A New Metaphor is Emerging…

It seems popular these days for people to virtually ponder and verbally process where we all are in the conversation/movement/revolution/whatever-name-will-not-offend-you-and-create-another-retaliatory-blogpost called emergent/emerging/emersion/emergence.  And though I’ve certainly not read all such posts, I have read enough of them to notice a trend in the language to describe this shift.  (Disclaimer:  I mostly gleaned this from blog posts with whom I agree.  Although, I don’t recall hearing metaphors from most detractors, which may in and of itself be worth noting.)

There seems to be a common understanding that wherever we are now, we are not only standing against something (which is where all good revolutions/reformations begin) but we are now standing in a space that is more positively defined.  And wouldn’t you know it, this space is attempting the difficult and creative task of being defined by its inherent openness, rather than its stark boundaries or newly-drawn lines.  (Clearly, from the title of my book, you can guess how I feel about this sort of thing.)  If there is anything that makes this movement somehow different or more nuanced than those that might have come before, it is because of this.  Some metaphors I have read and with which I’ve resonated:  JRD Kirk has applied Tom Atlee’s metaphor of “story fields.”  Derek Koehl (former Journeyer before moving to Atlanta) has a guest post here describing the emerging space as the place where many spheres converge in open space.  Kathy Escobar likened her place in this new realm to that of being a (mostly) contented mixed-breed mutt.

All of this is pointing to what those of us who met last April to discern where/whether EV had a future horizon have been calling the Village Green.  I realize my more concrete friends don’t always appreciate the slippery nature of things like metaphors, as if they therefore do not mean anything, but in my estimation all of these posts show that the Spirit is prompting us all toward this way of inhabiting the space in which we live.  It is, to use a phrase we often toss around at Journey, not an issue of doctrine but of posture.  How do we posture ourselves in the world?  This is not a simple task.  It actually requires much more rigorous consideration than doctrine, where one could conceivably stand in the same way all the time.  (Imagine the Tin Man, getting rusted solid and needing a bit of oil at the joints to begin moving freely again.) Posturing in this space we call emergence requires us to pay attention to the whispering of the Spirit, and the poetic words of Scripture, and those beautiful voices of tradition, and the face of the person in front of us, and the culture in which our feet are rooted, and our own evolving senses of identity.  It requires us to acknowledge where our joints have gotten a little rusty.  Posturing requires all five of our senses.  It requires us to live a fully embodied life, as Jesus did.  And when we posture ourselves in such a way, we open up a space where other people can encounter this Jesus as well.  (Or, perhaps more metaphysically accurate, we recognize and live into that space that is always there, whether we notice it or not.)

This has rather endless atoms of possibility, but to lift up one that has the power to alter much of how we live our lives together:  this village green/story field/sphere of openness/happy home of mutts and mixed breeds allows a significantly higher amount of voices to be heard.  One does not have to be male, or have a title, or be ordained, or (to attempt a little poke at the newest universalizing accusation) have voted for Obama.  Mike Clawson pointed out quite wisely in the comments section of Jonathan Brink’s recent EV post that one of the reasons this movement seems less “up front” is because it is emerging in places that aren’t on the most trafficked highways.  One does not have to be in an urban metroplex to find space on this Green, either.  I ran into a woman a few months back who attends a very small rural mainline church, and she told me enthusiastically that her Sunday School group was using my study guide while reading through Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence.  Just because even the “flat” blogosphere does not pay attention to a 50-year-old faithful Methodist woman and her ten friends doesn’t mean what is happening there is not highly significant.  This space is being created everywhere.  And we would be wise to recognize the way it is changing our religious and cultural landscape.

Again, the task of cultivating the space of what my friends and I have been calling the Village Green is not a clear and definite as blog posts describing why someone else’s theology is wrong.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have our opinions; but it does mean that our opinions won’t have much merit if we can’t figure out how to hold them well in this new space.  And in this new space, perhaps the biggest lesson of all is that we can listen to one another, opinions strongly intact, and actually even learn a thing or two.


  1. I’ve said all along that I have no interest in the whole “emerging” discussion (I’m having enough trouble figuring out what it means to follow Jesus). Having said that, I love this post.

  2. Thanks Mike!

  3. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine this week about the discernment process we’ve entered together that we hope will lead us toward starting a new church. We agreed in that conversation that we held two values we hoped would guide our discernment and the community we hope to form: 1. This process will not burn us out or lead us into cynicism and negativity. We will do it in a way that affirms the current richness of our lives while recognizing the call to grow in new ways. 2. We are not forming a new community out of a desire to stand against something that currently exists but out of a desire to reach those who are currently outside the walls with the life altering, radically inclusive love of God. As two women raised in the mainline with great gratitude for the faith we were given and have claimed as our own we want to bridge the richness of our tradition into the future and stand in a more open space.

    Thank you for affirming this sensibility and for your courageous and beautiful words.

  4. Tisha,

    As one who is attempting to hold strongly to those two values as well, I wish you all the best and would love to hear the wisdom you gather along the way! Perhaps we can share notes?!

    I think one of the most necessary changes we must make to the endeavor of being a pastor is sustainability. So many of my dear colleagues are tired and stressed and overworked. We must work hard at rejecting the idea that being less than a workaholic is somehow ministerial mediocrity. This may be admittedly easier for me as someone hired as a bivocational/part-time pastor. But I applaud you for your commitment up front to honoring and safeguarding the richness of your life. Growing a church that way is much, much slower, but then again strong, shady oaks don’t grow overnight either.

    We are also trying to do the hard work of rising above infighting among our Christian family clans and seeking to be a community that holds up, learns from, and practices the rich traditions of all of them. Sometimes we do this better than others, but it remains my prayer and hope always. There is something so beautiful and fertile about that open space…

    I pray God’s peace among you both as you seek direction!

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