Emerging in the Suburbs

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently. I’ve got two books on the go (The Reason for God and 11), and I’ve subscribed to a few different blogs.

Most of the blogs I added to my feed reader are “emergent”-ish. Honestly, I tried to find a few evangelical/reformed-ish blogs, because I like to have my thinking challenged. Unfortunately, almost all the ones I saw seemed to have become spruikers for the Republican party and/or determined to convince the reader that a vote for Barack Obama was a vote for Satan himself. Admittedly, most of the blogs I’ve started following also touched on the election to some degree or another (how could they ignore it), but the difference in tone between the two sides was… scary.

The thing is, the difference in tone doesn’t seem to be restricted to Election 2008.

I’m both fascinated and repulsed by Christian bloggers whose mission in writing seems to be to tear down other Christians for “wrong doctrine”. At the extreme edge, you find the “Online Discernment Ministries” whose SOLE meaning in life seems to be found in tearing at the ministries and beliefs of other Christians. Did I mention that invariably they appear to be self-appointed “watchmen”.

This post is an expansion on my response to a post on the Internet Monk’s blog.

I have an extremely mixed church background – far less mixed over the past few years than when I was growing up, but there’s been one constant. I never felt like I belong. I’ve always had questions, and when I’ve gotten up the gumption to ask pastors and leaders, it almost invariably doesn’t seem to go well. I’ve been accused of being “too intellectual”, “thinking too much” and “overly cynical” (actually, that last one’s probably right).

My spiritual life seems to have been a combination of bitter disappointments and constant questions. Thus, I seem to find myself most at home with the “emergents”. Although wary of labels, I’m leaning towards “post-charismatic”.

Unfortunately, this leaves me in somewhat of a predicament.

I’ve been involved in three churches since we moved to Melbourne. I grew up in a series of Pentecostal/charismatic churches and groups; the first church we went to when we got to Melbourne was a Toronto-style/associated church.

The church family showed us a lot of love and care, but I eventually found it too much of a struggle to deal with the “experience-chasers” who seemed to move from church to church looking for a “Holy Spirit buzz”. They talk some really big talk, but their entire walk seems to revolve around getting their fix. I also had difficulties with some of the guest speakers who would visit and who seemed to be living examples of some of the worst things I experienced growing up.  Over time, I eventually stopped going.

The second is Cafe Church, a self-described “emerging church”. It’s a wonderful group of people, who I really enjoy spending time with. I think many of the questions the “emerging” church are asking and are willing to struggle with are important. Some of them are exactly the same questions that I’ve been asking for much of my life. I’m tired of hearing glib “easy” answers to difficult questions that only satisfy the one answering, and not the one asking. I feel at home asking difficult questions, and discussing the answers, and how it all ties into living my faith practically. 

But… it’s 40kms from home, on a Tuesday night. It makes it difficult to be a part of the community when there’s no simple or economical ways to be involved in the other events that are part of the life of the community. I’m still on the mailing list, and the Facebook group, and go along when I can.

When petrol got really expensive, and I was tired of not attending church anywhere, I tried CityLife. It’s not far from home, most of the theology seems pretty straight down the line, and I got a lot out of the sermons.

Eventually though, I came to an impasse. CityLife was working for me, wasn’t working for “us”.

See, my wife had stayed in our old church. She’s happy there. However, this created tension at home – I was looking for a home church we could all attend, and she didn’t want to leave our old church. She wanted me to attend with her.

I’m also friends with one of the members of the church leadership team. In him, I’ve seen a Christlikeness that inspires me to want to be more like Christ. He knows what I’m like better than most people. He knows how much I struggle with just attending. He’s seen me roll my eyes when something really tweaks me. He knows the questions I ask, and how I feel most comfortable with the “emergent” conversation, rather than the “charismatic” one.

So… I’ve gone back to a church that, in all honesty, I want to run away from. Again.

See, I don’t even know if it’s possible to have the “emergent” conversation in the midst of a group of people who seem to value mystical/spiritual experience far above practical faith.

However, maybe there is stuff I’m meant to learn. Like how to persevere. Maybe there’s something to be learned about how to worship God in a situation that I’d really rather not be in. Maybe I need to be asking my questions in the middle of this group out in the suburbs, instead of with a group of people who are asking the same questions. Perhaps God wants me to learn, as much as I need to ask questions. Perhaps it’s time I stopped running away, and confront my issues with my theological past. 

But I’m not sure how I’ll take the next person who walks up to me and wants to give me “a word from God”.

Perhaps a headlock.

  • Tan

    a headlock is that the new name for laying on of hands? 🙂

  • L

    Hey,
    I was sent “Holy Spirit Fire” on facebook today! I didn’t accept it though – do you think I would have felt it if I had? lol

  • L

    Evangelical, etc:
    http://apps.facebook.com/friendfeed/itskevin?&_fb_fromhash=cce45f68ca2637aec08fdb2628ed869f

    Should take you to a subscription to Kevin Matthews’ FriendsFeed.
    He is an old family friend. Before his car accident he was quite full on with the evangelical in your face stuff.

  • Alister

    I’m sorry you can’t get to CC more often. While being a voice of reason in the suburbs might be a worthwhile in itself thing, still a hard thing to do, especially if you’re not exactly feeling on top of the world.

    Prayers etc

  • Hi Warwick… don’t know if you remember me, but way, way back in the dark ages I was Linda’s bridesmaid! I have recollections of driving through Canberra at break neck speed (I think you were driving, but it may have been Matt!). Life’s moved on eh! Just found this post in a rather convoluted path from Linda’s fb account… and I hear you! My experience is the opposite. Into the emergent conversation, but wanted to see if it was possible to journey the two together, kind of help the church move that way. My husband left church due to frictions. I ended up leaving at the end of last year cause of the tensions it was causing us… and cause sometimes it’s just time to go! I hope you find a way through that is good for you, your marriage, your family and your church! (and do you still like fast cars?)

  • Hi Warwick…you and I are in similar places I think. I get told a LOT that I am over analytical and ask too many questions. I also have a similar situation in that my spouse has had the questions too, but has essentially been pushed out of the church. I truly believe that the church doesn’t look a whole lot like God wants it to, and we’re not representing him very well to this world…but I also believe that God is stirring the hearts of those who would listen, and he’s up to something big. I’ll be praying for you as you listen for the still small voice of God guiding you. Something God has been teaching me this week…as Christians we are on earth to serve God, not the church….focus on what God has for you, not what the church thinks would be a wonderful plan for your life 🙂