Frost begins by talking about the commendable desire for Christian community, how it has become a buzzword, highly in vogue but often unfulfilled. Based upon various anthropological studies and other research, Frost contends that the problem is when we make community our end goal. He relates it to happiness, saying, "aiming for community is a bit like aiming for happiness. It's not a goal in itself. We find happiness as an incedental by-product of pursuing love, justice, hospitality, and generosity. We you aim for happiness, you are bound to miss it. Likewise with community. It's not our goal. It emerges as a by-product of pursuing something else."
So what is the "something else?" That is obviously a bigger question, but it can be described theoretically with the idea of being in a "liminal state." I had never heard of this idea before, but Frost does a great job in the chapter explaining how humans have liminal experiences all the time. A liminal experience is a sort of "supercommunity" which is stimulated by common goals and intense experiences. Several examples he offers are short-term mission trips, war buddies, human rights activists, well-known movies (like Lord of the Rings or Saving Private Ryan) and even Jesus' band of disciples. The idea is that a group of people are drawn together not simply for the sake of being together, but because of their unshakable pursuit of something greater. The goal is something bigger (i.e. justice, peace) but the byproduct is a powerfully cohesive community that because of each individual's commitment to the larger goal, possesses a strong commitment to the group itself.
Alan Hirsch defines communitas as, "a community infused with a grand sense of purpose; a purpose that lies outside of its current internal reality and constitution. It's the kind of community that 'happens' to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of peole actualy engaging in a mission outside itself."
Hopefully my attempt at a brief summary of about 15 pgs. has been clear. The connections that I see with our Emergent Cohort are these:
- We share a committed pursuit of a greater goal, "Emergent Christianity" (I know, we all agree that is ambiguous, but we are also all certain we are striving toward it)
- We all agree that our current Christian church experience is not providing the challenging community that we desire. Frost's comments here are so right on: "Attending a respectable middle-class church in a respectable middle-class neighborhood isn't a lminal experience....Why do our churches often miss this experience of communitas? For no other reason than they often avoid liminality, opting for safer, more secure environments."
- Our group will continue to be a success if we make not a goal in and of itself, but rather the breeding ground for ideas and inspirations to take back to each of our unique lives and callings. Frost quotes an anthropologist named Victor Turner: "People or societies in a liminal phase are a kind of institutional capsule or pocket which contains the germ of future social developments, of societal change."
Frost again: "Those who have emerged from a liminal state are able to bring a challenge to normal society about the meandering ordinariness of life. In African tribal societies, when the newly initiated young men return from their ordeal in the wild, they are flushed with the vitality and excitement that come from surviving the rite. Their returning energy and their critique of normal tribal life is an annual shot in the arm to the tribe, reminding them of their core values and pushing them forward as a society. Ideally, this should be the experience of our churches."
And I think it very well could be (and already is) the experience of our little emergent cohort.