I’m excited – really excited. Stripping away the scant possibility of any cool detachment on my part, I am honored and energized about being the ‘4th day of the month’ convener of this emergence Christianity, emerging voices conversation.
The topic of emergence Christianity has now entered its third decade for me. I can vividly remember driving to Charlotte, NC in 1993 in our new Saturn, steering with my knees while I penciled down lyrics from a Soul Asylum song on the back of a torn envelope to use in a consultation on ‘baby busters’ for Leighton Ford Ministries. Yikes! Saturns, Soul Asylum, and simply the term baby busters all feel like relics from a world long past.
Included in this small group of ten were church planter Dieter Zander and the late-and-truly-missed theologian Stan Grenz. Dieter, speaking about New Song Church, a fellowship he planted in California in 1986, described a church that I didn’t know could exist. Stan, while confessing that he had no idea why he was invited, began to explain postmodern epistemology to the philosophically uninitiated in the group (including me). After about an hour of his philosophical instruction and a thorough baptism in neo-Star-Trek metaphors, all of us knew that something had changed that was far larger than another generation of young persons alienated from Christianity.
So much has changed for me since that time. There was a wonderful ride of leadership in the YoungLeaders Network and EmergentVillage where my critique of American Christianity was sharpened and my hopes of what could be were kindled. I left the progressive Evangelical world at the very time that ‘progressive Evangelical’ was becoming even more of an oxymoron to plant an emergent church in Durham, NC (Emmaus Way). That community is now ten years old. I became deeply involved in the Seattle School for Theology and Psychology. My kids are now collegians asking the kind of questions related to politics and faith that I could never have even conceptualized when I was their age. I’ve also spent the last ten years serving as a clergy caucus leader and strategy team leader in a grass roots political organizing community (Durham CAN & the Industrial Areas Foundation).
While my story could be described as a journey from one place to entirely another, there is also a there-and-back-again circularity to the tale. We moved to Chapel Hill in 1990 so I could start a PhD program in Cultural Studies at the University of North Carolina. After being accepted in 1992, I never matriculated because life got in the way — in a beautiful way. That very painful decision yielded the marvelous space to parent some amazing kids and ride the emergent ride of the last couple of decades.
Twenty years later, I’m a PhD candidate in that same program. I study how practices, struggles, play, and imagination shape personal identities and the identities of social movements. I also write ethnographies (the narratives of peoples and groups) and do personal life narrative research. As we say in the South, ‘for heaven’s sake,’ my first academic publication was entitled “In God’s Country: Deploying Détournement to Expose the Enmeshment of Christianity within the Spectacle of Capitalism.” Long time friend, Tony Jones, commented, “With a title like that it is sure to sell tens of copies!”
He’s right! I only mention the title to mark the magnitude of the journey for me. I don’t think I would have written that twenty years ago. So much has changed on the ride. The Soul Asylum song I was listening to in 1993 as I drove to that consultation was Homesick. It includes a haunting chorus, “I’m homesick for the home I’ve never had.” Over twenty years later, I’m anything but homesick. Two decades in this conversation (and its developing practices and sensitivities) and I’m filled with a hopeful expectation of where it can go.
In my cultural studies world, we are reflexive before we write the biased and perspectival stories that we write about others. It is an act of acknowledging the inevitable and never innocent power the writer has and a step toward relinquishing some of that power to those who are telling the stories. I hope I’ve done some of that today. In the future, I hope to fill this space with the stories that emerge in community organizing, life narrative work, and ecclesial life where we are trying to remember the past and imagine what has never come to be.