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The Great Emergence
Part 1 : Chapter 2 “Cable of Meaning”
Tickles begins the chapter by asserting that religion is a social construct. That is, religion is influenced by the larger culture as much as it influences culture. Using Tickle’s metaphor, religion is the soul of culture and culture is the body through which religion acts. Religion is the bearer of meaning, the cable that connects humanity to something bigger than ourselves. When, during times of transition, we begin to question the story that encases this meaning, it results in what often feels a bit like schizophrenia as we bounce from old story to new story without really being capable of settling in either one. This can readily be observed in countless religious debates over the past number of years when the participants might say, “I believe we are talking about two very different things.” Indeed, they likely are – one from the perspective of the old story and one from the perspective of the emerging one. Talking past one another, quite literally from two different worlds, is one of the most frustrating challenges in transitioning times.
Language plays a particularly important role in this process. Just as the cable encases meaning, language functions as the vessel ferrying meaning back and forth. As we being to question the community story, words move from having one generally agreed-upon meaning to an assortment of meanings, perhaps even contradictory ones, and certainly in flux. What one used to mean by the word salvation or atonement or church is not what one currently intends to say; and yet, what other word is available to describe it? “What do you mean by that?” becomes a question requiring us to pull out the strands of spirituality, corporeality, and morality and discuss them ferociously. In this process, we are redefining in linguae what we mean to say as we attempt to re-story our understanding of the world.
Questions for discussion:
1. Describe your experience of the cable of meaning. Does everything feel intact to you?, or do you sense water seeping through?
2. Do you consider this current shift different from the standard generational gaps that seem to divide a parents’ generation from their child’s?
3. In what ways have you experienced the old story clashing with the new, emerging story? In what ways have you seen your local congregation or your faith tradition experience the clash of two competing community stories?
4. Have you experienced frustration as the meaning you intend when using a particular word or phrase is ferried back and forth in conversation with unpredictable outcomes?
5. What can we do to combat the difficulty of conversations that occur in the context of two different stories? How can we find ways to talk to one another rather than past one another?
Getting a bit more personal:
What words seem to you be broken when we try to speak Christian? Or put another way, what words are essential vocabulary of our tradition, yet seem to now be vehicules of a different meaning or meanings than they did originally?
Several progressive (for lack of a better word) theologians/Bible scholars have published books about the need to refocus, re-tradition or restore the words of Christianity. These include:
Reimagining Christianity. Reconnect Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind. Alan Jones (of Grace Cathedral) 2005
Help. Thanks. Wow. The Three Essential Prayers. Anne Lamott, 2012.
Stitches. A Handbook of Meaning, Hope and Repair. Anne Lamott, 2013.
Whether you’ve read them or not, how might you need to learn to read, hear or understand Christian-ese in order to read and hear the language of our faith again, or anew?
You can use the 3 scriptures we’re looking at each week to look for Christian-ese words that you struggle with, or believe to be dis-understood in our culture today.
The Great Commission – Jesus sends his disciples out in his resurrection power
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Paul on the Church as a Body with Diverse Members & Leaders
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. … But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
13 1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. … 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13:13
Paul on the Church as a Body Justified by Faith
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.