One more blog for today, and then I’m off to get other things done…
We wrapped up a month’s discussion on diversity this past Sunday at Church in Bethesda by talking about the dream of Jesus, a dream of unity and love. It is so much easier in times of our diversity to express anger, distrust and judgement… but that is exactly when Jesus comes in and starts talking about love.
You know it’s real when we’re busting out the chalkboard on a Sunday morning, huh? Yes, I could have projected something on a screen, but the sound of snapping chalk sticks on a board is so much more gratifying!
A Sunday Bulletin excerpt from this past weekend:
What does it look like when Jesus dreams? Did he have a dream for us and for humanity that we can see in his life and ministry? It’s not only seen in John’s gospel, but John’s account of Jesus shows us the dream many times… love. He dreamed, and even commanded, that we would love one another, in our humanity, our diversity, our greatness and our brokenness, and in that love we would be one.
This morning, we gather around a table that is meant to be a reminder of and an exercise of unifying love. This is a table where we put others first, where we discern one another as Christ’s body, where we gather for what our faith tribe has often called a “Love Feast.” If only our love would be always tangible enough to sit with and see on a table and taste with our lips and experience as we experience a filling and satisfying meal. Unifying love is the dream of our Christ. Love is the dream and the prayer of our Lord for us.
Love was the example of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Think of the times in the Gospel of John like when Jesus is found talking to someone of the wrong religion, gender, nationality and ethnicity… John 4. How about the time when Jesus masterfully and nonviolently prevents a stoning and says, “Neither do condemn you”… John 8. And when he washed the feet of his disciples, serving and loving them, that included the man to soon betray him… John 13. One of my favorite verses has long been John 13:1, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Good stuff. Good love.
Love was the command of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus famously instructs us to love our enemies… Matthew 5. Jesus commands his disciples to love as he loved, in service and sincerity… John 13. And who can forget the awesome way Jesus summed up Law and religion: Love God and Love People… Matthew 22. In John 13 he not only commands love but says that it is by our loving one another that we will be recognized as his followers.
Love was the prayer of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus not only prayed for a love-bound unity for the disciples in his day, but for all followers who would come later and walk his path… John 17.
Love was the example of Jesus, the command of Jesus and the prayer of Jesus, so we can confidently say: love was the dream of Jesus. When Jesus dreamed, it was of the love we would create among us. That love brings us together, unites us and alerts everyone around that some Jesus-stuff is happening. Let’s embrace the dream and run with it!
Diversity of thought, experience and background are grounds for more love, not less. Diversity among us is grounds for loving deeper, listening better and building bridges… not loving elsewhere, closing ears and burning bridges. Love. Dream on.
“Diversity is not a weakness for faith, but a strength.
Our diversity is not discouraged by scripture, but validated.
Diversity is not disunity, but should help us be a unified whole.”
It’s October and I’ll be starting a couple of things this month: 1) I’ll start working on my winter beard… and I know it’s never much of a beard, maybe more of a beardlette, but I’ll see what difference another year on the march to manliness means for me, and 2) I’ll be investing the month in writing out my thoughts on diversity as a core element of Christian faith that is too often given short shrift or completely ignored.
Diversity of Faith Expression/Identify
I’m not choosing diversity because it’s a buzz word. I’d like to focus on what our scriptures, especially in the New Testament and the words of Jesus, have to teach us about being different. Too often I’ve heard much more about being the same. In my own lifetime I’ve heard sermon after sermon about conforming to a single ideal, a single belief and a singular expression of faith and church. The church of my youth was devoted to a single refined expression of doctrine and ecclesiology to the exclusion and utter rejection of all deviance from that expression. We fantasized about our ability to come to conclusions and decisions about theological and doctrinal matters outside of personal experience and enculturation, and therein find the single answer to all questions for all people in all times in all places. Today, I’d call that misguided and un-hopeful.
Our scriptures present a different picture of life and faith. The ministry of Jesus showed a diversity of disciples and gifts surrounding Jesus, and times of Jesus himself affirming the existence and authenticity of others. In fact, Jesus often did this over the protests of his disciples who desired exclusivity and personal greatness, uniqueness.
Diversity of Gifts
We have often spoken of diversity in the realm of giftedness and abilities. It’s appropriate when we speak of individual calling and giftedness to recognize our diversity, and we’ll chat about that in October. We just won’t leave our diversity solely to the realm of gifts and abilities.
Diversity of Calling & Being
More than ever we are being challenged to be open and welcoming to differences. We are being asked to be comfortable with our differences. So where and how do we plant our feet solidly in our understanding of faith and scripture and tradition to do that? We’ll be exploring that question through the coming month. My central hope in this month is to show that we are able to be both faithful to God and respectful of one another’s dignity by becoming more open and tuned into the value and strength of our differences.
I’m excited to push back against many misconceptions about people, scripture and faith. I’m hopeful that we can live and worship with a greater love and sincere appreciation for one another, even in our differences. I have come to hold diversity as one of our greatest strengths, one thetas validated by scripture and necessary for us to realize lasting wholeness as a community.
I wrote the bulk of this blog a couple of weeks ago and promptly forgot to finish and post it. I wrote it just after the Mother’s Day parade gunfire in New Orleans, as we reeled as a nation from the Boston Marathon attack and the women rescued in Cleveland after a decade of imprisonment. But honestly, I started forming this post in my heart a little earlier than that after reading of the young woman in Canada, Rhetaeh Parsons, who ended her life after being raped and bullied by her classmates. You’ll have to excuse me if it offends anyone that I don’t refer to it as an “alleged” rape. It offends me that when a young woman is oppressed to the point of ending her life that someone might still doubt the veracity of the crime done to her.
I am inured at heart by the violence we do against one another as human beings, the violence that our children have been taught to do against one another. I’m also at a place where I’m exploring what the truths of my faith are at their root, separated from the “branding” of Christianity, so that I can find even more ways to engage the problem of violence in our society without having to first deal with the “faith divide” presented by a pluralistic society such as ours.
I was reminded of this blog and encouraged to finish and post it today when I read about the homily given by Pope Francis in his morning mass. He vocalizes such a beautiful expression of meeting our neighbors, in our diversity, at the intersection of our common need of and duty to do “good.” I encourage you explore his statements, and I’ll only give this one amazing quote from the link embedded here: “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
“We will meet one another there.” Wow. It’s time for Christians to un-brand some of our truths from being “Christian Truths” so we can share them fully with all our neighbors, many of whom already own and exemplify them better than we often manage to do ourselves.
Here Are Some Questions I’m Laying Out There
What is the “gospel” or the “good news” that people of faith have for a country that seems to be in a cultural tailspin of violence and the love of violence? What is my message? If I’m honest, then I believe I need to be real about having a message that is more than, “Hey, be like me!” In other words, converting my neighbors to Christianity is not the only answer I have to participating right now with my neighbors to make a more peaceful nation and world. Maybe sounds obvious, but it’s not the way many of us were raised to operate.
I need to make sense. I need to speak in ways that all people can understand and that communicate the core realities that exist within my faith, in actionable ways for all people. I’m switching now from single to plural pronouns because this is a shared need we have to make sense in our time and place. One of the biggest realities of our daily experience should be that we aren’t all going to suddenly adhere to the same religion: We won’t wake up tomorrow to find that we have all miraculously become Christians.
Our nation will wake up tomorrow with the amazing diversity in which we live today: Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Wiccan, Buddhist, Bahai, and all the faiths and philosophies I don’t have room to name or even know. Of course, that is all happening right alongside our incredible diversity of political ideologies, regional concerns, linguistic roots, ethnic richness, gender identities, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds and economic struggles. To name a few. We are a beautifully mixed bag of amazing variety.
This isn’t a repudiation of Christian on my part. I’m a disciple of Christ and have no intention to ever walk another path, but I am doing so in a diverse world, a diverse nation with a pluralistic society. This diversity isn’t bad, but it does make it much more difficult for people of our faith, or any faith, or lack of faith, to speak into the broader nation, culture and community in which we live. We won’t all have the same vocabulary. The shame is that often we won’t have the “tools” in language or common experience that are necessary to recognize shared values and hopes.
If everyone to whom we speak is not willing to become like us, to become a Christian (or a Jew, or a Muslim, or an Atheist), or more to point, our chosen brand of Christian (or brand of whichever tradition we have chosen), how then do we speak, share and participate in discourse? What do we do in a pluralistic time and space when we need to communicate with our neighbors in the absence of simply making them like us? The episodes of violence breaking into our daily national conscious demand that something be said! Something must be done!
But we people of faith, and not just Christians, have a huge disconnect when it comes to speaking to one another in a pluralist, diverse culture. This issue is most evident in my life when I hear my fellow Christians naming the problems we face as a nation and a culture being that we have “turned our back on God/Christ,” or “Satan’s power is the root of our troubles.” The same goes for when the answer to the most disturbing trends in our nation’s violence are simply stated as a need “to return to being a Christian nation” or that all would be well “if we would all simply embrace Christ.”
Having grown up in a place and time of the country where and when almost everyone was a Christian, I find it too laughable that a Christian would say the answer for our nation’s violent crimes is as simple as converting everyone to our faith. I’ve watched too many times as Christians turned on one another in the absence of any other common enemy. Maybe it would be more plausible if the statement were more along the lines of, “If only we could all follow the teaching of Christ” as in the parts about treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves and loving everyone even to the ridiculous extent of loving our enemy.
And I’m not repudiating a worldview that includes Satan. I believe that there is evil in the world. My own framework as a Christian names a particular force of evil in this world as Satan, though I prefer a more ancient tag “The Accuser.” The Accuser is an agent of evil and a personification of evil’s work in humanity and creation. But here’s my question about evil: Does my neighbor have to conform their frameworks and beliefs about evil to match my own before I can begin to speak and move together with my neighbor to stand against evil? I can only hope not.
One of our deepest yearnings as Christians may very well be that everyone on this good earth would proclaim and own our Christ as Lord, knowing and experiencing the goodness of knowing God in Christ. But there never seems to be any expectation in the teachings of Christ, or even the later apostolic witness, that we will find ourselves suddenly on such a planet.
Paul relates for us the vision that seems to be from an early Christian hymn of the moment when every knee bows and tongue confesses, and it is a vision of worship and unity that warms my soul. Really. But it’s hardly a reasonable expectation that such unity of faith is the foundation for how I will participate with my many diverse neighbors on these important societal issues in our shared life as a nation, right now. I can’t simply remain quiet or continue speaking in ways that don’t make sense to my neighbors “in the meanwhile” as I wait for all the bowing and confessing to start.
Here’s the Short Version of My Question
In the wake of our country’s past episodes of home grown violence and the more recent national tragedies at Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon bombing, this past Mother’s Day parade shooting in New Orleans, the women and children held hostage in a Cleveland home for a decade, and the bullying and suicides happening across our continent every day: Do Christians have anything to say other than quoting John 3:16?
John 3:16 is good stuff, but in fact we do a lot to say to our home culture, and our neighbors! We have a lot of things to say that flow directly from our faith, but aren’t predicated on all our friends and neighbors accepting our faith before being blessed by our message or welcomed to participate with us in living and realizing this “Good News!”
In other words, I believe we have amazing truths through which we can participate in with our neighbors to bring about more of what our Lord taught us to pray for: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Here are three messages that I believe are core to our faith as followers of Christ that can be transformative in our nation when we live, proclaim and defend them, even when un-branded and allowed to simply be truths, instead of “Christian Truths”:
1. Love is preeminent.
2. We are intrinsically interdependent.
3. Tomorrow is ours to lose.
Three Heavy Truths
These three messages are truth. I believe they flow from the heart of God, have been illustrated in the life of Jesus Christ, and are commissioned to the followers of Christ by Jesus himself and the apostolic witness of the church. That last sentence sounded pretty heavy, yeah? I think these are heavy truths.
1. Love is preeminent. That word preeminent might look a little tricky at first, but it’s not as theological a word as you might think. It’s a good word. Mirriam Webster’s online dictionary defines preeminent as “having paramount rank, dignity, or importance.” That is how we need to be speaking about and living our love for all people. Preeminent love is pure gospel! Jesus famously summed up all the law and commands of his own Jewish religion in the two-fold flow of love 1) love God, and 2) love neighbor. He also taught stories to illustrate a love of neighbor that crosses lines of ethnic, geographic, national and religious diversity. When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” his answer broke down barriers that prevent us from loving people, even the people least like us or likable to us.
What is preeminent love in the context of our society? It is the answer to the hatred that is kindled and fanned to life by the things we have wrongly raised above love. We are talking about being real, so let’s be real. Our culture has lots of things happening emotionally and spiritually, economically and politically, besides love. Namely we have hate and anger, and they flow from a myriad of very real streams of lives: jealously, competing ideologies, inflation rates, diseases, immigration arguments, fear, pain, nationalism, racism, prejudices, bad drivers, dishonesty, workplace tensions, loneliness, food scarcity, environmental concerns and arguments, and much more. And if I’m really real, I can name and easily find preachers who have used all those streams to incite and divide us in recent years, all in the name of “truth.”
But as a people, Christians have a spiritual mandate to speak love above those things. How else is mercy possible? How else does forgiveness happen? We have a spiritual mandate to live out of love above and beyond the hatred, anger and fear. Fears are often well founded, and sometimes anger is justifiable, but neither should be placed above love in our words and actions. Love is neither restrained to only romantic arenas or to theological discussions. Love should be a daily reality. You don’t have to be a Christian to embrace this truth, and many in the world who strive to live this truth aren’t Christians. But every Christian should have learned along the way that if we are going to accept a scriptural definition of God being “God is love” and the basic drive of the heart of God being a robust and active love for this world (yes, John 3:16!), then we have the same basis, foundation and core for our heart and drive.
2. We are intrinsically interdependent. We need preeminent love for the simple reason that you and I are indelibly connected and interdependent. We exist together. Our freedoms and our rights are shared freedoms and rights. Our lives are connected and intertwined. As Christians we have this truth illustrated in matters of love, life and spirituality in many ways: 1) we cannot love God but refuse to love each other, 2) we cannot see the suffering of fellow humans around us and not act, and 3) we have been taught not to ever say to those not like us, “I don’t need you!” on the basis of our differences. Just to name a few.
We need one another. Our value and dignity are shared. Too often we end up bunkering into our various cells of culture, by religion or race or gender or any of the many ways we self segregate, and in doing so we disconnect from others, lessening their presence and contribution to us and ours to them. Once we have broken that connection we have broken our ability to love and hold love as preeminent. Once we break that vital connection we become more easily swayed by the rhetoric of division that places us in “us vs. them” systems and ultimately de-humanizes the other.
If this were not true, then why aren’t more Christians speaking out against hate crimes and prejudices against Muslims? Why aren’t more Muslims fighting to end discrimination against their gay neighbors on the basis of their sexual orientation? Why aren’t more Republicans fighting for the voting rights of Democrats? Because when we bunker down into our own self interests we have broken the vital connection which allows us to love and raise love above the fears, jealousies and frustrations that inhabit a pluralistic society. By the way, one of my favorite newest friends is a Jewish man who has devoted his life to stopping anti-Muslim prejudice. Ira is an amazing human and he encourages me with his grasp of these truths!
Our vital connection to one another is gospel and it’s not predicated on everyone being of the same faith. We can live and speak and engage with our neighbors within this vital connection to increase understanding, cooperation and peace in our nation and upon our beautiful little globe. In fact, we must. I must not allow anything to devalue my fellow human being in my heart or mind. Such a devaluing of another person is a disease and a cancer in my own soul and self. For me to break our human connection and lessen you is to suffer the same for myself.
3. Tomorrow is ours to lose. All my life I have loved the 131st Psalm, a song of humility and peaceful contentment against the restful greatness of God. Humility is core to the Christian faith and is central to living in the connectedness that we have been speaking about, but it is not an excuse to be idle or stupid about our power to make change in the world. It is not a denial of our humility to recognize that we are powerful and responsible in this world. We are gifted with everything we need to live and breathe and create greater peace, love and joy in this world. We have been crafted as agents of good, and we cannot live in denial of this amazing purpose in our daily lives.
One scriptural writer famously says that we are not given a spirit “of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-10) And as I love the song of humility in the presence of God’s great sovereignty from Psalm 131, I also recognize the reality of the psalmist’s statement that God “has made [us] just a little lower than God.” (Some will translate this “yourself” or “angels.”) Whoa, we need humility because we are so powerful. We only have tomorrow to lose. God has already given it to us. God has equipped us, as little less than the gods, to be movers and makers of change on this earth! There is no adequate rationale for a person to faith to sit still and wait for God to do for us what we have been made to live and be ourselves.
It’s easy to forget, but neither of those psalms were originally written by, about or to Christians, regardless of how or by what reasoning I might lay claim to them today for my life. The ideas and truthes they carry cannot be branded as “Christian.” And even as we believe that Christ gives great and precious gifts to those in his church, we cannot deny the amazing gifts and abilities that God has wired into all our of species. We see those gifts every day. We cannot wait for all our neighbors to share our faith before we move humbly among and with them to not lose tomorrow’s promise and goodness.
I think these truths are for all people in all times and all places. The hard part for us swallow is that the three simple statements are unbranded truth. We have been taught to brand everything or own nothing. So we speak of Christian Love, Godly Justice, Christian Truth and God’s Mercy. And we have been taught to devalue all truths not so labeled. Have you ever noticed how rarely scripture addresses things that way? Paul simply says that God’s Spirit makes in us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control. It’s the work of the Spirit in us, but the fruits are simply fruits. And so we lose the ability to see and value the many truths of God’s work and Spirit in the various people all around us every single day.
I grew up hearing preachers often say, “It’s not enough to be a good person, you have to be a Christian.” I suppose I know what they were saying about identifying with Christ and the church in a theological sense, but I always came away thinking more about what sounded like an inherent contrast they were making between good and Christian. Those two didn’t seem to be the same, but different. And even if I am able to step past inferring a contrast like that, the statement still devalued the good in a person if they weren’t enough like me. I’ve not had a very long life, but I have definitely learned that finding a good person can seem a rare enough event not to ever devalue or dismiss.
I am asking us, asking myself, to do better at engaging the world with these unbranded truths so that we move the truths forward without having to have the argument about what is dissimilar between us. I could easily stick to branding and say something like: 1) God wants Christians to live in preeminent love, 2) Christian altruism and Godly benevolence is a duty, and 3) with humble prayer we can defeat Satan and can claim tomorrow as the Lord’s Day returning our nation to global moral dominance and greatness! But I won’t.
But I believe it is no less true and vastly more engaging for many of my neighbors if I proclaim and live: 1) love is preeminent, 2) we are intrinsically interdependent, and 3) tomorrow is ours to lose. Though I do understand a little bit about the power and importance of branding in the commercial sense of moving products and services, I think that God’s truths should be handled a bit more on the open source model, freely shared and abundantly distributed.
I’m planning to come back to some more thoughts on preaching, but since my brain tends to bump and jive between multiple threads (not necessarily a good thing), I’m going to share some thoughts on the whole “emergent” church stuff first, or “emerging,” or “emergence,” whatever.
Honestly, too, I’ve lately not only had some questions put to me about it, but I’ve also read a few things that I only marginally thought had merit. Also, I’m surrounded by a church family, many of whom are new to the vocabulary of emergent and find themselves where most of us find ourselves, when painfully honest… that’s an exercise of defining emergent for myself, because we each have had a varied introduction to, experience of, and history with emergent church friendship/conversation/aspiration.
Here’s a couple of things you should know about me, in case you’ve never heard me say them out loud: 1) I self-identify as a pastor of an emergent church, 2) most of the folks in my church family are versed or becoming versed with things “emergent,” and 3) I in no way consider “emergent” to be a denomination, affiliation or even much of a genuine modifier past my own set of thoughts and definitions.
I was at a little conference hosted by our Disciples of Christ sisters and brothers in DC back in 2007 and heard Tony Jones try to share a metaphor with folks about why emergent is not a denomination, or even a reformation movement, but simply a survival move that has resonated with a lot of people. He said that he and his friends who kick started what we now call “emergent church” simply jumped ship from their Christian traditions into spiritual life-rafts in an effort to save their own faith. But amazingly, as they paddled away in their life-rafts they heard the splashing and calls of all the folks jumping ship after them and hoping to also salvage their own faiths.
That resonates with me. I was at a place where my own faith had become sullen, caged and dry. Because my church tradition was wrong? No. Because my church tradition was stupid or bad? Nope. My faith was in jeopardy because my church tradition simply didn’t have the built in receptors for a person like me. (I mean “receptors” like when certain proteins or viruses are made to connect and join together.) There were no places of safety for me to ask my questions. There was no value placed on diversity of thought or expression. So, as an individual human and as a follower of Christ, as I began trying to unpack certain parts of my life and faith, I found mostly only confusion and hostility.
Was it because I’m a “post-modern?” I suppose partly. Was it because I’m a “rebel?” At one point, yes. Today? Not so much. Could I have stayed in my tradition and made a place for folks on a spiritual journey like mine? I could not have stayed. Some of my friends who are kindred spirits have stayed, and I respect that. For me, survival meant moving on.
So, back in about 2003 I read a little book by Eddie Gibbs called ChurchNext about why we needed missionaries in America again, folks who are tooled to re-deliver the gospel in new terms and models. As a trained cross-cultural missionary, this woke me up and put words to many of the thoughts and questions with which I had previously wrestled. It also laid the ground work for me to pick up my first Brian McLaren book, More Ready Than You Realize. Brian started filling in some the terms and frameworks that I needed to find my new way of faithing. That help ultimately culminated in his Generous Orthodoxy.
More authors followed: Darrell Guder, Doug Pagitt, GK Chesterton, Richard Pascale and more. Ultimately, I found ways to express my yearnings and fill in some of the blanks… and that is the foundation for our church family in Bethesda right now… and so we are arriving at a few of my thoughts on what emergent church means to me…
Emergent gives faith a fighting chance against certainty.
That’s right, I don’t think faith is simply holding a certain set of theological definitions or affirming certain doctrinal statements. Faith is something other than certainty. I can’t believe that with all the scriptural witness to what faith is, we have so often made it an answer instead of a question. Faith is hope. Faith is yearning. Faith is trust. Faith is appetite. Faith needs to move and live and breathe. We try to make faith into the acceptance of a method and form like the four spiritual laws (easily distilled to a tract, pamphlet or sermon). We try to make the scriptures answer all our questions so that we can construct a base of certainty. We try to make a hermeneutic that can help us navigate and subdue the Holy Scriptures of our “faith” and leave no questions in doubt. Can we have faith without doubt? Really? With certainty in place, we’ve no need of faith.
Well, I found my certainty system to be severely lacking. I’ve probably investigated and found yours to be lacking, too. What I love to read about these days is your faith. I want to know how you hear God and touch the divine. Without the certainty crutch you can become frighteningly mystical, and that is necessarily a good thing. I want to hear your doubts, and how you grapple with a God who is wrapped in the deepest mystery and yet also is claimed to have walked in human flesh. That’s a God worth my time. That’s a God who defies my pamphlets and snorts when I talk about my awesome theologies. That’s a God who calls all people, for that’s a God able to wrap around all kinds of people, I hope, I trust, I faith.
Emergent gives diversity a fighting chance against conformity.
So, did I run into trouble in church because I’m a “postmodern?” Yes, I have to admit that I did. My value system just can’t support a communal structure that enforces conformity. I also can’t abide in myself an inauthentic acquiescence that screams hypocrisy from the depths of my soul. Sweet grief, I can’t even abide the idea that you’d agree with everything I’m writing and be thinking just like me! What kind of screwed up world would we have if we all thought alike? Diversity is the core of imagination. Diversity is the foundation of innovation. Diversity is flavor and color. Diversity is needed for mental, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health. When a faith system or church tradition loses diversity or moves to quell diversity, it becomes inert, that is without internal and vital motion. The same is true, I believe, for a single human soul.
Members of our church family in Bethesda claim many church traditions and often still self-identify with those traditions. And that’s awesome! We’re not post-denominational, we’re pan-denominational, or I usually say “multi-denominational.” So, my messages on Sunday mornings often have more to do with what someone might go make of my sermon ideas than what they’re supposed to agree with me about. Ergo… sermonizing as “Here’s an idea/image in scripture that I think we need to fashion a response to; Now what might that response be in your life, or our life as a worshipping community?” Diversity is fertile soil for growth.
Emergent gives a relational, gracious community a fighting chance against earned acceptance.
Let’s face the facts. If I am to be me, I’m not really welcome in very many congregations. One of the hardest things for me in my earlier years of ministry was the recurring fights and arguments with church leadership. Often, I would have taken so much time to tailor my words and finesse my communication to be non-threatening, but still end up with horrible things being said to me. I would think I had come up with the most innocuous way to say something, and then BOOM, I’d blow someone’s world apart and off we’d go down the rabbit’s hole. It took a few years, but I finally figured out that it was me, ME, who I was and how I thought was the problem. And I couldn’t just stop being me. I have tried that, by the way, and seen others choose that path, and it leads to spiritual death.
We have to relearn how to practice a very authentic and whole-hearted welcome. We have to relearn how to love each other whether we agree on some things or not. People, including ourselves, must be able to walk into the life of a faith community with a full, intact and immediate worth and dignity. If we withhold that on any basis of merit, we have sinned, and sinned mightily.
We’ve spent to much time deciding and communicating who wasn’t welcome. We’ve spent too much time “protecting” the church to let it be porous enough to admit some of the most needful folks in our society and some of the folks we’ve most needed among us. In our rush to certainty we’ve forgotten to trust God. In our unreasonable fear of God and of messing up that solid base of certainty, we’ve not allowed ourselves to love as God loves or risk ourselves as God so amazingly risked personhood in the life and death of Jesus who was the Christ. Walled-in communities and souls risk a death of stale inertness.
I never thought I would say this and really mean it, but I would so attend worship with my church family, even if I weren’t their pastor! I love those folks! Man, some of them are screwed up, almost as bad as I am! Some hold political opinions or theological ideas that scare me, really. Some can’t sing on key and some truly share nothing in common with me. I love them all! They love each other. It sounds stupid and fake, but we have to love each other. You don’t come to us to have your belief/certainty system validated! Truth is, it’s our love for one another and for God that allows transformation among us. It’s the tension of our diversity that fires the kinetic joy, peace and imagination among us. We practice an authentic welcome because we each depend on it and need it so much.
Wow. This is a long post. And it only has three thoughts in it so far. But I have to lay just one more out here, before I chicken out totally…
Emergent gives dynamic, “becoming” faith a chance against a completed, static system.
I was once asked if I didn’t think the scriptures provided a complete “Christian Worldview.” My answer then, as it is now, was no. What I felt I was really being asked was if I couldn’t see that the Bible gives us a single answer to every moral and ethical, methodological and theological question which confronts humanity in each epoch, place, generation and situation. My answer reflected my belief that we are not ultimately called to parrot doctrinal and moralized statements generation after generation, but called to be thinking, processing, growing agents of eternal life. If calling faith “appetite” didn’t make you grimace then the implications for church of that last little ditty should have. My humble opinion is that our loss of becoming, our loss of identity as contemporary agents of eternal life, is why so many church buildings stand empty today and why so many congregations devour books on how to keep a dying congregation alive. We’ve traded off an amazing invitation to become something for the consolation prize of belonging to something.
If we aren’t allowed to “become” church just like the lucky folks living in 70A.D. or 325A.D. or 1500A.D., then we become the simplest minded, however clever, copy-cats the cosmos has ever created, and most of the unbelieving world’s criticisms of us become well-earned. For some of you, I just stopped being a “Bible Believing Christian” because I thoroughly undermined the authority of scripture. All I can say is this: I love, cherish and cling to our scriptures. They guide me, admonish me and uphold me. I love our scriptures and the community of souls whose story they share and invite us to be a part of… but I don’t worship the scriptures or follow them in place of a living God. Fact is, it’s in the scriptures that I see the call to become.
Now, if we are allowed to become, then it’s an imperative that we hold to faith and love, without which we fracture in our diversity and lose touch with one another in a hurry. BEWARE: What I become may not be what you need to become! The scariest things for me to hear is someone saying, “We’re the only true emergent blah, blah…” or something like that. Go catch the wind and put it in your pocket, my friend. “Emergent” is not what we are becoming. “Emergent” is not just a new way of conforming and belonging. What I am becoming, what you are becoming, that’s all God’s business. And the day that “emergent” stops facilitating that becoming, I’m moving on, I promise.
Emergent stuff is a dangerous game we play, as dangerous and threatening as any relationship we’ve ever pursued with another person, but the rewards! The joy of the kind of community and running with God that this emergent conversation, friendship, and aspiration has afforded me! It’s been well worth every momoment.