I am emergence.

[photo by tarotastic]

Do you remember that “I am spartacus” scene where everyone decides to take a stand of solidarity and support for a weary gladiator?  Well, this is not quite as dramatic and this will be no huge revelation to many, but let me stake my claim, add my voice to the chorus and encourage others to boldly proclaim, “I am emergence.”

Now I know, that in my own little world of grand delusions, if anyone takes notice of this, there will be plenty of folks from left to right who are going to say some version of the following,

“See, I told you so, he is one of those emergent, sell-out, hippie, anything-goes, wishy-washy, stands-for-nothing, fad-loving, trying-to-do-something-new-that-is-not-really-new, Bible-optional, Jesus-who? cool-kid, tradition-hating, “a-generous-orthodoxy”-loving, not-sure-if-he-is-even-Christian-anymore so-and-so.”

And while I want to be liked as much as the next person, sorry to say, there is not much I can do about other people’s perceptions. This is what many think of me and others who are having conversations about “emergence.”  But . . for those that know me, the church I serve and what I ACTUALLY say and believe you know that when people describe me as such, I have no idea who they are actually talking about.  Part of me thinks there must be some BRC Doppelganger out there on the loose.

Still, I have never really claimed the descriptor “emergent” because it is so loaded.  Emergent has a gazillion different understandings, it seems to draw both defenders and attackers and well . . . I am just not that interested in entering into that particular debate.  I have tried to help bring some clarification to some of the characteristics about the concept, I have critiqued some aspects of the emergent church movement/s and have given plenty of foundations about my life pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a person of color in the US, a Christian in San Francisco, etc. . . that find resonance with the concept of “emergence.”

A few nights ago however, I thought to myself, “I have been talking with a great many people about and around this wide bounded set called ‘emergence’ so I should probably just go ahead and say something.”  Again, this is not meant to be some big “reveal” but an offering to a conversation that many if us are having.  More importantly it is a challenge to those in leadership today, especially for those of is who find joy in serving within the context of traditionally mainline church culture, to really put some words – and actions – to what I think is an amazing and opportune time of church reformation and transformation.

So here is a start at putting something together, not so much a “statement of faith,” but an acknowledgment and claiming of some realities that inform and guide my life and ministry.  I like the term “emergence”over “emergent” because it gives a feeling of movement and discovery.  There is, OF COURSE, much missing, but I think it is enough to get some conversations going. I did, however, give myself a 140 word limit to offer some guidelines . . . see, told you I am not an anything-goes kinda guy ;-)

I am emergence . . .

because I believe that Jesus called us into individual and communal lives that are inspired and fueled by the wonderfully ambiguous, immeasurable and nuanced challenge of BEING the church;

because I believe the “T”ruth that God speaks to humanity must be discovered and rediscovered through a consistent and exhibited life of shared authority, communal theologizing and institutional fluidity;

because I believe that the political, theological and ecclesiastical “other” is discerning God’s calling on their lives just as faithfully as I am, but do not feel the need to stay in relationships that are confined by false, forced or unjust relationships;

because I embrace, respect and stand up for world that is does not exist in controllable and unyielding bounds of culture, class, sexuality, gender, economies, geography . . .;

and because I just am.


I also invited folks via this tweet to join in. Here are some of the responses.  Go ahead and send me some links and I’ll try to add yours to the mix.

From tdshoemaker

I am: peacemaking,
discovering,
meditating,
co-creating,
building new relationships,
journeying . . . [read more]

From abbykk

i am emerging. i believe God is constantly changing me, calling me, revolutionizing me.  God has called me to creatively use all my gifts, particularly my artistic gifts, in worship.  God has called me to . . . [read more]

From shawncoons

I wrestle alongside others in my church with what it means for this group of Christians to follow Jesus’ calling in a world that is like and unlike the world in which our faith was formed . . . [read more]

From iggyinMontana

emerging is the eternal conversation started with God at the beginning of creation and continues today in believers. [read more]

From landomw

In my past I had lived by the philosophy of progression, but that implies that something is left behind.  I now say “I am emergence,” because, while some old dichotomies are transcended, they are also included in the new life that now is. [read more]

From theopoetic

* God is imaginative, creative in His/Her goodness which bears reckless promises and limitless possibilities

* God will not abandon us—His/Her wayward Pilgrim Church—no matter what issues or challenges of the day we may face—God through Christ is always with us

[read more]

From dtatusko

Theology and doctrine are social objects, are fallible, and in need of constant revision, reconfiguration, and creative reconstruction lest they become arbitrary idols to prop up the powerful and oppress the weak. [read more]

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16 comments

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  • GretchenG  

    Thank you for thoughtful lists that “emerge” as a way to understand what’s beyond description.  I’m emergent because I believe God inhabits the world through community, and we are invited to shape how that happens in respectful, energized, creative ways.  I recently watched with great sadness as the church I served and thought understood what it meant to be in creative ministry rose up and rejected all we had built together.  It was a watershed moment for me, but I’m still confident that God is at work in the world and there are other communities to support that work.I’m grateful to be part of bringing hope to those who think the church has no place for them, and to encourage the ways each person’s faith “emerges” from this new primal stew we’re creating.

  • BelovedSpear  

    I’m still not sure I’m emergence. On the one hand, I strongly appreciate the inclusive openness and discourse I find in those who self-identify as emergent. It’s good stuff. On the other, I find that emergent volk tend not to just right up and say: I’m emergent/ce because in this movement I feel the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work.
    Some do. But more often than not emergence is articulated in terms that seem academically disconnected with that which should underlie any deep movement of the Church. So I remain unsure. Hopeful, though…

  • Terry Chapman  

    Thanks Bruce. I know. Im tired too but grieve further separations in the hope for some more just context. However, I know that for some the times has come to move on.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Terry – Thanks for such a thoughtful reflection and push back. Totally hear you and on some days, right there with you. But . . . beyond even the Presbyterian things, I have had too many friends/colleagues that have found that the PC(USA) is not a place they can be fully who they are as GLBT pastors. I very much understand that need to NOT have to be fighting all the time. And while I am not sure that those who are talking about new structures would see themselves in the same light, I do know that there are many who feel like they are now in a place where they cannot be who God is calling them to fully be.
    When it comes to Presbyterian rifts, I have to trust that people are discerning God’s calling on their lives as individuals and congregations. If they should choose to leave, we find gracious AND just ways to honor the past, present and future of particular place. Yes, I grieve when a church chooses to live, but at the same time, if relationships hamper any growing into who God intends, then I can rest in the hope that some realignment will free all of us.
    My two cents.

  • Terry Chapman  

    Bruce, I love your reflection. I struggle with one thought. You wrote: “…but do not feel the need to stay in relationships that are confined by false, forced or unjust relationships.” I wonder if these broken relationship are worth staying with. I think so … but it feels a bit like exile:
    the exile plan…
    On this morning’s walk
    there were many young cedars
    bent over by the weight of the snow.
    But with one slight touch
    the burden fell and
    they sprung back to life.
    I long for such a touch.
    I am heavy in heart as I consider the unfolding conversation with the PC(USA). News flash… the church is broken and everyone therein. So in order to fix this brokenness some want to form a “more faithful church so we can focus more on mission” and not be so “distracted by our brokenness” so that we can “build an ecumenical consensus with the majority of Christian around the world.” etc. etc.
    And the God of the wound weeps…. And I feel the burden of exile in exile… from the world and the church
    Here are a few thoughts to add to the conversation:
    Our Book of Order states: “The church affirms ‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,’ that is, the church reformed, always reforming’ also (not Latin in the book of Order) “secundum verbum dei” – “according the the Word of God.” As if to claim a higher ground for their particular point of view some claim this as the centering hermeneutic. But what is intended here is a christological and not a bibliological centering, thus the capital W in Word. In no way does this diminish the importance of the revealed and accepted canonical text. But the text is not the center, Christ is. And Christ is revealed not only in scripture as it speaks to the church from the past but also from the future as Christ ushers in the Reign of God’s peace and justice. The Book of Order goes on (I don’t hear this quoted as much in the conversations) to add “…and the call of the Spirit.” Now the wind is blowing in a direction that may not be nailed down by text or by those who desperately long for a closed wound and a settled consensus.
    I recall the words of Carl Jung, “God enters through the wound,” and also Pete Rollins book, The Fidelity of Betrayal. Speaking about the Bible, literalism, interpretation, and a host of other bible-related things, Pete writes, “The words of the text, like Christ, are wounded.” I thought this was an interesting “christological hermeneutic,” a way of moving toward both an approach to, and an understanding of, the biblical text.
    Rather than expecting a clear path, with a rarified dogmatic faithfulness, and clear ecumenical consensus, Rollins argues that the text, God, faith etc. lead us not to clarity but approach and hold something that is always “frustratingly elusive,” it is not a new thought, but it is nice to be reminded of in a fresh way the core reformed understanding of “semper reformanda” (always reforming or more accurately always being reformed).”
    Rollins continues, “The claim that the Bible is the Word of God, whether true or not, makes sense only if it refers to the source of the gaps between the words; or more precisely, the source of the irreducible Gap within the words themselves. God’s word is thus testified to indirectly by the parallactical nature of the text itself, being communicated by the rich, weaving web of wounded words that testify to the happening of a divine event.” (p. 57) In my conversations with people in the emerging church I have found much more tolerance of what seems like ambiguity in this approach to the bible.
    Will further divisions (as in a non-geographic synod, or a general splintering of the denomination) in the church heal our wounds so we can get on with mission?
    For me the crux of the matter lies in these questions: Is the future of the church as it anticipates and participates in the reign of God dependent on closing the wounds? Or are the wounds we carry a mark of our faithfulness to the God who is the wound? I’m inclined to believe the latter reflects the “call of the Spirit” that is blowing through the PC(USA) today.

  • Jo Ann Staebler  

    Something within wants to repent of saying “I am . . .” anything. Instead: The Divine Life in me is constantly emerging–a little more each day.

  • Maria Kettleson Anderson  

    I really love your qualification that emergence be defined by what I stand for and believe in — and NOT by what I am against.
    I embrace emergence because I believe TRUTH is real and unchanging, and because I believe emergence is pursuing that real and unchanging TRUTH in a way that respects the proper place of certainty, uncertainty, community, and shared authority of persons under the full authority of TRUTH found in the Triune God.
    Thanks for your leadership in this “shared authority of persons under the full authority of TRUTH found in the Triune God”, Bruce!

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Teri – Thanks. Yeah, it seems as if we are too often afraid to say what seems so obvious to everyone. Because . . . heaven forbid, we might do something to change the situation. Maybe a little mean, but really, if a relationship is only built on things that are no longer important aspects of the relationship, then the relationship is bound to not matter to anyone. Again . . . thanks for stopping by. – Bruce

  • teri  

    this: “I do not feel the need to stay in relationships that are confined by false, forced or unjust relationships;” is exactly where I think I and the congregation I serve are…particularly regarding relationships with leadership. This makes things like “temporary pastoral relations” very difficult because they feel forced and fake, and we know the person isn’t going to stick around to be part of our story and is not really interested in being part of the communal story…so they lack credibility and authority. I don’t think that’s a bad thing–it’s just something I’ve noticed that I feel like you’ve given voice to in some way. thanks.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    And this is what I love about this “movement” of culture. It crosses lines, but does not abolish them . . . in fact, it could make our particular contexts that much more vibrant.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Okay . . . really, “emergence” just feels right. Might be more of an embodiment of the concepts for me as well. As far as a definition, you are absolutely right, but I think there are some descriptors and characteristics that one can find some resonance and commonality. I do not think there will be any definition that WILL come come out because emergence is really is more descriptive and experiential of a context than well defined. In other words, you know when you know . . .

  • Jane  

    Your quote “see I told you….” sounds like a lot of Episcopalians I know, myself included.

  • NicodemusLegend  

    I’m curious as to why you chose “emergence” over “emerging.” I get the benefit over “emergent,” but I’ve never seen anyone use “emergence” in this context before, whereas “emerging” has a fairly widespread use, and seems to evoke the same qualities you cite for “emergence,” at least to me.
    I’m not sure I’m ready to sign on to this just yet. Not because I think I’m not “emergence/emerging” necessarily, but because I don’t think there’s really a definition out there to latch on to, and if it means merely what *I* make it mean… well, I don’t see that I’ve added any real value to claiming the term.

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