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Where is the Great Emergence going? And, similarly, where is it takins us as it goes? Both questions intuit two seemingly opposite yet complementary issues. On the one hand, it is our responsibility to make educated guesses about what is happening in our religious landscape and instigate what we hope to be productive measure for the future of the Church. Action is needed, and it is needed now. On the other hand, we must be honest with ourselves that, as in any previous time of “Great” change, we are not fully in controls of what is going on here. We are located in a far larger environment than our own ecclesial (and even religious) walls.
Perhaps surfing is an apt metaphor for the kind of dual action required of us. Though we may choose our surfboard, our spot in the ocean, an the wave we take, we are not, in the end, able to control the movement of the ocean. We cannot determine the tide, or he length of the wave, or its intensity. It is our duty to ride it, and ride it well, in hopes that we arrive safely (and, with a little luck, gracefully) on the shore.
1. What do you find most difficult about facing the changes of the Great Emergence? Taking risks through particular actions, or relinquishing control and accepting limits?
2. What spiritual practices can best inform us as we learn to ride the wave of the Great Emergence?
As we consider the changing religious landscape during the Great Emergence, the diagrams of the quadrilateral, the cruciform, the gathering center, and the new rose are helpful ways of mapping the responses and directions of particular religious traditions. Over and above and between all of these directional movements is centripetal force.
Centripetal force literally means “center seeking” in Latin. Centripetal force is absolutely necessary when matter begins moving in a circular direction. It is the only means by which movement toward the gathering center can be maintained. Each of us has experienced centripetal force when we have ridden in a car that suddenly turned while our bodies continued to go straight, shoving us into the passenger next to us or possibly the door or dashboard. It feels like we are being pushed outward, but this is not actually the case. We have been pulled inward toward the center of the turn. Our bodies sense a push outward despite the fact that we are not in any way moving outward but what previously would have been straight. This is because during acceleration, Newton’s first two laws of motion no longer apply (think the Heisenberg principle). It is no wonder that many of us have a difficult time finding our directional bearings during this time of acceleration around the gathering center of American religious life. We are currently in the middle of the turn, and we are unsure which direction we are actually going. We also happen to be picking up new ideas, new people, and new traditions en route, changing the size and shape of the center itself. There is hope, however, in Tickle’s assertion that we are perhaps being pulled inward by our common desire to become more incarnational. Before we are able to be pushed outward into “a new way of being Christian, into a new way of being Church,” perhaps we are gathered toward Jesus-the-Center through the guiding force of the Spirit.
1. How has the center-seeking centripetal force of the Great Emergence affected your faith? Your church? In what ways do you feel unsure of your direction? In what ways do you feel pulled toward Jesus-the-Center?
2. As you consider the final diagram in the chapter, where do you classify yourself? Did your classification change as the diagram shifted from the quadrilateral to its final surrounding currents? How can the diagram be used to help people describe their journeys of faith?
3. If you happen to be one of the “hyphenateds,” how are you navigating the tensions between the pull to the center and the pull to the corners?
4. After the Great Reformation, the process of drawing up systematic doctrines provided both cohesiveness and clarity to new denominational bodies. While the confessional age was based upon distinction, the age of emergence will likely be based upon collaboration. Though this is not without its difficulties, Protestantism’s “hallmark characteristic of divisiveness” (p. 134) is also being replaced by a significantly more harmonious one. Tickles uses the metaphor of a bursting geyser, gathering people from each corner and quadrant and spewing them upward into a new way of being Christian, to describe the gathering center phenomenon. What benefits and drawbacks to you see in the propelling force of the geyser? What are your greatest hopes for this “generous orthodoxy”? Your greatest fears?
5. Tickle writes, “In the Great Emergence, reacting Christians are the ballast.” (p. 138) By reacting to the gathering center, they provide necessary stability as the center continues to take shape. If you happen to be someone nearer the center, do you feel those reacting most stringently against you are helpful, and even necessary? If you happen to be someone nearer the corners how do you feel about stabilizing (if not strengthening) a movement with which you fervently disagree?
6. There has been marked tension in the Great Emergence, specifically in the interactions of those in Emergent Village, between a desire to speak freely of what one currently does/believes/perceives and a desire to speak against what one used to do/believe/perceive. How, if at all, have you experienced this tension? How does it correlate to the changes happening in the Great Emergence? How does this experience coincide with our Christina understanding of the tensions between the now and the not yet?
7. Tickle claims the earliest assessment of the Great Emergence as simply a generational issue is an error that has since been recognized and understood. From your vantage point, do you and those you know agree, or do you continue to see the current religious changes as generational in nature? Why or why not?
8. If you agree the Great Emergence is not a generational issue, how can those in older generations help rather than hinder the changes underfoot? 9. How can we focus on the emerging conversation not as one that rejects truth or tradition, but as a conversation seeking to create “new way[s] of being faithful in a new world”? (p. 123)