Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Emergent Conversation

In a post over at Pomomusings, Adam Walker Cleveland finds himself wondering about the state of the emergent/ emergence/ emerging thing.  That, in the event you've not been attending to it, was the brand spankling new churchy trend circa 2003 and 2004.  It was postmodern and relational, a simultaneous critique of the bureaucratic staleness of the oldline and the shiny consumer falseness of Big JesusPlex religion.

It seemed to have promise, back then.   Reflexive conservatism resisted it, as it does most things.  The liberal wing of the church gave it a big hug, as it does most things.  A community of like-minded souls formed.  Drums were played.  Incense was lit.  Polyvalent liturgies that explored the semiotics of meaning were earnestly explored in respectful dialogue, as participants liveblogged and tweeted earnestly, the bright apples glowing on the backs of their laptops.

And a community formed, woven together from shared interest and experience.   Their conversation continues, with a recent annual gathering.

Emergence, like Occupy, spoke into a deep and very widespread reaction to a troubling reality.  It rose in response to a gut-truth felt in the souls of many Jesus-folk, the truth that few of the current forms and the structures of the church were effectively articulating the reality of the Reign of God we're supposed to be manifesting.  It's why I got into it, why that little banner ad thing still sits for the time being on the right of this blog.

But like Occupy, what Emergence did not become was a movement.   It hasn't moved.  It has sustained, and maintained.  It remains, after ten years, essentially the same thing that it was when it began.

The "why" of this is a tick hard to nail down, but I think a substantial portion of that "why" lies in the intentional formlessness of emergence.

What is emergence?  No-one is quite sure, even after ten years of talking.  It seems to defy definition, at least in any meaningful way.

It has a hundred different definitions, all of which are equally valid.  The postmodern character of the conversation precludes the expression of a clear vision or direction, because articulating a clear vision would by necessity crowd out other possible visions.  The essential ethos of emergence is the open, non-judgmental sharing of theological perspective...and there's some real value in that.  There's also a significant focus on deconstruction and analysis.

But perhaps it is the conversational, deconstructive, and relational character  of emergence itself that prevents it from becoming a movement.

Movements arise when energies are directed towards a common purpose.  Movements rise up when human beings encounter something that offers to shape and give meaning to their existence.  And and wonderful and life-giving as those intentionally open-ended relational conversations are, what they do not seem to provide is the framework for channeling those conversational energies into a movement.

If you're intentionally eschewing norms and structures, a framework is unlikely to arise.

That may change, or shift.  But for now, it is what it is.  A continuing conversation.  So it goes.