Monday, December 29, 2008

"You never know what's comin' for you."

During Christmas vacation, one of our favorite family traditions is to head out to a movie theater and watch one of the new releases. For those who did the same, you likely know by the above heading which one the Booram family enjoyed—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Rather than explain the premise of the movie and spoil it for you, I'll simply mention that this line was spoken first by Queenie, Benjamin’s “adoptive” mother, and subsequently repeated several times throughout the movie. Queenie urged Benjamin to be prepared for what life brings; not to fight it, or resent it, but respond with acceptance and openness—a philosophy that she exemplified.

The movie has a fanciful and curious story line, great character development, and brilliant acting. I highly recommend it, though be prepared for a nearly three hour stay in your seat! What I’m musing about today is this idea that you never know what’s coming for you.

Queenie warned that there is some force beyond us that can and will sweep us up in its foment, whether we want it to or not. We are in a position to respond and cooperate, whatever that means, with the momentum this force generates. Not that we are helpless or passive, non-agents in our destiny. But we swim in a current of life that sometimes swirls us around and delivers us somewhere we weren’t expecting.

Now, allow me to make a leap....into a book I finished last night. (If this begins to read like a book review, it unapologetically is!) It is called The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. The sub-title reads, “How Christianity is Changing and Why.” If you get the sense, as I do, that a momentum of change is building within Western Christianity, “that something is coming for us,” you are right.

According to Tickle,

“As a phenomenon, the Great Emergence has been slipping up on us for decades in very much the same way spring slips up on us week by week every year. Though it may have sent us a thousand harbingers of its approach, we are still surprised to wake up one balmy morning to a busy, chirping world that, a mere twenty-four hours before, had been a gray and silent one.”

Tickle goes on to explain, with helpful clarity and profound insight, that every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold “a giant rummage sale.” And we are in the midst of one of those times, a time of monumental change when something comes for us and we don’t know exactly what that something is.

As I interface with a broad spectrum of Christians, I observe a variety of reactions to this “emerging” Christianity. Some seem oblivious, content with their faith context, and unconcerned with the gathering storm. Others are battening down the hatches, vehemently committed to protecting themselves from the onslaught of the storm, convinced it is a tsunami of destruction. Others are indifferent, so far gone in their cynicism and disillusionment that if the storm hits and wipes us clean of any vestige of the institutional church, that would be just fine.

Others, like me, are mostly hopeful. Reading The Great Emergence has helped me frame our current history within a backdrop of five hundred year cycles of reformation. Tickle explains that each period of upheaval has resulted in three things: a new and more robust form of Christianity; a reconstituted previous form of Christianity that becomes more vital; and the spread of Christian faith and practice. That is good reason for hope.

For the last decade of my life, I have had the sense that “something was coming" for those of us who follow Christ and find community within the church. Whatever it is, I don’t think it can be stopped or avoided. Some interject this phenomenon is a consequence of our neglect of God, national moral decline or disregard for the Bible. I, on the other hand, think that God is up to something—that He is in this thing that is coming.

Whatever you think about the great emergence, please become educated about the history of the church and what's coming for us today. This book will help explain how Christianity is changing and why.


Amanda Alvis said...

Loved your thoughts Beth! I feel hopeful as well!

Beth said...

I am glad. You have reason to be and need to have three beautiful kids to raise in this beautiful world of ours! Love you. Beth

Jennifer said...

very interesting -- I'll add this book to my list. I do agree that there's change in the air and I'm deeply concerned that the evangelical Church seems to slowly but progressively giving in to the pressure from the popular culture. I was deeply concerned when Rick Warren indicated that he supported committed relationship in the gay community, and was only opposed to "marriage". There is less and less concern for understanding doctrine and a more emotional response to the faith -- we need both. As our population becomes less educated in terms of philosophy and "objective truth" we become more susceptible to the whim of the moment.
I liked what you said about the results of the change -- we can all use a robust and reconstituted church. got to make my family dinner so must run...great to read your thoughts and I love your blog. blessings, Jennifer