Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Weeks 4 and 5!

Dear Ones,

I am so sorry to be away from the discussion for so long. I continue to get great reports from all around the diocese. I have been reading the posts as they come in and I am so thankful for all of you, and your diligence in staying in the conversation. I want to still go through some, perhaps comment even more on some of the specifics, but for now I wanted to get out our final two weeks of readings as well as the study guide. Some of you may have found the guide at the "Great Emergence" website. If not, I am posting here the Guide for these last two chapters. For these two weeks the readings are as follows:

March 22-28- Part III intro and Chapter 6, pages 119-144

March 29-April 4- Chapter 7 and end discussion, pages 145-163

The Study Guide is just below, many blessings to all of you and don't blog so much that you miss out on Lent!



The Great Emergence Study Guide CC 6-7 The Great Emergence: Where is it going?

Where is the Great Emergence going? And, similarly, where is it taking us as it goes? Both questions intuit two seemingly opposite yet complementary issues. On the one hand, it is our responsibility to make educated guesses about what is happening in our religious landscape and instigate what we hope to be productive measures for the future of the church. Action is needed, and it is needed now. On the other hand, we must be honest with ourselves that, like in any previous time of "Great" change, we are not fully in control of what is going on here. We are located in a far larger environment than our own ecclesial (and even religious) walls.

Perhaps surfing is an apt metaphor for the kind of dual action required of us. Though we may choose our surfboard, our spot in the ocean, and the wave we take, we are not, in the end, able to control the movement of the ocean. We cannot determine the tide, or the length of the wave, or its intensity. It is our duty to ride it, and ride it well, in hopes that we arrive safely (and, with a little luck, gracefully) on the shore.


1. What do you find most difficult about facing the changes of the Great Emergence?


2. Taking risks through particular actions, or relinquishing control and accepting limits?


3. What spiritual practices can best inform us as we learn to ride the wave of the Great Emergence?


Chapter 6: The Gathering Center

As we consider the changing religious landscape during the Great Emergence, the diagrams of the quadrilateral, the cruciform, the gathering center and the new rose are helpful ways of mapping the responses and directions of particular religious traditions. Over and above and between all of these directional movements is centripetal force.

Centripetal force literally means "center seeking" in Latin. Centripetal force is absolutely necessary when matter begins moving in a circular direction. It is the only means by which movement toward the gathering center can be maintained. Each of us has experienced centripetal force when we have ridden in a car that suddenly turned while our bodies continued to go straight, shoving us into the passenger next to us or possibly the door or dashboard. It feels like we are being pushed outward, but this is not actually the case. We have been pulled inward toward the center of the turn. Our bodies sense a push outward despite the fact that we are not in any way moving outward, but what previously would have been straight. This is because during acceleration, Newton's first two laws of motion no longer apply (think the Heisenberg principle). It is no wonder that many of us have a difficult time finding our directional bearings during this time of acceleration around the gathering center of American religious life. We are currently in

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the middle of the turn, and we are unsure which direction we are actually going. We also happen to be picking up new ideas, new people, new traditions en route, changing the size and shape of the center itself. There is hope, however, in Tickle's assertion that we are perhaps being pulled inward by our common desire to become more incarnational.5 Before we are able to be pushed outward into "a new way of being Christian, into a new way of being Church,"6 perhaps we are gathered toward Jesus-the-Center through the guiding force of the Spirit.


1. How has the center-seeking centripetal force of the Great Emergence affected your faith? Your church? In what ways do you feel unsure of your direction? In what ways do you feel pulled toward Jesus-the-Center?


2. As you consider the final diagram in the chapter, where do you classify yourself? Did your classification change as the diagram shifted from the quadrilateral to its final surrounding currents? How can the diagram be used to help people describe their journeys of faith?


3. If you happen to be one of the "hyphenateds," how are you navigating the tensions between the pull to the center and the pull to the corners?


4. After the Great Reformation, the process of drawing up systematic doctrines provided both cohesiveness and clarity to new denominational bodies. While the confessional age was based upon distinction, the age of emergence will likely be based upon collaboration. Though this is not without its difficulties, Protestantism's "hallmark characteristic of divisiveness" is also being replaced by a significantly more harmonious one. Tickle uses the metaphor of a bursting geyser, gathering people from each corner and quadrant and spewing them upward into a new way of being Christian, to describe the gathering center phenomenon. What benefits and drawbacks do you see in the propelling force of the geyser? What are your greatest hopes for this "generous orthodoxy?" Your greatest fears?


5. Tickle writes, "In the Great Emergence, reacting Christians are the ballast." By reacting to the gathering center, they provide necessary stability as the center continues to take shape. If you happen to be someone nearer the center, how do you feel about those reacting most stringently against you as helpful, and even necessary? If you happen to be someone nearer the corners, how do you feel about stabilizing (if not strengthening) a movement with which you fervently disagree?


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6. There has been marked tension in the Great Emergence, specifically in the interactions of those in Emergent Village, between a desire to speak freely of what one currently does/believes/perceives and a desire to speak against what one used to do/believe/perceive. How, if at all, have you experienced this tension? How does it correlate to the changes happening in the Great Emergence? How does this experience coincide with our Christian understanding of the tensions between the now and the not yet?


7. This term has come into wide use through Brian McLaren's book of the same title, which aptly and beautifully describes the kind of ecclesial collaboration that will likely become a hallmark of Great Emergence Christianity.


8. Tickle claims the earliest assessment of the Great Emergence as simply a generational issue is an error that has since been recognized and understood. From your vantage point, do you and those you know agree, or do you continue to see the current religious changes as generational in nature? Why or why not?


9. If you agree the Great Emergence is not a generational issue, how can those in older generations seek to help rather than hinder the changes underfoot?


10. How can we focus on the emerging conversation not as one that rejects truth or tradition, but as a conversation seeking to create "new ways of being faithful in a new world?"


Chapter 7: The Way Ahead

The power of network theory can be summed up by the simple fact that interest in it has brought together physicists, sociologists, entrepreneurs, engineers, biologists, political campaign strategists and market analysts, just to name a few. The sheer volume of books written on the subject in the past number of years evidences a great desire to understand how the world is changing, and how network theory can enlighten people to effectively engage the new linked-in world.

Network theory quite simply refers to research being done to understand relationships, how they are formed, how they are strengthened or weakened, and what effects they have on individuals, groups and societies. At its most basic level, network theory can refer to two points, or nodes, connected by a line from one to the other. This line indicates the relationship between point A and point B. However, further inferences on what kind of relationship is happening between them can result in a variety of lines and arcs displaying mutuality, disagreement, commonality and proximity. Add a dozen or a hundred or

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thousands more nodes to these two at varying levels of complexity and you can see how quickly network theory books are needed if we are to make out the forest for the trees. And we must, for network theory is absolutely central in our quest to map the way ahead in the Great Emergence.

As we return to the question of authority, network theory gives us the Great Emergence's first answer. Where now is the authority? It is in the network, running in between all the nodes and connectors, this way and that, in no particular pattern, and asking nobody for permission. Authority exists for the church when the network, a collection of Jesus followers who are linked together, shares information back and forth about Scripture and faith. This is why Tickle suggests that an emergent would respond that authority now lies "in Scripture and in the community." This may be seen as a way emergents are reconciling the divorced parents of experience and Scripture. (Remember that experience was the foundational belief of modern liberal theology while a particular hermeneutic of Scripture was the foundational belief of modern conservative theology.) However, as Tickle describes, what we currently see in the Great Emergence is not a simple "patching together" of 1 + 1 but more specifically the emergence of something new, something greater than the sum of its parts. Emergence is not a bridge between the two warring houses of Scripture and experience. It is the demolition of both houses and the construction in its place of a highly networked web.

If we return to the concept of holism and the metaphor of a web of belief, which holds together what we deem true, then in the network theory world of the Great Emergence, there are multiple levels of webs, woven from the authors who wrote the Scriptures and people who experience the living God, the communities who preserved their writings and stories, a history of people who affirmed them, contemporary individuals, churches and denominational institutions that continue to believe them, and on and on. Therefore, authority that rests in both Scripture and the community suggests a network of two thousand years of relationships. Authority is held by each and every relationship strand, and yet is strong enough to withstand strands becoming broken by the sheer volume of the web. In this way, Scripture and community are not completely separate entities, but rather both are a means by which faith has been passed down to us and for us and with us.

As is always the case, parallels can be seen in the wider culture. Consider, as one quick example, Wikipedia. Previously, encyclopedias were painstakingly researched and written by experts, bound in leather and carted (quite weightily) around from door to door. In a world where even the morning newspaper could be hours late on reporting a breaking story that was sent all over the world in mere minutes over the Internet, the clumsy thick encyclopedia became the slowest turtle in the information race. It became impossible to keep encyclopedias up to date, for as soon as one was published the world had changed. Wikipedia not only provided much needed speed and editing capabilities to encyclopedic information. Perhaps more importantly, it proved that painstaking research by experts was no longer necessary. Regular, everyday people, using their own free time and without any payment, write, fill, edit and revise Wikipedia entries every single day. The network of relationships relaying information has become more impressive than the information itself.

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1. What is most exciting to you about the idea of authority resting in the network of Scripture and community? What is most worrisome?


2. Tickle describes authority being worked out in how the message runs back and forth over the network hubs and "is tried and amended and tempered into wisdom and right action for effecting the Father's will." Have you seen evidence of this kind of action working in your own congregation? How does this movement mimic the Book of Acts?


3. Tickle suggests that emergents would define the Church as "a self-organizing system of relations." How do you respond to this definition? How do you think previous eras would define the Church?


4. Tickle distinguishes between crowd sourcing and democracy, as crowd sourcing has flattened authority to a point democracy never dared. Crowd sourcing, she continues, rejects anything less than full egalitarianism, rejects capitalism, and rejects individualism. It should not surprise us that these traits were solidly implanted during the time of the Great Reformation, and are being rigorously dissolved in the century of Emergence. What does this do to the structure of the Church at ground level? At denominational level?


5. How does network theory inform Tickle's discussion of the concepts of orthonomy and theonomy? Can correct harmoniousness be evidenced by holistic, networked, sustaining relationships? What role, if any, does the concept of the Trinity play in such an idea?


6. Throughout the book, Tickle suggests that the role of the Holy Spirit, and our under standing of the movement of the Holy Spirit, will be essential in the unfurling of the Great Emergence. How do you see the Holy Spirit playing a role in the question of authority, the radicalization of the priesthood of the believers, and the future of the Church?


7. How does the shift from the bounded set of "believe-behave-belong" to the center set of "belong-behave-believe" affect the Church's understanding and practice of membership and evangelism? Of discipleship?


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8. Another marker along the way of Emergence so far is the shift toward narrative. This is not limited to theology, though narrative theology, preaching and the like is certainly evidence of it. It can also, and first, be seen in psychology in the works of Jerome S. Bruner and Donald J. Polkinghorne, who have discovered, much like Joseph Campbell, the significance of story on the human psyche. How can story serve as a helpful tool and guide for us in the Great Emergence? How can narrative theology disarm the difficulties and harmful carnage of the post-Constantinian Church?


9. As we move from an era of confessionalization to an era of collaboration, the concept of holism becomes central in describing how people and disciplines are shifting from the former to the latter. What once was held separate (whether one means the harmful distinctions between soul and body or the equally detrimental distinctions between humanity over and against the rest of creation, just to name two) is now moving toward one another, working to repair and re-network a relationship strand that had previously been severed. Holism is the natural paradigm of a world moving from one of competition and distinction to one of mutuality and collaboration. How does holism affect church practices? Doctrine? Structures? How does it connect us to a more Jewish worldview, over and against a Hellenistic one?


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For further study in the broader societal reaches of the Great Emergence:


Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything


See writings by Jacques Derrida, John Caputo, Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty, Martin Heidegger, Jurgen Habermas


Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty

Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor


William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things


Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community


Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism



Monday, 16 March 2009

Week 3

Dear Ones,

Here we are at week 3. I hope, on top of the study, and other activities in your life you are also experiencing a good Lent. Book studies continue around the diocese and even beyond. For this week as a reminder, March 15-21- Chapters 4 and 5, pages 63-118. I am a bit late on my blog, my apologies as this week I am attending the House of Bishop's Meeting in North Carolina. I have, however, been keeping up with the response. I really enjoy the conversation. I think many others who are not posting, but reading nonetheless, are enjoying the conversation as well.

I think it is important to remember that Tickle is a journalist, editor, writer, and lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal Church. She is a theologian, as I believe anyone who "studies" theology is, but she is mostly peering in, making observations, and of course, giving her assessment of this era we are living through. This week I am not going to try to focus you, but instead hope that you will attempt to focus us with questions from these two chapters. What did you find most interesting, troubling, compelling?

In this week's responses I certainly think Brian McLaren is under scrutiny. Knowing him personally, I have been surprised by some of that, but I appreciate the great care in which everyone is holding the various views on this. I may try to see if Brian wants to join in this discussion. I will most likely not have a lot of luck with that so we will simply have to make due with ourselves!

Blessings to you as we journey with Christ in this Lenten season,


Monday, 9 March 2009

Week Two: The Great Emergence

Dear Ones,

I want to thank all of you who have so diligently entered into this conversation. There are many others out there in small study groups, around the diocese working alongside you even if they do not get to comment online. So, this week, although many of you have already, we enter into Part II intro and Chapter 3, pages 41-62. I wanted to comment on an overall view of last week's comments.

There were a few comments about the Creeds. Many seem to point to the need to change them in some way. I want to throw into this discussion the idea that we have just passed through an era where this was the "plan." If only we could get the right word usage, or drop a line here or there, or simply leave it out altogether, we would be better off. In some ways I wonder if this does not show some contempt for those who went before us, a somewhat arrogant belief that we are smarter than they are. I put this up against the reality I am seeing in the newer generations, who do not seem to have the need for the semantic changes to yet continue the conversation. With this, they hardly check their brains at the door either. They seem more willing to honor those that left the tradition and history as they knew it, and to instead look for the Truth our forbears were trying to tell us in the story. Even in these conversations there seem to be insinuations, or outright statements, that Tickle is not very smart, that those that came before us are not very smart, and that it is up to us to "make this all right." I am pushing a bit I realize, but so have some of you! I used to teach a class where I invited the class to rewrite the Creed to "make sense" to them. Of course, if there were 20 individuals in the class, there were 20 different versions of what is "right." Even after putting them together to come up with one, well you see where this is going. I am well aware that this is how we got the Creeds we have, but having some unaltered centering point to come back to, to honor, and to question seems to make sense as well.

On a totally different subject, a rather passing thought in this but brought up by Tickle nonetheless, is music, and the importance of it in sharing and passing along the story. I have to say I am quite attached to this feeling as well, and wonder what others think about it. I see many places where music seems to get in the way, rather than help, and other places where it carries the day in profound ways. What do you think about this?

Finally, in some defense of Tickle, this book is not there to answer all questions, but rather, as Anonymous in the 8:39 p.m., March 8th post states,

"The "greatness" and 500 year intervals seem contrived but there is an underlying truth: every so often the institution that is the church becomes inadequate. Today's inadequacies, in my view, include being disconnected from both its foundation in Jesus and from the culture in which we live. In what little I know of emergent churches I see an attempt to pull Jesus into the context of life today-and it's not one size fits all."

Although I do not want to try to direct this away from the way you choose to take it, my hope in this was more of what is spelled out above, less a critique of the book, and more of a "push" on the larger questions and what we might do here and now to address those.

Again, I am most honored by your engagement in this study.