Rev. Tim Black wrote a post over on the Presbymergent blog about what the PC (USA) can gain from the emergent conversation and what the emergent conversation can gain from the PC (USA). I think he has some really good thoughts, I agree with him. Here’s the post:
There’s so much excitement going on in the Church right now. Too bad, just like in the media, that the stories that often get passed along have to do with the negatives–”society is degrading”; “homosexuals are taking over the church”; “we’ve got to save our children from this corrupt generation”. I live in Florida, which is a generous mix of cultures, politics, social stratospheres and the like. If you can think up some name for a church, we probably have it within a stone’s throw. What is easy to see is that there are many things that divide us, but as a Presbyterian, I’m always looking for ways that we are connected. Doing some community work to bring folks together has not been easy, especially when a few want to highlight the divides. I’m one of these who is pretty certain we’re going through a time of Reformation once again, and as Phyllis Tickle might say, it’s not just the church that’s reforming, but every aspect of human society. Everything is being brought into question and everything is on the table. The appeal of Emergence is evidence of this as well. If everyone were satisfied with the state of the Church, then there wouldn’t be such a movement of new ideas, questions and challenges. I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) is slow to change and transform. In some ways this has served us well, but when it comes to thinking about the future, we are either stuck in the present or trying to reclaim the past. We are tied to some methods and systems that are antiquated, and yet the traditions of our faith don’t necessarily need to be re-written. How can we learn from the emergent community how to let go and untie ourselves from the things that bind (imprison) us rather than seeing what might bind (unite) us together in the Spirit of Christ?
The Emergent church, at the same time, is asking questions to make us all a bit uncomfortable. In many ways I appreciate being dislodged from the “zone”, but I also wonder if we lose something of Jesus in the midst of our questioning of all things faith. What, within our tradition, is worth preserving? I see so many (mostly out of fear) trying to preserve a Church that simply cannot remain static any longer. In this regard, the emergent conversation has helped a great deal. But what the emergent church can probably gain from the PC(USA) is the idea that we are not set apart from one another, but we are willing to persevere through times of difference and disagreement. I’m extremely saddened by the congregations who leave the denomination because they don’t want to go through the marriage counseling. Yes, it’s hard. Any relationship is hard. But in the end it’s worth the effort. It’s how Jesus draws us together, I think. Those of us who are Presbyterian have witnessed the Spirit at work within our bodies when we disagree. Clarity does not come quickly, or even in our time, but it does come. We could all stand to live with a little more patience. We could also stand to gain by listening and not talking. Just one pastor’s opinion . . .
The thing I love most about being Presbyterian (if you know me you know you I REALLY love being Presbyterian) is the connectional nature of the church. I LOVE that we have devoted members and faithful Christians from all walks of life, from a wide spectrum of theologies and politics who are willing to sit at table with one another and be in relationship.
One of my criticisms of the emergent conversation has been it’s (IMHO) “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach to orthodoxy, tradition and institution. Certainly there are things that that need to be reformed, need to be thrown out, need to be shaken up, however, if all you’re doing is shaking things up there is no base, there is no foundation. Now, I’m not one to stand on the soapbox of “right” doctrine or “truth” there are however things that I believe are important to retaining our authenticity as Christians, as members of the Reformed tradition and as Presbyterians that go farther than “I’m OK, you’re OK”. It is those things (I don’t have a list at the moment but I have some thoughts…love is high on that list) that I believe are necessary that will hold us together through the tough times.
To use the analogy of a marriage used by Black, My wife and I might not always agree, everyday isn’t sunshine and roses, at the end of the day I love her, I know she loves me and that is bigger than whatever disagreement or miscommunication that is getting in our way at the moment. I’m not going to run out on her if she hurts my feelings, I don’t like dinner (on her night to cook…easy on the gender stereotypes) or if we disagree about who they should vote off of the Biggest Loser. I know that when the sun comes up she will be my wife and I will be her husband and I’m committed to working it out and living together even if it’s hard sometimes.
I believe it is incumbent for ALL in the current church (PC (USA) and otherwise) to think more about how they can contribute positively to the conversation, to get involved, more importantly to stop writing blogs, sending tweets or waxing philosophical at the local coffee shop, go out and be with people you disagree, don’t try to change their minds, listen, learn, respect and I will do the same.
Every time I think about disagreement, especially in the church I think about this passage (Romans 12:9-21)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.