Phyllis Tickle on CANA’s Becoming

CANA’s official birthing occurred just before Thanksgiving, 2013 at the National Cathedral in Washington. Neither the time nor the place could have been more appropriate. There had been, admittedly, a lengthy and tender gestation for many months prior to November, just as there had been an anxious and prayer-filled laboring process for some several weeks leading up to the birthing launch itself. So it was that, by Thanksgiving, 2013, CANA was safely birthed and, from the very beginning, created great excitement and engendered great hope among us. But there the nativity metaphor ceases to accrue.

It ceases to accrue, because CANA is something far more than a by-product of human action or even of human intention and deliberation. CANA is a much to be desired, but not yet clearly defined, result of due, historic process. It is that most delicious of all things, a prophecy just entering into its becoming.

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Whether we like it or not, we North American Christians…goodness, let’s be honest…we Euro-American or latinized Christians wherever we may physically be…live in a time that is very close to a cultural/social/intellectual/political and definitely technological tsunami of monumental proportions and of even more portentous possibilities. Because of the all-inclusive, all-engulfing nature of the changes with which we are living, our Christianity is shifting and morphing and changing—not at its core, but in its presentations and self-understanding. In other words, the body shifts, but the DNA holds.

The last time our kind went through such an upheaval of everything, we evolved Protestantism, as well we should have. That sixteenth-century tsunami was rife with massive shifts and outright pressures toward the establishment and acceptance of nation-states as de-centralized organizational units; toward the authoritative credibility and agency of institutions; toward a separation of church and state that would free political action from enforced uniformity of belief and creed; toward the establishment of a middle class that a burgeoning, new economic system called capitalism required for its very existence, etc., etc. The inevitable result…or accommodation, if one wishes to state the matter that way…was Protestantism, which to this day bears all the signs and evidences of the times that shaped it. There was not, however, anything inherently “wrong” in any of that, a fact for which we should be grateful, since we stand in a totally analogous spot which differs only in its particulars from the circumstances of five hundred years ago.

All of which is to say the obvious. We live in a world that rather abruptly…or it often seems abrupt…is no longer hierarchal, one that is glocalized, networked, and nimble rather than rooted and pre-determined, that is egalitarian in intention and sensibility and demanding of social justice, that accepts with a pleased astonishment the revelations of science and honors them as veritable, that embraces the earth, the aesthetic, and the experiential as valid conveyors of actuality, that is deeply communal and, with good reason, very suspicious of “experts,” especially certified and institutionally credentialed ones etc., etc. In sum, the points of reference have all changed.

So too, and of necessity, has Christianity changed…or, better said, is changing, for we are very much in process. That does not mean that what hithertofore have been dominant expressions and forms of Christianity will, or should, wither away among us. It means simply that, like missionaries to a new continent, many among us—perhaps even approaching a majority of us—are adjusting our syntax in order to speak a new speech.  And CANA, pray God, is one of the places where we are going to begin to learn, and to teach one another, the grammar thereof, the working application of a new vocabulary and sentient structure.

Most overtly and obviously, CANA is the physical evidence of a maturing movement. Potentially, it is the first network formed among us that can connect myriad differing pieces and energies into an organic mass that is at one with itself in the same way that neurons in our brain mesh to become, in their collective firing, a mind, an agency, a consciousness.

In due time, there may be other CANA’s birthed among us. That is fine and as it should be. The immediate point, however, is that CANA is. The point is that we now have a continent-wide, all-connecting, non-partisan, non-doctrinaire network of Christians living and being as member-parts and member-fibers in a web of possibility, of hope, and of God-fearing, Christ-following work. And the job now for CANA-ites entering this new promised land is to grasp the vision, embrace one another in communality, and carry us humbly into this new place where our children and their children for several centuries will find their faithful homes.

About Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle , founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites. Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer on the subject.


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