I first heard of the emerging church movement in an issue of Christian Century Magazine (see the articles here and here). Since that time, I have read several blogs of folks who are involved or intrigued with the "movement." Basically, in my limited understanding, the Emergent conversation is an attempt to bring theology, liturgy and community into a postmodern frame of being.

Its roots come out of the evangelical tradition, but there is speculation that it may appeal to those of us who call ourselves progressive. First and foremost, let me say that I am all for conversation that happens in a genuine community where people are capable and able to simply be who they are called by God to be. This, in essence is what I preach on Sundays, it is what I teach, and it is how I interact in counseling situations.

My attraction is two-fold. First, the understanding that people become post-conservative, post-liberal, post-insert label here. Second, is the emphasis on authentic community. There seems to be a genuine interest in "becoming" more than "doing" church. This is quite a different emphasis and one that I welcome. In the midst of all of this, there seems to be a desire for conversation that leads through "being" more Christ-like and on to acting like the community of faith.

There are some things that make me wary; and the first has to do with one of my attractions. Authentic community, great idea, difficult task. The idea of a community that is one giant enmeshed formless blob is not all that appealing to me. I recently read a blog that speaks, in part, to this concern (you can find it here).

The quote that is used at the top of this post reads "Community is a place where ego dies" written by Jean Vanier, a Catholic priest who serves in an L'Arch community. Now I would agree with his assertion that true community is the place where we are able to reach within and call out the very being that we were created to be. However, I take issue with this notion that the ego is something to be set aside.

The term ego, generally, is misused and maligned (similar to the way that the term schizophrenia is abused and misused) . It is talked about in reference to people who are considered self-involved or in relation to your garden variety narcissist. This use, while culturally appropriate, is not the only use. For me, the ego is a place where we go internally to feel grounded, and it is out of the ego that we can begin to function with some semblance of authenticity.

When I talk about the ego with the people I counsel, I liken it to a whiffle ball that sits at the core of our being. The unhealthy ego whiffle ball has holes that are either too big or too small. Thus, the person who controls the ego either lets too much in or out, or lets to little in or out. With these people, and by these people I mean all of us at one point or another, we find folks who lack appropriate boundaries or are too guarded. The person who is able to maintain a stable ego is the one who is capable of authentic living and sharing within a community.

The question, therefore, is which comes first? Does the person's ego become grounded through their participation in an authentic community, or does the authentic community come about through the gathering of grounded egos. It is equivalent to the chicken and the egg conundrum, and it is unanswerable except to say that they come about in conjunction with one another. I always remind people who become over-involved in community that the greatest commandment was to love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbors in that order.

The next part of the emerging conversation that interests and scares me, is the relative lack of input from a variety of cultures, genders, and dare I say, orientations. I will admit that my reading is limited on this subject, and therefore my questions are born out of knowledge, ignorance, and experience (or lack thereof). Mainly, my lament is that the female voice is not often heard enough when it comes to leadership. The books that are mentioned are by male authors, the articles in publications are written by men, for an example look here. It would be interesting to me to read an article about a feminine postmodern vision of what communities of faith should be.

My final fear is that this conversation will amount to nothing more than a revision of current practices to fit the next generation. When I meet with a person, the first thing I do is ask about their history. This has nothing to do with trying to fix it, solve it, or going back to live it again. It simply has to do with where have they been and how did it get them through my door. We are our experiences, our "baggage." We are the sum total of every encounter we have had with family, friend, enemy, mentor, animal, vegetable, and mineral; and this cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, my hope is that the conversation continues. I believe that there is a place for authentic community that upholds both the value of our individual createdness and the innate desire we have to "be" with one another. I am also not convinced that the church in which I am a minister is completely capable of creating this kind of space. I believe that there is great value in the traditions of my denomination and that true conversation means dialogue, and ultimately that means speaking and listening to the wisdom that surrounds us whatever the source may be.

grace and peace



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