Saturday, September 18, 2004


……but I haven’t lost my sense of awe.

(I just drove a bus for 11 hours, so I've either had time to think or I've lost a few beans).

I am not the first to voice weariness with the limitation of language in attempting to define the deeper realities of what we think God is doing. It is not inconceivable that most terminologies that have stuck probably haven’t been levied by those quietly and solemnly pushing and forging ahead in what others have called the “emerging church” (a term I shall use for lack of a better one….AND on that note, why that name stuck is beyond me……arguably, the only ones who could have had a legitimate conversation about an “emerging church” was Jesus’ disciples and maybe their disciples…..oh yeah, and maybe that Paul guy).

Perhaps most of these on the front lines of obscurity are not afforded the luxury of time in that endeavor of label-making. Usually, by the time most of us enter into the conversation, someone has already defined the terms. Sometimes having a voice means learning the language. But more to the point, most people actually living and doing this kind of church have entered into peoples lives in ways that the establishment have neglected or scoffed- and this not always out of intention. The relational requirements of church on this periphery leave no room for ulterior agendas and self-aggrandizement. Sticking with this is not due to the promise of glorious returns (for most of us). The reality of being underestimated and being underwhelming is ever persistent and is no respecter of persons. Too much of this is thankless, penniless and frankly exhausting due to the socio-economic choices and vocations we have intentionally made to de-position ourselves in this mode of ministry.

There is a much neglected spatial element to this issue as well. Someone’s fantastically-fascinating “simple/orgainic/missional/emerging church” is someone else’s Purpose Driven Church, etc. The “aha” experience of these new forms are at once intoxicating but in time are wanting. But I don’t think the problem lies solely in our undying quest for novelty. Some of us are just trying to get some of the first few things we learned right, and it is taking this lifetime.

I am longing for more signs of entrenchment and stability mingled with the same visionary capacities I have seen in this way of Kingdom-living. I love the conversations- I think they are necessary because doing church simply doesn’t mean you have to be a mental simpleton to do it. They are helping to shape our reality and enable our perspective.

Strange though….. it’s really hard to count on something that you value in this because it soon changes form. This is true in our organizational structures and in our relationships. In due time and with maturity, we may arrive at more of what we dream of- not because of its novelty but because we will have come full circle to true tradition and not mere traditionalism. Maybe the journey- with all of it’s inconsistencies, all of its perturbations and all of its incompetencies (real or imagined)- is a necessity.

Maybe I am not too foolhardy in believing that this thing…this (ugh) movement…..if it still moves……needs no name. In our attempt to name something we seek control over that thing. Those who have done the naming are those who have written the first books, and that was a while ago. How is it that so much of our cyberlosophizing about this “church emergency” is apologetic in nature? Before whom do we have to defend our calling? Before who’s flesh do we have to establish the legitimacy of our parish and our inclinations to do what we do in the way we’re wired to do it? Those whose parishes still reap from denominational coffers (such as mine) may answer quite differently from those who do not (but you already see my “answer”). From the blessings of financial support to the ball-and-chain of monthly reports, someone else’s money most always has the imbedded virus of a foreign agenda.

Yet I contend....where are our stories? Where are our narratives of impacted lives? What of the raw evidence of changed lives and lives being changed and even the lives that walked away from the possibilities of God? Why aren’t our blogs pouring forth with these stories from the fields? Why has every comfortable place and perch in the Blogdom of God become a launch pad for digital salvos on brothers and sisters? Have we taken ourselves too seriously to include the simplicity of story? What we need isn’t an emerging church. We need emerging stories.

All of our conceptualizations boil down to the faces of real people with real names and real problems that tend to bleed all over you the closer you get to them. Whether we succeed in linguistically taming this ecclesial beast with a two-edged sword for a tongue is one thing, but there is really nothing to which we can aspire other than being God’s person in God’s time and place with God’s people.