This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Emerging Church Conference, Albuquerque. III.

Yesterday, we went in the morning to view the petroglyphs.  These are ancient figures scratched (apparently) into the volcanic boulders scattered in this canyon north of the city.  Some of them were of birds, dancers, snakes, and faces.  And some were not easily identifiable.

There were also holes from bullets and buck-shot, scratchings of people’s names, and lots of broken glass around.  This testified to the work of more recent visitors to the canyon.  

To me it’s all a part of the history.  Innocent and beautiful images from Native Americans... and destructive and violent effects of their conquerors: us.  It turns our that our cab driver told us that as teenagers he and his friends used to go out into these canyons and “shoot our shotguns.”  This is before the area was declared a national monument and anyone thought these petroglyphs interesting or important.  He seemed like a pleasant and gentle man now, patiently waiting for us as we browsed the visitors’ center. 

Perhaps the landscape is also “open source.”  It includes various voices with distinct agendas, approaches, and priorities.  To sanitize it would be dishonest.

Anyway, McLaren went on to give what I thought was one of the key images of the conference, that of a tree.  A tree grows by adding another outer ring each year.  This outer ring is where the energy happens.  If Christianity is like a tree, and each tradition is a side of the tree (eg. a Catholic side, a Reformed side, an evangelical side, a Lutheran side...), then it might be reasonable to talk about how folks in the outer, growing edge might have more in common with each other, no matter which side they are one, than they do with others on the same side but several layers further inside.  In other words, emergents of different traditions might have more in common with each other than with more traditional Christians of their own traditions.

McLaren’s main point had to do with the recovery of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God, which he interprets as an anti-Empire polemic.  The Kingdom is a new order in this life, which makes it a threat to the present authorities.  

He finished with a look at the hymn in Colossians 1, which concludes with how Christ was “Making peace through the blood of his cross.”  This turns upside down the way Caesar made “peace” through the blood of countless victims tortured on countless crosses.  Christ’s shedding of his own blood was an act of suffering and forgiving, expressing the love of God.  It was the ultimate act of resistance to the domination system.

In a final quote from Vincent Donovan’s book, Christianity Rediscovered, about missionary tactics, he says “go with them to a place where neither you nor they have ever been before.”  “Jesus is always on the move,” concluded McLaren.  
If the Atonement is one of the things that needs to be rethought in this age of transition, as Tickle said, then we have to reflect carefully on McLaren’s take on Colossians 1:20.  

On another topic, I am not a complainer but the worship has been unsatisfying, which is surprising.  I have always held that the emergent movement was originally a worship renewal movement.  Perhaps I am mistaken in this.  In any case, the worship has been non-participatory and not particularly integrated.  The music has been good between speakers.  But tonight’s evening worship had no continuity or focus, veering from praise song to a poem to an unrelated song by one of the musicians.    

The conference is huge —  953 participants —  which makes it difficult to get any kind of conversation going with the leaders.  We are limited to reflecting with the others at our tables.  There are no other small groups.  Attempts to organize networks on the basis of geography or tradition were half-hearted.


John Edward Harris said...

No conversation with the leaders; reflection limited to others at your tables; no other small groups; and half hearted attempts to organize networks on the basis of geography or tradition does not sound very emerging.

Paul Rack said...

I suspect that some of this is a function of the size of the meeting and the fact that it was in a big hotel. I think this was mainly Rohr's group that did the organization. But yes, one can imagine a format more amenable to emerging themes.