emerging: listening, uniting, avoiding "-isms"
Andrew originally began a recent discussion with the comments…
When Andrew originally asked this question, I was uncomfortable with the idea that emerging church and preterism might be considered to be converging, but couldn’t right away articulate why. Fascinated by the development of the thread and the “mud-slinging” tone it took on, I forgot about it. Today I remembered… since that thread has now been closed, for reasons unrelated to what I would like to say, I’ve begun with another post.
The simple observation that I want to make is that the emerging movement / conversation / church is defined principally in terms of people emerging out from something, primarily evangelicalism, but also, for many, the restricting limitations of the culture and traditions of charismatic and pentecostal church, and, for others, from Anglicanism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, liberalism, conservatism et al. For that reason, uniting with any ‘ism’, any other movement, would be retrograde. That is not to say that people from every ‘ism’, from every kind of community, cannot join with the emerging movement / church / conversation. Quite the opposite is true.
I think the reason that Brian McLaren and his Generous Orthodoxy is a relatively (sic) defining idea for the emc (emerging movement, church or conversation, as you like) is because it invites us all into a shared, virtual theological space which is not defined by anyone, not even McLaren: it’s defined by whomever joins with, unites together in that space. Leaving aside the issue of limits, boundaries etc, for now, since there is not the same rush of Bhuddists, Hindus and Moslems as there are Christians into that space, the point is that this shared space offers the opportunity for community - for uniting around what we have in common.
And what is that? If we speak about Jesus that’s a good start… and we can perhaps gently find other elements with a degree of immediacy. But, in some ways, for a start the answer is “very little.” But that’s exactly what and why we are there exploring. Hence, at this juncture the important requirement is not to define the commonality of our belief systems, but to define - no to understand, with feeling and intuition, not definitions or mere rules - the basis upon which we want to relate. With this backdrop, I think the firm but thoughtful manner of Andrew’s intervention into the ‘Brian McLaren and Preterism’ thread has a clear and warranted justification. I’m not sure how long some of the combatents in that thread had taken to understand the unwritten rules of the OST site but to me there was no doubt some lines had been overstepped. But, as someone who has undoubtably been close those lines myself, in some of the exchanges I’ve been involved in, to say exactly where those lines are is not simple or clear - nor should it necessarily be.
A related controversy arose recently when members of both Catholic and Orthodox communities queried, on their own sites, the nature of the interactions on OST (see for example, ‘Jesus is God… yes & no!’). One comment in particular caught my eye when it suggested that, over here, we were all so “pleasant” to each other that it suggests we corporately suffered from a deep insecurity / insecurities and our parade of pleasantry was a thin mask for “real, tough, confrontational love” (my paraphrase). It was an interesting observation. I personally think there are other much better reasons for the polite and verbose forms of confrontation which tend to flavour OST exhanges and that is that many of us want to explore this “shared space” with others from different backgrounds and the common courtesy when exploring public spaces is to be aware of the offence that can easily be caused to other users of that space.
Exactly what the rules of common courtesy are though, are not as simply discovered as looking for a signpost at the local park “No ball games / don’t walk on the grass / no fouling” etc. The appropriate distance between you and the other families sitting around having a picnic on the beach - who sets that rule? And so on. In every public space the unwritten “rules” are discovered by respect, but also pushing the boundaries of respect sometimes, to provoke reaction, to stir the pot. There must be room for dissent, disagreement, discovery. The bet hamidrash method of study proposes nothing less and the echoes of it can be found at work here, within OST.
But the same principles need to have room found for them in any shared space. The ‘emc’, of course, is more than just internet forums and also more than just new congregations. It is a group of people, groups of people, communities, endeavouring to find ways of expressing community, to find ways of uniting around what they have in common. It is a journey, not a destination. That, simply put, is why every ‘ism’ needs to fade into personal and cultural backgrounds. Not only is it not polite to come riding into shared space with any intention to promote one’s own agenda still intact, but the wider point is that such misplaced enthusiasm disqualifies the personality or personalities involved from the vitality of being able to listen appropriately and effectively. And communities wherein effective listening is outgunned by talking can’t function in a healthy way.
Could that, perhaps, be one ground rule to which some communities, many emerging communities might want to abide:
shalom! - john