Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cynics and Lovers

There's no escaping it. Part of having an emerging church conversation is to critique the status quo of "traditional" church and denominational doctrines. There are a few problems with this. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the critique that we have little energy left to imagine and practice the alternatives. And sometimes, to be frank, those invested in maintaining the status quo, often with the best of intentions, accuse us of "arrogance" (or worse) for assuming we know better.

It doesn't do much good to point to reformers in history who critiqued the status quo (Luther, MLK, Jesus, the prophets), because then you're accused of arrogantly comparing yourself to them. However, there is also no escaping the fact that without critique, nothing changes. Progress in the church, and human development in general, starts when someone questions the present state of affairs. Sometimes we all benefit when we all reexamine where we are.

In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle points out that we do all have a role, even if we disagree. Some model new expressions of church, and explore the contours of our faith outside of traditional structures and mind-sets. Some advocate for change within existing institutions. And some carry on and are content within the existing structures, and help keep the rest of us honest. All add value to the process of change.

Finally, there are those of us who can, with the best of motives, come across as arrogant cynics. Andrew Byers points us toward a great remedy. “Disgust with an institution is not the same as love for a community...Since disillusionment is illumination — the (often painful) dispersal of illusion — cynics have much to offer the church if they can do so in love and in the direction of hope and praise..."

When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees, when he wept over Jerusalem, he always did so from a posture of deep love for his community. As we sense our disillusionment, or contentment, and agitate for change or to preserve, I pray that I and all of us will always do so in the way of Jesus.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Teaching, Learning and the Emergent Church Conversation

At right, Steve Knight joins the conversation with friends from Broward Cohort at The Field Irish Pub & Eatery.

The Emerging Church movement is often referred to as a "conversation emphasize its decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue... Those in the movement do not engage in aggressive apologetics or confrontational evangelism in the traditional sense, preferring to encourage the freedom to discover truth through conversation and relationships with the Christian community."

I've been having, hosting and facilitating "emerging church conversations" for over three years now. I've had them one-on-one, in traditional church small groups and after meals in intentional emerging church discussion gatherings. It never fails - pick any topic about our faith journey, how we do church, what it means to live as a Christian in our world  - ask one question - and people will talk for hours. It's like they're starving to share and learn from one another, and from the Spirit speaking through each of them. Often, these are folks who have been used to Sunday School classroom lectures all their lives. Some are seminary graduates. All desire something more. To me, open, safe dialogue is part of what makes the emerging church conversation so powerful. I think one reason is not because it is so new and "postmodern" (although it is to so many Christians), but because it is a rediscovery of something that's so old.

Just as preaching seems to have gotten stuck in the rut of monologue, so has "teaching." Kim, who is a teacher, helped me to understand this recently. However, the ancient cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean also passed down to us other ways of teaching and learning. For example...

"The Socratic method is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas... One hallmark of Socratic questioning, [as used in law school] is that typically there is more than one 'correct' answer, and more often, no clear answer at all. The primary goal of the Socratic not to answer usually unanswerable questions, but to explore the contours of often difficult issues and to teach students the critical thinking skills they will need..."


"Chavruta, from the Aramaic for 'friendship' is a traditional Rabbinic approach to Talmudic study in which a pair [or group] of students independently learn, discuss, and debate a shared text... Unlike conventional classroom learning, in which a teacher lectures to the student and the student memorizes and repeats the information back in tests, chavruta learning challenges the student to analyze and explain the material,...and question and sharpen each other's ideas, often arriving at entirely new insights into the meaning of the text."

Isn't this so much of what disciplining was, and how Jesus taught? 

Learning though friendship. Interesting. Dr. Ruby Payne tells us, "Learning a language only occurs when there is significant relationship. That then leads to the next question: To what extent can a formal institution create significant relationships?" 
We lose a lot when we rely too heavily on "pulpit-to-pew," lecture style learning. Just as ancient Greek and Hebrew languages are valued in seminaries, ancient Greek and Hebrew styles of learning can help us "explore the contours of difficult issues" in community.