Mark Medin helped introduce me to the “Faith and Leadership” website of Duke University. He also played the Bill Evans’ Trio piece, “Time Remembered,” on Sunday at church. It is one of my favorite jazz pieces and it sounded great on a flute. Earlier Mark had sent me a link from the Duke website which included an interview with Phyllis Tickle. Besides launching the religion department at Publishers’ Weekly, Tickle also writes on subjects pertaining to religious life in America.
Her book, “The Great Emergence” suggests that periodic upheavals in church life are part of a regular pattern of disruptions that have occurred throughout church history. She maintains that every 500 years or so, structures of familiarity are challenged and new expressions of faith rise to the surface to provoke challenges to stolid hierarchy as well as providing vitality and invigorating change. Citing the seismic effects of the Reformation, the Great Schism and the Great Transformation, Tickle argues that our most recent cultural shift is a Spirit-led opportunity for Protestant and Catholic churches and followers to renew and refine themselves in the wake of growing communal challenges.
For me, the notion of a less hierarchal structure in church life is not only very appealing but downright necessary. After more than thirty years of leadership positions; sitting in meetings discussing marketing strategies, and constructing elaborate long range forecasting models, I’m ready for a more communal, organic experience of faith. I’m also less interested in doing a Bible study on prayer than in actually bending knees, lifting voices with hurting brothers and sisters and turning to a God who thrills at the prospect of hearing his children call out to him. I regularly forget how often Jesus pointed out the relational nature of faith rather than the doctrinal nature of religion.
This compassionate Sovereign actually showed us in Acts 9,10 how he uses disruption to bring about his redemption plan. Not only did he call the Apostle Paul into service (Mark Almlie referred to S(P)aul as the Osama bin Laden of his day), but God also prepared Saint Peter’s heart for the convulsing shift of the Gospel that would come with Paul’s conversion.
As I read through the book of Acts, I see a repetitive pause where the main characters of the storyline are forced to stop and ponder what is happening; repeatingly asking the question, “What does this mean?” When the question is asked in earnest, there is usually a breakthrough that follows.
Phyllis Tickle’s prescription for the present moment encourages believers and leaders alike to ask the same question. Her summary judgment is that the Emergence movement is like an anthill in that no single authority or praxis drives the moment by moment activity. But, instead, the intuitive nature of life in the Spirit is leading individual believers to break out and challenge pre-conceived notions of religious life and devotion. When organizations re-imagine their place in the gospel, they are rejuvenated. When they remain intransigent, they are ultimately replaced.
For me, I love the anthill illustration because it means that as a man of faith I can commune with others and discover a deeper passageway into the Gospel. It’s a commitment to love and walk our way into the next stage of life and belief.