This blog has actually moved to (drumroll, please):
Please still be my friend.
My faithful readers, if I have any left, will probably quickly tire of my recent trends. For the most part, I’ve gotten to the point where I seem to only make time for blogging when someone asks me to promote some fancy event in some faraway place that has a great amount of meaning for the few who are fortunate enough to go and relatively little meaning for anyone else.
But, while the above may be somewhat true for this year’s upcoming Theological Conversation, I also want to suggest that it will be drastically different. In the past, Emergent Village has brought some heavy-hitters to the Theological Conversations, big names with big theological ideas and loads of popularity. This has tended to result in quick registrations and lots of hype. It’s also meant that there have been some amazing thinkers inspiring the conversation about emergence to new places and reaffirming a common commitment to theological exploration.
What makes this year different, and I would argue, supremely important, is that those who are being brought into the conversation are not heroes or towering giants whom have inspired the conversation for years. These new voices in the conversation are not our old heroes; they are fresh perspectives. In this way, the Theological Conversation this year embodies everything emergence Christianity has struggled to articulate: it is bringing in voices from the margin, inviting in new perspectives from all over the world to push us together into the future.
The theme this year is “Creating Liberated Spaces in a Postcolonial World.” What I find refreshing is that the very nature of this year’s Theological Conversation seems to be preparing me for just such a possibility.
And here are some way better blogs about it:
– Jonathan Brink at jonathanbrink.com/blog
– Annie Bullock at Marginal Theology marginaltheology.wordpress.com
– Julie Clawson at onehandclapping julieclawson.com
– Nelson Costa (in Portuguese and English) at www.nelsoncostajr.com
– Natanael Disla (in Spanish) at karmatarsis.wordpress.com
– Carol Howard Merritt at TribalChurch.org tribalchurch.org
– Dave Ingland at www.daveingland.com
– Mihee Kim-Kort at first day walking miheekimkort.com
– Crystal Lewis at Jesus Was A Heretic, Too. jesuswasaheretictoo.blogspot.com
– Katie Mulligan at The Adventures of Tiny Church tinychurchnj.blogspot.com
– Ann Pittman at anncpittman.blogspot.com
– Danielle Shroyer at danielleshroyer.com
I’ve been invited to participate in a sychroblog to help stir some discussion about the upcoming “Big Tent Christianity” event in Raleigh, North Carolina next month. The prompting I received was to begin to imagine what “big tent Christianity” might look like in the future and in my own context. I’m sort of intrigued by the idea of the whole conference for a couple of reasons.
First, it seems to fall pretty neatly into the recent efforts of Transforming Theology, who is putting the event on, to make progressive theology the popular theology in American Christendom. Philip Clayton and Tripp Fuller, in particular, adamantly argue for just this in their recent book, Transforming Theology, and all over the internet hither and thither. In Transforming Theology, Clayton writes,
There are increasing signs that the rigid opposition between these two sides [conservative and liberal] is beginning to abate. Younger Christians across the spectrum of churches are no longer willing to be pigeonholed into one of the two camps. . . . These are signs of an exciting return to “big tent” Christianity. No one is urging that we create one mega-denomination or write a creed that all are expected to sign. But it’s getting easier to recognize once again our common features as followers of Jesus Christ. While we may follow the one we call Teacher and Lord in different ways, with different language and emphases, depending on our age, location, and social world, we’re all under a single tent. Together we constitute the same body of Christ. (p. 65).
The idea is to boil Christianity down to a few “common features” and, for the sake of unity, to focus on commonality and to all get along. Diversity is encouraged and cherished. Differences are opportunities to work through the details of contextualized and contingent theologies with patience and, implicitly, without the subjectivity required to make claims on validity. This is Clayton’s “progressivism,” which is not necessarily melioristic but is certainly concerned with innovation and change in the future of the church. Clayton writes, “Being progressive does not mean that you wish to reject the past. But it does suggest a greater emphasis on innovation, on openness to change, on learning new things from new contexts, and on finding new forms through which the church and her action in the world may be manifested” (p. 122).
Along with Clayton’s progressivist agenda, I’m intrigued by the involvement of so many “emergents” with the entire project. Emergents are typically known for their affinity for “postmodernism,” albeit a postmodernism that sounds a whole lot like liberalism. What fascinates me about the involvement of emergents with this conference is that there seems to be some understanding of postmodern thought as the great “both/and” of our current philosophical milieu. I suppose the thinking goes something like this: If all truth claims are contingent, then truth is difficult to discern and all attempts at it should be treated with equal suspicion, validating all attempts at theological discourse. The problem that I have with this in regards to its claims as being “postmodern” is that most of the frequently quoted philosophers in these descriptions don’t seem to be saying just that. In my limited experience, they seem to say something much more like this:
All truth claims are contingent as signs of someThing that is assumed to be beyond the truth claim itself, this Thing being the Truth. The signs themselves are never actually the Thing, but representations of the Thing. Descriptions of the Thing are further signs of the sign of the Thing, in one direction; while the purest experience of the Thing is a sign for the Thing, constantly deferring the actual presence of the Thing. If the Thing is only spoken of in signs, and the signs are pointing to more signs of the Thing, then perhaps there is no Thing at all.
If there is no Thing, no Big Secret, then what good is tolerant discussion of various truth claims? Does it do anything to preserve something “good” about Christianity? Or does it nullify it? If all of our differences are equally tolerable, aren’t they all bullshit? And is it even possible to do so? Would we want to? Could one join all the various Christians under one roof and affirm their right to make definitive claims about what it means to be the church? Would Clayton or the emergents want to affirm the “God-fearing” members of violently hateful groups who act in the name of their own faith?
So, I can’t help but wonder how we are in the midst of a “return to ‘big tent’ Christianity.” It seems to me that there is no tent. All the talk of the big top is a strange insistence to return to something that never was and could never possibly be reclaimed. The past can never be recovered because it can never be fully known. This is precisely because of our own contingency here and now that struggles to discover what it might mean to be “faith-ful” and the contingency of the past that we assume to re-establish. In a history of signs, there simply no pure Christianity to rediscover. Throughout history, Every Christian attempt at faithfulness has been a struggle with contextual factors and an inherited heritage of shifting interpretation. Again, there is not–and never has been–a big tent.
But if we want to speak of Christianity, there is a Table. It’s a Table established by the Incarnated God, who seemed to think that becoming something as simple as a human being was not enough. This God became present in bread and wine, remembered as broken and poured out. Like the crucifixion, the continual breaking of bread as the body and spilling of wine as blood is the institution that undoes institutions. God undoes God’s own Godness in the Incarnation, and the Incarnation is undone in the crucifixion and, I would suggest, the breaking of bread. In further reversals, the crucified God is resurrected, and the bread and wine provide life for the Church. Rather than a big tent under which we can all gather in the name of congeniality, there is a Table we gather around in shock and in horror as the notion of God is provocatively put to death and consumed. Around this Table, surrounded by God knows who, we realized that not only is there no tent, but there is no “Christianity.”
One day, a lone man walked a dangerous road in the valley between two noisy cities. The man was overtaken by three burglars, two of whom were truly desperate men and one who was simply malicious and sadistic. As they beat the lone man, the two desperate men thought of their starving families and wept over their own actions. The third burglar, however, laughed maniacally with each blow. They took everything the man had and left him for dead in a shallow ditch.
Soon, a respectable religious official walked by the broken, battered man. He saw the dark pools of blood around the man and heard the soft cries for mercy. The religious official, who was apparently important and very busy, offered a quick prayer for the man and even threw several coins in his direction.
Later, a very compassionate woman walked down the road. She saw the man and was immediately moved. She ran to his side and knelt by the man, careful to not get blood on her clothes. She was on her way to a very important charity event, after all. But she sat with the man and wept with him, glad to be late if it meant she could help this man. Eventually, however, she could spare no more time. She stood up, straightened her appearance, and promised to send the man a good ten percent of what she could raise at her upcoming event. She walked on, knowing full well the good she would soon accomplish.
Finally, the third burglar, the sadist, walked back down the road, quite pleased with himself and proud of his earnings. He saw the broken man and, finding a new and previously unexplored way to indulge himself, he stooped down and picked the beaten man up out of the ditch. He carried him to the nearest motel and tended to his wounds. Using the stolen money, he bought the man food and medical supplies and paid his room up for a full week. The vicious burglar left the man in the care of another guest and went on his way, impressed with his own ability to give.
They all sat in the backyard. They’d been sitting around the fire for a few hours now, telling stories and enjoying s’mores. This was their campground for the night. Their faces flickered in the flames flying skyward from the little Smokey Joe in the middle. Dwight looked around at the people he loved. His wife, Jean, laughed long and loud. She always had, and that’s one of the things he’d always loved about her. His beautiful daughter Hilary (whom this very narrator has a huge crush on) blew out a burning marshmallow and peeled off the burnt outer layer before setting it ablaze again. Her husband, Matt (the lucky bastard), struggled to pull stringy marshmallow leftovers out of his beard. Meghan and Matthew, two of Jean’s family’s cousins (although distantly and awkwardly related), sat somewhat silently but with huge ear-to-ear grins. Dwight noticed how late it was getting, but he suddenly felt inspired.
“Before we climb into the tent for bed, everybody has to chug an Amp energy drink,” Dwight said. His challenge was gladly accepted by Matt (the bearded fool of whom I harbor so much envy) and Matthew, the younger of the two cousins. The three boys chugged energy drinks and climbed into the tent. It had been a long day, and, energy drinks be damned, they were all very tired. Everyone slipped off to sleep without a moment’s hesitation, thinking that perhaps Amp energy drinks weren’t so potent after all.
That is, until about 3:30 in the morning.
“uuhhhhhHHAAAAAAAAAAAHHHARGH!” Everyone in the tent was violently awoken by a sudden scream.
“What the hell was that?” Hilary asked, groggily.
“I think it was your dad,” cousin Matthew said.
There was a moment of silence before Dwight said, “It’s okay, everybody. Daddy just had a bad dream. Go back to sleep.” More silence.
Matt (the bearded one) lay on his back, shaking in fear. What could have possibly affected such a manly man so deeply? What could Dwight have to fear? And how was he supposed to sleep now? Sure, he hadn’t the dream, which had obviously been terrifying for Dwight. But what’s scarier? To have such a dream and to wake up? Or to be so violently awoken by the terror in someone else’s voice?
But who was Matt kidding? That was one of the most hilarious things he’d ever seen. What was really scary was thinking about what Dwight might do to him when he found out how much Matt liked to tell that story to everyone he knew.
I suppose, technically, I could read any book over and over again. But I think the question is: What book would I really want to read repeatedly? That’s easy. I could read any of the Harry Potter books as many times as I could make time. They’re so good.
And that’s all I have to say about that one.