Stirring things up (blog round-up)
At the end of December I wrote about the Emergent-S3K Controversy. As Aaron Monts put it, “I’ve heard people scream of emergent ’syncretism’, or ‘you’re selling out and joining the gospel to secularism!’”
Now that we’ve met, where do things stand?
1. Hospitality is making a huge come back as a central religious ideal….
2. A spiritual or ethical life is not centered in a sanctuary, but must extend to all areas of life. This is actually a very old Jewish teaching….
3. The traditional church and synagogue are not destinations for many people even though they may identify with their religions of origin. …A presenter shared the motivation for much of the emergent’s efforts: “I love Jesus, I hate the church.”
This was the first gathering in my career with Christians and Jews (and I have had many encounters) when Christians could talk easily and openly about Jesus and Jews could talk about God and Torah comfortably and unapologetically. This was more than an ecumenical gathering, but a sharing in how we live and work out our respective faith traditions in a complex culture. The differences remained quite pronounced, but I came away with an awareness of common approaches to practice and religious community that are very promising.
Tony Jones, National Coordinator of Emergent U.S., was the key conversation partner for us in planning the event and he has become a good friend. His comments reflect the warmth and integrity of our new friendship:
…Instead of suspicion and skepticism, I was received with the warmth and hospitality that made me think, “These really are ‘People of the Book.’” The hospitality toward strangers that is such a prevalent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures was exemplified in spades by the rabbis, cantors, and Jewish leaders present.
And the worship! To describe it would be a disservice, so it will have to suffice to say that it touched my soul in ways that Christian worship has not since I-don’t-know-when.
Was my confidence in Jesus, the Messiah, shaken by my time with those who do not accept his Messiahship? No, it was bolstered. But not in a fist-shaking, white knuckle way. More in a quiet, humble, this-is-going-to-be-alright kind of way. Oh, you can bet that Emergent will be working with these Jewish leaders more in the days to come. They are beautiful people.
The spirit of conversation and spirit that Tony and I had envisioned so clearly came to fruition during this gathering, and it was beautiful to encounter.
Ryan Bolger, a featured speaker at the event, has
begun to post posted his reflections; in his second post, he observes “the depth to which American religion (and not just the church) has adopted the language of consumer spirituality”:
…I saw a real connection for those not buying it: the emerging church and emerging synagogue types at this gathering. There was a solidarity between each other that often was lacking with those in their own faith traditions. “Whew! There are other people going through the same frustrations that I am!!” It was very cool to see. Remove the yarmulkahs and you would think you were at an Emergent gathering.
In his third post, entitled “Godtalk sneaks in the back door,” Ryan writes:
I don’t know if this was intentional in the planning of the event, but it worked out brilliantly. The explicit focus of the gathering dealt with congregational change in the light of culture. Because that was the main text there was little overt expectation or pressure on the many subtexts of the event, e.g. the content of specifically religious or theological dialogue. Because of this, discussions of our theological perspectives popped up everywhere, but with little positioning or defensiveness.
He offers some examples in his post. To be honest, I was hoping that the “Godtalk” would happen, not least because so much of our efforts are about changing the discourse, the language, the vocabulary of sacred community. As I remarked during a wrap-up session, the “Jewish Emergent” leaders who were present are some of the most God-immersed Jewish leaders I have had the privilege to encounter. So I’m glad to read Ryan’s reflections on that aspect of the conversation!
Emerging synagogues and churches have deconstructed these forms, creating simple spiritual communities formed around texts (texts that share a good deal of common ground). Because of these similarities from one to another, I believe we will see much fruitful interaction between the two communities in the years to come.
It’s safe to say that I share Tony and Ryan’s confidence that this conversation is only just beginning.
Another Christian Emergent participant in the gathering, Dwight Friesen, writes:
Though there were so many beautiful moments - from times of prayer to lively-vision-expanding discussions – the moment that I find myself sitting with came from an exchange between the Rabbi of a mega-Synagogue and Tim Keel. A question regarding how Rabbis of successful, established Synagogues might come alongside and support these new expressions of faith was voiced. Tim responded by taking us to the story of Eli and Samuel. The text tells us that “in those days messages from the LORD were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.” Eli had not heard from God for a long time, and Samuel didn"t know what he was hearing or how to respond when he heard from God. But together they both heard. Eli coaching Samuel and Samuel sharing with Eli, and by working together the people of God were blessed.
I have come away with much to consider, and new voices and faces to shape my soul.
Ryan Bolger was present for that exchange:
After [Tim] finished, there was a hushed silence in the room, and then, quite spontaneously, one of the Jewish elders spoke a few words of Hebrew (or were they Yiddish?) affirming Tim by saying the ‘rabbi has spoken wisely’ or something to that affect. Powerful stuff. I still get goosebumps.
I would imagine Having seen the video, I now know that the phrase was yasher koach, a Yiddishization of the Hebrew yishar kochachah, meaning, “More strength to you.” Often shortened to shkoyach, it is a traditional expression of appreciation and respect for an interpretation of Torah or other Jewish texts.)
Nanette Sawyer, from Wicker Park Grace in Chicago, also attended. She writes,
I think it’s absolutely vital to our future health as a world to know each other in real ways, to share in deep conversation, to acknowledge the limits of our own traditions, and to joyfully express the beauties and strengths of our own traditions.
I think we’re all striving to be better human beings, or we should be, and being in relationship helps us be better - that is, if we approach one another with mutual respect and open hearts.
I feel that the Jewish and Christian leaders really did approach one another with that kind of mutual respect and open hearts. I look forward to future opportunities for more dialog and friendship.
A little further on, Nanette highlights a quote from fellow attendee Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, of Kol Tzedek in Philadelphia:
It’s amazing some of the similarities of vision we have, even though we practice different faiths. I think it’s really cool actually.
I like that Lauren talked about “the organic creation of holy communities.” I think that’s what we’re about at Wicker Park Grace.
Participant Scott Collins-Jones of Woodland Presbyerian Church and the Philadelphia Emergent cohort has posted an extensive reflection on the meeting. His lengthy post is very helpful, as it moves from reporting on the gathering to substantive commentary on some of the differences and similarities between Christian and Jewish Emergents:
I came away with a renewed commitment to and appreciation for robust pluralism. This isn’t the sort of pluralism advocated by liberal protestantism, a kind of bland “i’m o.k., you’re o.k.” ideology which ignores real difference in the interest of creating what winds up to be a synthetic hegemony, grounded in what George Lindbeck calls an “experiential expressivist” theology. [...]
…Emergent as a movement has to define itself theologically because it is emerging from the context of Christian communities that identify themsevles that way. The Jews in the conversation seemed more interested in practice than theology. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. For many Christians communities the question of whether you belong is closely tied up with a particular set of beliefs. This just didn’t seem to be that case with many of the Jews with whom I spoke.
On a related note, I was envious of the ability of different sorts of Jews (Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) to identify with common liturgical practices. The prayer services seemed to be a uniting factor throughout our time together. …When the prayer book was opened at different points in our time together, all the Jews in the room seemed to know what they were doing and why. This kind of common liturgical culture seems to be invaluable. It’s something we Christians didn’t bring to the table, and I think that’s not to our credit. The common point of contact seemed to me to create connection without hegemony, offering solidarity amidst difference. I hope that SK3’s desire to take contextualization seriously doesn’t jeoporadize this valuable asset.
Blog coverage of the event
Adam Cleaveland, who has been covering the event and the controversy from the beginning in a spirit of appreciative inquiry, writes,
I’m very excited by this opportunity to meet and discuss with progressive Jews about community formation and spirituality. I hope this is just the beginning of future times of dialogue and joint-endeavors between emergent Christians, Jews and hopefully those from other faiths.
Karen Ward, who was invited to participate but could not attend, observes that our gathering was “way more significant than another faux emergent coffee and candles tryingtoohardtoseemcool conference or poorly written and hastily published book.” Commenter Jon Myers notes, “i think this is very exciting. and it is really going to piss off a lot of people too. good tension to be in.”
Karen goes further, calling for a gathering of “emerging abrahamic chat-fellows” that includes “next gen muslims,” so that “something might really get shaking, when the chilldren of the children of abraham can come together in Inter-faith emergent conversation.” (Well, Karen, let me point you toward FaithJam06 – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – Comedy, Music and Spoken Word, being organized by S3K’s own Craig Taubman and me for April 8 in Los Angeles (at the Islamic Center of Southern California, no less….)
Paul Littleton maintains a wait-and-see attitude and Mike Lamson is cautiously optimistic, though he wonders, “How much can you do for the “Kingdom of God” if you don’t agree on what some of that might be?”
Still, Matthew Hall remains skeptical–
Frankly, this sounds like something out of a comedy sketch. Can you imagine a bunch of rabbis attending national Emerging conferences, talking about their “narrative,” hawking fair-trade matzah, and drinking organic Mogan David?
–Fair trade matzah? Why couldn’t we think of that?!
Seriously, though, he, John Divito, and Running Well register serious critcisms of the gathering. As I commented to John, though, independent of my respectful disagreement with his assertion that our “faith is not in the One who can reconcile [us] with [our] Creator,” I find his worry about “sharing our missional insights and strategies” to be a bit overstated. This sounds a bit like Pepsi vs. Coke, and if anything is true of the emerging movement (regardless of faith tradition) it is the rejection of a program/product-oriented paradigm. I could assure him that there were no conversations in the vein of “We tried X program, and it boosted attendance by 38.4% and affiliation/converstion by 12.7% in the first six months,” but that would be missing the point. Like Ingrid Schlueter at Slice of Laodicea, who calls S3K “an insult to the Holy Spirit,” Running Well’s D.R. Brooker is openly hostile toward Judaism as a living religion, suggesting that Jews and Christians do not read the same Bible (Tanakh/Old Testament) and going so far as to write that Jewish worship “could hardly be called worship of the God of heaven and earth”; there really is nothing to say in response to that level of frankly Marcionite enmity.
On a more positive note, New Reform Jew observes, “If this isn’t one of the most important issues on the organized Jewish community’s agenda, it should be.” Reformodox agrees, calling us “right on point.”
News of our meeting made it to the Jewish community of Argentina, among other places.
In the “thanks for noticing us!” category, greetings to readers of Deep South Jewish Voice, Urban Onramps, DJChuang, TheoSpeak, and the venerable Holy Weblog, Established December 2000. Via the AP story, we also attracted the attention of the Christianity Today Weblog and Crosswalk, which is best known for publishing Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, Jr.
As for Aaron, well, he thought it was “nothing less than inspiring!”