I spent this evening with twenty or so other people engaged in the “emerging” conversation in a German bar and tavern (I’m not a beer drinker usually, but wow, this was really good beer) on a steamy night in Stone Mountain just a few miles from home.
For those of you who don’t know what these subversive Emergent-type people do, I’ll just briefly summarize the happenings of the evening. First off, the movie that was to be shown, The Invisible Children of Uganda, wasn’t shown due to wholly separate issue, but nonetheless, a terrible tragedy of a youth director falling into sin was shared. So we prayed…not so different, right?
Then in a room of virtual strangers, we were invited to introduce ourselves by answering 4 questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What are you grateful for? What do you need (from the group tonight)? Around the table with me were men and women of various ages, one African-American, me being the only Asian, some confessing in their introductions that they were curious to hear what this Emergent thing is and some confessed they came for the video. Regardless, it was a wonderful foray into good conversation with the people sitting around — the only disclaimer being thrown out was that we are here to mix, but that no mixers would be provided. If we wanted to get to know people, we would have to be bold enough to change seats, walk around, and speak up.
In no time, all kinds of delicious conversation started — Jewish spiritual practices; post-liberal and evangelical factions within a nearby seminary; biomedical ethics; post-humanism; a distaste for Pat Robertson; the mysticism of Eckhart; the desire to re-infuse the sacrements in a way that they become holy not because someone tells us they’re holy, but we sense God’s holiness; Rick Warren and the satirical take, the Porpoise-Diving Life; Glorietta (Emergent meeting) versus Catalyst (“Promise Keepers for GenX-ers”); the Ten Commandments in front of the Alabama Supreme Court (“what does it matter if we legislate it when people aren’t living it…”); the Israeli-Lebanon conflict (I just had to bring it up); Gandhi (whom I hate and was caught saying he was hopelessly self-righteous and arrogant when compared to Augustine); Augustine (“What a miserable life he lived. I’d rather be self-righteous than to be that miserable”, it was said back to me); to jazz (“Now Duke Ellington might be able to say that he did that [create jazz]” to which I couldn’t stop myself from my retort, “He was only the Duke, there was a King and Count too. Jazz would’ve happened without him.”).
But as the night wore on, I think I began to understand why I believe the “emergent” conversation is important, not just for its wonderful conversation fodder, but because the night capped with me standing under a streetlamp at midnight with an African-American from an Adventist tradition and a blue-eyed white guy from the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and talked about racism, challenging people from our faith tradition, bringing the best of our respective traditions to the conversation and all the while glorifying God. This type of vulnerability, where we can unpack some of the cultural / historical baggage and just ask questions from brothers and sisters of other Christian streams was incredibly enlightening. To understand that we are all, on many different fronts, wrestling with culture, tradition, and oh yes, God, his ways, and his words. It was a night unlike any other night spent at any church I’ve been to, where I felt that people who were so unlike me, and who I was so unlike, were walking with me towards the same Jesus, who were asking how can we make you known, and how can we better bring your kingdom here on earth? We are asking these questions from different streams at a time that was never quite possible like this before. It is possible now, this sense of emerging, and I believe it is a good thing, especially on nights like tonight.