alternative worship

WARNING: this blog entry contains raw emotion and verbiage.

at first i was "postmodern" - and while that is what "we were" i lost interest in the term fast, because it seemed to say what i was not. it started to define me by being a "not" thing, "post-modern" [being "post" modern and "not" being modern] and i decided i just did not desire to be defined by what i was not, so i looked for another term.

than along came "emerging" - and while that seemed to last longer than "postmodern" it again, defined me in a way i was not happy with. it seemed to define in as "i was, and others were not," and i am not healthy with that - and to be honest, like most of us i can fall into the trap of thinking myself better than others because of how we define things and use terms - so, i have been growing very uneasy with this term. i found myself living in the crap of "being emerging" and not "being me, a follower of christ." to me, it felt like the same shit other churches have been heaping on me for years, "this is how you need to think, and if not you are not one of us." i tend to see this as a very unhealthy and a very misguided way of thinking. i see that as being more destructive to the "kingdom on earth" than anything you could think about; and i fell into that hole, and soon found myself up to my ass in mud.

it could be:
it could have a great deal to do with the whole "emerging, the great whore, sell it while it's hot and say we do it for jesus" mentality that seems to be alive at many of the "emerging gatherings" [there was a disclaimer here about certian events, but if you feel this way about the events you have gone too the disclaimer had no value] that turned my stomach over the years. i was once asked by a small gathering, why i did not go to many of these events and speak at them [i'm actually asked to speak at some]; and i shared that i felt like a slut every time i went. i felt like i was selling out and spreading my legs for money, fame and site hits. i was becoming what i find so offensive in our culture - and that was not my desire. i found that the events cost too much, and they pay their speakers too much, and they do it all for the sale of books, and not for the bottom line of the sponsors, though they will claim they do it for the kingdom.

every time i go to one of those "sales meetings" [let's be honest, the book people see this as a ripe market for the sales of books and authors us it to pimp their books and fame] i feel like i am standing on the strip in las vegas and people are handing me porn rags. the pimps are standing behind tables and hawking there best ladies, and they get pissed when you don't care to take part in thier version of hell. the last "big event" i went too, i was expecting jesus to come running through tipping tables and calling us all to a better life. i have nothing against making a reasonable profit, and i have nothing against selling books - but when a "national" event costs some $500 [excluding hotel and meals] and there are over 15,000 people striving to learn, how does that benefit anyone but the people putting on the event? think about it; sitting in a "small session" of 500 people there is very little interaction. one event has a special, "for an additional price of $100 you can have an intimate lunch with the author [limit, 200 people]." 200 people is not very intimate to me, that's like sitting in a restaurant and trying to ease drop on the conversation from across the room.

or it could be:
it could be the idea that many denominstions see emerging as a "quick fix" to the current state of the church and a "tool" or "program" to "outreach" to a "younger" group and bring them into the church. if i had a dollar for every time i talked with a denominational person who simply saw the emerging as a way to keep the funds flowing into the denominstion, and to keep asses in the pews i would be a very rich man.

in all my time in talking about the "emerging church" with denominstions and the "powers that be" i can honestly say that the episcopal church was the only church that was interetested in it for what it was, and not for what it could "do" for the church. it seemed that they cared less about "filling the pews" but they did care about "filling the hearts" of the hurting in this world. sure, we can all pick out individual church "leaders" who see it as a heart thing and not a member or money thing but that means very little in the big picture. in the "big picture" i found the episcopal church to be a very different animal in the jungle.

i can remember sitting with one person, from another denomination, that looked at me and straight out asked, [when i was the lead pastor at praxis and looking for a 'covering'] "if we 'let you in' what can you do for us? how does this church benefit us as a denominstion?" my reply was, "i don't know." the idea they had, was that we help them "reach a younger group" and "if you are going to join us, how can you reword our doctrines so it can be understood by 'an emerging mind'?" never once realizing we do not desire to "reword" but we do desire to "rethink."

it could be either of those, but most likely it is, both. in any case, i am tired of it all.

in either case:
it seems to me that "we in the emerging" have become what we have said we did not desire to be - we sold out, we became what we saw was so "wrong" with the modern church. we sell our "programs" and "canned" worship services to others to "help them become like us." we put our crap on line so others can buy it form us, we charge outrageous fees for speaking, we hawk books and seek better book deals, we talk different but the words mean the same thing, we created "you pick the number" ways of being an "emerging church" and think we have defined what it means - we have not truly become anything different, we have not "emerged" and we are not "emerging" - we are a clone of the modern church except a bit younger. sure, we use cooler music, and have cooler clothes, and cut our hair much cooler - but cooler is not what i want to be, nor is it what we need to be.

this is why i would rather be seen as "alternative worship."
i love the way steve collins puts it over at the alternative worship site. i think i like this so much because in the "emerging" we might express it, but we sure do not do it. this may have to do with the fact that we are driven by our american capitalist desires and our hollywood images, while other parts of the world are not driven by the same reasoning. here is what steve shares as what "alternative worship" is:

  • Christians reinventing faith expression for themselves within their own cultural settings
  • a response to postmodern Western society and cultural change
  • faith expression within culture not in a parallel 'Christian' culture
  • reconsideration of all inherited church forms and structures, including recent modernizing ones
  • rediscovery of ancient and alternative Christian traditions as resources for the present and future
  • paradigm shift from centralized into networked forms of church
i love those, they speak to me like nothing i have read or seen in america. they tell me that we, in america, need to realize we are not "doing it right." we have to remember that what works in new york, will not work in charollet, and what works in charollet will not work in san jose. there is no "this is the emerging" - we need to dump that idea. to me, being a follower of christ is so very important, so center to who i am, that all this crap that formed around the emerging is crap i do not desire to claim.

i know i tend to be the radical, the one willing to question everything, the one willing to open mouth and insert foot, but can i be the only one who feels this way?


Evilnomore said...


NO! You're not the only one who feels this way! In fact, the vast majority of what you wrote I said to my wife yesterday. It all seems so hollow and plastic when it is compared to the way Christ calls us to live. I'm tired of the "church"...no matter how you lable it...being a gutter crack whore.

Keep on, my brother.


Rich said...

No, you aren't. I feel ya. I posted earlier today some somewhat similar thoughts... I may repost it to Emerging Southeast after folks have had a chance to read yours.

d3techy said...

yes, you are often radical. but questions always need asking. i've been on a journey, trying to find the roots of my faith. it's sickening what the church has become. it is vile, discusting. it's like everytime the Church realizes we're going the wrong way, someone starts something new. but then it's like Judges where we slip right back into our self-worship.

ph0rman said...

i personally have been getting rather pissed off with the mercenary/elitist idea that God gives me a revelation so i will charge you to find out what it is. whether that be books, conferences, CDs, whatever.

i'd blame this problem on exactly the sort of baggage that needs to be dumped.

a major technological shift enables this meta/post-modern/-mergent culture (like the printing press did for "modern" culture): the internet. in that we can share one-to-another, no author/clergy elites necessary.
i.e. an actual return to original church culture! the priesthood of _all_ believers (not just the elevated).

(but thats another rant ;)

A Simple Disciple said...

Like you I prefer a transformation by Christ rather than all the crap we gather around ourselves to feel holy/spiritual/Christian/faithful to Christ. I’ve also stayed away from the “Emergent convention circuit” and the cultural co-option of the “Christian subculture.”

I went to the gathering in New Mexico in October and found the small community we created to be rather refreshing. Apart from that, I’d rather not talk about “the church emerging.” I’d rather live it.

papa g said...

thanks John ... i thought i was going crazy ... it seemed like the emergent crowd shunned me because i am new to the whole scene and when i said that "no one speaks for what i see that is emerging" ... that seemingly caused more isolation. being an outcast in the modern and the post-modern church ... is a lonely place! the thing that made we get out of 30 years of institutional pastoring was the whole ... i have something you dont have, mentality ... and now im seeing it in something i like, again. i've said it before, i would just like to do life with a group of people who are focussed on the kingdom and not so concerned with their 'stinking badges'.

rant on, bro.

postmodernegro said...


It was a pleasure chatting with you last night at the Charlotte cohort...even though you are a 'gnostic':). I think the group had a great time.

On the issue of emergent and other emerging church type groups 'selling' their wares. I have mixed feelings about this honestly. Movements require capital (I am sure your selling of ginkwear helps fund your website and other ministry-related activities). It takes money to run things...especially when you have a sense that what you are a part of can make a significant contribution to the church and the world.

We do need to be mindful of the vices of capitalism and consumerism. And I can see how conferences and conventions can become a hindrance. But when you are a part of something that is playing a part in reforming things then that will require some level of mass organizing...and that requires conventions and conferences.

While I think those in the emerging church should be cautious when it comes to doing business...I think those on the 'purist' side need to be more sensitive to the pragmatic issues that are involved in being change agents.


peter said...

"i was expecting jesus to come running through tipping tables and calling us all to a better life." So true. I think we can probably all say we experienced that at some point.
You also hit the nail on the head with your comments about the different 'names'.
It's become very trendy in the church to be "post-modern" or "emerging"; we all look to these people in anticipation of great things. But it's not about new names and a religious 'cosmetic surgery' of sorts. We need to re-orient ourselves to where Christ wants us to be, not where we feel comfortable and safe. This is not a superficial change, but a deep paradigmatic shift.
Thanks for the reminder.


Craig said...

The links are broken to the new articles that you've posted on Ginkworld. I'm getting the 404 error page.

john o'keefe said...

thanks, i was geeting a ton of email and i could not figure out what it was all about - until this morning :)

Steve said...

While I agree with many of your sentiments about the marketing of all things "emerging", I'm not sure I agree with the tone. Like you, I went through the cycles of what to call this thing we're in - postmodern, emerging, alternative - and I went through a good lot of "angry young man" stuff. That's fine for a time, but at some point, it's important for us to quit worrying about what it's called and who's making money off of the labels, and just live this stuff out in our local communities of faith. Let's face it, part of our collective journey involves new terminology, and some terms will have more long-term impact than others, but I don't give a flying flip what you call me if I'm being a genuine, simple follower of Jesus, living a missional life of inviting others to walk with me. It doesn't matter what the fashionable flavor of the month expression is. If it's helpful, use it, and if it isn't, dump it. Honestly, I still find a lot that's helpful about the postmodern discussion. I still find a lot that's helpful about emergent. However, I stopped waving the flag for any of these brand names a long time ago - mainly because in our humanity, we're gonna screw stuff up, and our labels are ultimately going to be broken and full of baggage just like the old set of labels (i.e. seeker sensitive, purpose driven, etc). What I find of value in postmodernity is the shifting, hard to pin down nature of it all - let's have our consistency as a movement defined by our change, by our willingness to make course corrections along the way, by our drivenness to live the Kingdom without brand names.

O.k., that turned into a little more of my own rant than I intended. Peace to you all.