Thursday, December 23, 2004

immersed in emerging

I’ve been thinking a lot about this last year and so in this season of last-year/new-year ponderings I wanted to take an audit of my encounters with the “emerging” brand-name-label-noun-verb. I’m inspired by Will’s musings about emerging as an attitude. I would like to think that of the many directions the EC might head, it must be into the heart of mission. That is, I believe a missional attitude will save the EC from some potential pitfalls (eg. Being/becoming – just a fad, a commodity, another exclusively Evangelical [white male?] sub-culture, a talk-fest for religious insiders).
(There's More)This past year Sherry and I have had the great pleasure of attending several Emergent events (May convention in Nashville, September forum in Atlanta, October Gathering in New Mexico). We have been given the opportunity to spend time with some of the people identified as important (leading) voices in the “emerging church friendship” in the United States. We were also very pleased to meet with a few Alt. Worship peeps from the UK. As a result, this Communality blog was born (thanks Jonny and Gareth for the encouragement).

Preceding this more deliberate involvement with Emergent-US, I participated in a Forge intensive in Melbourne, Australia (October ’03). Alongside these ‘live’ experiences I have been a blog-maniac, spending (too many?) hours trying to find the balance between information-overload and feeling like I just can’t read another post. I have read the bulk of the Zondervan/Emergent-YS catalog and have kept up with the recent press about emerging in CT and CC.

Finally, I have the unusual pleasure of serving as a missionary among a beautiful group of people committed to the missio dei alongside the marginalized in our city. Suffice to say, there is always plenty of day-to-day action to accompany the reflection.

“So what?” I hear you mutter….

Well, I am increasingly excited with the broad-based interest in re-imagining the church. The conversations in the books, articles, blogosphere, pubs, coffee shops, conventions, gathering, and (even) churches are energizing.

Here are some distilled hopes from this year’s experiences….

* This is a time for asking questions that require a renewed examination of ecclesial/theological/missional ideas and practices. The tiresome (and straw-[wo]man laden) debate over the relative/qualitative difference of this age over any age past seems to get us nowhere. The church has not always existed and it is my understanding that it will cease to exist when we enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that the church is by definition a temporal agency and when it ceases to be born of mission, it ceases to be the church. It’s always time for an ecclesial revolution/reformation/re-imagining.

* I hope this friendship/movement will (continue to) be rooted in mission. I hope we discover that the EC has mission in its DNA. To this end, I am going to follow the lead of Alan Hirsch (from Forge) and call this collective of ideas-communities-individuals-attitudes the Emerging Missional Church. (Alan says all this much better than I just have in this newsletter). Language is important and perhaps this slight modification will more deliberately move the conversation in the ‘missional direction’.

“But what is mission?” I hear you ask. If it is everything, then it is nothing….right? This is the million $ question. In my view, it requires a collectively-lived-out response to the hope that all of creation is being reconciled to God. It will be bound by the twin commitments of community and place. (Wendell Berry beautifully describes community as "a placed people"…..see his essays on community, sex, and economy).

* I hope the EMC conversation elevates the value of contextualization. We can’t overstate the importance of self-theologizing missional communities. Mission (as service/proclamation) and theology (as poetic, rigorous, biblical imagination) will be so tightly wound together in the life of a collection of people we might someday wonder why people ever went away to seminary for ‘training.’

* I hope the EMC develops an explicit love for the world and for the ‘common good’. I would like to see the EMC incubate concerned-activism relating to the environment, politics, and social justice. Such activism would reflect an urgent awareness about the fact that there is continuity between “this world” and “the next world.” Enough talk of who’s in and who’s out of the discussion…a concern for the common good means 'it' is all for the all of us. The divisions drawn between “the churched” and “the unchurched” (or “the church” and “the world”) is dualistic in the worst ways and seems to me a misreading of scripture and culture. In this spirit we will better participate in the co-creation of the whole world, not just a “conversation/revolution in the church.”

* I hope this will lead us (as the people of God) to Reclaim the Margins (Rodney Stark's The rise of Christianityis a potent lesson in Kingom-marginality). We need to repopulate the edges of our culture, never assuming we can engage in the power-plays so often associated with being effective…YET we need to be ready to make a difference in every layer of our various contexts, from the street, down to places like the White House (upsidesown Kingdom!) I would be happy for others to worry about Reclaiming the Center.

Here ends my rant. I'm not suggesting these things aren't already happening, I'm just hoping they take the attention away from the (real or unfair) caricature of the EMC as just a subculture of Evangelicalism....with fancy-facial-hair.
We are excited about the coming year and hope we will have the grace to walk in the Jesus-ways of Justice, Love, Mercy, and Humility.


rsm said...

Hope you had a nice Christmas, Geoff.

I read your post and a few of the links you included, and for some reason this has occupied my thoughts quite a bit over the past few days. I think you have articulated your points very well. I also am impressed with some of the other writers. That said, I have a few questions for you or whomever cares to answers in the "blogosphere". Before asking, let me say that I am by nature and training critical.

1. How is the "emerging church" (EC) different from other renewel movements that have occurred in the last two thousand years of Christianity? How will people describe this discussion in 20 years?

2. You stated that EC should hopefully not become "...a fad...exclusively Evangelical [white male?], subculture, a talk-fest for religious insiders." After looking at the blogs and their creators, I sense it is a lot that, esp. with respect to academic training, race, interest. Do you know of other cultures substantially represented in EC?

3. From the admittedly limited reading I have done (Billy has heretofore been derelict in providing McLarens' book) it seems to me that Quest Community Church fits the general aesthetic of EC much better that Communality. I was involved there at one time but found its demographic to be narrow (white, 20-40 age group, predominantly college educated). Is this perception merely superficial in this regard?

4. It seems if the EC exists anywhere, it does so on-line. There is something about this that disturbs me - perhaps "angst" describes my feelings best. I know the world is changing, but part of me thinks we are becoming the Matrix - creating an alternative world (virtual reality). Media, movies, video games, consumerism is all undergoing a convergence which I find scary. Reading all this on-line journaling (highly intelligent though it be) reminds me of a potentially new version of the old existential statement: I blog, therefore I am. So, where does blogging fit when you speak of action-reflection? Is it both?

Anyway, those are my questions. I thought about not posting, but knowing that you like a good offense now and again I decided to proceed. All the best to you, Sherry, & Isaac.

geoff said...

I had a lovely Christmas, thanks.
I appreciate your engagement with these issues, Scott. You raise some great questions/points… I’ll respond using your numbers

1. I’m not sure it is any different. I don’t think that really matters (although some people feel it is important to identify their moment in history as THE moment…politicians, religious leaders, scientists). I hope they will describe the discussion as Spirit-inspired and generative in Kingdom terms.

2. I believe you are right about the potential for mono-culture in this conversation….but, to be fair we might need to admit the whole EMC thing is rooted in the west and that’s okay. I don’t think many other cultures need to learn to live out ideas like community to the same degree us westerners need to. But the post-Christian west is more diverse than white blokes so we have a way to go…..Lord knows we (I’m talking about the CMA here…but apply where appropriate) have failed to deal with the sinful relegation of women in the church (ie. official leadership.) Clumsy sentence but you get my meaning. As for other cultures in Europe…..Andrew Jones has been involved in drawing in voices from all over the place. Check out Karen Ward’s blog for another perspective

3. emergent has thrown it’s arms wide open and so it is true to say quest and communality might both identify with this ‘label’. That’s okay with me. The more the merrier. When it comes to talking about mission, however, I might refer to my point about the EC becoming the EMC….at least then we can talk about missiology and introduce questions about ‘going out’ and ‘attractional’ models of church. I like to think in terms of ‘a mixed ecclesial economy’. Bring it all to the table but let’s at least talk and work together.

4. couldn’t agree with you more on this one….suffice to say, “I feel you, man.” At best, the blogosphere is a space for reflection. It is a fantastic resource for me as I can learn so much from people with better imaginations when it comes to liturgy and life. It’s also encouraging to hear about people wrestling with similar questions. BUT…..I’m on the verge of blogoverload right now. as sherry and I are planning for the new year I’m wondering if I can (want to?) keep up with things in the way I did in ’04. we’ll see. For now though, I’d prefer to meet you for a beverage and have this chat in person.

Thanks again for the conversation…however static.

As for the nature of “being”…”I blog therefore I am” is only marginally better than “I shop therefore I am”….i like “we are, therefore I am”.

Todd Hiestand said...

thanks for your thoughts. just found your blog here from Steve Bush's site. Met steve this winter and realized we're fellow Philly area guys. Anyways, i agree that one of the things that will keep emergent moving forward will be its continual focus on the missional church conversation. of course, you already know this comment is more to say hi and that i am enjoying reading this community blog...i'll be lurking...

geoff said...

thanks todd. i'll be keeping an eye on your 'reflections' too. maybe we'll see you in philly one day...are you going to the family reunion?

adrian said...

hi geoff, couldn't find your email address, so asking in public... can we borrow this post to use on