New Baptist Covenant

I got back in to my hotel last night about 11:30 or so after having a late night meal with the staff of King’s Cross Church. I intended to write a little about it but fell asleep and then over-slept and missed the sessions this morning.  Attending the New Baptist Covenant Celebration last night was a profound experience for me, the whole being much greater than the sum of its parts. Dr. William Underwood (President of Mercer University) set the tone with some great words of welcome. The music was good (The Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church Choir and the Mercer University Singers sang). Dr. William Shaw (pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church in Philly and President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.) preached a great sermon, and President Jimmy Carter was wonderful in his presentation as well. I took some random notes but they confirm what I said above, it wasn’t what was said as much as it was the experience of bing present.

I sat on the 4th row to the left of the platform. I sat with no one I knew. I was the only white person on my row. When the first hymn began, tears almost began to fall (and if you know me, that is VERY strange). When we held hands later in the service during a prayer, for the first time in my life in a worship service, I did not hold a white hand. When we began to disperse, the African American persons with whom I had just worshiped God, spontaneously hugged me and I hugged them back.

Now the cynic in me is mocking me, screaming, “KUMBAYA! MY LORD!” and trying to get me to erase the paragraphs above. But I’m not going to do that. What happened last night was very real. I wouldn’t want to make it into more than it actually was, and there are some “youth-camp invitation” aspects to it. But for the first time in a very long time, I was actually proud to be a Baptist. For the first time, maybe ever, I was looking forward to reading the papers and seeing what they might write about a group of gathered Baptist Christians. And for the first time in quite a while, I think I actually worshiped. It was a good night.

emerge

emerge |iˈmərj| verb [ intrans. ] “move out of or away from something and come into view”

There was an interesting question that I ran across on the emergent village weblog several weeks ago. It actually arose on Andrew Jones’ blog, Tall Skinny Kiwi: “Emerging Church–does the hat still fit?” The responses range from yea to nay. (funny how that usually works) Some of the “nays” seem vaguely similar to fans of an underground band screaming “SELL-OUT” when “their band” makes the big-time. Sort of a “it-was-great-while-this-was-my-little-secret-club–but now-that-everybody-does-it-I’ll-trash-it…” kind of thing. Others seem a little more legit in that they are frustrated with the marketing of the term among many who simply misunderstand what’s going on as merely “the next big thing.”

I think as long as “emerging” was a verb, it was a helpful term for those of us whom it described. We were “moving out of or away from” institutions, cultures, religious structures, etc. that we were finding increasingly inadequate or problematic. What began to “come into view” was the number of people who shared our discomfort and relationships began to form. Where the word began to become uncomfortable was its evolution into a noun: “Emerging Church”, “Emergent Service”, and maybe even the early clamor heard when “emergent village” was formed and events, books and other product “emerged.” I do not necessarily have a problem with the “noun” expressions of emerging faith. I’ve bought many of the books and attended several of the events. Most of these nouns have broadened my spiritual imagination and provided new motivation to continue my journey following God in the way of Jesus. As long as the missional verbs continue to drive the institutional nouns, this will continue to be a helpful place, and a helpful term (at least for me).

“emerging church”

I have an idea of what emerging church might feel like. I just can’t picture what it looks like.

When I am in conversations with my “emergent” friends, there is a freedom that I have come to crave. I remember one conversation in Decatur, GA several years ago with some of the “name” people in the emergent church movement. Theology, philosophy, sexuality, profanity, mission, missional, heresy, Jesus, beer, religion, cigars, evangelism, books, film, politics, kingdom of God, etc–all came up in the course of conversation. It came about completely naturally and with very little effort. Such potentially divisive topics were discussed intelligently and passionately. Differences arose but did so in the context of friendships and in a way that the community of the moment was maintained, again, with very little effort.

For me, still acclimating myself to my new-found freedom outside the fundamentalist religious frameworks of my past, the emergent church conversation has been a kid-in-a-candy-store type experience. Not having been exposed to such openness in my past life as a Southern Baptist minister/employee, I became somewhat gluttonous about it. I wanted that type conversation all the time. I wanted it over cold beers among thought provoking friends and I wanted it on a regular basis.

However, as conversations mounted, a sense of “what now?” began to set in. Some of the questions that arose for me were: What does this actually look like?; How do you start such a community?; How do you support such a community?; What does this look like for soccer moms and dads?; Where do you meet in a community that is the antithesis of cool and hip?; What does it mean that this “movement” is tied with cool and hip?. I know the authors of the books and their “faith communities”. I can call more than a handful of these experts and drop in on their regularly scheduled programing and try to find the model to be replicated. Most (if not all of them) would visibly cringe at such a notion. Ultimately, these are very traditional questions that will leave me frustrated in the end.

I think my next step into this realm of “emerging church” is to emerge myself.

emerge |iˈmərj| verb [ intrans. ] “move out of or away from something and come into view”

I believe I have effectively “moved out of or away from” traditional church structures, if not in actual practice, in my thinking. The second part of the definition is now my task–“to come into view.” I must begin to actually practice some of the things I love to talk about. I believe it begins with my own personal spirituality and relationship with God. That sounds like a Sunday School answer. Let me rephrase this task in a awkward yet very informative “emergent” way: I need to begin to follow God in the way of Jesus. The “What does this look like?” questions still arise but the focus at this point of my journey is on my personal practices (The Daily Office, worship, how I spend my time, how I parent, etc).  In the near future, this must transition into community practices.  I believe the mission of God in our world is practiced in community and not in the hyper-individualistic way in which modern spirituality has evolved.  Enough of this rambling…I’ve got to get to work.

…about this “daily office” thing…

Commitment: the continual striving toward a goal long after the excitement that called that goal into being is past.

I’m only a week into my flirtation with the discipline of praying the daily office and I am finding it somewhat…what word am I looking for…awkward? I am no less committed to the practice now than I was when I began. It is a practice that I would like to become a habit, eventually transformed into a lifestyle.  At the beginning, I was blaming my waning enthusiasm on the form. I did not like the web based format suggested (Northumbria Community Daily Office). I was not alone in this. Someone else in my cohort has similar frustrations. I am still a “book” person. I like to hold a book in my hands. I prefer a newspaper to an RSS feed or web-based news. I thought I would be happier with words on a page guiding me through the process than with words on a computer screen.  So…someone went and found a book version of the Northumbria Community Daily Office…no excuses!

However, I think a deeper issue for me is my own lack of discipline. The word “discipline” doesn’t even sound appealing. Ultimately, the point of this venture into this spiritual practice is that ugly little word–DISCIPLINE. It seems that all surrounding culture exhibits a great lack of it. For me, I recognize how the culture feeds my impulsive nature often manifesting itself in a desire to consume. I can Google just about any product this morning, and have it delivered to my door tomorrow. Books and web pages are readily available to provide easy answers/solutions, ultimately demanding little real change on my part.  I have hundreds of channels on my TV set, a DVR that records programs for me so I can watch them on my time and terms.  (It doesn’t even take discipline to set down and watch a TV program anymore.)

One of the key tasks in the first year of my Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary is some intentional self-reflection and adaptive change (more on that process later). The process to this point is exposing some of the elephants in my room. One of the unnamed elephants is my own cynicism. It manifests itself as wonderful excuses to do nothing. In terms of my faith, it has allowed me to criticize the ills I see in “the church” while abandoning my own spiritual practices and the narratives of my professed faith. Suffice to say, at this point of my life, I need to re-engage these stories and practices. Committing to praying the daily office is one step in that direction.  The discipline required (which in reality is minimal) is another.  However, the excitement has definitely past.

Here goes nothin’

This is a new year and its time I start this! I’ve thought about blogging for quite a while now but have not been able to bring myself to begin. There are plenty of reasons for this. I haven’t really been prepared to put myself out there in this way. Many times its because I do not have the time to spend with it. Others, I feel I don’t have anything really to say (like today for instance). But, on this day I am attempting to begin some new practices that I hope grow to be very formative in my life.

I spent last week in Pasadena, CA in my first week of seminars for the Missional Leadership Cohort at Fuller Theological Seminary. My first year in the program will be a time of very intentional self-reflection. One of the practices my small group has adopted will be praying the Daily Office as guided by the Northumbria Community. I am diving into it fully (sign of the cross and everything!).

As I have read other blogs, I recognize that they evolve and take on certain tones. I haven’t decided where I am going with this one just yet. I’m just going to let it flow, as they say. As far as today goes, as least I’ve begun. That has been the biggest barrier to this point. So, here goes nothin’…