Well, I started out with some prognostication, and then I got distracted, and got back on track regarding my thoughts on The Decade Ahead for the Emerging Church. As I set up my thoughts and predictions (scary word) in that post, I asked three pairs of questions, the last of which was, “where is the world outside the church in all of this? Do they benefit at all, or are they worse off?” And then I pretty much didn’t answer that one, just the other two. This set of questions is fundamentally different because they have to do with the church’s interaction with the world, and are therefore the most important (certainly to the missional crowd, at least). For these reasons, I felt a separate post was warranted.
In a short video interview with Shane Hipps at Out of Ur, Hipps says that online community isn’t “real” community, and translating the gospel into online expressions like Second Life constitute its “disembodiment.” His book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith presumably outlines his argument a little more fully — the interview (below) comes across as though real community can’t exist because Hipps hasn’t seen it and can’t imagine how to translate the gospel into that context. I presume he hasn’t read Voices of the Virtual World. Now, I readily acknowledge that there are some good and valid arguments for the conviction that virtual community has its shortcomings, and that these can be a detriment to fostering genuine Christian community. But I think he writes it off as invalid far too quickly.
We’ve been having some real fun over at the Missional Tribe. After flinging the doors open a little under 48 hours ago, we have as of this moment 198 users and 82 blogs, where there have been some good posts showing up and some good conversations getting started. The groups and forums are active too, with more conversations going on than I can keep track of.
Mike Todd caught this the other day as well… Seth Godin asks, What happens when we organize? Seth opens his post with the observation that “Most power occurs because one side is better organized than the other.” This is a good description of an imbalanced power structure such as happens in the church where a divide exists between clergy and laity (Seth gives other examples). These structures are being upset in the present changing environment where Internet tools and a shift in values toward egalitarian ideals drive collaboration and spontaneous organization around a goal rather than simply falling into a rigid power or authority structure. Books such as Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations fill out the rest of the picture. The message is that the power structures are beginning to crumble under the realization that they really aren’t necessary, and their reaction to the changing milieu appears to be confusion — for the most part, there’s an instinctive desire to oppose this new disorganized organization, this “grassroots” movement that threatens to upset everything. Unfortunately for them, they are ill-equipped to meet this challenge; Ori Brafmann and Rod Beckstrom’s book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations gives a good explanation of why this is so. Boiling it down to a single sentences though, one might latch onto the one which Seth Godin ended his post with, as I believe it to be highly accurate: “The system doesn’t know what to do with a movement.” They’re as ill-prepared for what’s coming at them as “Officer Opie” was.
I read Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody not long ago, and I’ve mentioned it here a few times already. The subtitle of the book is, “The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” and I must say that it provides some excellent food for thought on the future of the institution contrasted with the power of loosely-affiliated mass collaborative efforts. The word “organization” might be used, but in some contexts it creates an expectation of more formality than actually exists.
Christine Sine put me onto an upcoming conference in Seattle at the end of February. It does look interesting; there are a lot of emerging conferences around, but this one seems to be attempting to engage missional, emerging, monastic & multicultural “streams,” or should we say “conversations”? That’s the gist of what they’re attempting to do anyway, and the list of participants includes a healthy cross-section of emergent and missional and others who are seeking to reimagine church, recover lost practices, redefine spiritual formation, or engage culture. Lots of good stuff attempting to change the face of our faith expressions for the better, and they make an interesting intersection when they’re brought together. I’m not likely to be able to attend, but after my brief overview, I like the shape of the discussion.
There’s one thing from the Seabeck gathering which impacted me quite deeply, but about which I’ve really said nothing so far… the language of revolution. Much of this comes from a brief talk that Al Roxburgh gave on Wednesday morning, but for those who weren’t there, it also features in an article on the Allelon site (Page 3 in particular. It was also part of the subject matter for a walk around the mall with Papa Al and Brother Maynard. (Sara Jane dubbed it, Paparazzi Bill publicized it.) If this post is of interest, I recommend chasing down some of the longer explanations and discussions in the links I’ve provided. In the nature of the zen story which is told and retold orally in part because it is then shaped by the experience and understanding of the storyteller, here, mostly in my own retelling, is what I got, which I relate under the question with which Al opened his brief address at Seabeck: “How do cultures change?”
One of the subjects that came up at the Seabeck Missional Order Gathering on Tuesday (I think) was the question of language. In the formation of an order and the conversation around St. Benedict’s rule, some question was made about the language we use and how we express it. Before I left for the gathering, the question had been put to me by more than one person. After all, words like “rule” and “order” sound a little to the rigid or legalistic side. In the charismatic tradition, the verse that speaks of “a God of order, not disorder” is met with the challenge of what order might look like to God, and the fact that it might look very disorderly to us. In context, the conversation was essentially what we hope to achieve in the formation of an order… whether it’s done in an elitist exclusionary way, a legalistic fashion, or what. What does such an order or rule do for us, anyway?