Forging Headlong Into the Familiar Frontier

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NEWS FLASH: This just out! Don Miller, with Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God, Real Sex, Mudhouse Sabbath), Rick McKinley (founding pastor of Imago Dei in Portland, author of Finding Jesus in the Margins), Derek Webb (I See Things Upside Down), and Chris Seay (The Tao of Enron) is launching a high-quality literary and music publication called THE ANKENY BRIEFCASE. They’re planning to publish “quality short fiction and essays” (along the lines of McSweeny’s or The Believer, if those titles mean anything to you). The group is called The Burnside Writers (www.burnsidewriterscollective.com –and sign up for the newsletter!), and the mag’s website is www.ankenybriefcase.com. Send submissions to the editor, Jordan Green, at ankeny@ankenybriefcase.com. All of this comes compliments of Mike Morell (web ed. of Sites Unseen) who says: “It doesn’t have to be ‘Christian’ per se, it just has to be good!”

Those of you curious enough to venture over to the site will be treated to a quiet postmodern assault. “Literary who?” “Emergent what?” Don’t worry. Such reactions are normal. Just keep your hands and arms inside the car and keep a firm grip on your panties. Grandma, that goes for you too. God love you.

Sorry. I was just so excited to hear about this, I wanted to be the first one to go all wibbly about it (I’m watching Notting Hill right now, so pardon the Londonisms–“brilliant!”). But congratulations to all of you first to jump on board. At the risk of sounding like Tank on The Matrix, this is an exciting time. But please don’t go getting all wibbly about the “Emergent movement.” We’re not really reclaiming Zion the way so many twenty-somethings would have you believe. Fact is, emergent is a horrible description of what is basically a desire to reassess the essence of Christian faith. Paring things down to barest essentials is nothing new to those familiar with the gospels. There’s nothing emerging here. It’s more of a regression. A shedding of the layers. Trimming the fat. Of course, there’s a lot of idealism driving this “movement,” so the emergent term intends to signify this, I suspect. Whatever.

Movements will come and go, fade like everything else. Emergent will go the way of the “Gen X” and “postmodern” passé designations, become “uncool” and swing back with the next shifting tide. What is truly at the core is the idea that somewhere we’ve gotten away from the hard work of being followers of Christ (instead of leading, whining, and all the other things the Israelites were so good at), and replaced it with the trappings and appearances of faith. This is the ever-present reality, the danger no human can resist, the pride of life. I see it as the same root evil our parents’ idealistic generation fell to after all the demonstrations of disestablishment when the reality of life came knocking offering regular paychecks and lifestyle security. Faith leads to religious fervor that’s impossible to maintain, so the natural inclination is to start relying on the props. Like the actors in Cats who can’t think straight anymore for the routine that’s replaced their original passion. Or the pastor who used to wake up Sunday ready to change the world and now can’t remember what it was that made him think seminary was a good idea. It will have to happen to all of us too if we’re to learn what only 40 years of wandering in the desert can teach.

God is. We are not.

But here’s the thing with the Emergent folks. I’d be a better Christian if it wasn’t for all the phony Christians out there. And we like not being the only ones to feel this way. Don Miller knows it. Brian McLaren knows it, whether he’s willing to state it that way or not. I believe a lot of us know it and that’s why I know “emergent” will eventually be simply the new faithful who replace the old guard.

But if they’re going to make it into Zion, they’ll have to learn from their predecessors to discover how to hold to the truth and forget the props. May God’s favor shine upon them as they make their way to the fray.

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4 thoughts on “Forging Headlong Into the Familiar Frontier”

  1. of course i take issue with bagging on israel as if she were the only whining no good out there (we all are!). but i do agree with your point. let’s try to keep our eyes on God and not get caught up in showmanship. there is nothing in the Book that i read that says anything about the better dressed the more “approved” of God you are. let’s get back to the standard of anointing and the Mighty Hand of God upon a person. what a concept. i think the offering of paychecks and some respectability is a very tempting and “reasonable” place to lose oneself. call it (this movement) what you will, only let me see God. perhaps if i catch a glimpse of Him, as moses did, i’ll be able to avoid some pitfalls.

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