My place in postmodernity


Confusing conversation that I had at the Everything Must Change Conference:

“Where are you from?”

“Virginia, but I work in D.C.”

“Where do you work?”

“At a Presbyterian Church.”

“Oh. So what are you doing here? Are you their little spy? Are you here so you can report to all of your higher-ups what those crazy emerging church people are doing?”

“Um. No. It’s not like that.”

I laughed, but I was startled by the accusation and a bit indignant that he would assume that I was somebody’s small mole. I began to say, “I’ve been a pastor for ten years. And I’m a writer. And I don’t report to any ‘higher-ups'” (of course I do have a boss right now, but he had no interest in what was going on in that conference).

I began to say, “I’m one of you.” But that didn’t quite ring true either. Obviously, from his reaction, I’m not quite one of them. He was embedded in the movement. I had just met him, and in those two seconds he sized me up.

I wondered what he based his assumptions on. Why did he think I was working as someone else’s spy? Was it my size? My gender? My age? My denominational affiliation? I always try not to be too offended by the sexist remarks that I often run into in emerging circles. I remind myself that not everyone’s like that. This is a broad movement. I can’t completely reject the bigger picture…even though, I must admit, it does get annoying.

(And lest you think I’m an overly-critical blogger, blowing things out of proportion, and endlessly ranting about every little remotely sexist thing that I’ve heard, I promise you, I’m not.)

A long ecclesial monologue came into my mind, which I didn’t unravel. I just sat down.

People often describe me as a “hybrid”– a postmodern working in a denominational context. You see, the emerging church movement is an ecclesial expression of postmodernism. And most emerging churches are plants (sometimes they’re churches within a church, but they’re mostly new churches). They’re deconstructionist in nature.

I love the French deconstructionists. But I’ve never planted a church (as much as I’ve wanted to). I’ve found that my ministry lies in a different area. I work where most women in this postmodern conversation can be found–within (or at least from) a denominational structure. I work with existing churches and pastors, trying to figure out ways in which they can meaningfully reach out to a new generation, where they are.

I write out of my years of being in growing, vital, traditional churches, in an intergenerational context. As a result, I find that my ministry and writing fits into another stream of post-modernism. That’s good old American pragmatism. As we learn what it means to be church in the 21st century, I believe that we should have both models working together.

And so, Tribal Church is less about deconstructing and beginning from scratch. It’s more about working with what we have. And finding great hope in the midst of it.

14 thoughts on “My place in postmodernity

  1. Carol, you seem to find them all don’t you? Do they come out of the woodwork or what? I feel so badly that every emerging event you attend, you seem to have these encounters of the negative kind. Are you familiar with Scot McKnight at He does not fall into that category at all.



  2. What is postmodern? I hate that there is a faction of “us” and “them”. It seems like many folks in the movement are angry for people crashing their party. It reminds me of when punk rock became mainstream. Stupid Offspring!

    Punk and Emerging are they the same…

  3. Interesting indeed!

    I see it as a reconstruction of how we know and relate to God and how that looks when we practice in the context of our ministry – where ever we are. Since this is something not contingent on context by necessity, his reaction is puzzling and perhaps a little short sighted?

    But I rather look at emergent through a critical theory lens Frankfurt School style. That, to me, seemed to be the best place for a pragmatist answer to those French fellows from the 60’s and beyond. Baudrillard seemed to be the logical outcome of that from the cultural analysis side and he is soooo depressing.

    I like Ryan’s connection with Punk (not to be confused with Emo) as well. There is something very tactile there.

  4. That’s IT. I’ve never been punk enough. Ryan, would a tattoo help? What do you think? Would something Celtic on the upper arm do the trick?

    Actually, the conference here was mostly Presbyterians. It was at a Presbyterian Church, coordinated by Presbyterians. Attendance was widely encouraged by our Presbytery. I can’t remember, but I think we had over 20 PCUSA churches there….

    I’m all over the Frankfurt School. Well… actually… just Habermas and Fromm. Who else would you suggest for the conversation? Depression just doesn’t get us very far. I love Ricoeur. I’m all about the hope.

    And, I can’t help but think that the accusation was partly right… I’m blogging about it, aren’t I?

  5. A real tattoo covers a body part. Now I am the elitist. The sad thing is no one was ever punk enough. We missed the point. Punk in an attitude and not a faction. Emerging is an attitude/posture not a faction. The harder the fight for inclusion the harder the fight is to highlight and exclude. It is a power positioning. Any way is emerging emerging enough?
    Where is the call to veganism? The call to less consumption? Where is the call to cease the death penalty? If we were truly emerging and seeking to model the KOG in a missional posture we would be far more willing to be “loyal radicals” that f$@k s*&t up for the KOG in out call to service, acceptance, and love. The same stuff that plagued the beauty that is and was punk clouds the emerging movement.
    Punkers felt intimidated by the influx of folks to their ideas. They fought back and fractured…they are no longer relevant and a historical relic.

    Punk died. The music perhaps not but the posture did.

    Carol I say you and Brian get badass tattoos on your backs. I want to go and see it. Maybe at the July conference we all can get tattooed!?!

  6. No worries there. The Celtic cross was pure sarcasm. Sarcasm… my favorite form of communication… and it just doesn’t ever convey through the blog.

    I’m learning that slowly and painfully.

  7. Carol,

    If there is one book that I can recommend (Habermas is one of my heroes BTW) I would recommend a little book called The Resources of Rationality by Calvin O. Schrag. He is a pragmatist who makes an incisive critique of postmodern theories through the lens of critical theory really. It’s a complex and tightly woven piece, but something all folks who dig some of the postmdodern critiques that have been argued in the past.

    I published an article on higher education where I used him to critique applications of postmodernism to higher education. I can shoot you the relevant part of that if you want – it’s not available for free online.

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