So apparently the trend this past week has been to publicly declare if one is in or out with the whole emerging/emergent thing. I have a mixed reaction to the discussion. On one hand I want to admit that yes, I am Emergent and have no problem supporting that group. But on the other hand, I find the whole process of drawing lines and declaring teams to be a bit silly. So in my near incoherent ramblings that seem to be my modus operandi these days (getting computer time in 5 minute snatches is starting to get annoying…) I'll try to explain what I mean.
I'm Done With Pretending
I've spent far too much time in recent years playing a role that was not who I am. I existed in church circles where I let others assume I was just like them. I knew who I was (my politics, my theology, my cultural habits) did not fit into their box of what a good little suburban evangelical woman should be. So I let them assume lies about me instead of rocking the boat. I'm done with that (okay, I'm attempting to be done with that). I am part of this emerging/emergent conversation and I am not going to hide from that. Sure I could use whatever euphemisms I desire, but in all truth the emerging/Emergent label fits who I am. Sure there are numerous people out there that don't understand what those things mean. They hear the term "emerging church" and assume we burn our bibles, worship Satan, and eat or children (or something similar). Do I choose to lie to make up for their stupidity, ignorance, and closed-mindedness? I will try to be upfront and transparent with what I believe, if others would rather believe hearsay about me, then that is their problem. All too often we emergents are accused of not caring about truth – at this point I'd rather be truthful about who I am than let the misunderstanding and judgements of others force me to hide.
This is My Tribe
I am at home with the emergent crowd. For the most part I agree with the books written by Emergent leaders. I'm not following them with mindless devotion or joining a personality cult as some have accused (in order to dismiss the whole idea and avoid real discussion). But I like the ideas that they are discussing and have resonated with their faith journeys. I've appreciated the resources provided by Emergent and have benefited from the networks it created. I have my criticisms of Emergent and have even expressed them here. But I like to think that I do so as part of the group not as an outside critic. I have found a community with Emergent and want to help shape it into the best it can be.
I am not afraid or organization but neither do I see Emergent as my church or denomination. The fears that others have expressed on that issue are lost on me. I am very low church and have never been too fond of denominations (possibly the result of my non-denom Bible church upbringing). By affiliating with Emergent I am not joining a new denomination, but neither am I abandoning any other (since I have none to abandon). There has been much talk recently about the need to just bring the emerging conversation into existing congregations and denominations. Phyllis Tickle recently wrote about -
…churches and congregations that are moving to embrace emergent Christian thought while melding it with extant and/or historic expressions of the faith. They are known as the hyphenateds. They are the presbymergents and methomergents, the luthermergents, and the baptimergents, the submergents and the anglimergents, etc. They fascinate me more even than do completely emergent congregations, because they seem to me to be engaged in the more difficult task of bringing to the party the best of two worlds, the ancient and the future. They are hyphenated, in other words, because they seek to meld the DNA and passion and post-modern theology of a new form of Christianity with the extant body and operative history of an established tradition.
As much as I love Phyllis Tickle, I do not see myself in her description of churches. I don't have a tradition to meld and am really not interested in joining one for the mere sake of claiming a tradition. So while others can have a great time being hyphenateds, I am a low-church mutt who has no problem calling gathering with other like minded believers "church." I've found where I belong and I am going to claim it. I don't fear too much or too little organization nor am I wary of labels. I just want to be part of the community.
I Like Diversity
Missional, Emergent, emerging, ancient/future… Do we really have to each be separate and distinct groups that have nothing to do with each other? Sure there are widely different expression of faith among each of them, but do we have to build walls and delineate boundaries so intricately? I know that this might just be me, but I'm okay with ambiguity. I like agreeing to disagree. A huge value in our old church was that it was okay to disagree with each other as a worshiping community. I didn't have to have my identity spelled out for me by someone else nor was I afraid to associate with people who weren't exactly like me. I like being part of the emerging conversation where some people are experimenting radically with worship, others exploring what it means to live missionally, and still others digging deep into theology. Some of us are doing all of those things (and more), others simply desire to engage in one or two aspects of the conversation. But we are all part of the discussion, repeated for every generation and era, of what it means to be a follower of Christ in our world. I'd rather us coexist than have certain streams take their ball and go play somewhere else. In the past I've heard people reject the emerging church for theological reasons, recently I've begun to hear people reject us because of our infighting. They see a splintered group with various factions seeking dominion over each other. So instead of unraveling into such rigid and modern subsets, I'd prefer us to accept postmodern ambiguity and coalesce as a diverse and inclusive (albeit hard to define) community. Would loving and accepting and supporting each other really be that difficult?
So I claim the term Emergent, but find this whole labeling war a bit silly. Does it really matter who's in or out? Have we abandoned humility and love of neighbor so that we can each get our way? Of course all of this is messy and awkward. Of course we will disagree from time to time. Of course we will have to be generous and understanding with each other. But isn't all that just a normal part of being a Christ follower trying to live faithfully each and every day?
(and yes, I see how these thoughts could be called merely naive. I'd prefer to call them simply frustrated but hopeful…)