I mentioned in this post that I had attended the Brian McLaren Everything Must Change Tour 2008 in Dallas last weekend...and that I'd be writing more about it. Here is some of that. Do remember that I'm not theologically trained and my writing will reflect that...and also, of course, my personal biases. :)
It was my first experience of what has often been referred to as the Emergent Church movement. According to Wiki, "The emerging church (also known as the emerging church movement) is a controversial 21st-century Protestant Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched and post-churched."
I think the best description of the concepts brought forward in Brian's book of the same name came to me this way: I was visiting my mom and she saw the book and was interested in it. She looked at it and thought of buying it...then she called to me, "Mary Beth! They aren't saying that JESUS has to change, are they!?"
No, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever...but it's our understanding of Him that could use a change, and also what we do about that understanding. A new setting, is what it is.
According to McLaren and the Emergent movement, we need to do some exploration of who we believe Jesus is and what Jesus wants us to do and be. The Christian fundamental movement of the late 19th and early 20th century has pervaded mainstream Christianity, at least in the US, to a great extent. The interpretation of a "Killer Jesus" who will come in judgment and with a flaming sword in his mouth is not necessarily headed where many fundies think it will end. For instance, from Revelation 19 (the Message):
11-16Then I saw Heaven open wide—and oh! a white horse and its Rider. The Rider, named Faithful and True, judges and makes war in pure righteousness. His eyes are a blaze of fire, on his head many crowns. He has a Name inscribed that's known only to himself. He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood, and he is addressed as "Word of God." The armies of Heaven, mounted on white horses and dressed in dazzling white linen, follow him. A sharp sword comes out of his mouth so he can subdue the nations, then rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the raging wrath of God, the Sovereign-Strong. On his robe and thigh is written, King of kings, Lord of lords.
The underlined verse has apparently been taken by many to mean that Jesus is coming to strike down the wicked empires and set up a kingdom where Christian followers will rule. But really, what does it mean? Maybe, more that the nations and ALL the structures of power will be struck down...and that the Kingdom of God will be something completely different that anything we have known before. Maybe the lion really will lie down with the lamb. Maybe the hungry really will be fed.
And maybe our work here and now needs to be more about approaching that kingdom of God ... than fussing about which diocese is leaving the church, whether we have ordained a gay bishop, etc. And more about feeding the hungry, addressing global warming, behaving with compassion toward people who need our help...being Christ's hands in the world.
As noted previously, I came away with a strong sense that I am called to more immediately local action. I think that all of us (six attended the conference) did. We are beginning action to work with a local Lewisville children's agency and we have also started selling fair trade coffee from Just Coffee in our bookstore. We served it at coffee hour on Sunday and I think had mostly good responses. It's one small action to take that will help some Mexican families stay on their own land and receive a fair wage for the coffee they grow. We have a very large number of illegal immigrants here who come because their work is badly needed. Many of them live very close to me in a terribly run-down area of apartments in my town. I am eager to help, but just showing up on their doorsteps and speaking broken Spanish to say "how can I help you?" is probably not the best way!
In order to engage the unchurched and the post-churched, the Emergent movement is looking at new modes of worship, prayer, and praise. I like this; remember that I grew up in the renewal movement of the 70's and while we always attended Sunday service at a "mainstream" Episcopal parish during that time, we also went to the Redeemer, Grace Chapel Chinese-American Church, and Braeswood Assembly of God. All four of my family played guitar in the Folk Masses held once a month at our church. My church in College Station did liturgical dance and I went barefoot there most of the time. So...I've seen some variety.
While I'm most comfortable in my own (currently quite traditional) worship milieu, comfort isn't always the best thing for me! So I was excited to experience what the EMC team had planned for us; they said it would be unfamiliar. The music was new and mostly NOT to my taste, but then I like to have MUSIC for what I'm singing. It's hard to sing from just words on a projector. I know, most people can't read music. But I can.
We were tickled to see that much of the worship was taken directly from the Book of Common Prayer, and we sang some plainchant (though it was not called that). Certainly these ways of worship were entirely new for many of the folks there, but I appreciated seeing that traditional ways of prayer and praise are useful and valuable...in a new setting.
Here's how Brian describes the intended/expected audience for the EMC meetings:
Something’s Going On. I feel it when people come up to me at events and conferences, or when I read their emails or letters, and see statements like these…
• I’ve never felt like I fit in the traditional church.
• I love Jesus, but I’m not too excited about Christianity in its current form or the church in its dominant expression.
• When I read your books, I feel like shouting, “So I’m not the only person who feels this way! I’m not crazy after all - or if I am, I’m not the only one!”
• It feels like we’ve kind of missed the point of what Jesus was about.
• I’m not religious, and I’m not that sure what “spiritual” means - but I’m looking for something, some way of life or pattern that makes sense of things.
• I used to be a pastor (or youth pastor, or church leader, or active church attender) but something stopped working. I dropped out and thought I had lost my faith, but when I read your book, I thought, “Maybe I can believe again after all.”
• The world’s in deep trouble. Sincere people of faith need to find some way to make a constructive, creative difference.
I think he was surprised to have a group of Episcopalians there...we weren't necessarily looking to change our ways of worship, but to be more responsive and relevant to the world around us, the folks who might say the things above.
Please pray for us as we continue to walk the path of exploring these questions. I'll be happy to receive any comments on your process in these areas.