Friday, February 19, 2010

Discussion of last week's Brian McLaren forum

Last week, our forum series featured Brian McLaren, who is a leader in the Emergent Church movement, and who gave a lecture entitled "the Importance of Being Episcopalian". If you missed it, you can see it on the forum website (it's about an hour long, look for the entry for Feb 14). Whether you went or not, he brought up a lot of interesting questions.

Over at the blog Friends of Jake, our friend IT summarized McLaren's talk, his identification of 4 advantages, and 4 disadvantages of being Episcopalian, and how to move forward:
In his prescription for the future, he had three broad suggestions.

  1. Bring them in spirit: natural evangelizing by everyone. NOT preachy, or "traditional" evangelizing, but involving people where they are, in long conversations, and don't hide your faith. The Institution can be in the way. He said, others will try to recruit people into a brittle, angry, judgmental, violent form of the faith. Time to speak up lest you and all Christians get labelled with the brand of hate and intolerance. (I would argue that this has to some extent already happened).

  2. Welcome an entrepreneurial spirit adding new services, modes, and ideas. Don't let yourselves just consume religious goods and services: set your mission as a welcome. Living liturgy has to have room to grow, not be a frozen remnant.

  3. Begin again spirit. Again, he invoked the Via media above the line between liberal, conservative or moderate. He sees this as resolved not by moving both sides to the middle, but by trying to transcend the linear vector and move beyond it or above it. (He was distinctly uninformative on how this ideal is to be accomplished.)
It was an interesting talk, and some parts of it are clearly things that can be accomplished and integrated into existing structures, especially where there is leadership that embraces the future, rather than turns its back to it. But in a broader sense, it remains unclear to me how the polarization problem can be accommodated further.
This post generated a LOT of spirited commentary from the readers at Friends of Jake, some of which may be interesting to you too.
I believe that Brian assesses the situation correctly, but how to get to the new place that he recommends remains the problem.
This from a reader in Seattle:
I know that it is not possible in all parishes, but I attend a large one in which, though the goings-on of those who wish all to be as miserable as them in their faith-walk is well-known to us, we are way too busy doing what needs to be done in a broken world to give it too much thought.
One of the more impatient critics:
Yes, to be fair McLaren and Tickle and others who often speak to Episcopalians do express respect for and some envy of the Anglican tradition of liturgy and music and do not, in fact, advocate tossing it all out. But in my experience, many who attend their lectures and/or read their books come away with the impression that they really must up-end everything, and if they don't, they (or those who ask questions or have reservations) will be impeding Progress or Salvation or whatever for all.
And from a St Paul's parishioner:
Call me Pollyanna, but I got the impression McLaren was trying to say, "if you want to effect a change, then BE the change." ....TEC has advantages that can lead it there, but we’re not going to get answers from on high; we have to lead from the laity… because we can. My concern is churches like KJ's and St Paul's getting complacent because they DO have feet on the ground doing the work & getting out the Word...
And our own Chris H agrees:
It's not about HOW you do liturgy or worship, or whether you've CHANGED it recently, but whether it's alive, transformative, formative, life giving, etc., etc. That people understand it, and then do something with it....I would argue, that rather than rearranging deck chairs for the sake of “change” Brian would argue that we should instead, dive deeper into our understandings of the Gospel, relate them to our liturgy, and in doing so bring it, as well as our faith, more alive, and then let God do the rest. (I do think that occasional change will come naturally from that perspective, but not for the sake of change, but as the natural, organic response to a living, breathing faith).
Meanwhile, a view from New York:
I'm not sure there is any way to bridge that bipolar gap. Maybe the way forward is to point out the gap. The Other Side looks much more like the rest of an already saturated market for patriarchal legalism. Maybe it's time to show the world our distinctiveness.
Following up on the "show me" idea, from this Episcopalian in Arkansas:
If we want people coming in the doors, we have to let them know where the doors are and a reason to come through. And a 1 minute blurb on the local NPR station ain't gonna do it. Have real members talk about why they keep coming back, the same sex couple with kids in the middle pew, the business person in the front, the migrant workers in the back pew... For crying out loud, I keep hearing "How do we grow?" "How can we evangelize?" "Why don't people know we are here?" when there's a flare gun and a bull horn right there in front of us. All of us have stories... tell them! Put it out there for the world to see.
Run over there and read the post and the comments. And then post there if you like, or even better, come back over here and give us your views.

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