Flirting with Faith

Flirting with Faith

On The Great Emergence and Chasing the Wind

I’ve been trying to write a follow-up blog post about my trip to The Great Emergence event in Memphis since I returned to New York last week.  This should have been a no-brainer, really.  The event was well produced in a stunningly beautiful Episcopal cathedral.  Author and keynote speaker Phyllis Tickle delivered her thought-provoking thesis about the unfolding of a new Christian reformation with a perfect balance of humility, humor and passion.  The more than 300 attendees were engaged and friendly and I was able to connect with a handful of people with whom I look forward to keeping in touch. I even had the opportunity to sample some down-home Memphis cooking on Beale Street with some new friends.  All in all, this should be a simple and stellar review.



This is the point at which each of my attempts to capture the event derailed.  In the midst of it all, there was—something—that gave me pause.  I’ve spent the past week trying to put my finger on it.  I even reached out to the organizers of the event to see if I could gain some clarity.   And yet, while they were responsive, I’m left with a mixed reaction that I am finding difficult to articulate.

When a couple of people who generously follow my blog asked when I might write a follow up, I told them the same thing.  This conversation is important, I said. It tends to create more debate than dialog outside of the folks that embrace and follow it.  I want to take care before I write to be sure that I am part of the dialog, not adding to the he-said-she-said noise and contributing to what appears to be a growing dis-unity between those who embrace a new vision for the church and those who view it as everything from irresponsible to heretical.”


So I decided not to force it. To wait and write nothing unless I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to do so.

On Saturday morning, my intention to work on my manuscript for an hour or two before heading over to help set up the room for my son’s Christmas play was thwarted by a familiar compulsion. So I closed my computer and pulled out a small black leather Bible that I opened without intention to the first page of the book of Ecclesiastes. As I began to read, I knew there was something there for me.  Something relevant to my struggle to understand my place in this conversation and, ultimately, my place in this disparate Body of Christ. 


Then, as I read, it hit me.  This one-two punch that came in the form of a deeper understanding of meaninglessness and what the author of the book repeatedly calls “chasing the wind.” 

Phyllis Tickle may be right. We may be in the midst of a dramatic shift away from Sola Scriptura toward a more Christ or Spirit-centered expression of faith.  Then again, those that would call her a heretic or an apostate may be right.  Sola Scriptura may, indeed, be the way and this new movement may not be of God at all.  And, I suppose, it is quite possible that those who embrace the Catholic faith might say that both camps are wrong and have been for 500 years.


Which brings me back Ecclesiastes.

There is nothing new under the sun.  God is on His throne. We are broken people.  Some of us seek this God and attempt to do what we perceive to be pleasing to Him. Others like me don’t seek, but get found anyway.  Revolutions and reformations come and go. The sun rises and sets on Christians and non-Christians alike.  So we eat and drink and, if we are blessed, enjoy our families, our work and our lives. Wisdom is better than folly, but ultimately we (and our ideas, books, podcasts and blog posts) are miniscule when compared to Creator of all things. Big questions have big answers that we can wrestle with to our hearts content.  In fact, I believe that the pursuit of a deeper understanding is likely pleasing to God. But if we set out to know it all or have a hand in the big change that will finally get it all “right” we are, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, just chasing the wind.

So I choose to follow the author’s suggestion to fear God and follow His commandments.  Simple advice that I read as a call to love God with reverential awe and love God’s creation sacrificially. 

At least it’s a start.  

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posted December 15, 2008 at 4:40 pm

heheheheh, I do like this.
We started the Church in da Pub almost 2 years ago and I had no clue about any thing called emergent or whatever.
It was only after people spoke to me and said that what we were doing was along the lines of this emergent thing that I did some web searching.
Since then I have read many blogs, had a lot of discussions with a number of the emergent folk and quite frankly I find most of them a pretentious bunch of wankers who are trying to be highly intellectual and do exactly what you say here: “He said, she said…. I can quote the most books from the biggest names blah blah blah”
They are also more interested in spending more money chasing conferences and books instead of doing what they say they were not able to do in the institutional systems. Makes no friggin sense to me at all!
Sure there are some who are actually doing the stuff and don;t make too much fuss of the whole issue, but they seem to be the quietest ones on the net – not boasting, just getting on with it!
All in all I have been rather disappointed in what I have found in relation to the emergent thing and so I have just gone back to doing what I believe God has called us to do.
Those that I have found to be doing it, well I try keep up a realationship conversation with them but it will never get too technical because that is impossible to do with any one whom you can not speak to face to face.

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David Hahn

posted December 15, 2008 at 11:25 pm

hello there comrade! good thoughts and good struggles. i share your mixed review and also the follow up comment. i resonate deeply with both. a yearning to just simply follow jesus, freely, and with others who also struggle to understand this thing, but who are gracious. actually this is what i long for…a gracious reception that God has been doing something in me just as much as those that we spend so much money to apparently lay before with listening reverence. i too wondered what it was and you know joan, i came up with the simple question, “where and how does one actually participate in the conversation?” this is my ultimate question i think. for people like me, introverts who i’ve been told write books in our heads and hearts, it takes a lot of courage to go up to the ones who make a lot of noise and get all the attention and just say, “hey, can i share too?” that’s all, nothing else. so until the time i get to participate in this thing that is called a conversation i too will remain faithful listening to the Spirit, but also being profoundly informed by the Trinitarian social personhood of God with locals who share a passion to long for God and love.

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Joan Ball

posted December 15, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Hi David: Thanks for stopping by. I think the conversation is where theory meets practice and ideas become actions. Sounds to me like that is what is happening with your Abbey group. Would love to know the latest on your decision to pursue it full time. Let me know about the publishing thing as well.

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D.G. Hollums

posted December 17, 2008 at 10:51 am

Hey Joan.
Thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I replied over there to it and I’m loving the discussion. Again I’m honored to continue the discussion. Blessing in you and your book. Have a great week!

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posted December 17, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Well said, Joan. Maybe Emergent appeals to people who have an axe to grind with whatever Christian church culture they have been living with, and are no longer satisfied with. It gives those people a fresh start, a new passion. Especially among younger 20-somethings, where there is usually much more idealism and attraction to the idea of revolutionary change. I was exactly like this 20 years ago when I was that age. As an ancient middle-age person, I am so in tune with you on this. (But I confess that I am still interested in following “the movement,” since it is all the rage)

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Joan Ball

posted December 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm

It’s interesting Brad, because I think there is more than one thing at play. Sure, there are some young kids who just want to be part of something bigger than themselves, however I also think that there are things in the church that need to be reviewed and rethought in light of past failures and a global future that is unlike anything that we have seen before. That is why I think it may be as much folly to dismiss it as it would be to follow it without much prayer and discernment. Thanks for chiming in.

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posted January 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Joan – Adele Sackler suggested I check out your website. She thought I’d enjoy what you have to say and she was spot on. You’re echoing concerns I have heard expressed elsewhere.
Shoot me an email at – I’d love to plug you into some UK Anglican resources that I suspect will speak to your heart.

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