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.


Lisa R. said...

I agree that often I find within the emerging movement an arrogance that is somewhat disconcerting to me. I am going to go out on limb here and say, that I see that more in the younger members of the movement vs. the older members. Perhaps its because many of the younger people have not really been tested by life yet, have not found out that even with all the best of intentions, God (yes, I said God) and life will fall short of their 'expectations'. [note: I did not say God failed them; though it sure feels like he does when you're going through it, but God did not come through in the way one expected or demanded]. So in the younger folks, they are enthusiastic - full of energy, faith, passion, ideas and the mindset of 1+2=3; yet none of these have really, really been tested as of yet.

The older generation, on the otherhand, have had their faith tested and crumbled. They have found themselves shipwrecked and alone in deep waters. They have found themselves disillusioned and disappointed by a system of "church" that has failed to give answers to tough life situations. And they end up angry and trapped by their own mindset. That takes time to "deconstruct". I had a counselor once tell me that I had to let go of everything that I have ever believed in, throw it all away, and to trust God to bring me back. That means different things to different folks, but for me, I had to let it all go, except for a few principals, that I did not let go. That was Micah 6:8 (and I had it memorized KJV, so bear with me...) He has shown you o man what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee? But to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." - That is what I took away.

But as an older generation emerging Christian, I struggle more with the disillusionment and trying to forgive the failures of those that stayed in the mindset that was painful for me. And its is a lot harder to deconstruct, rebuild, and forgive. I may lack the fervor, passion, and drive that the younger guys have - for I've been knocked down and proven wrong a few times. So I have little room for pride.

This is WHY we need all ages in our group - why I love the younger ones with their innocence and all their "pat answers"--- why they need us older ones, because we've been there, and know that life/God has a way of doing things completey different than we ever dreamed.

But I am left thinking of I Corinthians 13 - we can have knowledge, gifts, passions, drive, answers, philosophies, theologies, etc., etc., --- but if we do not have love --- we are nothing but noice.

Love you all more than you know as you each help me in my journey out of Egypt, thru the desert, and on to what is promised. Our hope.

Steve F. said...

Thanks, Steve, for reminding us to focus on what we stand for more than what we stand against.

Good insights from Lisa as well.

The Other Steve