Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Crack

I just read a long series of comments following this post, the main thrust of which was trying to understand the emerging church movement in light of a whole series of criteria, all of them current or modern ways of thinking, and trying to make sense of emergent within those modes of thinking. I was overwhelmed by a sense that they would never get it if they didn’t realize that they couldn’t analyze it from a modern perspective. Such a perspective rigidity would fundamentally lead to misunderstanding…here is my comment:

I really enjoyed reading all your comments, what a wise and charitable group you are.

The one biggest feeling that emerges within me after reading all these is that indeed there is a difficulty in trying to explain or in trying to understand what the emerging church movement is.

I think it is because it is something billowing up from the innards of a wide and diverse group of people that have for the first time been freed from thinking in only a modern milieu, that through the crack that this little postmodernity thing has ripped open in the massive backside of modernity, a new perspective has been achieved; actually for the first time in a really long time, a totally new perspective has been found. It is the one afforded to those who look out the crack.

Some people are peeping out that crack and things are billowing up within them. They are trying to describe it, but even they themselves do not really understand what it is they are seeing, they only know they are drawn to it forcefully, and that they have a new ability to think and feel things they never imagined.

Others are looking at them and what they are saying, and sometimes without also sharing that view out the crack, are unable to process their comments because they simply are not experiencing this totally new perspective offered.

Many are now climbing up to the crack, to take a look, others are just too busy with their good lives and responsibilities to have the time to take a look. Not to say they wouldn't if they had a few minutes respite from their responsibilities.

Truly this crack has afforded a totally original view, a perspective that cannot be understood from prior categories.

I'm trying to actually climb out of the crack and get to the other side (emerge). Many will prefer to stay where they are, and that is fine, and many will be very curious and get up there and peer out the crack and talk to the others who are doing so and who are feeling something billowing up within them. There's a big feeling component to it, you can't necessarily understand it all now, it's more that you have to feel it.

I totally understand the consternation this kind of language might bring to some, and I just smile humbly to myself as I pitch my axe head a few feet higher and continue to climb. I am going to figure out how I have become more socially liberal and yet more deeply pious at the same time. I am going to find out why I am becoming more concerned about loving people in general than I am about converting them.

I'm hoping to find some clue as to why these things are billowing up within me like when I sense within myself a total dedication to God’s Kingdom and the drawing of others into it, yet I feel more and more like a universalist because of Jesus. How does my great belief in Jesus the Word, the Word is God exist at the same time that I am losing my inerrant view of scripture and replacing it with a sense of wonder at its humanness; and a feeling that that very humanness and its inherent mistakes and missteps causes me to believe even more in a God who's so interested in me a human, that he not only became a human but spoke forth his Word through human frailty.

How is it that I’m becoming far more interested in my humanness and in the greater community of humans I live with the more I try to walk in the Spirit? How did I, a lover of Keith Green and imbiber of his anti-Catholic views become so fascinated with liturgy and Eucharist and Pope JPII and the complete sense that I have no more need to protest?

I’m not sure I totally understand how a Southern California Republican lover of Reagan like me become a sojourner of the new religious left; partly it’s because I wanted to be in solidarity with my New York City community and because post 9/11 the word fundamentalist viscerally scares me, but I still don’t totally understand how this happened to me.

I'm definitely a new kind of Christian and all my old kind of Christian’s friends’ attempts to understand these changes in me all seem to lack any awareness of, or sense of, my totally new and original perspective out the crack. Somehow looking out the crack has changed me.


Cindy said...

Wow Jeff, what a unique description of your perspective and place. I'm trying to climb out, too. As you know, you've gotten a lot farther than I have.

I understand so little about the changes I'm experiencing that I wouldn't think of trying to explain it yet. Your words help guide me just a little. Thanks, again. You do help me grow, in spite of how it may seem at times!

Jeff Kursonis said... wrote:

A friend of mine (who likes to comment online even less than you do) wrote today and asked some questions regarding your recent blog post.

I'm going to copy his question and my answer below. Please, let me know if you can correct add to or correct anything I wrote.


he wrote:

Help me understand. I read the quotes on your blog yesterday as well as the blog from which you quoted and to be honest, I didn’t quite get it. I guess am (as the author writes) “trying to understand the emerging church movement in light of a whole series of criteria, all of them current or modern ways of thinking.” After reading the blog several times, I came away with the notion (right or wrong) that the author considers the emergent church to be “a totally original view, a perspective that cannot be understood from prior categories.” If he is correct then it seems to me that one must immerse themselves in this “totally original view” before they can begin to understand it. From my perspective, that seems to be a dangerous proposition. In my readings about the emergent I have yet to find a clear description of what it is and what it believes. Does the emergent church movement hold to a set of fundamental beliefs? If so, what are those fundamental beliefs? What is it about the emergent church that makes it a “totally original view?”

I answered:
First, by totally original view I don't think he means a new set of beliefs, but a new way of looking at beliefs and the practice of them. Instead of taking it phrase by phrase, I'd like to give you a new word picture. Think of the universe- a few million points of light- those are the people in the world. Now think of the church in the world. The modern church would be a box that encloses a number of stars, occasionally opens up to catch a few more, and every once in a while sends out a few stars to help straggling stars throughout the universe, and hopefully bring them back into the box. The stars are doing their jobs in the box. They are beautiful and good, but they are bound by the confines of the box. They could more fully realize their potential as stars if they were not in the box but more a part of the rest of the universe.

The emerging church would not be in that box. It would be many groups of stars, grouped together but flying free throughout the universe gaining some other stars, moving, ever available, ever present, ever visible and changing but never closed off.

Emergent does not have a core of beliefs. The standards are basic Christian, mostly protestant standards, but entirely personal. No one in the emerging church is going to speak for someone else on say- gay marriage or politics. I've heard folks who consider themselves to be emerging who are extremely conservative, and some very liberal. The unwillingness to state a preferred method of worship, or mission, or practice (they call it praxis now) of faith is due to an openness to all forms of Christian praxis that specifically doesn't limit the Holy Spirit with the ever popular "we've never done it that way before" mentality.

I think what Jeff was trying to say is that it's virtually impossible to fit the emerging church into any existing category or standard, and any attempt to say, oh- "this is exactly what it is" will fail because the emerging church just won't fit any given model. It's an attempt to intentionally be the fluid church that we read about in the New testament. They didn't take a church model and reproduce it exactly everywhere they went. To the early church the church was simply them. it wasn't a program or set of beliefs in and of itself, though creeds and dogma are vital to Christianity, the church was them, reaching out and living like Christ-- who made a point not to align himself with the religious establishment.

I'd highly recommend Brian McLaren's article Emergent Reactions, Spring 2006

It's not a short article, but he does a great job of parsing out the fine points- and the major sticking points for some- of emergent.

I replied to Cindy:

Wow, I think your answer is awesome. I wouldn't add anything to it.

I'm sure my post would be a lot for someone new to the dialog, but I wrote it to fairly advanced observers who seem to be struggling somewhat because they are still trying to understand it through their older or non-postmodern lens and they are squeezing in a bit here and a bit there, but that leaves this other bit with nowhere to go, and it doesn't all quite fit....they need to know that it never will quite fit into those categories.

Even the word categories is kind of a modern scientific way of cataloging things into their place...the crack opens up and instead there is a story streaming forward, and it just can't be understood in the old way, you kind of have to flow into the new way...and here's the even more confusing part - even for those of us who are good to go with the flow, we still don't totally understand it ourselves, so we're not even able to totally explain it, which I understand to be maddening to those just becoming aware. But that's just the way it is.

Another point that occurs to me might be helpful...I'm not saying the emerging church has some new totally original view, I'm saying the crack in modernity, which is being called "postmodernity" for lack of a better word is providing a totally original view that is now trying to be understood. Secular people may look through that crack and see a whole different set of things, what the emerging church is, is a bunch of Christians who are looking through the crack and suddenly finding themselves being offered a new view that they couldn't have imagined before, and seeing how that new view is quickly changing the people around them, they are trying to rethink, reimagine the church from that new original view. They don't have any corner on the view, it's available to anyone who cares to ook, they're just trying to figure out where to go with it.