Several months ago, I attended an evening with Spencer Burke and others (find summaries of this meeting here and here) and we talked about whether or not this emerging Christianity thing is getting "shrink-wrapped" because it is now marketable. In other words, have we gotten too popular for our own good? Will the possibility of making money off of our conversations begin to bind us into a certain form because that is what is expected of us?
I think that one of the things that will save us from that fate is maintaining awareness that we're not the only ones who think this way now and we're not the only ones who have ever thought this way.
This point was driven home to me over the holidays when I got to have a 15 minute conversation with Phil Jackson, a nationally-recognized innovator in the field of urban youth ministries.
I like Phil a lot. He's terrible with names but he wants to get it right and every time he sees me, he tries out a new white-girl-suburban name to see if it fits. Elizabeth. Jessica. Jennifer. Maybe even once Veronica. I love it and mock him for it all at the same time.
You best believe I'm going to figure out a way to sit that man down for lunch to get him to talk about that more. I'm seriously more interested in the potential of a partnership between CCDA and the emerging Christianity movement than I am in the things I'm studying at school, which are supposed to be my future. Here's hoping I can apply my policy skills to fostering conversation and action if it turns out that God wants me to follow up on my interests.
On the similar theme of not becoming insulated within the dominant circles of this "movement," I'm going to a conference in two weeks in New Mexico, led by Father Richard Rohr about Jesus and Buddha that involved much contemplation, information about how to live more spiritually and even some yoga. Nothing in the description uses any word that starts with "emerg . . ."
The ulterior motive of the trip involves giving me some space to re-set my spiritual center through worship and study. I know. I know. I should have done that over break. But apparently, I didn't. I keep making bad decisions. In the resultant emotional turmoil, I keep fucking things up. Little things that I normally have control over. Like parking. Or planning a morning with more than two activities. Or sharing a lane at the pool. I just can't get it right. I feel like I've lost my center so I can't catch the balls that are flying at me unless they come right to my glove. I'm trying to balance on one leg so I keep falling when I don't want to let the ball that's a little over my head get past.
Finally, I was jolted into this final realization that my network doesn't have a monopoly on postmodern thoughts about the Divine. I was reading The Spirituality of Imperfection, a book that has made a profound impact on my soul to the point that it sits in my bathroom to give me daily reminders about how to look clearly at this adventure we call life.
This is what I read:
Those who think of themselves as "spiritual rather than religious" tend to equate religion with belief, and therefore with doctrine and authority; with worship, and therefore with the organization of community and its boundaries; with rewards and punishments, and therefore with greed and fear. Such negative consequences need not always follow from the religious impulse: they are indeed perversions of it. But as historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan confessed with more than a little pain: "Religious belief is notorious for encouraging a sense of 'us' against 'them.' . . . The words of the hypocrite in the New Testament, 'God I thank thee that I am not as other men as,' are, unfortunately, a prayer that has been uttered, or at any rate felt, everywhere."How does spirituality differ from this? In the first place, spirituality has nothing to do with boundaries: Only the material can be bounded, and the first thing that "the spiritual" is not is material. The term spirituality was first used in ancient times as a contrast to materialism and signified attention to spiritual as opposed to material realities. "Spiritual realities" were understood quite simply as those that, like the wind or the frangrance of the rose, one experienced but could not literally see, touch, or especially, possess in the sense of command.
Look at that distinction between a set of things that must be believed and living in a way that gets us closer to God's intent for our lives. Look at that description of the modern world in which everything needs to conquer (command) everything else versus the postmodern world in which discovery is the objective. Did Brian McLaren write this?
This book is actually written by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham and is about the underlying theology that is celebrated in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In watching my brother and his friends, I have often said that if more churches were like AA meetings, everyone would go to church. Recovering alcoholics know and continuously remind one another that they are broken simply because they are human and therefore, they need to submit to God, even if she is represented by that doorknob over there. They find strength to work towards being better (at everything) in their mutual admission of not being very together in the first place.
People in churches often talk about being broken before. But then they found Jesus and now everything is shiny. But that's not the truth. We continue to be broken even after we realize God's grace exists. But we don't find strength in that truth because we don't admit it.
When you glue things together, often you rough up the two surfaces before applying the glue so that the glue has something to grip. If you try to glue two smooth surfaces together, the glue often peels off.
When we try to create community by only offering our shiny and smooth sides, the bonds we form with other people are not very strong and can be broken easily by applying pressure from a different angle.
In the emerging Christianity movement, we have a lot to learn from the experience of others: urban churches, Catholic contemplatives, and recovering alcoholics. I'm excited to get started.