books ever written, to describe the presence of God.  No, I think part of what we must do is labor to give birth to better and higher articulations.  My feeling is that we must exhaust every available resource in the knowing of God in order to fall backwards into enjoyment; tossing our hands up and proclaiming, “this is a mystery.” 

So I search for better names and better namings. Last night I came across a simply beautiful phrasing of “the event of God.”  I was really blown away by it.  I think this most clearly articulates my current understanding of who God is and how we interact with Godself.  It’s from a book I’ve been reading called, “The Sparrow“.  This is a lovely novel. I can almost guarentee it will make my top 2009 list.  Amazing.  If you haven’t read it, please consider doing so.  Anyhow, here is the part I was drawn to, a working definition of who I love when I say “I love you my God”:

There are times…when we are in the midst of life–moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness–times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us.  It may come as deep inner stillness or a rush of overflowing emotion.  It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or a sleeping child.  If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all its unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to its higher truth…

…when we search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we [may] call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we [may] call it praying.

Isn’t that beautiful?  I know that some will object to its universality, rather than its particularity (Russell doesn’t point to any one religion in this passage as the “name above all names” does she?).  Still, let’s not cut off our nose to spite the face.  Or in this case perhaps, let’s not cut off the face to eccentuate the nose.  The experiences and names we give God will (conceivably) be particular to our situations and context. I don’t think we have to work at bringing God down to our context, if anything we have to work at allowing God to be as big as s/he is.  As one of my friends put it, “there are thousands of types of lungs, thousands of ways to breathe in the air–still there is only one air…and I’m not sure if it cares what you call it…it still does it’s job” (my paraphrase). We do well to remember the differences and diversity–we also do well to remember the unity and BIGNESS of God. 

One final thought: if God is indeed who I imagine him to be then he will most certainly be bigger than my ability to imagine him.

God is Dead

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?–Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no Sovereign holding the “whole world in his hands.” There is no longer any kind and benevolent Maker to encourage us towards a prophetic imagination. The Prince of Peace could not survive the ravages of war and blood and dirt.  There is no one listening on the other side of our prayers. There are no answers that will come if we just wait a little longer; no yes, or no, or maybe to emerge in a few moments.  God’s provision is gone.  God’s goodness is not there.  There is no hopeful tomorrow to pine after. No messiah coming again, for he has already come and look what we have done to him.  God is dead.  God is dead. God is dead.

But we are living still.  How then shall we live on this Good Friday?  Shall we sink into less than who God created us to be? Will we, in the presence of God have become mature adults, and in the death of God shrink backwards into spiritually retarded children?  Or will commit our essence into His hands even as he has forsaken us? Must we now become what you made us to be–fully grown sons and daughters of God?

God. Thank you for dying.  Thank you for forsaking us. Thank you for keeping your part of the promise and allowing us to, at last, grow up.  Today, We celebrate your death.

The devil and a bit of truth

The devil and his friend were walking down the road when they noticed a passer by pick something up off the ground.  The friend wondered aloud as to what the person had found.  Satan replied that they had picked up a piece of Truth.  His friend was chagrin, “You can’t just let people go around finding Truth, can you?  I mean, what kind of world would this be….?” 

The devil laughed out loud and calmly reassured his friend, “Oh don’t worry, they’ll just turn it into a belief…I’ve seen this a million times before!”  Somehow Satan’s friend didn’t look convinced to which the devil addressed his final comment, “Just ask Jesus.  He’s came into the world and embodied Truth and look what happened to him…his disciples just ended up founding Christianity!”

Relieved, the friend mused, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…nothing to be worried about I suppose.”

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