Emerging in Hope
Following the Emergence Christianity gathering a few weeks ago, there have been numerous conversations on blogs, podcasts, and Facebook around the nature of the conversation and who exactly gets to define it. I don’t want to rehash the arguments here nor do I have time for the ill-informed “the emerging church is dead” comments. The world has changed and the church (whether it likes it or not) is changing with it as it has always done. Yes, there were those who claimed the label “emerging” because it was the latest fad and there are those still trying to apply it like a veneer to a dying institution, but what is happening around the world is far larger than any one manifestation of the phenomenon.
But responding to change is never easy. When it is obvious that the way things have been done are no longer working one has the option of simply staking one’s claim in the past or adapting to the new situation. Yet to adapt implies the uncertainty of change and that can lead to fear. Fear of the unknown, yes, but also fear that in making changes we will just be repeating the same mistakes that have come before.
In the midst of all these discussions on emergence, I came across this passage in Anselm Min’s The Solidarity of Others in a Divided World that helped clarify the situation for me –
William James once spoke of two attitudes toward truth and error. One attitude is that of the sceptic, who is driven by an obsessive fear of falling into error and does not want to believe in anything except of sufficient evidence. The other is the attitude of the pragmatist, who is more driven by the hope of finding truth than by the fear of falling into error and is therefore willing to risk even believing in error in order to find truth. Deconstruction is more like the sceptic than the pragmatist. It is fundamentally fearful of all determinate embodiments of human sociality in history because of the terror of the same. It may offer prayers and tears for the coming of the wholly other and its messianic justice, but it does not want to dirty its hands by working at establishing determinate institutions of religion and politics. In the name of differance it flees, in neognostic fashion, from the historical determinacy of matter, body, senses, objectivity, and sociality; from the world of presence, identity, and totality; and takes refuge in the dream of the impossible. (44)
While I would not be so quick to dismiss the need for deconstruction, I see the danger of getting caught up in its cycle of fear. It is one thing to diagnose the problems in the church and its disconnect from the realities of the world, but while voicing such might be a necessary part of a healing process or the claiming of permission to seek freedom, it can be easy to let fear confine us to the refuge of this dream of the impossible.
We have seen the pain and the problems in the church and we want something better. Yet the idea of imperfect people imperfectly trying to put flesh to the idea of moving forward in hope is scary. They will mess things up, they will create broken systems, and they will fail in their attempts to embody the dreams and ideals of the emerging ethos. Inevitably, structures and institutions will develop as the pragmatists seek to build rather than just dream. And because such things have terrorized in the past they in and of themselves are feared. It then becomes easier to attack those who try to actually do something than it is to take that step into the unknown.
I like to dream and to deconstruct, but I need to have hope. I need to have some solid ground upon which to place my feet as I journey towards that hope. I need to see ideas assume flesh and exist in social actualities. I’m not all that good at making it happen, but at heart I am a pragmatist. I cannot just say that a better world is possible, I need to live it. Even if that means I might fail or (what’s even scarier) never stop journeying towards hope always in the process of deconstructing and building.
I am emerging not just out of something but into something. I am done with talk for the sake of talk (or even for the sake of hearing if my voice resonates with others); I need to do something that affirms hope. That is how I am moving forward these days.