Rummaging all around


I’m not sure I can explain how surreal this week was in some ways. I had two gatherings: one was exploring Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century with Paul Raushenbush and a group of pastors under forty. The other was to sit with emerging church leaders and plan a conference, which is actually turning out to be a carnival of sorts.

In the Raushenbush group, we looked at the words from a hundred years ago. The beauty, poetry and richness of the text were amazing and fresh. We all came from varying traditions: Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, and Presbyterian. We talked about where we came from and where we’re going. Most of us were in the midst of day-to-day work in intergenerational churches. We named the social crises of our day: the environment, the war, poverty, homelessness, health care, and more. We explored how to speak truth and be prophetic in our particular contexts.

We did a lot of sacred re-traditioning (to borrow a term from Diana Butler Bass). We struggled with being young in a church that was predominately of a different generation, but most of the time we enjoyed being with each other. That was the main reflection as we wrapped up–it was really nice to be with one another.

The emerging church group was brought together by church historians, but it was largely about the future of the church. Where it’s going. And it was interesting to be there, with the electricity and the excitement. We are planning a conference, but we’re also having an ongoing conversation about what is happening in the church. Phyllis Tickle (who is one of the funniest women…) says that God is having rummage sale. The people around the table were all entrepreneurs, writers, and artists–extremely gifted people.

I do have to say, with some of the side conversations, there were moments of discomfort. To outsiders, the emerging church leadership is often seen as a boys’ club, and when I tried to get the answer to why that is, I got unsatisfying answers…to say the least. At first, there may have been the uncomfortable assumption in my asking that I wanted to be a part of the emerging church leadership. I don’t.

I was assured that the leadership has been very intentional about making that a priority, but it seems that even with a new thing emerging, there may be (for some) an underlying, unintentional cultural context particular to conservative evangelical Christianity that excludes women. Or that makes the women themselves gravitate toward particular roles within the church. In fact, around our table, the younger women in leadership mostly came from a mainline context and the younger men didn’t.

The emerging church was described as a place for recovering fundamentalists. I understand that. As a woman who grew up in that particular evangelical context, I often tried to describe how the mainline structure gave me a place to grow, to be empowered, to become fully human, to become who God calls me to be. And the answer was, “If you’re someone who’s looking for power, it must be very scary for you to see that structure collapsing.”

I am not committed to the structure itself, nor am I committed to power. I am committed to an environment that allows men and women, gay and straight, of every ethnicity and social standing to flourish. To live into the fullness of their calling.

That was when I wished that I could have brought the two gatherings together (and perhaps that may have been the reason why I was invited around the table). Because the yard sale’s not just happening in one corner of the church–it’s happening all over.

photo’s by derbaron


12 thoughts on “Rummaging all around

  1. A rummage sale! I love it. God uses ordinary people of all varieties to do extraordinary things by his grace. I would love to hear the story of your journey from your conservative, evangelical upbringing to your ministry in the Episcopal Church.


  2. Have you checked out julie clawson’s blog? She is on the forefront of this issue of women in leadership. There is also a emerging women’s blog which I think julie spearheads or at least is heavily involved in.

    I think though you are spot in…this is a movement primarily out of evangelical circles. With no for women in leadership, they in many ways just don’t know how to get it done. They are learning, but I think it will take some time, and perhaps more intentionality and pushing from the margins as you did.

  3. I’d thought, when I read your post earlier this week (that you had feet in two streams), to comment that those streams may not be as easy to bridge as you seemed to think. They may be heading to a similar destination, but they have different starting places.

    Are we who find ourselves in those streams fellow pilgrims along the way or will we have to wait until we get to the pilgrimage site to meet up? I don’t know, but some of the things some Emergent folks have said lately make me think that they don’t expect to see us there, having expired somewhere along the route under the weight of our baggage. I think they overestimate our attachment to our structures and underestimate our commitment to our calls.

    We shall see. But meetings like the one you report on are crucial to finding out. The great thing about a rummage sale is that it is made up not only of sellers, but also buyers (otherwise, what’s the point of the sale?). People kind of trade around old stuff. Everybody comes away with something “new to them”; that doesn’t, of course, make it new, but a new frame can make it look different.

  4. Richard,

    You’re right. I did imagine more common ground than there was, especially since I’m a young artist who loves words, images, technology, spiritual practices, and postmodern philosophy.

    It goes to what Jim said: it will take a lot of time. Even with a calling as forceful as a hurricane inside of me, it took me many years to find my way out of the kitchen, to gain my voice, and learn how to use it. But now I have. This ground has been very difficult to gain (both internally and externally), and I’m just not willing to go backwards on my journey.

    In the emergent gathering, the most fruitful moments for me were when we were constructing rather than deconstructing. I was excited when we were talking about the project. Thrilled, in fact.

    I was disheartened when they talked about the power structures of my context and I equally frustrated when I tried to talk about their power structures in their context.

    But we’ll keep meeting and talking…. The other good thing was I really liked everyone. I mean, how often does that happen? How often can you sit around a table that diverse and really like each person?

    This reframing the old stuff idea has me thinking….

  5. Jim,

    Julie’s blog’s great. She seems to be doing wonderful things. We participated in a project together here.


    That’s a long story… but one that’s been requested many times… maybe I’ll post the reader’s digest version….

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