5.11.2008

Reflection on EMC

A lot of tough questions were thrown out during the conference. You can tell that Brian McLaren has wrestled with a lot of these questions before, and is still wrestling with them. During a morning session, I blurted out: "We don't need more churches, we need more Christians." Brian's response was something like this: "Let's really feel that tension...Let it sit for a minute...Do you feel that?"

We all really wanted him to give us an answer to our questions, but he didn't.

Later, Jane commented that as American Christians we are eager to solve problems as soon as possible. But right now, the most important thing we can do is to recognize the depth of the problem that is before us, to really sit with the tension, to rest in the darkness.

God lives within this tension. He clearly sees the problems of the world, and of course he has the power to "solve" these problems if he chooses to do so. But instead, he allows us to experience uncertainty, questions, challenges and tensions. And it is out of the deep darkness, out of the struggles, that great faith is birthed and new visions for the future are obtained. Visions of faith that are not just cute names for a new churches, or new website designs, but new ways of living and believing.

At the last session, Brian encouraged everyone that perhaps one of the best things to do right now is not to search for a solution, but instead to deepen the dream in our hearts and minds. Through prayers, meditations, songs, poems, artwork and conversations, we can explore the depths of our questions and understand the undercover reasons for our discontent. We can better articulate our disappointments with the currents expressions of Christianity that we see around us. We can formulate a more powerful and invigorating dream for the future. Brian referenced the story of Nelson Mandela living in prison, dreaming of a new South Africa that would be free from apartheid.

I think my favorite section of the book "Everything Must Change" is Part 8: "A Revolution of Hope." On pg. 299, Brian writes this:
"But new kinds of faith communities are emerging, and more will emerge - virile, courageous, nurturing communities that center their theology on Jesus' revolutionary message of the kingdom and that center their lives on living out that radical message. These are communities of profound spiritual formation leading to liberating social transformation, and their continuing emergence is one of the most important developments in our time."
I believe that our Emergent Cohort is one of these "new kids of faith communities," not just another church. And I know that I want to follow in the revolutionary way of Jesus Christ, and not just be another Christian. I want to dream, to write, to listen, to love and to fight. I want to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul and mind.

But first, I'm going to deepen the dream by waiting and exploring the tension....

6 comments:

Kristen Kuzmick said...

I, too, was struck by the idea of sitting in the tension of God and the church and the paradoxes that exist in the world -- to sit in the tension and really let it become real. We live in society of immediacy. What we want we want now. My first instinct when I hear about all the problems of the world is try to fix them, and fix them now. In a way, Brian McLaren gave us permission to be still for a bit and really think about what is happening around us. I think this is so important, as it communicates the gravity of our world's situation today.

In my 'conventional' Christian life, everything was urgent. We need to act NOW and tell as many people about Jesus as we possibly can for the sake of their souls. I thought this urgency was necessary - that I wasn't fulfilling my Christian duty if I wasn't evangelizing (in the conventional sense of the word) all the time.

The urgency is still present in my heart - but it feels different. I'm not so concerned about everyone around me believing everything exactly as I do. Rather, I am urgently and patiently waiting to see where God is moving to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and then join along side of God.

I think it is imperative to let the weight of what was said this weekend really sink in. Rather than rush to find solutions to the problems of today, we must recognize that we cannot do this alone. We need each other and we need God.

I was impressed by a number of things about this past weekend. Namely, our new friend Brian, who was so down to earth, accessible, and authentic. I really appreciated his original songs, which were vulnerable and meaningful in many respects. And it all felt very God-focused and glorifying. I left feeling like the weekend was really about God and not about me - which is hard to come by at most "Christian" conferences.

The second thing that really stood out of me is the uniqueness of our cohort. I feel truly blessed to have you all in my life. After the day on Saturday, several of us sat around the campfire and expressed how thankful we are to be a part of this community. God is rising up new communities dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven -- and we are in this together. Jesse talked about how it might be good to take up a sort of covenant as a group.

Emergent Village Values & Practices speaks to this. The 4 Values identified really resonate with me and, in my opinion, characterize our cohort. The fourth value, commitment to one another, in order to strengthen our shared faith and resolve, is a commitment I want to make to this community and the Emergent community as a whole. I hope that you all identify with this as well.

My prayer is that we would embrace the tensions that exist in this world and wrestle with them together - celebrating God and his glory and richness along the way.

Jesse said...

Great comments Kristen.

When I was talking Sat. night about "committing to one another" and the idea of a "covenant" (which is language I am copying from a church I was a part of in TN), I had the Emergent Village values in mind.

I'm curious what others think about the idea of either adopting or writing language or statements that we maintain and adhere to - like core values. I can see positives and negatives on both sides, but I won't list them out yet.

How would you guys respond to the idea of the cohort adopting the Emergent Village core values, and making them visible on our blog or remind ourselves of them during our meetings? Positives? Negatives? Would language like this give our cohort direction and identity? Or stifle, limit and define us?

NancyJ said...

Kristen,
I was so very encouraged after reading your post. Thank you.

And Jesse, I think the idea of writing language that the Cohort maintains and adheres to is worth pursuing. It would seem that we already have much common ground. The ideas below taken from Kristen’s post deeply resonated with me:

1. Allowing and wrestling with the tensions that exist seeking resolutions in God’s time; embracing paradox;.

2. Authenticity; vulnerability;

3. Focus not on our own agenda, but patiently see where God is moving to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and then join along side of God.

4. Commitment to one another to strengthen our shared faith and resolve;

5. Celebrating God and His glory and richness along the way.

The following is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison:

“There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity. We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow-men. The following thoughts may keep us from such a temptation. It means that we at once fall into the worst blunders of our opponents. The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability? We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others -- and especially to our weaker brethren -- is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men's sake.”

And from Bonhoeffer’s words, I would add a number 6 above as we move towards mission…

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Nick Johnson said...

Jesse, my gut reaction is I don't like the idea. I can't really figure how why to have some sort of statement other than because of some desire for respectability because that is what churches do. It's not that I disagree with anything in the statement, I just can't see the point of making it official. I could maybe see some value in writing our own though.

Zack said...

Jesse I was just re-reading over your post about how you "believe that our Emergent Cohort is one of these "new kids of faith communities," not just another church." that Brain is talking about and I think that is a pretty bold statement.

In what ways are we really living out the message of Jesus as a community - not just as individuals? We are still a new community and maybe we are headed there, but I'm not sure if we are there yet.

The main thing I don't like about statement's of faith or company's values ect. is that often you can't see how the church or organization is really doing that.
It almost let's them off the hook more then keeps them accountable. We can say we're emergent, because emergent is in our name so we don't have to prove it by doing emergent things. Can we let what we do speak for itself so that when people look at us they can see without being told what we care about?

Jane Johnson said...

We're having a very lively conversation about this covenant idea! I think everyone has made good points: Jesse, Kristen, and Nancy are excited about using a covenant to strengthen our group bond and identity, and Nick and Zack are wary of anything that rings of a conventional "statement of faith." These are two crucial sides to the issue.

To me, it would be fine to do this as long as it doesn't become a statement of faith (which I don't think is what anyone means). I don't think we need to post this online or even bring it up that often. The very word, "covenant," implies something to be shared among the intiated, not a "statement" to be worn proudly as a badge of goodwill. I hope I never fall into a habit of just pointing someone towards our group's goals/covenant, if we do indeed made one, as a way to define the group. As Zack said, we should be defined by what we do.

What we might do instead is treat it as more of a liturgical element (but then again, the Credo really seems to have lost its zeal in churches that still use it). If we keep the covenant within liturgy it could remain what Jesse had in mind: something to strengthen group unity and to serve as a reminder of our goals.

If we decide as a group that we would like to follow through on this, it makes the most sense to me that we write our own. The product will be more meaningful and better tailored to what our group cares about, specifically. (We can of course borrow things we like from Emergent Village's Values and Practices, but maybe put them in our own words.)