November 13, 2006

The Death of "Normal"

The way I see it, there's no real clean lines anymore. It used to be that you could classify stuff: One thing was black, another thing was white. Nowadays all the lines have been blurred, fuzzed, and otherwise mauled nearly out of existance. Instead of white, there are many choices: off-white, pale-white, ecrew, mother-of-pearl, stucco, glossy-white, matte-white, and beige are merely some of the variations on a theme.

It's getting harder and harder to draw categories. On some level, this is probably a good thing; it keeps the stereotyping down a bit. On another level, it sucks. Royally. The human brain is designed to categorize things to make them easier to remember. And so, even in this day and age of fuzziness, our brains still try and wrap up everything into nice boxes with bows and labels. [sidenote: I propose this be the new name for whatever comes after postmodernism: The Age of Fuzziness]

See, here's my beef: so far, I've read about a bazillion different articles from nearly as many authors on the subject of what the "emerging" or "missional" church is or is not. In flavor, they range from the "academic" to the "purely emotional rant." In about half the articles, the author makes some sort of claim to the definition to what an "emerging church" is or isn't. In the other half, little else is supplied than some sort of vaguery, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks from context or personal assumptions. In all cases, the author merges some things (churches, behaviors, theologies, people) "into" the category and some out.

The trouble is, the line has become blurred. Again. With all the definitions floating around out there, the emerging church (in its many flavors) has become a catch-all phrase used to denote anything that's "different" from "mainstream church." Emerging might mean a house church, a network church, a bunch of guys sitting in a coffee shop talking about vaguely religious matters, a bunch of guys sitting around in a coffee shop who claim to follow Jesus (but may or may not), or a cult that claims Christianity with a nice coat of paint.

I'm a bit tired of all the fuss.

I can respect the articles that give their own clear definition for "emerging" or "missional" and try to defend their position based on those definitions. I may not agree - with their position OR their definition - but I can respect them for their writing, and I can certainly try to discuss their position with them and perhaps learn from them. Maybe we might even turn out to agree on lots of other stuff.

However, I cannot find it in me to respect those who claim a stance on a subject who are more or less ignorant of their own writing. I know about this because I used to be one of those people - I could bluff my way out of any discussion simply by looking confident of facts I knew nothing about. Then I got to college and realized after my first "D" on a paper that I had to stop making up information if I wanted to get anywhere.

Anyway, the people that bug me are the people who claim to understand a subject but have spent little time trying to understand the categories, little time meeting with people to talk the subject out, and little or no time walking in the shoes of those they so callously dismiss, but instead make broad generalizations about a vaguely named fuzzy category about which they know next to nothing. They group a lot of people into a category (say, "emerging church" or "missional church") who often have VASTLY different approaches to ministry, theology, and God [sidenote: I daresay that the only thing in common for the various expressions of "emerging" is that they HAVE nothing in common, except a desire to follow Jesus]. Many take stances based on rumors, and worse, take much of their material out of context.

I heard somebody say once that "normal is what everyone else is and you are not." It seemed fitting.

Let's get this straight once and for all: there is no such thing as "normal" anymore. Maybe fifty years ago you could have said "they're presbyterian, so they do it like THIS", but now you can't say that. Now you say "they're missional ... damn, I may have to go spend a few weeks with them to figure out how they do church". You also have to know that "they" are going to look, feel, and think differently than pretty much everybody else.

So here's to the death of "normal." While relativism in truth is a bit of a joke (ask a relativist if they're absolutely sure of their position, the answer is usually pretty funny), relativism in methods and that coat of paint I always talk about is alive and well - and frankly, it's ok. To have differing expressions of church means that everybody can potentially find a home that suits them; God made us individuals for a good reason - he gave us tastes and feelings too. To accept that is to get back to living like Jesus; just because somebody doesn't do it the way you wish they would doesn't necessarily make them wrong. And just because they may be right in their methods doesn't mean that YOU are wrong in YOURS; you are, after all, different people living in different places.

Here's to the death of "normal."


shawna said...

Ever heard of Orbis books? They are the publishers of Christianity Rediscovered. This is what they have to say about themselves "...Orbis Books endeavors to publish works that enlighten the mind, nourish the spirit, and challenge the conscience...seeks to explore the global dimensions of the Christian faith and mission, to invite dialogue with the diverse cultures and religious traditions..."
You may already know about it but they've got some interesting books on their website...if you need any more books to read :)

Chris said...

Thanks for that, Shawna, I will investigate. Perhaps if I ever actually publish something I'll start with them ... I really want to publish someday, that'd be nice :)