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


Jeff said...

And I am too! Nice post!

Todd Erickson said...

That has to be the thing, I think. Who will open/respond with responsibility, accountability, and apology if necessary? That's the only way the conversation will move forward, is when it comes from a place of weak strength and compassion.

Jeff said...

I like where you comment in the EV blog post, "I would not write this post today, but if I look far enough back on my personal blog - I bet I could find something that sounds similar." That is ALL of our stories! I think we ALL need to be reminded of our personal transitions. It was thru patient, respectful, loving conversation that we found the courage to rethink our beliefs.

Bill said...

Reading Brian McClaren rocked my world and drew me into the emergent conversation. Hearing Phyllis Tickle helped me make sense of what is happening and why. The unanswered question is what will be waiting for us when we emerge from the tunnel?

As I've dug deeper into emergent Christianity--in books, blogs, podcasts and conferences--I've found gentle, compassionate voices. They have helped me immensely. But I've also found some snarky, angry, arrogant voices, who don't seem to me to be much different from the judgmental fundamentalists. They may not agree with each other, but they use the same tactics. I have found this to be particularly true of someone (who seems to have a rude, arrogant personality to begin with) who seems desperate to be relevant and authoritative. They leave me wondering whether the conversation has any ultimate value.

Some of the people driving these conversations just don't seem to be nice people. In demeanor and personality they seem to be the exact opposites of McLaren and Tickle. They aren't leaders (in the best sense of that word) and, it seems to me, are doing more harm than good.

Having said all that, the emergence will occur and is occuring. Five hundred years of Christianity may depend upon how we handle it (and in some cases how we behave) now.

I'd like to see more love. More mutual respect. A good start would be to refrain from saying anything to another person in a blog comment or social media site that we wouldn't say to them in person. Respect and engage all opinions, with courtesy and love.

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Love wins.

Just my two cents worth, which isn't worth much (but it feels good to be able to get it off my chest).

Thanks again for this great post.

Mike Clawson said...

Great post Kimberly. I found your second numbered point especially helpful - the one about not being able to be a safe place both for those who have experienced oppression by fundamentalists and for those who are still emerging from fundamentalism. I'd like to hope that both are possible, because both are needed, but I understand why those who have been burned and hurt in the past may not be able to simply coexist with those who are still denying their full humanity.

Not quite sure what to do about that. We can't hope to actually change the hearts and minds of oppressors unless we are patient with them through that process of change (I know I needed people to be patient with me when I was in process.) But it can't be seen as the obligation of the oppressed to be patient and understanding with their oppressors. I wonder, then, if there is perhaps a role for "allies" like myself to be that bridge. Not having been personally oppressed in the ways others have I can afford to be a more patient guide to others who are still emerging from their own position as oppressors.

Kimberly said...

Thank y'all for your comments.

I absolutely agree about the process of change. I think this is where the honesty comes in. The honesty that says - we are affirming, but we do not expect people to stick around and defend their personhood to even the most subtle oppression. I think EV has to be honest about being a bridge-building conversation - and I don't think that means we have to straddle the fence. I think it's ok to say that as a group we are affirming - and we're here to walk you through how we got to where we are. And we give those who are "over" that part of the conversation the absolute grace to be a part of conversations that are more wholistic for them - whatever the issue may be (from sexuality to skepticism). (God I hate that word - issue. Y'all know what I mean.)

I think we can keep the conversation going, welcome those who want to share their stories, and fully release with grace and affirmation those who do not. I think there's a very necessary need for that place of transition. But I think it has to be grounded in honesty.

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