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,



  1. Regarding the overarching questions on page 73. To me the second one would make better sense if it was something along the lines of: Is there a truth that underlies all of our different ways? and what is it?

    The topics of chapter 4 seem to be biology, physics and psychology with a definition of Fundamentalism (which I really appreciated since I had wondered exactly what it is) and modern media thrown in. My head was spinning.

    But I have been pondering a possibility:
    All the descriptions I have seen of emerging churches seem to be un-apologetically Christian.

    "There is not a lot of rocket science in rocket science" is one of my husband's truisms (he has 20+ years in on rocket programs). In my measly 10 years of experience that was true. In college physics one of our exercises was to derive Newton's laws from Einstein's. For large particles traveling significantly less than the speed of light, Newton gives the same answers. I bring this up because it occurred to me that Christianity compared with Joseph Campbell's work might be analogous to Newton and Einstein: the more advanced theory is correct but that high level of understanding isn't necessary for most of us most of the time. Christianity works (or at least can work) for the world we live in.

  2. I do not quite understand why Tickle mentions on p101 that "the gay issue" is so definitive, "bitter", "agonizing", and final in terms of scriptural authority. She mentions this, but does not argue it or make a case for it, as she does with other matters. I see why it is "bitter", etc for many people and for our culture, but I'm not clear why this issue is more important regarding scripture than divorce or gender issues (or the un-mentioned matter of abortion). [I see that abortion comes up a page later, but I have to save that section for later--late for work!]

  3. I have wondered for some time now if the gay issue may not be more of a scape goat or last straw (neither metaphor is quite right) than the real problem. People are feeling that something just isn't right in the church in general and latching on to that issue as the explanation for the feeling. It seemed to me that the people who left our parish over that issue weren't particularly happy or satisfied before that issue came up.

  4. Tyler ~

    "The gay issue" is connected with Scriptual authority. My former priest tried to pull the parish out of the dioscese and ended up just splitting it and joining CANA. He tied together "the gay issue" (clergy and "union blessings"/marriage) to liberal non-belief in the infallability of Scripture and liberal theology (including Bp. Schori's intentionally controversial use of the phrase "Mother Christ").

    But many gay and gay-supportive people question not the authority of Scripture as a whole but the translations and cultural context of the verses that have been understood to condemn homosexuality. That is my former position, as a gay Christian, which I now reject in favor of celibacy / heterosexual relationships.

    It is more controversial than divorce because, although divorce is more clearly condemned, culturally it has become legal and acceptable. The Roman Catholic Church still forbids divorce but issues annulments like candy (if only Henry VIII were alive today!). But yes, during this split, I asked my straight friends, "Why is it always about my sexuality and not yours?"

    I'm not sure what you mean by "gender issues", do you mean the role of women in the Church or transgender/transsexual issues? The former we dealt with 30 years ago with the ordination of women (and the resulting split). The United Methodist Church had to deal with the latter in regards to Rev. Drew Phoenix (an awkwardly chosen new last name), who won his case in the ecclesiastical courts to continue ministry after his female-to-male transition. I'm sure the Episcopal Church will deal with that at some point. See

    In regards to abortion, Bp. Gene Robinson compared homosexuality in the Church to abortion. "The Anglican tradition is uniquely capable of holding two seemingly contradictory ideas together. Its position on abortion, for example is that all human life is sacred. And, that no one has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. Both are true."

    Alternatively, pro-abortion Anglicans simply don't believe life is sacred, particularly at its beginning (abortion) or end (euthanasia). But the post-modern philosophy that Tickle supports uses the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (or Schrodinger's Cat, though I believe she doesn't mention that) to say that a fact can be true and not true at the same time. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It is improper to use theories about sub-atomic particle physical and apply them to the atomic world (which is why Schrodinger's Cat, taken literally, is absurd) or philosophy.

    Latitudinarianism means that a wide variety of beliefs are tolerable, not that they are all true.

    ~ Tamara
    St. Paul's, Bellingham

  5. People are feeling that something just isn't right in the church in general...

    Sounds like a common denominator. If we were to drill down into that feeling, past all the various and sundry "latch-on-able issues", I can't help but wonder if maybe we might find a truth that underlies all of our different ways?

  6. I was attempting to avoid the topic of homosexuality as it seems that all ecclesiastical discussions nowadays end up there one way or another, so in my experience, Tickle's comment does not seem to be that far off the mark. My only quibble is her use of the phrase "sexual preference." If that were an accurate description, prior to my reconciliation with God's creation of me, my "preference" was not who I was. The choice of the term seemed odd.

    However, that's not the topic at hand, so, I will attempt to engage on the topic of homosexuality specifically as it relates to "emergence." Given that the topic is of personal relevance and through which ecclesiastical harm, and healing, have been experienced, it will likely be difficult for me to be objective and brief.

    I very much appreciate Karen Ward's description in a previous thread of "emergence" being more helpfully described as the "contextual church and mission." While there is not unity in the breadth of the church, yet, regarding homosexuality, in many parts of the world, a new generation is growing up in an environment in which they know glbt individuals, precisely as that -- individuals. Real people, with real lives, with real challenges and real blessings. They know these individual as being more like themselves than different. Only those who have held themselves at a distance have had the "luxury" of nursing a stereotype.

    So, when confronted with a church that denies what a new generation has seen and knows to be true, they have to wonder about the relevancy of that church. "Believe what you are told, not what you know to be true," seems to be the message. The mission seems to become more about preservation of an institution than being Christ to a world in a world of hurt. This is the church of irrelevancy regarding which Gary rightly reacts in the threads below (IMHO, of course.).

    This need to separate faith from from knowledge is not a recipe for spiritual or mental health, and here I speak from personal experience. That is not to say there is no place for faith, for paradox, for the Divine to be experienced in ways that can not be rationally explained with the intellect. In contrast, the spiritual and the intellect integrated as a whole cry for these things, another paradox, with which our faith is filled. (I long ago decided if paradox was not present, it wasn't Christian.)

    To be "emergent", or "contextual," is to be called to Gospel lifestyle that is not bound up in getting doctrinal "ducks" in a row or having the ability to determine who is "in" and who is "out," but is rather about the very, very good news that God and humankind are reconciled. It's done! Let's live as if it is a reality, because it is.

    However, if our mission becomes preservation for preservation's sake, or if we are all about keeping those within ecclesiastical "fortresses" safe from those we fear, then we have no good news, and are quite irrelevant.

    Perhaps homosexuality has become such a hot topic because it's here that the church universal is required to actually give of itself in a way that is sacrificial, and the price is perceived to be too high. Yet, by holding on to itself, it loses what is of far greater value, and those who are in need of what it can offer, are turned away.

    I've gone long. Apologies.

    Peace of Christ
    Kevin Johnson
    St. Mark's, Seattle

  7. "The mission seems to become more about preservation of an institution than being Christ to a world in a world of hurt," from the above post represents my own frustration with the church perfectly. It often feels like we have nothing better to do than talk about who should be in or out or how the current schism (far from great!) is about power. Where is Jesus in that?

    Emerging churches seem to be busy working on being Christ's body in the world: praying, healing, serving and worshiping, not fussing about the institution itself.

  8. Two weeks ago La Dottoressa (who is presently in Italy, poor dear) had us construct a model of the “Cable of Meaning” out of cardboard, plastic mesh and twine. We were instantly struck by the strength of the intact braid compared to the separated strands. To continue Tickle’s analogy, we see our anchor to the “Rock” weaken as spiritual angst and needs outstrip the ability of morality (social rules) and corporeality (outward and visible signs?) to accommodate the changes. The braid comes undone.

    Tickle speaks of the spiritual turmoil and exploration that has been occurring under the influences of Jungism, rationalism, Pentecostalism, Marxism, Buddhism, feminism, and a host of other modern “isms”. The strands of morality and corporality seem firmly mired in an earlier century. What do we need to do, what can we do to knit these raveled strands back together again? For some Episcopalians this might mean recognition by the church of homosexuality as an acceptable nature for God’s children (we have moved in that direction). For others, a revised Creed or some other outward sign that recognizes the spiritual shift in society might bring healing. Alternatively, can we bring the spiritual experience back into the framework of morality and corporality and derive benefit from our expanded consciousness?

    We must decide where we are going to be centered. According to Bishop Frank E. Wilson in his book on the history of the Church, “The Divine Commission”,

    “Always, Jesus Christ was the source and centre of the Christian religion. It was not a religion of Book or of a Dogma, but of a Person.”

    He describes repeated upheavals and reconciliations in the Church as circumstances and people change. In the end we return to the example set by the life of Jesus Christ, and to the teachings of the Apostles.

    Personally, I am at the very liberal end of the bell-shaped curve for just about every facet of life. However, Tradition is greatly comforting to me. As a young person in the turbulent 1960's I came to the Episcopal Church from an evangelical protestant background. The history of the church, the prayers that had been said for hundreds of years, the apostolic succession, this was the framework I needed spiritually. Paradoxically, I was encouraged to think and reason as I never had been in my previous church environment. As I get older, there were times that I was ashamed to admit I was a Christian, as I witnessed some of the appalling words that we spoken and acts committed in the name of the Lord. But I have never been ashamed to be an Episcopalian. We may not agree on a lot of things, but I think we all abhor hypocracy.

    The Episcopal Church has a lot to offer to our current generation of seeking souls. We have to help them find a way in.

  9. I very much appreciate Karen Ward's description in a previous thread of "emergence" being more helpfully described as the "contextual church and mission."

    Yes. Me too. And I appreciate you highlighting that point. That word "contextual" should be highlighted in neon yellow marker.

    So happens there's an article in today's Episcoplal Life Online entitled The 'emergent church' – growing but hard to define that unpacks the word rather well, I think:

    A snippet:Although their emphasis on Scripture, the sacraments and their relationship to the established church vary widely, emergent churches are linked by their dedication to worship and ministry in the context of their location.

    "A community in rural Iowa is going to be very different from the ones I've been involved with in Manhattan and Harlem because the places attract people with different stories and sensibilities in different environments," said Bowie Snodgrass, co-founder of New York's Faith House, described on its website as "an interdependent community." She recalled an Easter evening when more than 200 people attended a worship service honoring Mary Magdalene in a Manhattan club. She and a musician friend had developed the service with sex workers and artists who lived and worked in the neighborhood.

    And as long as I'm here with my yellow maker I'd like to underline and draw circles and arrows around this line from Karen S:

    The Episcopal Church has a lot to offer to our current generation of seeking souls. We have to help them find a way in.

    Hold that thought.

  10. Does the Episcopal Church have a lot to offer the current generation?
    I see mixed signals:
    On one hand there are certainly many examples of Episcopal churches that are vibrant, an example of this is that 22 of the 50 churches in the study used for the book Christianity for the Rest of Us were Episcopal.
    On the other hand there is "US religion from nuns to nones" by Lance Dickey in this morning's Times where he says "Old mainline churches are statistical figments of their graying imaginations. The Episcopal Church represents 1.1% of the population. Internal feuds drove away a million parishioners-about a third-from 2001 to 2008."

    These two very different inputs led me to read the fine print and Ms. Butler-Bass's study worked hard to find places going well and reports their common characteristics-which is a good method to give people something to work toward. However, it isn't the whole story, since in the same time period an awful lot of churches weren't successful. Maybe we need to also find out about where things aren't going well and what they have in common with each other and with churches that are successful (neutral factors).

    One thing that, in my opinion (formed by reading various books and articles), works against renewal in the Episcopal Church is that it has a very formal, hierarchical (dare I say medieval?) power structure. The successful churches have a "flat" structure. The only way an Episcopal Church can be flat is by the clergy letting go of privilege. Enacting any of the type of activities related to healthy parishes can only happen at the discretion of the clergy. Another difficulty with the top-down structure is that lay leadership is so used to it that they are not able to function within a flatter structure.

    Another potential weakness in the Epicopal structure is that the only health check on a parish in the canons is that if a church cannot afford to pay its rector or the assessment for three years the diocese has to step in. In other words nothing is done until the patient is on life support-too late for many potential cures to work.

    The sensitivity to inadequate leadership is a weakness in the Episcopal Church, but it could be addressed. Rev. Taber-Hamilton mentioned the need for appropriately trained leadership in a post the first week. It takes quite a bit to undo the programming of centuries but times have changed-witness the themes of this chapter.

    It is well worth noting that all of the books and articles are saying that denomination may be a concept of the past.

  11. Greg said above that Brian Mclaren has been under scrutiny. He must be getting this feedback outside of this conversation, as I have not seen much about McLaren in these posts.

    During the first week, Karen Ward posted a reference to a webcast of McLaren talking to the Diocese of Washington [the other one]; in this he offers advantages and disadvantages re the potential of the Episcopal Church embracing emergence.

    The writer of the Anonymous post of 8:58am may wish to view this if they have not already done so; I thought that McLaren [as an outsider lookintg in, so to speak] hit the nail right on the head. Thank you Karen for the reference.

    As an aside, I just finished watching a webcast of Phyllis Tickle making the keynote address to an Emerging Church conference hosted by Richard Rohr that also includes McLaren. She is a engaging speaker and spends about an hour unpacking the concepts behind the initial part of the book.

    There is a fee to view the webcast but not too bad if you have a group to share it; they are promising to publish DVD’s in a month or so.

    You can get to it via Rohr's site.

  12. The relevance of the supernatural:

    Speculative fiction, computer-generated imagery and special effects, the supernatural, myth, morality, ethics, good and evil, the Bible, and God. Oh, and all the details in systematic theology.

    Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, James Bond, and on and on ... and even "The Days of Our Lives", "As the World Turns", and "General Hospital". All are created worlds with parables of good and evil and how to live our lives. New ones are produced all the time.

    I dare say that Harry Potter is more relevant than the Bible. First of all, it out sells the Bible. It's much larger and has been more thoroughly read by more people. It has more significance to more people than the Bible. It contains parables about good and evil and how to live one's life. It's hard to imagine very many people quoting selected sentences from Harry Potter without actually reading it. We see religious groups doing that all the time with the Bible. How many Bibles are purchased and never read? How many Harry Potter books are purchased and never read? One could imagine taking any Sunday sermon and replacing every mention of something from the Bible with the equivalent from Harry Potter and not changing the effect at all. Is the development of Christianity in the early first millennium the Harry Potter-ization of the day? I think about this when I read the historical Jesus and the history of the early church material.

    Well, maybe it isn't, but there certainly is room to discuss the cumulative effect of the modern supernatural in comparison to how Christianity is changing and the old supernatural. When we ask how Christianity is changing, are we referring to it's decline in relevance with the general population in juxtaposition to what's new out there?

    Morality, ethics, good and evil, advertising, lifestyle engineering, and more are ubiquitous themes blasted at us from every direction. So the church(s) has(have) a problem. They've lost their monopoly(s). How can religion be relevant in the modern world when there is so much competition in all of the areas that they have traditionally laid claim to? I don't know.

    I'll address motion-space-and-time, as in physics, and possible actions on the real world from the religious supernatural in another comment if I get to it.


  13. Good comments. Tonight I have bookmarked several of the websites mentioned by several of you and hope to visit them in the next few days. The following post are some reflections on Tickle's writing, a recent article I read, and a quote from a sermon in the early 90s. I suspect this all has something to do with this Great Emergence.

    I find Tickle’s work intriguing. She has clearly laid out before me/us what has led up to this emergence. It is no wonder Christianity has fractured. I use the word fractured because I can see how it has changed in my lifetime. From the time I was twelve years old until now at sixty-two there has been a steady change going on in our society. With the change of the role of women in society, the use of technology in mass communication, the era of the 1960s with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, sex, drugs, and rock & roll our entire society shifted. It seems as though we split in two. We either became liberal or conservative, for or against, right or wrong. Some of us moved away from the conservative societal & religious upbringing of our youth; while others pulled the conservative blanket ever more tightly around themselves & their children.

    No wonder we are in a Great Emergence. But from what are we emerging and where are we going? How can these two divergent groups find common ground? Is there a middle where we can meet?

    I use the following quotation which helped me to better clarify some of my doubts and questions about what I believe based on years of pouring over the Bible and of what I heard quoted from my more conservative friends. It made sense to me. I find I need things to make sense rather than relying solely on faith. The quote was from an Episcopal Church service in the early 1990s at Easter time: “Whether or not you believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an absolute truth or a powerful myth is not critical to whether you consider yourself a Christian.” This quote certainly seems to be leading somewhere different than the normal route I had been on prior to that time. It certainly allayed any doubts of “being saved” or taking the Bible literally; it seemed to lessen some of the deep concerns and doubts that have been part of my entire adult life.

    A recent article by Leonard Pitts Jr. from the Miami Herald titled “What drives people from God” is timely. Notice that the article is not a question. It is a statement about his view of what drives people from God. The highlighted sentence for the article is: “The most important cause of our loss of faith is simple: Religion has become an ugly thing.”

    I think Pitts is correct in his statement, but I am not without hope that this can be repaired. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) conducted by researchers at Trinity College of Hartford, CN found when polling 54,000 American adults there was a sharp erosion of people claiming religious affiliation. “In 1990, 8.2 percent (about 14 million) of us said ‘none’ when asked to specify their religion. Last year, 15 percent (34 million) did.”

    Pitts goes on to spell out the injuries produced in the name of all religions, not just Christian religion. After listing the harm caused by religion he says, “Who can be surprised if the sheer absurdity, fundamentalist cruelty and ungodly hypocrisy that have characterized so much ‘religion’ in the last 30 years have driven people away? If all I knew of God was what I had seen in the headlines, I would not be eager to make His acquaintance. I am thankful I know more.” He goes on to say the ARIS survey should be a wake-up call for organized religion and ends with the line from the movie, “Oh God” when God (George Burns) was speaking to the grocery store manager (John Denver) and wanting him to spread The Word. The manager said, “I don’t even go to church.” God replied, “Neither do I.”

  14. CC ~

    In the comments for Week 1, I addressed the question of McLaren's liberal theology and that of the Emergent Church movement in the strain associated with Emergent Village, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, et. al. Tickle also wrote the preface to one of McLaren's books, "A Generous Orthodoxy". In brief, McLaren openly rejects traditional understandings of Hell and Christ's Sacrifice on the cross for our salvation. What he does believe is generally hard to ascertain, as he prefers to write in "if-then" statements -- "if X is true, then Y" rather than any sort of positive assertion.

    This led to an discussion on that post how to understand Christ's work on Calvary. There are three primary models:

    1) The Ransom Model (Eastern Orthodox/Eastern Catholic) Christ's death was a debt paid to Satan in exchange for his control over human souls (which Christ broke free from, being God)

    2) The Substitution Model (Roman Catholic, Protestant). Christ's death was in place of our deserved deaths. There are variants on this including Satisfaction and Penal Substitution models, but the general idea is the same. This model is the one that is most familiar to us and the one that McLaren denies.

    3) The Moral Exemplar or Influence Model (?, I called it "Pelagian"*). Christ's life and His perfect obedience and martyrdom is a moving example that convinces people to be righteous.

    Without getting into messy details about the variants of the Substitution Model, which I feel are best left up to professional theologians, I believe that it is the orthodox teaching. Christ died for our sins, He died so that we might live, and other such sentiments are Scriptural and basic to our understanding of what happened that dark day and what happens every time the priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

    McLaren rejects this and that is why I called into question his legitimacy as someone to be listened to in the teaching of Christian faith. How can there be a Heaven without a Hell? Why did Christ die? What makes us Christians? These are questions that McLaren needs to be asked.

    ~ Tamara

    * The ancient heretic Pelagius taught that there was no Original Sin, Adam's sin was a bad example, Christ's was a good example, and we need to act on our own accord to do right and achieve Heaven on our own actions.

  15. Anonymous ~
    (I wish you had a name...)

    "the Episcopal Church [...] has a very formal, hierarchical (dare I say medieval?) power structure."

    "The successful churches have a "flat" structure. The only way an Episcopal Church can be flat is by the clergy letting go of privilege."

    Define "successful". The most hierarchical Church is the Roman Catholic Church, I'd be hard pressed to say it is not successful. Add to that the Eastern Orthodox Church and you're covering most of the world. Even most of the remaining Protestants, such as Lutherans and Methodists, have the traditional orders of deacon, priest and bishop.

    Secondly, if we had a "flat structure" and not a hierarchical one, wouldn't we be Congregationalists and not Episcopalians? We called ourselves Episcopalian because directly associating ourselves with England wasn't too popular during and after the War of Independence from England. So we called ourselves Episcopalians, which describes our structure as having a hierarchy, specifically having bishops, in contrast to most other churches in the United States which were a more congregational approach with a preacher leading a flock, largely independently.

    So you have to question that if we downsized our poor Bp. Rickel, we'd probably have to rename the church too!

    Also, "privilege" makes it seem like something good to be a clergyman. "Good" in a divine sense, of course, but it carries with it immense responsibility. For the clergy are not only judged for their own souls, but on the souls of their flock!

    Should the sheep resent the shepherd for asserting his privilege? What if flocks of sheep decided to become congregational sheep and butted out the shepherd so that they could decide things democratically? Then there would be a whole mess of sheep baaa-ing at each other while the wolf picks them off one by one. The shepherd is charged with the solemn responsibility by his Master to keep the sheep from falling into the jaws of the wolf.

    I wouldn't call that a privilege. Our shepherds need to be exhorted to do their job and to do it more stringently. They desperately need our prayers and support. Appointment of lay persons to various positions should never encroach upon the sacred duties of the deacons, priests and bishops.

    Since our deacon left to join the traditional Anglican parish established by our former priest, we have not had a deacon. In that case, obviously, splitting the deacon's roles in the caring for the Body of Christ between lay volunteers makes sense pragmatically. But it would make me happy if we were to find a deacon to take that place.

    ~ Tamara

  16. Tamara, I for one find great solace in the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church. I think we need to look toward someone for strength & guidance. I whole=heartedly agree that without it we may be sheep baaing at each other. We would have no direction. I wonder if the members define a particular Episcopal church by whom they select to become their priest or does the priest, once there, begin to guide the "flock". If a priest in a long time in a more conservative church do his/her views change over time or get overturned by the members? Could that be what happened when your deacon & priest left to form a more traditional Anglican parish? What caused the split and how many members did it take with it?

  17. In response to Lizzy's comment:

    "Could that be what happened when your deacon & priest left to form a more traditional Anglican parish? What caused the split and how many members did it take with it?"

    The priest in question was definitely not the traditional Anglican even though his claim was such and he moved to what was claimed to be such. He was really on the evangelical fundamentalist side, and I believe he was a newcomer to Episcopalianism.

    I don't think that situation is a good example in the context of our discussing "How Christianity is Changing and Why". It's not at all clear what the issues were. The apparent reaction of the bulk of the parish was "Good Riddance" even though the "real" traditional Anglican people who remained behind are still grappling with those issues.


  18. Comments on Chapter 5:
    Possibly for generational reasons, I felt like this chapter had the emPHAsis wrong, even as it (physics for poets aside) raised many important ideas.
    Here is what I think I mean:
    1. Physically we live in one finite world.
    When the Apollo astronauts turned the camera toward home they changed forever our worldview. For perspective, it is 40 years ago this year that we landed on the moon; a lot of people alive today don't remember a time when we didn't have this picture.
    Many other things contribute toward the feeling of one, finite world: telecommunications; easy, inexpensive travel; the Discovery Channel, to name just a few. There is no "new world" to go off and explore, or run away to when things don't work out.

    2. Politically this world is fragmented and very complex.
    One factor that I would have listed that Ms. Tickle did not is the end of the Cold War era. We went from having a relatively simple political framework: good guys, bad guys and victims to one that made no sense what-so-ever. The "freed" people started killing one another and it turned out that some of the designated "good guys" were really evil. Even though we are a "super power" we are helpless. Dropping an atom bomb isn't an effective solution to genocide.

    3. Emotionally we are isolated.
    Ms. Tickle addressed the "family reconfigured" and talked about many factors. One she didn't say much about was divorce. Many, if not most, people under 50 have experienced divorce-either as a child, as a participant or, quite often, both. The significance of this is that we have experienced our emotional world fall apart. Who can you trust? How do you know?
    Ironically, the same technologies that make us aware of how finite our world is have also increased our isolation: Even before Grandma moved south to retire and Mom and Dad got divorced, dinner was a time when we watched The News. Now you see people eating lunch at the same table but not together-they are texting and twittering.

    To recap:
    Physically we live on one, finite planet, politically it is fragmented and we feel alone.

    What I think Ms. Tickle was driving at with this chapter:
    We don't have a common understanding ("story") to help us work through the problems that affect us all and connect us to one another.

    Is the Gospel as a common story what is emerging in the emerging church?

    Between Churches

  19. Gary,

    I have to leave your comments to others; I've picked another thought to pursue. The relevancy of spirituality is the topic of a different, but great thread, and I'm pretty sure that Bishop Greg will provide us with another opportunity to discuss that (Right?). But do keep in mind, most Episcopalians keep matters of faith very simple. Just because we dress up like another faith tradition which shall remain nameless, does not mean we are identical. And, as a reader of Harry Potter (I work with kids, and one must stay relevant!) I recognize, as do many Christians themes that we would believe eternal -- i.e., life offers no greater cost or reward than the giving of oneself. JK rocks!


    I'm not so sure that McLaren has to be asked your list of questions. Even if his answers were different than mine, would that mean I or a parish should ignore the Gospel call of being the face of Christ to the world? Are we to only consider the thoughts of those we consider "in" and not those who in our estimation are "out?" Should we ignore the Spirit's leading of individuals and parishes to reach out in new ways to a generation that that sees the church as mostly irrelevant?

    I'm reminded of when Jesus' disciples came to him, asking if they should tell others performing miracles in Jesus' name to stop. You know how it goes in Mark 9: Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward."

    Of course I might be wrong (It has happened before!), but the emergent church heads us back to that principle. We are moving, I trust, beyond the time of differences that prevent us from doing what we need to be about, and getting on with the relevancy of what needs to be done. That is not so say belief is not important; we'll always wrestle with the creeds, but let's not do that to the point of becoming of no earthly or heavenly good as we "amputate" parts of the Body of Christ that are as critical, if not more so, than what we hope to be in Gospel endeavor.

    Peace of Christ

    Kevin Johnson

  20. Tamara,
    "Flat church" is described in the book Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler-Bass, as a characteristic common to the churches she used in her study. The question she was studying was what did successful mainline churches do? The criteria she used to determine success included not just numerical growth but also deliberate use of traditional Christian practices and a growth in spiritual depth. My copy of the book is on loan so I cannot give you her words. I highly recommend the book-it has a lot of insight into some very exciting ideas about renewal.

    I was a little confused about your discussion of the deacon: "Flat church" did not mean no clergy-it meant shared leadership and authority at the parish level not top-down from the denomination.

    Also, you mentioned the Catholic Church as an example of success: while it is undeniable that over the millenia it has had growth in numbers, it has been losing membership in the US over the past decade or so (reference for this statement is the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, you can google it).

    I don't mean to be down on the Episcopal Church but, if the Episcopal Church wants to continue to exist, it does need to look at what might be driving people away or preventing them from joining. Losing a third of its members in less than 10 years indicates that something, somewhere isn't working well.

  21. Anonymous said, “I don't mean to be down on the Episcopal Church but, if the Episcopal Church wants to continue to exist, it does need to look at what might be driving people away or preventing them from joining. Losing a third of its members in less than 10 years indicates that something, somewhere isn't working well.”

    The thing about statistics … well, never mind.

    The conclusion that the decline in Episcopal membership has been chiefly caused by members being driven away may not be valid. I think the one-third (35%) membership loss refers to baptized members. The loss of communicants is closer to 15%. This may suggest a loss of children members that is not being replaced rather than a mass exodus of angry or disenfranchised communicants.

    At our church we lost several families over the ‘gay issue’ in 1998, but it was no where near a third. Since then we have grown in membership. Maybe as many were attracted by the Episcopal Church position as were repelled by it.

    It is possible that the membership decline is caused by changes in the nuclear family. I think that the major change in women opportunities in the workplace has significantly changed the family dynamic. Two income families are now the norm, alas almost a requirement to survive in our economy. The lower birth rate of the newer generations coupled with an average older age of mothers when having their first child may have delayed the return of this generation to the church. [For example, our oldest child had her first child when she was 31, her mother was 22 when she was born.]

    What I am suggesting is that many young adults stop going to church regularly when they leave home for college and/or start careers. In our frenetic society, their focus is on nascent careers, relationships, and families. Many eventually return to the church somewhere around the time that their children are in Elementary School. It seems the time gap between leaving and returning has significantly increased due to this demographic shift.

    We should see our communicant numbers increase when they start returning. That of course only addresses the ‘grow your own members’ component. I agree that we need to do something in addition to encouraging our young adults with families to return to the established church.

    We also need to reach out to demographic groups that have not been traditionally Episcopalian. Anglicans have not been a Scripture Only church since our foundation. We have always balanced Scripture Only with Reason and Tradition. The Episcopal Church’s modern liberal interpretation is merely the latest iteration of that process. As such, we already are the answer to those Americans who no longer find Scripture Only a valid dogma. However, I don’t think that most Americans know very much about the Episcopal Church other than “it is the Protestant denomination closest to Catholicism”. We should change that perception, and the Emergence movement may be a very effective vehicle for helping us to communicate who we are.

  22. On page 101 we find the statements:
    “When it is all resolved … the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead.”

    “…Protestantism planted its standard dead center of a biblical absolutism without mercy or malleability, …”

    Perhaps it is time to declare where we Episcopalians differ from a literal interpretation of the bible. A detailed list would of course be impossible to create, but hopefully also unnecessary to create.

    Perhaps something that just speaks to the inherent God given rights of mankind. Perhaps something along the lines of, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, … [again … join me if you know the words].

    Just a quick list off the top of my head - Slavery is abhorrent , women are equal to men, homosexuality is not abhorrent, marrying a divorced woman is not adultery.

    Perhaps the Episcopal Church could issue a statement, “When faced with a choice between scripture and the God given rights of man, we choose God’s grace”.

    I am not suggesting that we alter the Nicene Creed. But, we should articulate who we are and how we are different from ‘literal interpretation’ Protestantism.

    Too much?

  23. This quote's been waiting for just this moment:

    "If scripture is understood as a repository of divinely revealed true propositions and moral absolutes, then normativity will appear as an application of those propositions and absolutes, literally understood, to matters theological, missionary, and personal. If scripture is understood as the sacrament of divine revelation, of God's historical self-disclosure, then normativity will be understood as the ever-developing guiding influence on our thought and action of an ever-deepening familiarity with God in Jesus."
    Sandra M. Schneiders, The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), pg. 59

  24. All fields of science are advancing at an exponential rate, especially in the last decade.
    Even the science of religion. By that I mean the historical studies, the psychological studies, the genetic studies etc. even internally by religious scholars.

    The parts of religion that resist the change and hang on to old ideas in spite of the evidence move from "being mistaken" to "committing fraud".

    So we don't even have to look at the details of beliefs, but only at the methods that are used to support them. That's why my recent thinking on religious fraud is significant. Organized religion is in a crisis because they are dealing with the explosion in evidence collection, communication, and analysis. It is exactly like organized religion's response to Copernicus et al. when the evidence could no longer support a flat earth with man at the center. The supernatural myth or whatever you call it, is no longer sufficient to convince anyone, so a power struggle ensues for control.

    I wrote the above yesterday, but I awoke this morning thinking about the French Revolution and the news of Jake DeSantis's resignation
    as head of A.I.G.'s financial products unit:

    The Divine Right of Kings, 1789, Storming of the Bastille, French Revolution, Guillotine, Reign of Terror ... Church and State together fell.

    Okay, now tell the same story substituting:

    2009 for 1789,
    capitalism for monarchy,
    CEO's and politicians for kings,
    Religious Right for Pope and Catholic Bishops (for that matter the Episcopalians as the bourgeois upper crust church too),
    employee in cube for peasant in field,
    Jake DeSantis for Louis XVI.

    Whoopee! let's go!

    So not only do we have organized religion's crisis of credibility with the advances of science in the 500 year reformation cycle,
    but we also have the 300 year political upheaval cycle.

    So "How Christianity Is Changing and Why" has several real precedents, but let's hide our heads in the sand and not think about it. Don't crucify me, I'm just the messenger.


  25. Gary,

    I'm not sure what/where your exposure to stifling "religionism" occurred, but prior to our "emergence" into TEC, many of us have had similar experiences, and at least in the Episcopal parishes with which I'm familiar, you wouldn't be that unique, and certainly not crucified.

    You are approaching all of the Christian faith as if it were an entity -- The Borg, if you will. In contrast, the breadth of current approaches to the Christian faith are quite diverse, as is acknowledgment of scientific discovery, including the "science of religion." Most, not all, Episcopalians follow scientific discoveries with great interest; Our current Presiding Bishop had a career as an oceanographer prior to entering the priesthood, and though I'm hesitant to speak for her, I'm pretty sure she would say that her career as a scientist "informs" her role as a spiritual leader.

    We are also, as a group, I believe, very aware of the excesses of religious power and the many harms done through the centuries and currently being perpetrated. It's just one of the reasons we find ourselves in out TEC faith home.

    However, your point is pertinent in the context of discussing the "emergent" church. There are Christian traditions who would deny developments in the realm of science as they threaten their beliefs, typically based upon literal understanding of scripture (Though I hasten to add, this literalism is "convenient", depending on the topic at hand.). IMHO, this would not be the church "emergent", but the church "disappearing act."

    In the conclusion of Tickle's book is the discussion of what will be considered "authority" in the church at this "hinge point." Though some might prefer the simplicity of "sola sciptura", the ability to reason, in which I would include rational thought, experience and scientific study, cannot be ignored. Your argument is with those who would wish to do so.