Seraphim Sez: Play Nice Y’All (Yeah, It’s an Em Church Post)

Seraphim, as usual, reminds me to play nice. And if anyone has the street cred to ask this (not that he should need it), it’s Seraphim.

I suppose my dilemma is twofold: [A] If we cannot be critical (and I’m not saying Seraphim is saying we can’t) of the em church, then there can be no open dialogue between those of us in Orthodoxy (or the Roman Catholic Church) and the em church. Furthermore, they are certainly critical, if not of us, at least of those things that are integral to our beliefs; such as the absolute and nonnegotiable belief in the full humanity and full deity of Jesus, the Sacraments, the perpetual virginity of our Most Holy Lady, and so on. But mostly, if all we can do is lob niceties each other’s way, then both of us are being fake and hypocritical. True relationship demands truth, and truth obligates us to be critical where that is warranted. But . . .

If one is critical, then one is perceived to be and often called judgmental, or thought to not be playing nice, or elevating truth over love, or what have you.

So, the first horn of the dilemma is that if one cannot be critical there’s no real anything going on: no relating, no truth, no love.

Other horn:

[B] But if one is going to be critical, one ought be accurate and truthful. So when we read or otherwise conversate with em churchers and we see instance after example of near-denial of the central tenets of the faith AND yet we are supposed to give acknowledgement that this is what the Holy Spirit is doing–and we are critical of that . . . then we are told that this is not characteristic of the entire em church movement, that the em church movement is much more diverse than that, and so on. It’s rather like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

So, in sum: We can’t be critical because that’s not nice. But we also can’t be critical because our criticisms don’t apply to the entire em church movement.

Nice gig if you can get it, I suppose.

I just find this sort of thing unworkable. For em churchers to (as it appears to me) hide behind a “that’s not true of the whole movement” disclaimer is, I think, disingenuous. For what we see of the movement is precisely the things we criticize. If the em church is truthfully not generally like that, then a vocal minority is stealing the press and creating false images, and there ought be some vocalizations out there to the extent, “This is only a minority of the em church phenomenon.” On the other hand, if the the things we criticize the em church for are, in fact, generally true, then our criticisms ought be acknowledged to hold true for the em church in general. It remains then for those who are the exceptions to say, “We’re not like that,” in which case one wonders whether they ought label themselves as “emergent.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the search, for pity’s sake. I know about the search. I’ve lived the search. By all means, genuinely, really, wholeheartedly strike out going you know not wither and search. But don’t institutionalize the search . . . for Christ’s sake. Get rid of the conferences, the books, the marketings, the media and tech budget, the labels, the jargon, the no-caps. Just search. Search the hell out of it. And if you’re reaching out to those who are searching, then don’t sell them into a slavery of labels, marketing and external identities, built on copycatting the secular pop culture. Let them leave postmodernism, progressivism, activism and all other isms that are standing in for the only true and worthy object of their search.

For Christ’s sake.

4 thoughts on “Seraphim Sez: Play Nice Y’All (Yeah, It’s an Em Church Post)

  1. I dont know about street cred, but I would say that my comments were motivated by a desire that your critique actually be heard. I think you have valid things to share, and I don’t want your rich comments to be too easily dismissed. Or at least I would prefer that your comments were dismissed on their merits, and not merely because you guys are missing each other on a fundamental level. And its more than “just don’t use hard words…”

    I just simply believe (and continue to experience) that many in the Emergent Church crave to hear from the Orthodox community, but there are many challenges here (beyond the usual challenges of ethnicity or culture or lack of a shared framework of distinctions/terms)…

    in part, they recognize that they as a community are in a *stage*… they are in a process of inquiry… and blatant rhetoric (no matter how reasoned) of “you’re simply wrong”, so fundamentally disrupts the process of inquiry/dialogue, that they often will be left feeling patronized, coddled, unheard, dismissed, etc…

    and believe me… you CAN be critical… really… but more often than not the traditional methods of lets just get down to a real sharp debate of who/what is right/wrong… will just be dismissed. but of course, dont take my word for it! let your own experience be the guide!

    also – if there IS one fruitful place of engagement, it is in a category that many emergents DO affirm. that is collage. one of the major distinctives of what EM churches do is in part articulated by the “generous orthodoxy” book of mclaren. ie, to maintain a personal faithfulness to Christ as you see it, and then collage from the best of what you perceive christianity to be over the ages. ie, that’s why you see so much borrowing… a few icons, a few candles, a few labryinths, a little rave/indie ‘worship’ music, strong emphasis on social justice, etc… and of course the hermeneutic driving this is deeper than what it all “looks like”… but one direction to go with it all is to discuss the inherently self-referential aspects of collage. ie, who is the eventual arbiter of what is relevant…

    i’m rambling. forgive!

  2. i’d also add… there is critical, and then there is critical. ie, there is always a context. ie, youre one friend that you used to have raging debates with. i’m medically altered now (radiation treatments) so I forget the specifics, but something about a little red or yellow bus or…..? but it seemed the debate you guys shared was QUITE critical, but the relational context elevated and sharpened it to something much more than just “i’m right and you’re wrong”. you guys really WENT somewhere with it… and in that sense, in a relational context of respect and trust, there is actually MORE risk involved, and perhaps therefore more value.

    or perhaps not! there are so many levels of engagement in terms of sharing our wonderful faith. friendship. icons. borrowed books. visiting each others churches. talks over coffee. reading each others blogs. prayer! etc… and NONE of that means that taking the gloves off in a web forum and busting a move on each others arguments is off limits.

    ie, of course this is not ALWAYS true… but i often think that there are two ways of communicating…

    1). saying what i’ve got to say, or what i think is most important to say. ie, the shape of my mouth is primary.


    2. letting the core concerns, questions, and the stage that the other is in draw the conversation out. ie, the shape of their ears is primary.

    discernment, prayer is required in both cases, no?

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