Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Patience for the Journey
One more reflection on the Emerging Women Gathering this past weekend: One of the odd things (from what I observed and heard about afterwards) was the attitude of some of the more "emergent" women. At the retreat there were women from a wide range of backgrounds, and at many different points on the journey. Some of them were just at the beginning of their awareness of the emerging church, while others had been a part of it for years. The odd thing is that at least some of the veterans seemed to have little patience for those who weren't as far along as they. While I was there I did observe an air of exclusivity among at least some veterans, and I later heard about how a few of them got into a rather un-gentle debate with a couple of the women who were probably the most unfamiliar and wary (yet curious) about the emerging church movement. At one point some of these women were reduced to tears by the aggressive attitudes of the others.

I say this not to call out or complain about those veteran emerging women (I won't name names). No doubt they didn't realize the effect their words were having. I mention this simply to raise the issue for how all of us emergent types treat those who aren't at the same point on the journey as us. Do we remember what it was like to be in those transition phases - when it seemed like everything was up in the air and you were on the verge of losing your faith? It is scary and uncertain. There is a desire to return to what is familiar and find whatever solid doctrine you can to hold onto. You can't just reinvent all your beliefs at once - usually it happens one piece at a time. And this takes time.

My hope is that those of us who have been down that road would have patience with those who are still just at the beginning of the path. Can we trust the Holy Spirit to work with each individual in his own time, and in their own unique way, and not demand that their journey look like ours (or even that they arrive at exactly the same destination)? How can we avoid the arrogance of thinking ourselves superior because of where we've been and where we've come since then (I know I struggle with that often)? Can we become catalysts and tour guides for others along the way, rather than bullying them into debates and fights that do little to transform lives or relationships?

And again, I say this not to point the finger at those women, because the truth is that I struggle with this just as much as anyone. My first instinct is to fight and defend and debate. Plenty of times on blogs and in real life my reaction has been to try and prove myself right and the other wrong, rather than try to understand and help the other progress in their own spiritual journey. This, I think, is just my own selfishness - I'm more concerned with defending myself than with how I can be a blessing to the other.

But where will the emerging church be without tour guides? Few people are argued into it. Most people get started on this emerging journey because they intuitively feel, deep within themselves, that something is not quite right with their current belief or practice of faith. And they are looking for a better way. Those who stumble upon the emerging conversation often say something like "This is what I've been thinking this whole time and haven't been able to put into words. I never knew there were others out there asking these kind of questions." These people need spiritual friends who can come alongside and help guide them through the questions and the fears of falling down a slippery slope of heresy. They need friends who will help them see a vision of a new country, help them imagine a better way.

What they don't need is to immediately encounter condemning voices who say "If you're not as emerging as the rest of us you're not welcome here." Not that many would explicitly say this - but we can end up communicating that message anyway through the tone of our questions, the spirit with which we debate, and all the subtle non-verbals that exclude and push people away.

My sincere hope is that the emerging church will rise above these attitudes, that we will remember our own journey and extend love and acceptance to those who are still at the beginning of theirs. But of course, we are only human, and we won't get this right every time. So hopefully others will have patience with us as well.


posted by Mike Clawson at 7:51 AM | Permalink |


At 3/21/2007 09:02:00 AM, Blogger PrincessMax

Your description of how those women acted and how you find yourself acting describes how every group of Christians has ever treated me once they learn that some of my beliefs are different from theirs.

I have more barriers up in my heart to defend me from other Christians than I do for anyone else. I would rather let my ex-husband back into my trust than another groups of Christians. I keep trying to let them in and they keep kicking me once they're here. I'd make jokes about Charlie Brown and the football if it didn't suck so much.

I have a sense that this Emerging movement (of which I, too, am just starting to explore) might be less twitchy. What a relief that would be. If you need affirmation for the tour guide philosophy, please use this comment as such.


At 3/21/2007 11:24:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Princess,

Thanks for stopping by. I can definitely identify with your experiences. I've been kicked around a lot by the church too, though perhaps not quite as often or as severely as you have. My hope is that I'll start to remember how it feels and thereby avoid doing it to others... but like I said, I still fail at that too sometimes. Nothing for it but to keep on trying to get it right. :)

If you ever feel like giving the body of Christ another try, feel free to come hang out with us at up/rooted, the Emergent discussion group here in Chicago. I'd like to hope that it's a safe place to be on the journey, though of course I can't give you any guarantees. We're all still just screwed-up pilgrims together in this too. :)



At 3/21/2007 02:02:00 PM, Blogger gerbmom

So, is it inevitable that exclusivity pervades every community? Is it inevitable that a hierarchy develops despite our best intentions? Is it the "being" instead of "becoming" that messes things up? Still processing.


At 3/22/2007 07:15:00 AM, Anonymous Carol


I attended your seminar and found it very helpful. The women and 1 man attending were all very open and respectful. I think there will ALWAYS be those who have this type of attitude as we are all falible humans on the journey together....yet apart. There was one of the speakers who started asking me very personal questions from the start on Friday night at supper about where I was and what I thought God was going to do....I was a bit put off until at our table during lunch I could tell by her own conversation that she was still very "wounded" from her own church experience by some of the comments she made about "Trite women's Bible studies". I could have been offended, but instead it made me realize that they was some major pain behind her words and healing that she needs. Again at dinner, I felt a bit pounced on by some of the women when I mentioned some of my own struggels to bring more lay people into the litergy at my own church. "Tell them this and offer this..." while chuckling at my leaders....I was a bit offended and tensed up as with all the faults of my church, it's where God has brought me and I love our leadership dearly. I wasn't asking for advice, but boy did I get it! My sister mentioned to me that they were just trying to be helpful, which I'm sure is true. However, let's remember to ask questions first and see what the person is saying before jumping the gun and the person talking. "wise as serpents...gentle as doves" Warm Regards to you and your ministry...Carol


At 3/22/2007 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the encouragement Carol. It was good meeting you too. I'm glad you were able to navigate those other conversations with grace.


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