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.
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?
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.
Filed under: church | Tagged: anglimergent, deconstruction, doug paggit, emergent village, emerging church, futures, jon irvine, makeesha fisher, michael toy, paul soupiset, postmodern, reflection, Tony Jones, troy bronsink | 8 Comments »