Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Color, Snappy Weather & Flocks of Birds

We interrupt this blogging hiatus for a cross-post on every blogger’s favorite subject: autumn.

I realize that the autumnal equinox was technically on September 22nd this year, but it’s the transition to October that usually seals the deal for me.

While every seasonal change is well and good, and brings with it something new, what I love about autumn is the feeling of shedding – of shaking off the old, letting go of what is no longer nurturing.

(Never fear – I also still love lattes, cozy blankets, anything pumpkin, and all other requisite fall activities and accoutrements.)

I’ve posted it before, but I am drawn back every year to my favorite literary excerpt about autumn, from Kaye Gibbons’ The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster:

Watch me walk, I carry my hands to the sides. I don't lurch or slope. There's not a hunchback dome on my back. I can walk rested in the shoulders and loose armed, or I can walk with dignity, like a queen. After three years here, it's only loose ends left to manage, but when the list of things you have left to do on yourself includes items such as healing from terror that comes and goes and frequently gets in your way, it looks like the large job of work it still is. The good news was I was on the brink of October.

If you think about October's role in the calendar, you'll see it was custom-created to relieve the sensation of unsettledness and the mingling fears and needs that still edged in if I took a brief vacation, and let my mentalities go lax the way people my age who don't have to feel old as vampires have the privilege to do. October promises a difference and brings it, the changes it says are coming always come. When the air crispens, it splurges on symbols, dropping beautiful proof at your feet. It doesn't lie or leave out, saying death will be around eventually but only because life was already here, and here's some color and snappy weather and flocks of birds flying south to allow you to breathe deeply in trust that the universe knows what to do and when to do it. There won't be haywire shocks to wound the sky and shatter down another dose of jagged edges. October knows you've had enough.

Also (because: October.) I feel the need to pay homage to my home state, in which I always find beauty:

"You Run Deep In Me" - Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism from Jones Film Video on Vimeo.

Here’s hoping the blustery winds blow in some much needed blog inspiration – it’s way too quite around these corners, y’all!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

I Am Emergent Village

Once upon a time, I didn’t have a clue what “emergence” was, much less that I should be confused over clarifying if I meant “Emergent,” “emerging” or “emergence” (please don’t ask me to try, I’m out of migraine meds.) 

In the summer of 2006, I attended a Sojourners conference as a part of their young leaders program (barely made the age cut). Brian McLaren was there, and folks were pretty excited about him, so as much as I can recall that was my first real introduction into talk ofemergence/emergent/emerging church. 

Since that time I have read books, participated in conversations, attended conferences, formed friendships through social media, nurtured relationships, critiqued, challenged, dreamed, raged, created – and even briefly co-pastored a church associated with the emergent conversation. 

I have been inspired, confused, disgusted, hurt, healed and encouraged through participation in the emergent conversation. I am not the same person I was in 2006, and it is because of this conversation – for better and for worse. 

Emergent Village is not a safe space. It is messy and confrontational and, in its intentional desire to be open to diverse perspectives, completely unpredictable. I completely understand friends who have walked away from, and even expressly condemned, Emergent Village because of the hurt and damage they have experienced through neglect of their concerns, oppression of their personhood, or presence of triggers that bring to mind past, more overt, spiritual abuse. 

Emergent Village is also a place of growth. It opens up space for those primarily of an evangelical background to come together and discuss their journey from fundamentalism to where they are now or where they are going: new experimental expressions of faith community, a return to more rooted and liturgical expressions of church, atheism or post-theism, and even a reclaiming of evangelicalism itself. For many, it has been a place to walk with one another through spiritual transitions and wrestle with what that journey does and does not look like for each of us. 

I have spent much of the last seven years in defense mode: defending what was said and what wasn’t said, what was done and what wasn’t done, who was included and who was excluded. I have spent the last 6 months energized by what I’ve seen happening in the emergent conversation. After yet another conference where we spent weeks discussing these same tired frustrations, I have seen renewed interest in conversations of privilege and oppression and inclusion and listening and learning. I have seen this shift taking place in places like SogoMedia and TransForm and grassroots Open Conversations. Emergents talking to emergents about what practices we need to be incorporating into our gatherings and conversations to make mutual liberation a reality. No more bullshit. 

It would seem the “rose” at the “gathering center” of emergence may be a bit more of a tornado. 

These last few weeks have been an interesting time to be a part of Emergent Village. There has been a lot of pushback from those outside (or on the fringes) of the emergent conversation. There has been discussion within the conversation on how to listen to those voices. There have been folks with traditionally held power (prominence/exposure) within the conversation asking us not to participate in the critique. There have been folks refusing to be silenced by continuing to call for accountability. 

Most recently, a post at Emergent Village Voice Blog set off a new line of critique against the emergent conversation. First, I affirm the hurt and anger felt by many at the assumptions in this post. However, I was greatly disappointed that Tony Jones, who has been fighting his own battle of feeling unfairly criticized for his dismissive public tone, automatically responded to the post with a dismissive comment that did not further the conversation. While those offering constructive critiques of Tony’s style have been criticized, he certainly did not model an example of generative conversation. (While I know the recent Homebrewed Christianity post has received its own fair share of criticism and critique, I feel the way the conversation is being curated is a healthy example of how we can navigate difficult and controversial dialogues.) 

“Above all, we became convinced that living into the Kingdom meant doing it together, as friends. Thus, we committed ourselves to lives of reconciliation and friendship, no matter our theological or historical differences… By 2001, we had formed an organization around our friendship, known as Emergent, as a means of inviting more people into the conversation.” 

Given the above, I assert the following:

1.      Being an attempt at reconciling conversation, despite our differences, Emergent Village is responsible for modeling a better communication model – one where we discuss ideas rather than attacking people, one where we ask clarifying questions rather than rattle off dismissive statements.

2.      Being a space that welcomes theological and historical differences, Emergent Village is responsible for admitting we are not a safe space for those who have experienced various forms of oppression in their life and church experiences. We cannot be both a place for folks who are still wrestling with fundamentalist understandings of women or LGBTQ or even doubt AND a safe space for those who are walking in the freedom of their wholeness. There should be no guilt or shaming of people who leave the space because of this reality.

3.      If you are part of the conversation – you bear part of the responsibility. I will not wash my hands of what is happening in one part of Emergent Village simply because I do not have a hand in it. I may rarely read the blog (and judging by comments on other posts, neither does anyone else), but I do attend gatherings, I do participate in the Facebook group, I do associate myself with the movement.

Therefore, I am saying: I Am Emergent Village. And I will hold myself accountable for critique of EV, and for moving the conversation forward. I will promote what I see as positive conversations outside of EV (from Parish Collective to discussions of multi-ethnic diversity to Queer Theology). I will continue to participate in discussions of privilege and diversity and power and humility. I will own that being in a conversation means offending both those who feel oppressed by their personhood being up for discussion, and those who feel unfairly criticized because their theology does not allow them to affirm women as autonomous beings, privilege as a systemic reality or LGBTQ persons as whole, rather than something sinful to be cured or tolerated or allowed. 

I confess that I have an agenda in the conversation – because emergence implies emerging toward something – and because I believe that something is a wholistic place where every voice is valued and no one is dominated, and I believe in living into that reality even as I wait for it to come about. For me, this reality is rooted in the love of God, the teachings of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit.  

I am Emergent Village. 

I am responsible for those who have been hurt by the conversation. 

I am responsible for not being honest about the conversation. 

I am responsible for deflecting critique of the conversation. 

I am responsible for listening. 

I am responsible for learning. 

I am responsible for growing. 

“Everything is not enough. Nothing is too much to bear. Where you been is good and gone, all you keep is the getting there. Well to live’s to fly, aw low and high – so shake the dust off of your wings and the sleep out of your eyes.” ~ Townes Van Zandt

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

On Abstinence, Austerity & Arrogance

“No one ever talks about it
But no one can disguise
The cloud of competition
That's hanging behind their eyes
There's more bad blood
In this bar than there is beer
And it's subtle but it still sucks
And I want out of here
We got egos like hairdos
They're different every day
Depending on how we slept the night before
Depending on the demons that are at our door”

~ Ani DiFranco

Two themes have intersected in my social media world, one being the recurring conversation on the lingering effects of the purity movement, the other being a critique of radical missional Christian practice.

The first conversation is one I have been participating in for years now, unpacking the baggage of my own experience with the True Love Waits and associated movements. 

The second conversation got my eyes rolling: “Really? These people have nothing better to do than critique a call to live more simply in order to live the way of Christ? They want so badly to give into the messages that a comfortable life will be fulfilling that they have to find something wrong with choosing to restrain your desires for more? 


[Insert deer-in-the-headlights look]

It didn’t take long to sink in, as much as I resisted with every fiber of my being: there’s some truth here. 

If I don’t sit, and breathe, and listen – I am missing an opportunity to start speaking positively into lives before they start resenting a beautiful and well-meaning movement the way I did. 

Here’s the thing – as much as I loudly & boldly critique the purity movement, I still see beauty in the practice of abstinence. 

And as much as I see beauty in the practice of austerity, I have to be willing to listen to even the quietest critiques that come up against it. 

Asceticism of any form can be a powerfully centering and freeing spiritual practice, and to step voluntarily into that discipline is to be commended. 

However, if history teaches us anything, it’s that the human ego is a powerful thing. When we are practicing a discipline, we want others to be just as passionate about that same discipline – it validates our own experience. Particularly young, zealous practitioners may be prone to wear the practice as a badge of superiority, even if they don’t explicitly state that. I know that my own practice of abstinence and everything I had been indoctrinated with put me in a place to unfairly judge those who, for whatever reason, did not follow the same discipline. As Ani said in her lyrics above, it was “subtle” but it still “sucks.”   

And when we are judging others by the standards that feed our egos, we are also judging ourselves. When we are unable to forgive others for being at a different place in their journey, we are unable to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves. We are unable to accept the grace and forgiveness we have already been given. We are unable to be a light along the way, and we end up stumbling in the dark, practicing control when we should be practicing love. 

So, I want to sit and listen, and hear the hurts of these students who don’t feel they’re living up to “purity” of a radical, missional lifestyle. And I don’t want to assume that their hurt comes from a desire to live a McDonaldized life in a gated suburb with the picture perfect family, but because they truly desire to walk an authentic path of love: love of God, love of their neighbor, love of their self. I want to help them see the variety of ways people are living out the idea of being an “ordinary radical” and of doing “small things with great love.” I want them to know their worth, so that they are free to open their hearts and shine into other lives, unveiling the worth of everyone they encounter.  

“I got my kitchen stocked
I got my door unlocked
There're no demons here
And I don't really care
Whose name is printed in bigger type
You know I live in a world full of hope
Not a world full of hype
I ain't no saint
I help myself to what I need
But I help other people too
I sleep soundly”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Show Your Work

Remember that annoying little note your math teacher use to write on your homework in red ink? The one that indicated that she might possibly be on to the fact that you were bright enough to discover the answer key in the back of your textbook? The one that insisted that for some ridiculous reason she wanted to know how you actually got to your answer, when you were perfectly content with simply the answer itself? 

Show your work. 

Now, sometimes there were legitimate reasons for not showing your work. Perhaps, the way your brain functions, the answer really was just that obvious, and you really did do all of the work in your head. Perhaps the answer was really, really tough to come by. Maybe after trying to get to the answer ten different ways on both sides of two pieces of scratch paper, you were just really, really happy to have an answer you felt confident in, and there was just no energy left over to neatly copy the correct solution process over to your worksheet. Maybe you WERE one of the na├»ve students who thought you were the only one who noticed the answers were printed near the glossary of the book. Maybe you simply forgot your teacher liked to know how you arrived at your answer, until her powerful red pen set forth to remind you. 

Show your work. 

Why aren’t the answers enough? Especially if they’re the right answers? 

Aren’t there more pressing issues in life then how I solved for X? Especially after I’ve already found X? 

But good educators want us to know how we got to a solution, so they know we know how we got to that solution, so we can get to future solutions, and so we can show others how to get to solutions, too. 


I’ve been mulling over something RachelHeld Evans shared this weekend. Some girlfriends and I went up to hear her talk about her experience writing A Year of Biblical Womanhood. We drove up on Saturday, stopped to stuff ourselves on Central American food for lunch, rested, went to hear Rachel speak, took Rachel out to eat pie, went to bed, woke up, walked the prayer labyrinth at the local Benedictine monastery, and went to hear Rachel again before driving home. Whew.

The Sunday morning session was much less presentation and much more Q&A. Rachel received lots of interesting questions and did a good job of sounding confident and casual in her responses. One made me giggle because it’s one I get all the time – basically “Now that you know you’re allowed to preach and pastor and lead, are you going to go to seminary?” But that’s a post for another day.  

The topic that really stuck with my soul was her response to a question about… well, to be quite honest, I can’t remember what the question actually was. Maybe it was about how she views mainline churches as an evangelical… or what she’s learned from speaking in so many mainline churches around the country… or what advice she has for mainliners. Luckily, the question is beside the point. What held weight for me was not the question, but rather Rachel’s response.  

You see, over the past year, I have seen generic “invitations” from several well-meaning friends inviting all the wandering evangelicals to join their mainline congregations where they’ve already settled the issue of open communion, or women in ministry, or marriage equality, or divergent theologies coexisting at a common table. These were not poorly written, or badly reasoned, or even written in an off-putting tone. They were legitimate, sincere, compassionate invitations. 

Many of us former (or questioning, or conflicted) evangelicals appreciate the parish model of many mainline churches. We appreciate the practices observed behind your red doors and under your bell towers and steeples. We appreciate the rooted history permeating the aged wooden pews. (Those of us in the Bible Belt have also experienced mainline churches that differ from the evangelical churches in history and polity only, but operate with much of the same expectations.) 

We appreciate the slow work that has been done in community to come to many of the conclusions of the mainline churches. But we need more. We don’t just need your invitations to come under your umbrella – we need you to show your work.  

As Rachel pointed out, many young people in mainline denominations are invited by friends to evangelical events, where they are inundated with the “biblical” reasons against such-and-such belief or practice. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those of us raised in the evangelical church were raised to believe you came to your positions because you don’t care about the Bible and you just wanted to justify your sins. 

True story. 

It’s not enough for us to know you hold those truths to be self-evident. We need to know you struggled as we are now. We need to work out our answers on our own scratch-paper, but we need your legacy – we need to see your work. We need to know how you solved for X, so we know our process is part of a larger story.

What kind of conversations did you have? What kind of questions did you ask? How did the story of scripture inform your positions? 

I believe that scripture informs our decisions in the church through slow reading, in concert with the Holy Spirit, discerned and applied in community. I do not believe that mainline churches have reached their theological positions out of contempt for scripture or malice toward God. I believe their positions have been reached by being in local community with other believers, rooted in a history of engagement with scripture, listening to the stories of the people they are in relationship with, opening their hearts to the holy spirit, and discerning how best to apply the teachings of Jesus in our context.  

Here’s the thing: I believe the same thing about evangelicals. Though I do believe some newer communities pop up because they do not want to be confronted with the listening aspect (“We are going to break off & do our own thing, because we don’t want to listen to your story & have our beliefs challenged…”). 

Instead of simply inviting us to join you, because you’ve already answered our questions, point us toward resources. What books are out there telling the story of how you solved for X? Invite us to coffee – encourage us on our own journey, and tell us the story of your own. Listen to us – there may be things we’ve learned by going through our own process that may have fallen by the wayside of your path. Be careful not to come across as having already figured it all out – because, quite frankly, we’ve had enough of that. 

And don’t just do it for us, do it for your children and your youth and your wandering (or questioning, or conflicted) mainline prodigies. Share the stories of work that has gone into a communal understanding of the innate value of each and every member of the body of Christ… and, for that matter, the innate value of each and every creation of God. 

There’s a lot of hard work that has been done in the history of the Church. 

Don’t take that legacy for granted. 

Share your stories. 

Show your work.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Never Fails.

Oh, who are we kidding?

Love fails all the time.

Little experiments in love are dropping like flies around us every day.

But here's the thing about love:

Despite our missteps, love never loses its energy & possibility.

So - go for it. Take a chance. Get messy. Fall down. Good gracious, get back up! Dust yourself off and try, try again.

Practice love every day in extraordinarily ordinary ways. Try to love the folks you get along with, and the folks you'd rather not be around. Love the folks who get you and the folks who make your blood boil. Practice love toward the girl in the checkout line, and the man directing you through a construction zone, and the jerk who just cut you off in traffic, and the person who interrupted your me-time, and neighbor you often see but seldom speak with.

Give it a try. It doesn't have to be fancy. It may not be returned (part of loving someone is allowing them their autonomy to not love you back). It may look like a failure. But take heart!

The practice of love is never a failure, no matter the outcome.

Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. Go forth in love.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love Always Perseveres...

“People always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities. Who wouldn’t? Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of it.’? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Commited: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

“Relationships are treated like Dixie cups. They are the same. They are disposable. If it does not work, drop it, throw it away, get another. Committed bonds (including marriage) cannot last when this is the prevailing logic. Most of us are unclear about what to do to protect and strengthen caring bonds when our self-centered needs are not being met.” ~ bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love Always Hopes...

“To love another is like prayer and can't be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.” ~ Anne Sexton

“Know your own happiness. Want for nothing but patience - or give it a more fascinating name: Call it hope.” ~ Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility