Are We Lost?
June 25, 2010

In many religions there’s a fundamental assumption that settling down in certainty of faith is a sign of maturity. At least I’ve found this to be true in my Evangelical Christian heritage. Many who are established in churches imply, to those who are not, that one must precisely know what they believe and why they believe it, and if that’s not the case there is something spiritually wrong. In short, if one does not have their faith tied down to an anchor of certainty, they are lost. They then become a target of prayer, evangelism, and definitely a target of gossip.

Anyway, the thinking used to be that when youth left home, they might also leave the church temporarily. They might wander around a bit and experiment, but when they got a little older, when they got married, perhaps, they would return. Or when they had kids, for sure, because everyone knows you have to have your faith statements together when you have kids. And in the past, yes, they would usually come back. But that no longer seems to be the case. Many are not going back. Maybe I should say we are not going back. So where are we going instead? What has happened? Have we lost our way?

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I spent a few years researching apologetics, the practice of defending your faith. There were times when, as a young short-term missionary/evangelist, even while confidently sharing the Gospel with “the lost” and artfully weaving arguments to win them over, I had my own questions in mind. Of course, I never paid them much attention, because that would have been opening the door to deception, according to our teaching. Well, it’s not that I never expressed my concerns. I certainly drove my family, friends, and professors nuts at times with my unending questions. But my questions were always tethered to a confidence in the fundamentals of my faith. That is, of course, until I started questioning the fundamentals.

That’s when the anchor line broke and my ship set out to sea. To describe the process would take too much space here, so I’ll just say that it was in fact, a process. A gradual stretching that at some point caused my chain of certainty to lose a link, and then another, and another, and so on.

The funny thing is that there are two ways to look at this un-tethering. When someone’s faith-chain snaps, does it represent an aimless drifting that will eventually result in (spiritual) starvation and death? Or is it freedom? Those two ways of seeing it are both represented well on bumper stickers. One says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” While the other says, in the words of Tolkein, “…Not all those who wander are lost.”

For me, it’s been intentional. And for me, it is freedom. But, as another bumper sticker says, “Freedom isn’t free.” With freedom, when you have no visible boundaries, it’s hard to tell which direction you should go. You have to look hard for reference points. And you have to search for food and shelter. And, what can be the most difficult, it can get very, very lonely. You also may occasionally reach a port, where you assume you’re safe, where you might meet some like you. Some ports turn out to be wonderful places of nurturing and security, and others are downright dangerous.

Those who intentionally choose to cut their chains become exiles. Voluntary exiles. Some call us wanderers. But I think some are just innately born to explore, including areas of faith. So some call themselves explorers. Journeyers. And some are refugees, fleeing hurt and seeking hope. I call myself a pilgrim. (That’s why I’ve inked myself with the Latin label “Peregrinus.”)

There are many valid points and counter points to consider with this. For me, some quotes give me comfort in my perspective:

There are only too many men and women who think that, if they have scrupulously repeated the prescribed phrases, made the proper gestures and observed the traditional tabus, they are excused from bothering about anything else. For these people, the performance of traditional custom has become a substitute for moral effort and intelligence.” — Aldous Huxley, End and Means

In challenge to the idea that if people would only involve themselves in a solid Christian church and firm up their faith, their existential issues would resolve, Leslie Weatherhead writes:

Far more people are in distress of mind and body because they are starved of love than because their religious beliefs are in a muddle…. …Men have not found in [churches] an answer to their questions, the satisfaction of their need of fellowship, or adequate scope for their service to others. All this and much, much more they should have found in the churches, and the need for many [non-profit service] organizations would not have arisen if the churches had cared more for men and less for creed and ceremony.”

…And so, I suggest, that is why they set out as voluntary exiles in search of something more.

Perhaps the most apt one-liners come from a 19th/20th-century French writer, Andre Gide, who devoted himself to intellectual honesty. My friend Spritzophrenia brought up this brilliant Gide quote:

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

But here’s my favorite:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
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My Swarm Theory
April 19, 2010

This post is in response to an invite from my friend Julie Clawson to be part of a synchroblog with many others that attempts to answer, “What is emerging in the church?”

I think the church is starting to realize it’s okay to embody what is known as swarm theory, or SI (swarm intelligence). We are beginning to see the value of “all” instead of “me.” We are beginning to see that there is a greater, undefinable, all-encompassing, all-accepting power guiding us (even if none of us know where we’re going).

The biggest objection to the idea that intentionally submitting oneself to a collective (sub)consciousness is that some think this devalues humanity. They may think this flies in the face of the entire Christian thesis that God gave us each free will. If I may call it spiritual swarm theory, I would say flatly that it does not at all erase free will; it enhances it.

What is emerging in the church is a deep listening that doesn’t listen selectively according to a person’s appearance, preferences, or even beliefs. It listens to the person. It listens to that still, small voice inside that person. That voice that speaks to us all from within us all. And that’s what moves us.

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Case in Point

Someone who calls himself an “agnostic pentecostal” has been invited to share his thoughts about what they think is emerging in the church. Yes, I am a middle-class, white, straight male, which is definitely not a minority in terms of church leadership. But I have no Ph.D; I am no pastor; I have chosen not to be ordained; I don’t have a book published or a TV program or an album or even a popular blog. Those facts, combined with the fact that I’m just barely a Christian at all according to traditional definitions, would have eliminated me from having a real, valued leadership role in the church. In fact, for some churches, the fact that I come from a pentecostal-type background might even scare some away from me.

So to have been invited to share my voice illustrates my point about what good I think is happening in the church: The entire concept of “leadership” is being redefined, albeit slowly. And this is creating a movement of listening. A movement that’s trying hard to see all stories as equally valuable. A movement that sees importance in being led by the rejected as much as (or more than) the selected.

There is a difference between inviting the rejected into your circle and letting them lead it. As another example, the church of the past, as I call it, would welcome a gay person into their church as long as that person would join a group or class designed to straighten them out. The statement I heard in several sermons was, “God loves you just the way you are — but too much to let you stay that way.” But I am seeing proof that churches are taking seriously the notion that keeps it simple with just, “God loves you just the way you are. That’s it. Nothing else to add. No classes to take before you’re really welcome. You are welcome. Now please tell us your story so we can learn from you.” This is happening in my faith community.

And it’s not just a liberal thing…Tolerance is not just for universalists anymore. It’s not just tolerance either; it’s true acceptance. I think people are starting to see that they can keep their conservative beliefs, without watering them down, share those beliefs, and also find value in the spirituality of others. Because we’re all in the same swarm.

In my case, I feel there’s no need for compromise in being simultaneously agnostic and pentecostal. I can pray in tongues if I want, even if I doubt, for example, that Jesus was the product of a literal virgin birth. And the best part is that I feel supported by (some of) my Christian friends…They’re not only okay with that, but they don’t try to change my view, and they listen intently to see exactly what the full story might be, so they can learn and exchange perspectives.

They see me as a valuable part of a grander story, and I see them the same. We want to learn from each other. Because we’ve started to listen to a still, small voice that tells us that none of us has the whole story, but all of us are an integral to it.

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By the Way

Some may see this all as a sign that pluralism, extreme liberalism, and even communism are seeping into the church. I choose to see this as a sign that people are just starting to realize that things cannot seep into or out of the church, because we are all the Church. We are all in this together. And “We” has no walls. Some may see this as a sign that incorrect beliefs are causing God’s presence to leave certain churches. To that I say people are starting to remember that God is omnipresent. He’s always with us. Nothing can separate us from his love. Similarly, some may say that God being present in only certain churches is due to the fact that, according to scripture, “God inhabits the praises of his people,” and that only some are praising him correctly, and only those who do so correctly can truly be called “his people.” I choose to believe that there is no wrong way to praise God, and that all people are God’s people.

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Check out these other synchroblog posts on this topic:

Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse. * Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong. * Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement. * Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male. * Dave Huth posts a on new ways to talk about religion. * Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church. * Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community. * Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness. * MojoJules describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face. * Danielle Shoyer reflects on what is emerging in the church. * Brian Merritt offers his pros and cons of the emerging church. * Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity. * Susan Philips points out that emergence happens as G-d redeems our shattered realities. * Mike Clawson reflects on the non-western voices that brought him to the emerging conversation. * Jake Bouma suggest that what is emerging is a collapse into simplicity. * Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today. * Rachel Held Evans writes on what is changing in the church. * Tia Lynn Lecorchick describes the emerging movement as a wood between worlds (from The Magician’s Nephew). * Amy Moffitt shares her journey towards a theology of humility. * Travis Mamone comments on the need for the emerging church to rely on the word of God. * Sa Say reflects on the the prick of doubt. * David Henson lists what he sees as what is emerging in the church. * Angela Harms writes in in defense of emergent. * Wendy Gritter asks how we can listening to the voices from the margins. * Bruce Epperly comments on the largeness of spirit of emerging spirituality. * Linda Jamentz reflects on listening to the voices from the margins in church. * Lisa Bain Carlton hopes that our emerging conversation can respond humbly to our moment in time. * Christine Sine asks how far are we willing to be transformed.