Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Daffodils, Cheesecake and the Emerging Church

(Originally published in Bread Blog, March 24, 2009)

What is the relationship between daffodils and cheesecake? They both served as centerpieces at a recent conference about the Emerging Church, sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. Both are also very powerful symbols of a very rich weekend of reflections and sharing.

The cheesecake (and the chocolate cake) that were offered for dessert after the Saturday evening meal seemed a little too rich to eat all at once. This was the case with the flow of ideas and discussions.

The daffodils, a common symbol of spring, represented the sense of rebirth, convergence, and emergence that emanated from the discussions.

At the risk of leaving out important pieces of information, I will attempt to briefly address the spirit of the discussions. The obvious question: What is it that the church in all its various manifestations and denominations is "emerging" from? I can answer this in one word: institutionalism.

But it goes even beyond that. Presenters like Alexie Torres-Fleming, Shane Claiborne and Karen Sloan suggested that our motivation must change from being simply "fans" of Jesus to truly become "followers" of Jesus. This means that the values that were most dear to Jesus, such as walking with the poor and simplicity, must become the center of our own faith experience.

One of the presenters noted an inscription on a banner that said "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?"

Presenter Phyllis Tickle quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that church had become a place to go more than a people to be.

But as Father Richard Rohr, Rev. Brian McLaren and the other presenters warned us, it's not about creating a new institution, but about promoting a conversion within our own existing structures. We see our discontent as the very reason we engage the church not disengage.

Shane Claiborne put it in a different and more humorous way: The way I see it is like Noah's Ark. It stinks inside. But if you get out, you drown.

The discussion, in fact, is about whether we should even call it "emerging church" or "emergent church." A common suggestions is to call the movement "emerging Christianity"The passion for change is reaching across the spectrum of Christian denominations, from the liturgical (Roman Catholic-Anglican/Episocpalian) to the Emerging23 reformation denominations (Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, etc..) to Charismatic, Evangelical and other traditions. All were represented at the conference.

In addition to the rich variety of traditions, the event attracted scores of younger persons (under 40), who are drawn to this emerging way of looking at spiritual growth that promotes linking contemplation (a deep personal relationship with the creator) with solidarity with those who are disenfranchised; social justice and holistic mission; and the creation of authentic community.

To get a greater sense of the movement, I recommend that you read the October-December issue of Radical Grace, where the presenters offered their reflections. The Emergent Village blog also deals extensively with the subject of Emerging Church and Emerging Christianity.

Bread for the World's Role

Emerging4 So, in the larger scheme of things, how does this apply to our work at Bread for the World? We are still trying to figure out where our movement fits in this transition.

But I do have one clear example. A Bread for the World member from a community in central New Mexico mentioned to me that it would be difficult to set up an Offering of Letters at his church because of opposition from the higher-ups.

But in our discussion, we agreed that for now, letter-writing would not have to be confined to the institution, but that members could meet in community to write letters. By doing this, they would at least have some members of the church writing letters instead of not being able to use their advocacy gifts on behalf of the poor. And hopefully, the small letter-writing activity could become a stepping stone to eventually bring it to the full church.

Additionally, Bread for the World is in the process of reviewing its grassroots organizing strategies, and the values and recent trends related to the Emerging Church/Emerging Christianity are sure to become part of the conversation.

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