Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kester Brewin's "Signs of Emergence"

The words attributed to Einstein, "The same consciousness that created a problem cannot solve it" provides the mission of Signs of Emergence. (2007) Bringing together Fowler's stages of faith with a prophetic critique of hierarchical church, the author's intent is one of raising consciousness for the "Conjunctive church," or Fowler's Stage 5. This stage follows the arrogance of Stage 3 and Stage 4's "dark night." Stage 5 is where doubt is not extinguished but tensions are accepted, and mystery truly appreciated. 

Brewin is not talking about stages in an adult's faith, but rather, what the corresponding emergence looks like in faith communities. He has more success is describing what it's not: "So we feed the ecclesiastic furnaces our burned-out wrecks: tired leaders, disillusioned ministers, fatigued congregations- marshaling them to dance longer, march faster, pray harder, cry louder in earnest for God to come...We must be brave enough to stop if we are to see change... Our structures must serve us, not us serve them." 

The church needs to be adaptive, an open system, rather than prepackaged and ready-made. The sole purpose is incarnating the life of Christ in the host culture. The process is not revolution, but evolution through small scale, incremental improvement: "Revolution is characterized by speed and tries to impose change from without. It is top down and heavily dependent on hierarchies and centralized power. Evolution refuses to rush ahead and thus avoids shearing and fissures. It tries to bring about change from within." Revolution demands instant results, evolution takes time. 

So, we need to learn and live out of a new vocabulary. We're the body of Christ, not the machine of Christ. To reestablish the body of Christ, we need to lose the modern, industrial matrix of words like machine, structure, drive, steering, breaking down, and mechanism in favor of the organic words like heart, nourish, sustain, grow, nurture, cultivate, and adapt. The body of Christ is a self-organized complexity (like our human bodies) despite our attempts at over-  control.

One of the more helpful chapters (6) was on the church as a "hub for gift exchange and all the relational enrichment that goes with it." Because the essence of who we are cannot be bought or sold, acts of worship come from the "economy of gift." Worship itself is a gift exchange, where we learn to offer gifts that are uniquely our own, and only marginally see ourselves as recipients, as takers. The book's concluding Chapter 7, on the emergence of Christ, has a couple of great insights. About Holy Communion, Christ becomes broken, shared, and decentralized, and virally apart of his people and their culture. About Holy Spirit, in the Spirit's Pentecost, those infected can speak of God in a language people can understand.

I appreciate the attempt to describe what the Conjunctive church looks like, because there are places where that church is breaking out. What about clergy leaders? That's a topic Brewin doesn't address and it's a shortcoming of the book. I imagine Stage 3 churches rely on good Stage 3 leaders. Denominational success is seen in results, numbers, homeostasis, and equilibrium and so the Stage 3 leader is rewarded in like terms; that's who they are. How relevant that, given the UMC's annual statistical reporting, we find that surviving in ministry is as the mission, and not where Christ is emerging in it. Perhaps if we asked that question more often, even in resistance, we could be delivered - and free others- from being just more fuel for the furnace.

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