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.

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