what shape is water?

define the shape water takes? think about it for a moment, and tell me what shape is water? you can't, unless you know the shape of the vessel it is placed in, because water has no "shape" of it's own it takes the shape of the vessel. the same can be said of the emerging/postmodern conversation. i am asked all the time to "define what it means to be emerging/postmodern?" the best thing i can ever answer is, "what shape is water?" what i am asking the person is thing, in what context are you asking me to define the "emerging/postmodern conversation?" after all, to define something as fluid as the emerging/postmodern conversation one needs to fist know the shape of the vessel it sets in. but for many in the modern/evangelical movement do not like that, they demand a definition, a constant definition and one that applies to all in the emerging/postmodern conversation. given this, many in the modern/evangelical movement strive hard to define the emerging conversations, and never even strive to know the vessel. just as there is no way to know the shape water will take, there is no way of know the shape of the emerging/postmodern conversation will take. to me, that is the best thing about it. emerging communities forming out of a methodist tradition will be different then those growing out of a baptist community. this is hard for the "modern mind of reason" to grasp because they need lines, walls, boxes and definition to keep things in their respective places. to them it is hard to think of a community of faith that is "baptmetodepiscocathoreform" and where the people get connected. 

to the modern/evangelic church the "age of enlightenment and reason" gave birth to their world-view. with minds like kant and decartes they believed that the world could be defined by human thought, and that humans had total control over all they saw and desired. it was even decartes that offers us the very foundation of modern/evangelical thought; "cogito ergo sum" or "i think, therefore i am." this though gave birth to the reality that in the modern world, the method used is more important then the content measured, and also that a worldview is defined on the "certainty" of that method. the mind became the center of all that was, and platonic logic becomes the end all of end alls. over this time we raped lands, destroyed cultures and caused some of the most massive destruction ever seen on this planet. it was during this time, the that many of the great theologian formed much of what the current modern/evangelical church hold dear. it seems that the church was happy to "trade-away" the "doctrine of revelation" because, as they believed, they had a way of "proving" God was real, and that jesus is that God, and so on. it was simple, all they needed to do was put the method above the content, and then tell themselves that the "content" was right because it fit the method. that seems to be the heart of the problem they are having with emerging/postmodern conversation.
the problem that i see that they are having with us is that they are striving to define us via what they see in themselves. it is in the way they see the world that they are striving to "define" the postmodern/emerging conversation. while i understand that, and i do see where they are coming from, what they seem to be doing is try to "push" the emerging/postmodern conversation into the box where they make the "rules." they are striving to force the emerging/postmodern into the evangelical/modern, and it will not fit - so, with the same "off logic" that they created the evangelical/modern movement, they desire to "bring down" the emerging/postmodern. what they do not realize, is that if they look they will see the dna they placed in us. but they will not look that deep, because it is easier to dance on the surface then it is to swim in the ocean. and what they would like, is for us to get out of the water, get dressed and sit on the blanket, and that's not going to happen.
most evangelicals want us to be in one place, while we find ourselves in a very different place. now, that is not to say that "all" emerging/postmodern people do not "fit" into the "evangelical" mold, some do, and so do not. the issues is not "who is and who is not" evangelical, it is that those in the evangelical refuse to see even those in the emerging that are themselves "evangelical." it is also, that the evangelicals are striving hard to swipe all people with one large brush. to them it seems that on one end of the spectrum is what most modern/evangelicals desire and on the other end, what they desire to accuse emerging/postmodern of being.
here is what i see as the "lines drawn" by the modern/evangelical movement:

1. they desire to fight over what is the "certain" foundation
2. they desire to fight over what they see as the author's "true" intent
3. they desire to fight over how on defines "community"
4. they desire to fight over the idea of a " pastoral theology" (and leave it to the scholars)
5. they desire to fight over what logic to use, and they demand it be their way.
for me, this fight is just getting silly, and one i am not sure i want to get in the middle of. to me, what seems to be the case with the modern/evangelical movement is that they have exchanged a faith in jesus christ for an epistemological system. i think this is one of the main reasons (cores) that form in the "emerging conversation" and one of the reasons i think most of us are not comfortable with many "tag" - because when we are tagged, we are associated with another philosophy we may not desire to be connected to. this drives many modern/evangelicals crazy, because it seems that (to them) we are a mixed bag, and to be honest, we are. while all that is true, let me share with you what i think most people in the emerging/postmodern conversation are, and "are not" about:
1. they see us as "emotional and stupid": for some reason, and i am unsure why, many in the modern/evangelical movement see us as "touchy feely" and even "stupid." many of us are rather smart (myself excluded :) ). while we have a large share of "advanced degrees" we have even a larger share of people who know life, and have experienced a particle side of living the faith. i think the reason we are seen in this light, is because we truly believe that the faith can be lived, and lives can be changed. we honestly thing that we can love everyone, live in peace, forgive and live in grace. we are seen as being "idealistic" and that is fine, because we feel that jesus was also very idealistic.
2. they see us as "young": some are, and some are not. this has never been an age thing, it has always been a thought thing. i am amazed at how many people think emerging/postmodern is a "college" thing, or a "youth group" thing. yet, when they come to an emerging service, they see people of all ages, and they are surprised.
3. they see us as not committed to scripture: this one is the funniest every, because all the people i know in the emerging/postmodern conversation are fiercely committed to scripture. while we many not get the same stuff out of what we read, we are very connected to the scriptures of the faith. while we think that people can read, talk and discuss all parts of scripture, we strive hard to come to a community consensus of what it mean. many are tired very tight to orthodox christianity.
5. they see us as individualistic: this is the farthest thing from what is real. we are totally committed to living in a biblical community and team ministry. we think accountability to that community is something we all need, and we have no problem with having accountability structures. i think this is one of the problems, modern/evangelicals desire us to be accountable to them, and we desire to be accountable to our community. just because they are "leaders" in the modern/evangelical church does not make them a servant in my community. for us, the "class" system created in the church is wrong, so the laity/clergy gap is something we desire to remove. remember that the modern "superhero" is superman; and the postmodern are "the x-men" - being the "lone gun" is not our style, we love the team and the community - the more the better.
6. they think we are all liberals: while we may reject any universal human experience as "the one we all must share" that does not make us "liberal." in fact, i know many in the emerging that run the spectrum from conservative to liberal, and to group us into one area is something we will reject. i believe the idea is that if we disagree with the evangelical/modern movement we must be liberal - because they see themselves as "the true center" and they are wrong.
7. they think we believe "anything goes": for some reason many in the modern/evangelical movement think we believe that "anything goes" and that "everyone is right" simply because we are unwilling to condemn the thoughts of others. well, that is not a reality we live in. many of us hold fast and hard to what we believe, and as a group we are very willing to accept the thoughts of others - we do not have to agree, but that does not mean we have to condemn. the idea in the modern/evangelical movement is "if you disagree, start a denomination." but for us, it is "if you disagree, cool let's go get a coffee and talk about it, i want to know what you think."  
the bottom line? the emerging/postmodern conversation is deeper then the modern/evangelical movement desire to make us out to be. they attack us, ridicule us, and demand that "we change to fit their shape." yet, when we stand our ground and express the shape we believe God has lead us to, we are tagged "argumentative." then, when we hold to how we see it, they claim we are not being open. for us it is simple, the church must be church - not a social club, not a production, not a fashion club and not a huge building where they spend more on upkeep then on feeding the hungry. we have no desire to "sell" our faith to others, and we are very willing to let each community develop in the shape set before it. so, what share is water?


fatwrath said...

"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless--like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash! Be water, my friend."
-- Bruce Lee

Laura said...

thanks for the excellent summary. i've been interacting with some evangelical/modern folks recently, and you hit the nail on the head concerning many mis-conceptions. so, thanks, from this emergent/evangelical...

Jeffrey said...

Wonderful post. I'm a 22 year old church planter in a suburb of Nashville, TN. MANY local modern/evangelical pastors have a HUGE problem with what we do. Just like you said, they ask all of the shallow questions that illustrate their belief that the emerging church is a model or a method--because it is more comfortable for them to put it into that box (though it is obviously not).

Just once I'd love to meet some modern pastors that say, "Hey we so don't understand that, and it's not for us, but it draws unreached people to Jesus--so rock on." (though I realize a modern pastor is rarely ever going to say "rock on".)

Like yall..I'm tired of the fight. It's pointless. It's devisive. It's the work of Satan. Let us (modern & emerging) strive for fluid unity, compassion, and coversation as we do the work of the Kingdom (big K and singular), not our kingdoms (small k and plural)