Wine and turtles and house churches and…

I want to write a little more about my brief conversation with Andrew on Saturday night. I was telling him that it seems like I’m called to do something that most American emerging church folks have given up on; it seems like I’m called to stay within an established church and follow where Jesus is moving in a changing culture. I talked about Newberg Friends; about our wonderful people, our wonderfully varied people, and what’s felt lately like a God-given mandate to care for the people already in our community, while at the same time finding ways to get out of our Christian/relational bubble and share the hope-giving journey with Jesus with new people.

He said something like this: “Not everyone has given up on it. I haven’t given up on it. All people need a church community, and church can happen in all sorts of ways. It should happen in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of people. Just so they don’t have the expectation that they all come together in the same gathering.”

Something on his blog today linked to this article that he wrote several years ago; go read it. I mean it, go read it. There’s enough there for a lifetime of blog posts.

What I absolutely love about the Tall Skinny Kiwi is his ability to have a level head. He can be as cutting edge as they come, but he’s somehow avoided hip for hip’s sake, or change for change’s sake. His heart is for God’s people to be an open community of Jesus lovers, through whatever means possible. And in the above article, one of his first word pictures is seeing Jesus as a connoisseur of fine wine, not of new wineskins. Old fine wine needs old wineskins. New fine wine needs new wineskins.

One of our hallmarks for decades at Newberg Friends has been our blended worship style. All of our services are the same, intentionally, because we want to have one diverse community rather than several segmented homogenous groupings. A noble goal. One of the problems it creates, though, is forcing old wine into newer wineskins, and new wine into older wineskins. A lot gets spilled in the process.

My big question now is how do we move forward at NFC? I want to find a both/and, which again is a noble goal; but the reality is it’s probably a multiple choice test. Both/and is better than one size fits all, but it still can’t contain the plurality of culture around us. (And of course I know it’s not just about worship style; I’m just using this as an example.)

We probably move forward, to use Andrew’s metaphor, if we act more like turtles than skunks. Or better yet, as butterflies, finding ways to be undamaged by our fumbling attempts at community that never fit quite right, finding ways to still hope that we might connect as brothers and sisters in Christ…and finding ourselves moved by the presence of God to open up Jesus’ family to the ones who have never found a spiritual family.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (For tonight.)

7 thoughts on “Wine and turtles and house churches and…

  1. I want to affirm your direction, too.I can’t believe that breaking into bunch of homogenous groups is really what it means to be the body of Christ.Maybe I’m just jealous – I’d like to one day go to church where more than a few people share my concerns and sensibilities, and that has never happened for me.But a couple of weeks ago, I was finishing a short sermon series on community, and I was really taken by the phrase in Ephesians 2:15 “…that he might create for himself one new humanity in place of the two”.I think that Paul is talking about something more than just doing away with the Jew/Gentile distinction. I think in context he is saying that the new humanity, the new community being created by and in Christ must include more than one kind of person.I don’t know if Paul meant to make this connection, but I tied his image here back to Genesis, in which it tells us that it is maleness and femaleness together which makes up the way that human beings bear the image of God. My conclusion was that this kind of connection across divergent kinds is the sign that something is really of God.Community is not based on what sensibilities I have in common with others. It happens when I can come together with people unlike me around our common connection to Christ.


  2. Yes…the idea that community can be made out of diversity is a sign of hope for our world. God does seem much better at diversity than we. I really like the tie back to Genesis.My latest wrestlings, particularly in the context of NFC, are what I said in the post: I believe in the picture of one body, but I’m aware of how much wine is getting spilled as we do this. Both older and younger generations. As our world keeps fracturing and becoming more and more diverse, how do we hold up a picture of unity?


  3. But you know, not all “diversity” is the same, or perhaps more accurately, not all that passes for diversity is really diversity.I think diversity is part of God’s plan for humanity, and for a long time both our American culture and evangelical culture resisted that. I’m glad for the collapse of these “monocultures” in the last half of the 20th century.But like Jesus’ analogy of the room swept clean, what has replaced these cultures is not a real honoring of diversity, but rather a “facturing” as you say, or fragmenting of society. And I think this has been abetted by the increasing specialization of our roles in society.I think the most important difference is that while one’s place in traditional American and Evangelical culture was largely received on the basis of one’s background and class, one places oneself in the current situation largely on the basis of individual and individualistic choices which are based on one’s affinities and sensibilities.The key thing here, as you reference in your initial post, is that this is not just about “styles” in worship or the specifics of how we do church. It is about the much deeper question of self-definition.And as to the metaphore of wineskins: I know that image applies to works and moves of the Holy Spirit. Should it apply equally to societal and cultural shifts?


  4. Yes, yes, and yes! Good thoughts.Our self definition ought to be redefined, as you suggest: biblically, to include what you said, that God’s image is truly reflected in one of our fundamental differences (gender); to include our widest social gulfs in one body of Christ (do we really think hymns and choruses remotely approaches Greek and Jew?); to include a serious look at incarnation, the Supreme Other becoming one of us to be in restored relationship with us.I think I disagree with how I’m interpreting what you wrote here (there’s a good possibility that we agree, and I’m misinterpreting): “one places oneself in the current situation largely on the basis of individual and individualistic choices which are based on one’s affinities and sensibilities.”Nancey Murphy was the first to help me see the value of social constructs, of community, in our choices and our values. I’d love to see the church move more toward honest, truly diverse community in which we listen to each other as faithfully as we listen to God for our place and our role. It’s not just my choice; my brothers and sisters have some say in where and how I function.


  5. I’ve been thinking about this…There are a crazy amount of similarities between Friends and the Emergent Church movement. In someways, I think that the Friends are in a better position than any other organized denomination to lead the charge. Friends have all the necessary values and history to be the leaders in the emergent chruch movement. I have this quite prayer Friends will be revolutionaries again.


  6. Starla, yes. I’m so sad that we don’t seem to be capitalizing on what seems like an absolutely perfect theology, practice, and history for the way our world is changing. My prayer isn’t so quiet. I long for God to break on us in a huge way.


  7. I wonder though, how many Friends have even heard about the emergent church movement? Are there enough seasoned Friends who are enough disgruntled with the way things are to think we need to do something radically different? Or are most of the seasoned Friends basically content and the discontented ones left already and so are no longer serious Friends?Where are Friends doing well at being Friends? Will this be what attracts new and Emergent-leaning people? Will it be the most rigid Friends Meetings/Churches that spawn turtles and/or skunks? Or will it be in places where “anything goes”, the mushy, wishy-washy parts of the Religious Society of Friends that folks will feel attracted to bring Emergent style worship? Will the distinctives of Quakerism necessarily be discarded? Which elements of liberal and/or evangelical Friends will survive? Will Emergent Friends need paid pastors? What do you think? I am feeling short of Friends with whom to discuss this, outside of email, which is not my best medium for nuanced conversation, mostly because I haven’t found any other Friends who have ever heard of some Emergent church movement.


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