Saturday, March 1, 2008

Holy Laughter and Emergent/Emerging

I have often thought that the present phenomenon of “emergent” or “emerging” does not, at bottom, have a particular demographic, that it’s not really a twenty or thirty-something thing, for example. I have thought that there is what my friend Kurt has referred to as a psychographic and that emerging appeals to folks with a certain socio-cultural, emotional sensibility. The following comes from an 80 year old man. Perhaps you’ll be able to identify the author:

Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one cometh to the Father but by me," which, in one sense, seems to be exclusive: unless you're a Christian, you're not on the inside. You're on the outside. But Jesus doesn't say, "The religion founded in my name is the way, the truth, and the life, [and] what people say about me is the way." "Our way of worship, the Christian structure, is not the way," [he would say,] "I am. I am. If you want to know what life is all about, what it's supposed to be, where it's supposed to go, where it's supposed to derive its strength from, don't look at anything people say about me. Don't look at the faith that's been created. Look at my life, which is a life ultimately of sacrificial love."

Those are the words of Frederick Buechner, and I dare say I bet they resonate with emerging types. When speaking of his own learning to “speak the language of faith,” Buechner, recounting a story of a mentor of his, says that Jesus is crowned king in the hearts of his beloved amid confession, tears and great laughter. Why laughter? Here’s Buechner:

I think part of the laughter is the laughter of incredulity. Can it be true? Can it be true? Can it be true what they say? That there really is a God and that he was in Jesus and he loves us and forgives us and will make all things right again? That he really made the world, he loves the world, he will save the world in the long run? Can that be true? I can only laugh. Or maybe the laughter is divine relief: "Oh my God. After everything, it's true. I can only laugh. I can weep at the absurdity and beauty of its truth."

Reminds of these words from Switchfoot:

All will be made well, will be made well, will be made well, will be made well. Is this fiction? Is this fiction? Hope has given himself to the worst. Is this fiction or Divine comedy? Where the last of the last shall be first. Living is simple.

Whether it is fiction or Divine comedy I do not know. What I do know is that at the deepest of part of my being, the story—that grand story of universal redemption, reconciliation and healing, that all will be made well—I am deeply moved, swept up and carried away. I believe. And it's not a choice I make, to believe. Rather, I find between the deepest part of myself and that story a powerful resonance, and it calls forth from me, quite independent of choice, belief. It is as though something inside of me shouts: Yes! This is how it is. At the bottom of everything is life and love and wholeness. Is this fiction or Divine comedy? I can only laugh.

[If you want to read the full interview from which the Buechner quotes are taken, go here. For the full lyrics of Living is Simple, by Switchfoot, go here. My thanks to Christi Sprague for introducing me to that song at a time I really needed it, and to Tasha Golden for sending me the Buechner interview. C.S. Lewis once said, “Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.” To which I add only this: nothing.]


Rachel said...

Thanks for posting that interview--I bookmarked it. Very refreshing. I love how he mentioned like four times that going to church made him crazy. :)

Kevin Corcoran said...

Hi Rachel,

Yes, he did lay a bit of emphasis on that, didn't he. What I found myself wondering when I read what he said about church is this: so, he doesn't go to church much. Fair enough. But does he know others? Is he known by others? Is his life invested in others?

I was just talking w/some newly made friends last night about "church." They feel alienated from traditional church and traditional Christian faith. I think it fair to say that they've moved away from it and do not go to church very often.

I told them that I have been known to visit a local church, a very, very large local church w/a very well known pastor. My daughter, I told these folks, hates it, despite the fact that the music is exceptional and the church is populated w/lots and lots of young people. Why, they asked, does she hate it. I told them that as my daughter has it, it's b/c we get there early (to get a seat), we don't know anyone there and then we leave just as soon as it's over (so we can get out of the parking lot) w/o ever talking to anyone. "That's not church" my daughter told me on the way home on one particular Sunday.

My daughter is exactly right--it's not church. I told her that while I think she's right I don't think of the Sunday morning experience as church. I told her that church to me consists of those friends in whose presence I live my life; those people who know me (and are known by me), know me really well (and are known by me just as well), who love me (and are loved by me), pray for me (and for whom I pray), kick me in the butt when necessary (and whose butts I kick, when necessary). It's those people I share meals with, laugh with, cry with and pray with. Church is Monday through Saturday, I tried to tell her. Sunday is an event. It's an extremely important event in my life. (I rarely, if ever miss a Sunday. It's my Catholic upbringing, I suppose.) But, to me, it's not church.

My daughter wasn't convinced.

Rachel said...

Is that "very, very large local church with a very well-known pastor" Mars Hill, by any chance? Because I used to go there (all the way through high school) and I felt much the way your daughter does. Too many Rob Bell groupies. Ugh.

I like what you have to say about church being about living our lives in the presence of people who care about us, but I think that I want to have my cake and eat it too by seeing the Sunday "event" as part of that overall picture. I want to see Sunday as a microcosmic version of the liturgy of life that I share with those I love. You think that church can be Sunday through Saturday?

Kevin Corcoran said...

Hey Rachel,

The vvlc is in fact mh.

The cult of celebrity, I'm afraid, is an equal opportunity employer. In the summer, when Jack Roeda is not in the pulpit at CoS (for example), attendance drops considerably. So the people at mh would not be unique in the celebratizing regard! (But, even so, wherever it's found it's kind of sickening. I agree!)

Here's my deal. Church can certainly be Sunday through Saturday. I'm just not convinced that in order to be a part (and a crucial part) of one's overall life the church one worships in Sunday must be comprised of people one spends Monday through Saturday with. Maybe better if it is, I suppose, but not necessary.

My experience is that w/any church as large as mh, or even CoS or nearly any traditional church in this town (at any rate) there will be far too many people (whom I don't know), and the service not structured in such a way, for it to function for me in the microcosmic way you it does for you. Or maybe this: there will be so many people (the vast majority of whom I don't know or am merely acquainted with) that it no more functions in the microcosmic way for me than a church the same size but where I know no one.

Still, I think Sunday service is essential and an integral part of a liturgy of life, even if I don't know anyone there. This is especially so if the Eucharist is celebrated there (and especially if it is celebrated in a manner such as it is at CoS or Catholic mass). But for the rest of the service--listening to a sermon or homily, singing, etc.--where everyone is sitting in a line of chairs or on a pew and staring straight ahead, whether I know or am known by the person to my left or right doesn't seem to me to be especially meaningful.

This is all autobiography of course. And my thinking is still evolving. But that, I think, is how I see it today. I think my ideal would be a parish church I would walk to, where those in my parish not only live in close proximity to me but who really do make up the community I live my life within, and where the sermon was not the central element.