Monday, January 16, 2006

Weigh Stations on the Interstate to Emergence

As I interact with many different people in real life and through their blogs, I have begun to notice some patterns.

Here is my observation of some of the weigh stations along the Interstate that feeds into the county of emergent (and I don’t mean the organization Emergent).  As Josh from Stupid Church People says, “Emerge we will. Without a title. Without a common voice, except love.”

First people begin to notice that they aren’t completely comfortable with the way things are being done in church, and by this I mean, not that they’re “know it alls” who think they know better, but that they begin to feel culturally distant from the activity (or culture) of their church.

Then they begin to feel somewhat hemmed in as the dominant and foreign church culture (which they don’t share) begins to notice their different-ness and tries to squeeze them to conform to its standards.

These two things lead them to the first weigh station:  Frustration

If you add aggressive, somewhat legalistic leadership to the frustration mix, who more aggressively try to conform them, you begin to get anger – or – if you add that nothing happens except they get really bored, then you get complacency.

Then they respond by venting their anger, and alienating themselves from that church, followed by leaving, or staying and quietly fuming.  

Or, if they respond by becoming complacent, you get a form of passively leaving the church, where they physically attend, but have checked out mentally and spiritually.

It’s interesting to note, that when we observe people of foreign cultures doing things we simply do not understand, often a first response is to think, “that seems stupid”.

If the person is shallow spiritually, these two states could go on for years.

But if the person has a sincere desire to know God and experience what it means to be in the body of Christ, they move to the next station on the path:  Detox  (thanks to SCP for giving me this word to clarify a meaning I was searching for).

Because church represents the place that God is supposed to be, people are not quick to want to question it or leave.  They don’t want to leave God, because that might cause them to go to hell.  So, for a person to get to this point where they begin to bleed out all the toxins, it takes some intense anguish.

You can detox actively or passively:  

Actively, means you leave the church and either find another one to hang out at for awhile without really getting involved, or stay out of church altogether.  Below I have assembled a loving tribute to the most beautifully honest and lyrical detox’er I have read, Josh at Stupid Church People.  I believe his writings will one day be used as an observation of a landmark moment in the new reformation of the church (I hope he enjoys the results).

Passively means you stay in church, but are relieved of any notions that the church knows what the hell it is doing.  You watch them go through the motions, and you contemplate what it all means.  You are not really that offended by the stupidity you see because you know it is an old remnant of a past culture still hanging on, and you have friends here that you enjoy socially, so you don’t leave, but you don’t expect any significant spiritual experiences.

For all the church leaders that are just getting into discovering the “emerging church movement”, and are trying to understand it, this area is I believe one of the most important for them – to see the utter pain of so many, and of their desperate need for detox from the poisons which cause the pain.  

Detoxing is a horrible and wonderful process where they begin to see that all the crap, the poison that had gotten into their system and made it hard to live the Christian life, and to love other Christians, was caused by a whole host of things that don’t have anything to do with God (its not his fault), and were mostly not their fault – though they might have been “enablers” who upheld things.

Most of these things are the result of bad theology leading to bad praxis – ie. stupid ideas about God leading to stupid ways of running churches.  Or, from chronic long-term cultural drift, where the institutionalized and unchanging church of a long past culture is now being foisted on a group of people that are no longer members of that culture because “x” number of years have gone by since it was first designed, and this is a whole new generation with a whole new way of living.  

When you force people of one culture to conform to the standards of another culture, you are the perpetrator of Colonialism.  Our world knows well that is very bad.  Many of our churches today are living in a form of Accidental Colonial Sheathing – where an unchanging theology and praxis from a past age, finds itself sheathed around and inhabited by a whole new people group that is foreign to its meanings.  (It’s good to know it was accidental).

When frustration and anger and aroused complacency detox enough to be free and clear and ready for new thinking and clear seeing then they can begin to actually notice the false sheathing that has been there hanging over their heads and all around them and is limiting their ability to breath and to function and to know God – now they have seen it, it won’t be long until they reach upward and try to remove it.

God is obscured by the sheathing.  You can’t know God well if you have no ability to really see and understand what he is like.  You also can’t really reach the world for God because all you will do if you reach them is to bring them into your sheathed and darkened place.

The reason that thoughtful people will not give one moment of serious attention to someone who says, “Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m an evangelical Christian” is because it is very obvious to them that the place Joe wants to take them is a closed and darkened place.  

There are still some people that can scare people into the cave by convincing them it is the only safe haven from which to avoid eternal torment.  But thankfully, they’re not that effective.

When we have an open and light and expansive place to bring people, they will be glad to go live there.

When the heroes that have recovered from detox, begin to arouse, and to come together and bond in commitment to find freedom, they gather their tools and they begin to try to remove the sheathing.  The first thing they discover is that it is some pretty strong material this Accidental Colonial Sheathing – those old guys knew how to make good stuff!  So, they must work hard to begin to tear through it, they chip and they scrape and they cut and they tear and eventually they make a hole from which they can Emerge.

I had to suppress writing, “Emerge!!!!” because I didn’t want to look too cheerleader like.

And so that is the third step, to emerge.  

I think what we have now, is that here and there are some people that have torn through and are emerging, but there are still so many others that are stuck within the sheathing.  

All the different emergents are of course separated by vast geographical distances, but they have a special radio transmission system where they can communicate to each other.  To find it you turn the dial until you reach station, WBLOG (in the east) or KBLOG (in the west).

The important work is to create new tools in order to build new vehicles with which we can really break through and allow many to emerge and then resettle in the new place.  Once you get out of that dark, limited place, the bright shining reality of God’s ways begins to make everything expand.

It was hard to see or really enjoy art in the old dark place – the colors just don’t come out in the dim light.  But in the open air, under blue skies, the colors explode and bring joy to all.

Eventually you will have vibrant churches that are culturally conversant and form the truths of God in ways that really make sense to the people in their culture – that allow contemporary Christians to love one another and God well, and then cause a church that is full of love for one another to draw those who are yet to find Christ, because they will know we are his disciples, the place where he can be found, by our love for one another.

Then all we have to do is wait until a distant generation has to repeat this process in 70 years.

And now, for anyone interested to know why this is all happening…a primer on why something new must emerge by a collage of quotes from Josh of SPC:  

“My church detox has begun. I left church for the last time yesterday. Or at least the last time for a while. I am going to go through a 12-step program…

…People have wondered why I have chosen to leave the church instead of trying to change it. Well, change it from the inside. Here is my answer, I have tried and failed. My small voice cannot break the system of the church. I have tried to speak up…nothing….

…I woke very late this Sunday morning. I haven’t been able to do that for years. It was awesome…

…Wow. I can breathe…I am detoxing…

…I am starting to feel alive…

Insanity. I think I am going crazy. I feel like the world around me is upset that I have left to spend some time away from the church. I am made to feel like I am wrong. Family, friends, old co-workers, stupid church people, etc…Life away from the church has been a little weird. I wake up on Sundays and think I am supposed to be somewhere. Like I am missing out on something. Then later on in the day I feel free. Seriously, I feel like I can take deeper breathes…

Detoxing from church has not meant cleansing myself from people. I am detoxing from the system…The system changes people. I have seen it happen right in front of my eyes. It has ruined good volunteers with paychecks. It has stripped people of their energy for Christ's sake. It has demanded the ridiculous...

…as long as I am not living in the fog…I am fine right where I am. Free from a system and trapped in Christ's love…


Call Me Ishmael said...

As for me and my house, we're still scratching our heads.

--Call Me Ishamel

Cindy said...

Help. I'm stuck in the sheath, and I can't get out.

Fajita said...

Wow, just wow! Thanks for capturing the zeitgeist of a generation of Christians.

This is good stuff.

TCS said...

Yeah, Wow. How's that for creative writing! You have captured much of my journey. I don't know if it leads where you are exactly but it does help to see someone cross over something before you try.


grace said...

This was an excellent post. I'm glad you didn't delete it.

Neal W. said...

Someday very soon I will resign as senior minister of my church and walk out the door. I, too, have tried to change things from within...unfortunately those who wish to change get beaten up. I can take a beating...but the blows fall on my family, too. And so I will walk away and we will detox...and I will find God again.