Monday, September 22, 2008

Phyllis Tickle and just another 500 year tsunami

so, Phyllis Tickle is this seminally important thinker about religion and culture and history and publishing, being the founding editor of the religion division of publisher's weekly. she knows stuff. lots of it. i'd heard her speak, from a distance, and had heard of her, of course, because - well - she knows lots of stuff. and she's a creative and insightful thinker. and has done important things in the world of religion in the western world in the last half of the 20th century - and this postmodern birthing process as well.

she calls this thing we're all experiencing The Great Emergence. and she's convinced it's not just a blip, or a fad - it's the real thing. it's big. she says, in fact, that these tsunamis happen every 500 years. seriously.
and we're in the middle of this one. and it matters.

i remember 20 years ago when i had started reading jesus' words and life. like, really reading it. asking questions. looking under and behind things. and then i looked around at the mainline, mainstream churches i'd been part of, and they looked a lot like culture and not much like jesus. i felt confused. and then frustrated. and then discouraged. and then pissed off. and then hopeful.

then i went to seminary, and i learned that there have been many, many, many thinking christians over the centuries that i'd never heard of, who have grappled with this stuff forever. and i got happy.

and then i went on staff at a mainline, mainstream, cultural american church, and i got depressed. deeply depressed. it wasn't their fault; it wasn't anybody's fault; i just didn't quite fit. i mean, i did fine - it went fine - we all got along. except for me and the power structure. i just didn't buy it. it didn't make any sense to me.

i met leonard sweet, one of the people thinking and teaching about postmodernism. i freaked out. i had hope again. i felt much less crazy. i studied with leonard sweet, and brian mclaren, and a lot of people who were talking about how our entire culture was changing, and there was no going back. and it wasn't the church - it's everything. economics. social dynamics. the roles of men and women. multiculturalism. diversity. the global village. i came back to life.

then i worked at a megachurch for three years, and got depressed again. it was about success. a church that didn't look like a mainline denomination, but looked like a different part of american culture. i felt crazy and sad. but i hung in there. and then we parted company and i had no idea what to do and it was the greatest thing ever.

god said, Hey, all that stuff you've been dreaming about? here we go. and my awesome wife and i and a bunch of people went, Oh shit. okay.

that's where journey imperfect faith community came from. god's dreams. cultural shifts. plate tectonics. everything changing. and god not being fazed in the least. god's excited! gimme some room, god says. it's stuffy in here.

so phyllis tickle is in austin and she gives a talk today at a big episcopal church and it's all about how the changes we're all going through in christianity aren't our imagination, and aren't a fad, and aren't a bunch of crazy people going off the reservation - this happened with the protestant reformation in the 1500s, and before that with the break between roman catholicism and eastern orthodox christianity in the 1000s, and before that with the fall of rome and the beginning of a different kind of christianity in the 500s, and with the destruction of the center of judaism in jerusalem and the spread of the new offshoot of judaism that would come to be known as christianity in the - well - in 0. and then 500 years before that with the babylonian exile of the jews, and then 500 years before that with the kingdom under david. before that, i got nothin'.

i felt happy. like what we're doing in this strange experiment in this age matters. that it's part of something that god is doing. i mean, i suspected that, felt it - but to see it as important - not only for ourselves, now, but for the 500 years to come? humbling and beautiful and inspiring.

thank you phyllis tickle! and bob c for bringing this crazy beautiful wise southern elder to austin.


David D. said...

There is something almost magical that happens when we back off and try to see ourselves in God's greater story; that's what Phyllis Tickle's concept does to me. Similarly, when I "discovered" the already-well-underway Emergent conversation, it was revelatory. Suddenly, I felt that it is alright--even wonderful!--to have the questions that I have about God, and to express grace and love for people in place of the scorn that I felt I was expected to show.

Thank you for articulating so well your own journey.

nonprofitprophet said...

Amen to your comments. I never really had any issues with mainline religion and how it did "church", but I knew many people that did. They either weren't connected somehow or did not fit in. I'm sure now that this emergent movement would have fit them better. Now that I've grown some and figured out that "churchianity" and "christianity" aren't necessarily the same thing, it does cause one to pause and question and re-evaluate some things. And that can't be all bad because that will lead to something better and bigger than ME and my church. A path to a closer relationship with God? Perhaps. To never question or explore is to accept that the earth is flat. ~npp

MizAngie said...

Well, mainstream, mainline, emergent, whatEVER...just so the sermon is over early enough for the faithful to beat the Baptists to Luby's on Sunday morning...

Keep your priorities straight, for cryin' out loud.

journeyingrick said...

i suck at that. journey's worship gatherings are NEVER OVER BY NOON!!!

oh well.