by Will Samson
I am so hopeful for the role that Emergent is playing in the Church. One of the main reasons is the belief that it can be a part of shaping the dialogue around intergenerational faith.
At the summit that took place in Minnesota last month, we were sitting around one afternoon, pondering the question: "What is your greatest hope for the Church in the next 50 years?" My answer to that question was that, over the next 50 years, I hope and pray that the Church can start to diminish the huge cyclic volatility that has come to be characteristic of Western Christianity. It seems to me that each new generation, perhaps each new decade or so, brings a new way of "doing church." While this springs from a consumeristic mindset deeply imbedded in our culture, this causes a breach in relationship both with our generational peers and with the generations before and after us.
One of the words I would love to reclaim is the word "religion". In some circles it has gotten a bad rap, coming to mean something people fear in terms of having a false morality forced upon them. This is not undeserved, because in other circles the concept of religion is, in fact, the false morality that I just mentioned. Ironic, isn't it? But the word itself has such a beautiful heritage. It springs from a French verb, "ligare", which literally means "to tie fast", but carries with it the idea of being bound together through shared principles. Religion should be the shared values which bind us together as a community. Constant disequilibrium within the religious community makes it difficult to be bound to each other through a set of shared values.
This instability is perhaps even more hazardous to an understanding of how to follow God that flows from one generation to the next. In the lectionary reading for this week I was struck by this verse:
Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl. (Psalm 86:16)
Do you see what's happening there? First, the Psalmist focuses on his relationship with Yahweh. Then, the Psalmist focuses on the how that relationship is connected with his heritage, with his mother, in this case. This seems so disconnected with the way in which I understand my faith. But it also seems precisely the kind of long-term, intergenerational faith for which we must all be striving. It also speaks of a more long-term, stable relationship to God, one not punctuated by cycles of adoption.
One of my great hopes for Emergent is that we can smooth out the curves; that we can help people imagine a Church that does not go through the constant ups and downs that should be more characteristic of a market-driven organization that an organic entity like the Church. By focusing on questions more related to the nature of God (theology) rather than specific practice, perhaps we can begin to do this. We talk about including a wide range of Christians from progressive evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic backgrounds in the conversation. I believe that this will increase the intergenerational nature of the conversation. There are clearly some faith traditions that have a longer heritage than mine and I have much to learn from them.
The beautiful truth is that I already see some evidence that this is working. I am in conversation with people in their sixties who identify with Emergent. I am in conversation with people in their twenties who identify with Emergent. Me, at forty and squarely in the middle of those two groups, also feel right at home within this conversation. This is how it should be and, by God's grace, this is how it can be.