Tuesday, February 13, 2007

what do you see?

"What's the emerging church? How about the submerging church? What's so different about this movement from what happened in the 'candles and coffee' church? I'm not hearing anything new."

Because of my own inclination toward this expression of being church I'm asked frequently to bring clarity, and perhaps even justification (at least that's how I feel it), to something that is experienced by many as elusive and merely a fad that, with time, will just die out. The feeling I continue to be left with in every attempt to describe this movement is mere inadequacy. Trying to bring clarity to a movement/conversation that is as fluid and sticky as honey is challenging and despairing. Challenging because I desperately want others to understand the significance of something that has touched me deeply. Despairing because I often feel misunderstood and dismissed.

And so the best way to begin speaking about the emerging conversation, church within a post(beyond)modern culture, is by asking 'what do you see?' It is a movement that asks for engagement rather than description. Using all of one's senses to uncover, discover, recover the presence of the holy in our midst. The mere question, 'what is the emerging church?', sets itself up for failure because a response in such a form as the question demands and expects is a descriptive and theorhetical one.

These images speak to me about the difficulty of getting at something that is beyond description and moves more into experiential 'knowing.' I suppose a similar understanding could accompany our responses in terms of someone outside (I'm not comfortable anymore with this kind of language as in the beyond-modern culture insider/outsider, sacred/secular distinctions are not made as much of a deal, but for the sake of conversation will use it) the church/faith/God who asks us what it means to have a relationship with God. Will any of our descriptions really be adaquate? Are we just saying then, in egotistical and arrogant fashion, that you just don't understand right now but someday you will?

There is something inherently beautiful and ugly in describing beyond our sensibilities. Language, of course, seeks to point beyond itself and, 'in a mirror dimly', expresses blurred realities from a particular perspective...mine, that may or may not be shared by you.

So the question remains, what is this thing and how do we describe it? What do you see? Can we agree on what we see in the ink blot? Is the mirage of this movement lost by the time you actually arrive, if arriving is the destination? What about the picture of me with my wife and child? Can any words shared with you on the phone, via email, or on paper likely give you a sense of who we are...the totality of all that we are? I'm guessing you'd answer like me and say no. You get to know us by living with us, laughing and disagreeing with us, day in day out. Then the question becomes, for how long? How long do you live with me/us to know us fully? Could it ever even happen?

This is the blessing/curse of the emerging church. But beyond it, I think this is the blessing/curse of being church in general and being in God/Jesus. There are hints and seasonings of who we are, but at what point do we really say...now I fully understand?

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