on the plane yesterday afternoon, i was making some progress in the very interesting, but a bit too long hip: the history, by john leland (right now i’m in a great chapter about the historicity of bugs bunny as the archetype for hip, bringing “hip” to the masses of american culture, displacing the minstrely micky mouse, in the middle part of the last century).
a paragraph caught my attention:
hip entails an acceptance of the imperfect – the low-fi, uncombed or unpolished. such is the license of living in the present tense: you don’t have to worry about mistakes, because their consequences are off in the future. at its most problematic, this devolves into hip’s fetish for failure and self-destruction. hip is imperfect in the sense of being incomplete, transitional.
the author had previously spent a good deal of time building a case that hip always lives in the present tense, with no value for history, and no use for future.
this paragraph put words around a previously unworded, nebulously formed thought that’s been percolating in my mind about the emerging church. now, bear with me – this is merely a rumination, not an accusation or a judgement. and this thought may or may not be true of the pace-setters in the emerging church; but i fear it may be moreso true in the popular expression of the emerging church…
is the emerging church having a love affair with transitioning?
here’s what i mean. for most (certainly not all), the original impetus for the emerging church has been a reaction away from things about the church we thought needed course re-alignment, or change. for most (certainly not all), this was a reaction to the shift within evangelicalism toward a more bounded set (rather than centered set) of beliefs and practices (this wording, which i originally got from tony jones, is developed extensively in frost and hirsch’s book, the shaping of things to come). any post-something reaction, of course, moves one into a period of transition. this is normal and good (or at least ok). this is how change occurs. but the transition has to lead somewhere.
we’re in the midst of a massive transition at ys. we kicked it off in may of 04, so we’re 18 months into the transition. until now, the transition has been all about reworking our organizational interior — how we work as a staff, what values we embrace, how power is distributed, how ideas (especially new ones) are processed and acted on. but it’s clear that we’re at a juncture in this transition. it’s time for the rubber to meet the road; it’s time for the internal to start showing up in external. if we don’t accomplish this in the next 18 months, the first half of the transition will have been somewhat of a waste of time and effort, really. because the point of change isn’t merely to say “we’re not that anymore.” eventually, it has to land on “now we’re this.”
back to the emerging church: my concern (my question, really) is that much (some?) of the emerging church is so enamoured of the transition itself (and possibly fueled by a side affair with being hip) that it won’t actually get anywhere, won’t “land”. early in our emergentys publishing line, we had a hard time getting authors — even those who were thought-leaders — to put words on paper, because they were extremely concerned about the finality (read: consequences) of those words. obviously, with the massive rush by so many publishers to release emergent-type books, this no longer seems to be a primary issue. but i’m thinking the general tendency, especially at the popular level, continues to be present. the very fact that the emerging church is so resistant to definition seems to bolster this thought.
i’m an emerging church insider. i love the questions being asked. i think some of the new expressions of church being fleshed out have great value — certainly for those who attend, but even as a course-correcter for the church at large.
but we can’t be in transition forever. and, at some point, the comfortability of being in transition will become the downfall of the emerging church (by downfall, i mean: it could neuter the movement).
being present in the moment (living in present tense) is important, even critical. living in the past doesn’t make sense, just as an obsession with consequences can lead to over-caution that impedes progress. but being stuck in transitioning ain’t so hot either.