for those who hang or lurk or associate around the emergent discussion (for engagement or policing or whatever), this is nothing new — just a restatement. in fact, when i was walking through glacier national park last week, and thought about this, my first response was:
who am i to write about what emergent is? i can’t speak for emergent.
then, my second thought was:
well, now that i’m a board member, i suppose — technically — i can speak and should speak for emergent.
then, i finally came around to:
really, just about anyone can and should speak for emergent — at least anyone who is in relationship with others in emergent. because — i know you’ve all heard this language — no one’s spinning things or offering up a marketing line when we say that emergent is a friendship.
i was there on day two (literally) of emergent existing in its current incarnation (post-leadership network). this is important: no one was using the term “emerging church” at that time. or, if anyone was, it certainly wasn’t in wide use. it would be very interesting to have an anthropologist/language historian tell us all if either “the emerging church” nomenclature influenced the language of “emergent”, or the other way around, or if the two rose up independant of one another. i spent a decent amount of energy early on (as did many others) trying to explain the difference between “the emerging church” and “emergent”. whatever. suffice it to say that emergent is one componant of the world-wide expression and exploration called the emerging church.
the problem is (and has been) that, while the words are almost identical, their meaning is completely different — compatible, but different.
“the emerging church”, and the common use these days in most discussions of what emerging/emergent means, is “to come out of” or “to emerge”. and when coupled with “church”, the implication is clearly that this thing is calling itself or being called “the new church”. it’s not a perfect name, of course, and has a real ring of arrogance to it. but i think we’re stuck with it.
emergent, on the other hand, was chosen as a metaphor, from it’s botanical useage. that’s why the new-ish emergent logo has a leaf on it. it’s referring to the new growth that occurs in an old forest, the hyper-green and extra-fragile stuff that grows down near the forest floor, well below the towering trees around and over it.
why am i writing about this now (when it’s been written about so many times by so many people)? well, because i was struck by it last week while hiking in glacier national park in montana with my family. here’s a couple pictures of the visuals that captivated me:
here’s what i noticed:
– emergent growth is humble. yes, it’s beautiful; but it’s rather powerless. and from a helicopter view, you’d never even catch sight of it. it doesn’t choke out the powerful old growth. it merely flourishes in the space it has.
– emergent growth is patient. these little saplings and shoots wait. in an area where an older tree has fallen or died, the emergent growth takes off, and fills the void, reaching for the sky, becoming a full-functioning part of the forest ceiling.
– emergent growth is fragile. much of this stuff dies off each year in the snow (at least in glacier national park!). but it re-emerges, or new stuff emerges, the next spring. even that which doesn’t die off is highly fragile, green, bendable, easy to trample or snap. certainly, any time an old tree falls over, it crushes some of the emergent growth at it’s feet.
– emergent growth is experimental. look at the old trees in the pictures. they’re orderly. there’s only enough room for one of them in any given space. and in this forest, each section had one kind of tree (multiplied a thousand times over). but the emergent growth takes all kinds of wild forms — ferns and sapplings and moss and more. they grow pell-mell wherever, with no apparent rhyme or reason, only sequestering a fraction of the biological needs and demands the older trees insist on.
– emergent growth is essential. without the emergent growth, my hike would have been substantially less beautiful. without the emergent growth, the forest would be weaker — as it would not have a way of replenishing itself. without the emergent growth, the older trees would lack many of the nutrients they need.
– emergent growth is dependant. this is an interesting one to consider applying to the emerging church: without the older trees, the emergent growth wouldn’t exist. without the older trees and the protection they offer, the emergent growth would quickly be snuffed out.
no, i’m not saying that the ‘generative friendship’ called emergent has always been all these things (well, it’s been fragile and experimental, to be sure, but not always humble and patient, and not always aware of its dependance on the old growth church). but i can and should say this: emergent growth is a beautiful and right metaphor, a worthy model, and a noble aim.