Now more irrelevant than ever

blogging dogs

A reader e-mailed me this week with "I think it is time you stopped talking about the emerging church.  You haven’t lead a church in over two years.  Your voice is irrelevant to the conversation since you are on the outside of it."  

Well I don’t blog a lot on church mechanics anymore and I don’t think I did when I was a professional cleric but I think that opinion is a huge part of the problem.  I hear Frank Viola (blog) getting ripped because he isn’t seminary educated but part of me thinks that his opinion and voice is important because he isn’t seminary educated and he has a viewpoint from outside of the system.  It is one of the basic premises of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book, The Ingenuity Gap and is the idea that too many experts tend to have too narrow of focus and view on any problem and there is a need for deep generalists to bring a wider perspective on an issue and perhaps facilitate discussion between different fields of discipline to bring about change.

Of course this misses the bigger rebuttal is that serving the poor and disenfranchised seems to be one of the basic themes of the Bible and I think I do a pretty good job of doing that.  It’s definitely not cool (I came home spelling of dog, cat, and human urine today) but does that disqualify me from having a worthwhile voice in the church?  I don’t know.  If it was someone else I would say no but I feel a large distance between me and Christianity Inc. these days so maybe it is legit.

MegaLOMart I went into the Christian MegaMart ™ the other night on a whim.  I was looking for Jim Palmer’s book, Wide Open Spaces and a copy of Divine Nobodies (neither of which they had) and as I looked at what the Christian marketplace was, I realized that I don’t fit in the old evangelical world anymore.  As I looked at the assorted titles in the section marketed "The Emerging Church", I am not even sure I fit in there.  Maybe evangelicalism and the emerging church is a place best left to the professionals.

Where do I fit in that?  I don’t know anymore.  I don’t think it is just sitting in a pew listening to someone else tell me how to live but at the same time I don’t think I want to go back to the other side of the pulpit and tell other people how to live.  I know we call that community but that isn’t community.  We can quote Steven Johnson all we want but it isn’t emergent either, no matter how many tea lights get lit.  Somewhere along the way, something got lost, misplaced, sold or changed.  The vision of what was talked about a long time ago in places like Three Hills, Seattle, and online was changed, about the same time the marketers saw us as a market and the media saw this as a news worthy story.  If there is anything I would love to do, it’s find that again.  If it still exists, I’ll be over there.

19 thoughts on “Now more irrelevant than ever”

  1. I never understand people who try to tell you what you can or can’t talk about on your blog. That would be like me walking into your living room and starting to move the furniture around. (But seriously, have you thought about moving the couch? It’s totaly my business. I think it would make you more relevant.)

  2. “If it still exists, I’ll be over there.” Let me know when you get there…so I can join you.

    BTW, people telling you what to write about, or not, on your blog is a good thing. It means they are engaged, but of a different opinion…that is a good thing, no?

  3. Just out of curiosity where have you been going to church since you left spiritwood. I keep checking the church of the exiles webpage and nothing seems to be happening.

  4. I suppose the comment you received reveals a certain understanding of the church and what voices the church ought to listen to. Odd.

    I’ve been meaning to comment that the posts about your work with the poor have been helpful and I hope they continue. I think the case could easily be made that those outside the traditional boundaries of church ministry- people who often have dedicated themselves to the poor- have historically had significant things to say to the church. In a landscape of professional ministry it is so important to hear from those who return from work smelling of “dog, cat, and human urine”.

  5. you are amazing in your irrelevance. in my opinion, you are making this emerging whatever beautiful. keep caring for the poor among you, jordon. I firmly believe that is what is required.

  6. It’s been said that “Boomers are the specialists that silents wanted to be.” And “Millennials are the generalists that X’ers wanted to be.” But, in both cases, the conversations drive the goals. Silents achieved “virtual specialization” by assembling groups of talented boomers. The conversation was driven top-down by the silents, but the boomers, infused by equality, linked in different races, social classes and cultures. But, boomers, being essentially specialists, linked together by a point or two.

    Right now, millennials are generalists and their connections aren’t single links, it’s more a case of overlapping matrices. Millennial emergents have a sense for all the elements – a millenial with seminary strengths will overlap with one with marketing strengths. But both will see the importance of the other, and figure out how to connect. They won’t dismiss the other for a perceived weakness in the palette of emerging pieces, they will include them for the strengths in the rest of the palette.

    A lot of aging X’ers have fears that the millennials will push them out. They did not have the same environment their silent counterparts had, two generations earlier. Cheap oil and houses, stable jobs, good schools and a stable structured society for building relationships helped the silents. The X’ers did not get that; perhaps the Millennials can pull them together, just as the Boomers pulled the Silents into the Civil Rights movement.

    Millennials aren’t like Boomers, they don’t have a “Don’t trust anyone over 30” mindset. They want to include seminary/non-seminary and pastor/non-pastor types. X’ers – don’t deal yourselves out.

  7. I feel you. The existence of an “Emerging Church” section of the bookstore is telling in and of itself.
    When I heard about McLaren (for example) doing all the stuff he started doing, I was kind psyched that somebody I respected was going to be able focus attention on the conversation. When I saw it would cost me ~$80 to join that conversation I knew something had…jumped the shark… maybe?
    Last time I checked we didn’t have anything approaching criteria deciding who was in and who wasn’t. I would argue that the minute we did we would have lost one of the most important messages the emergent conversation has brought.

  8. I have the same feelings Jordon. Again it seems to come down to “doing” church versus being the church. When someone comes up with ideas to get us “out” of the spiritual rut, we analyze it, package it, market it, and then it becomes the opposite of the desired outcome. You are as relevant as anyone can be, but you are not relevant to the “system”.

  9. Hey!

    I Enjoy reading your blog and can sense that your frustrations will only be your greatest strength in your journey of faith!

    By the way I was in Toon last week and picked up a copy of ‘divine nobodies’ at McNally Robinson for $3.99… I think there was 3 copies left… You can find them in the ‘Christian Bargain’ rack, right by the music magazines!


  10. “But it is the principle” you might say. Let us look at the definition of principle, which is ‘fundamental truth or law;’ ‘personal code of ethics.’ A law is a rule, which is a rigid unwavering concept until it is changed. Personal is ‘that which is distinct and individual.’ Combine these two definitions and you have a perfect definition of rigid beliefs.

    Laws are made and enforced in order to restrict social and individual behavior. Restrict is the operative word and a perfect description of what rigid beliefs do. You adhere to them because you think they are fundamental truths. You then impose, and project, them on others.

    The enforcer of any law is also subject to upholding it, even though this does not always happen. In dictatorships, for example, those who enforce the law usually consider themselves ‘above it.’ Their purpose is to use it to rule over others, manipulate them, and reap personal benefits.

    Rigid beliefs are not much different. You may think that you are ‘above’ your own rules, “I am in charge of this firm and it is others who need to respect me,” etc. In this way you resemble a dictator, but with one difference. When people do not abide by your rigid beliefs, you are deeply affected.

    You rant and rave, raise your blood pressure, and maybe gain a victory by imposing your beliefs on others. In the meantime, your health and happiness is jeopardized. In this way you are slave and ‘victim’ of your own dictates.

    It is possible to ‘make’ someone treat you in a way you deem polite. For example, it is a commonly held belief that “children should respect their elders.” Very often, when children are ‘made’ to act respectfully, they will rebel. The minute the parent’s back is turned they will say, or do, something disrespectful. The parent’s rigidity then achieves the antithesis of its aim. In this way, the type of respect given is not heartfelt and spontaneous, but artificial. The behavior they show you, and the feelings they have for you, will be in conflict.

    Your rigid beliefs are a double blind. On the one hand, if your child does not act respectfully you consider it a slight. It pushes your “buttons” about being an effective parent who is in control. In turn, it is pushing their “buttons” about respect.

    These will have evolved from the feedback and indoctrination you have given them. The connotation has nothing to do with true respect, which is an expression of compassion. Instead their “buttons” will be derived from the connotation that “people have power over me” and this means, “I am a powerless,” “I am weak.” Consequently, every time you enforce respect they will perceive the need to rebel. Their “buttons” require them to deflect the negative connotations respect triggers about themselves.

    The child has now learned how to act towards you and learned how to feel about him/herself. Actions resulting from this indoctrination will never be from the heart, but from the head, and it’s “buttons.” They can now only show you ‘masks’ of respectfulness, all the while increasing the size of their “buttons” around the concept.

    When rigid beliefs about manners are imposed on others, they will always lead to the antithesis of what you want. They disallow others to express themselves in their own unique way. Whether they rebel or succumb to your wishes, they are acting as a result of the pressure of your beliefs.

    The particular ways in which respect manifest are incidental. There is no one way that is going to suit everyone. However, when acts of respect arise from the heart, you cannot go wrong. Any action arising from the heart is not distorted by beliefs, but spontaneous. These actions are in tune with your true nature. Even if they are misinterpreted, they can never be ‘wrong.’

  11. Matt, Brian is a friend and I hear that jumping the shark thing all of the time about him. It’s a weird place he is in that his income comes from writing and speaking. We expect his books to be excellent and his workshops brilliant but at the same time we don’t want to pay him for the time it takes to do that.

    I don’t know what I would do if I was in Brian’s situation but I don’t think he is doing it to sell out.

  12. Dick, I don’t think I have that rigid beliefs. My theology is paradoxical at best and I know it has changed over the years. Probably 80% of my theology is correct and 20% is wrong but I don’t know which is which many days.

    I don’t think that the person who questioned me was wrong either. I disagreed a bit in that I don’t think discussion in the church is a professionally lead conversation but others disagree. I don’t know if either one of those beliefs is rigid or not. I do know I have a different idea of the Kingdom than others but again, that is in flux as I grow older.

    Karl Barth wrote with some certainty before he backed away from it and wrote Church Dogmatics and Karl Rahner suggested that one write often while young so one has something to laugh as I grow older.

    Even my own thinking has radically changed in the last decade.

  13. I don’t know if believing something is rigid beliefs. Jordan has some strong opinions over the year which have changed but I don’t know if you are trying to enforce them on anyone. I am quite a bit more conservative politically than Jordan but at the same time I see some give and take even there. If I am right I think that Jordan’s vote has changed over the last last couple state elections.

    Of course blogging and any kind of media has a certain aspect of opinion projection. I think of Instapundit and there is a belief system there that has boundaries and even in Christianity, there are boundaries of what you believe and don’t believe.

    It’s an interesting topic.

  14. Dick, I think you are reading a little into Jordon’s post.

    Jordon, I think in many ways your critic is kind of right, have you posted on the church five times in 2008?

  15. Yes Josh, I agree, an interesting topic. 🙂 and Jordon… in my experience you are one of the more open minded, question asking people I know.

    I appreciate that… I read your blog because it encourages me to ask questions and to challenge and to try and think outside the box.

    Jerry, I think I read a bit into the person who sent Jordon an email… and I reacted in a defensive way.


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