A Seat at The Table: Keep it Wild

Listening to a recent ‘On Being’ podcast with the venerable and feisty Walter Brueggemann, I was struck by what seems at first to be rank overstatement.  His contention is that the ancient Hebrew ‘prophetic/poetic messengers’ serve to critique everything:  all political, social, and religious systems. In Brueggemann’s opinion, the worst thing we can do with these Biblical messages is to organize them, domesticate them, and to “create another ‘ism'”.

photo credit: Rasiel Suarez

Surely, part of the reason emergence churches like Common Table don’t get more organized is because we lack that kind of drive and motivation.   We might get around to establishing a denomination, if we had the time to do it.  We might try to create some kind of legacy, it it wasn’t such a burdensome project.  No, we’re too busy with Twitter, Facebook, fixing our hair, and with finding the perfect hipster glasses to get much done.

But it is also because we understand that it will be our undoing to go legit. That ‘getting organized’ is it’s own kind of perpetual project.  That becoming ‘establishment’ will dull our vision and make us too complacent, too preoccupied with our own existence.

Instead, we’ll keep doing our thing with a 501c3, a bank account, and an informal part-time staff position (and many kindred spirits will do with much less).  Eschewing formal organization for short term experiments, and holding on to even these informal plans lightly.  We’ll have a much better refuge from the system and a more life-giving critique of corporate culture from our place on the margins.  We’ll push back against the assumption that every good idea must be connected to an institution, organization, curriculum, program, or PowerPoint presentation.  We’ll be satisfied to be small and honest and sincere.  To question everything, including our own existence.

The truth is, our goal to be a little disorganized, somewhat faltering, and little bit feral (to borrow a great metaphor from Tony Jones and Sheryl Fullerton).  To remain just outside the camp, in a place where the wind blows and where the wild things are.

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  • Nate Millheim

    Mike, thanks for articulating something I’ve been feeling and trying to explain to people for some time. It somehow makes me feel a bit more relaxed and appreciate of how I spend my time and the simple goals I have for life.

  • Frank

    Meanwhile the “institutional”church does more to help the poor, share the gospel, develop disciples and make a real difference in the world. But enjoy your insular, safe community.

    • Ryan


      With all due respect, you might be right on some level that institutional churches help the poor, share the gospel, and develop disciples. But, it is important to always ask ourselves, why are we helping the poor, what gospel are we sharing, and what kind of disciples are we developing? Are we helping the poor to make ourselves feel better, to cleanse ourselves of some measure of guilt that we are not poor? Are we sharing a gospel that has been diluted and is a gospel that is not something that Jesus would have had in mind? Are we developing disciples that are only faithful to their local church and the agenda of a pastor and or a board that make decisions that often times are money based decisions and are not necessarily in the interest of furthering a Jesus driven agenda? Hopefully, we all are striving for that, but it seems like many times that is not the case at least from my limited experiences.