Late Into the Night…

I spent this evening with twenty or so other people engaged in the “emerging” conversation in a German bar and tavern (I’m not a beer drinker usually, but wow, this was really good beer) on a steamy night in Stone Mountain just a few miles from home.

For those of you who don’t know what these subversive Emergent-type people do, I’ll just briefly summarize the happenings of the evening. First off, the movie that was to be shown, The Invisible Children of Uganda, wasn’t shown due to wholly separate issue, but nonetheless, a terrible tragedy of a youth director falling into sin was shared. So we prayed…not so different, right?


Then in a room of virtual strangers, we were invited to introduce ourselves by answering 4 questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What are you grateful for? What do you need (from the group tonight)? Around the table with me were men and women of various ages, one African-American, me being the only Asian, some confessing in their introductions that they were curious to hear what this Emergent thing is and some confessed they came for the video. Regardless, it was a wonderful foray into good conversation with the people sitting around — the only disclaimer being thrown out was that we are here to mix, but that no mixers would be provided. If we wanted to get to know people, we would have to be bold enough to change seats, walk around, and speak up.

In no time, all kinds of delicious conversation started — Jewish spiritual practices; post-liberal and evangelical factions within a nearby seminary; biomedical ethics; post-humanism; a distaste for Pat Robertson; the mysticism of Eckhart; the desire to re-infuse the sacrements in a way that they become holy not because someone tells us they’re holy, but we sense God’s holiness; Rick Warren and the satirical take, the Porpoise-Diving Life; Glorietta (Emergent meeting) versus Catalyst (“Promise Keepers for GenX-ers”); the Ten Commandments in front of the Alabama Supreme Court (“what does it matter if we legislate it when people aren’t living it…”); the Israeli-Lebanon conflict (I just had to bring it up); Gandhi (whom I hate and was caught saying he was hopelessly self-righteous and arrogant when compared to Augustine); Augustine (“What a miserable life he lived. I’d rather be self-righteous than to be that miserable”, it was said back to me); to jazz (“Now Duke Ellington might be able to say that he did that [create jazz]” to which I couldn’t stop myself from my retort, “He was only the Duke, there was a King and Count too. Jazz would’ve happened without him.”).

But as the night wore on, I think I began to understand why I believe the “emergent” conversation is important, not just for its wonderful conversation fodder, but because the night capped with me standing under a streetlamp at midnight with an African-American from an Adventist tradition and a blue-eyed white guy from the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and talked about racism, challenging people from our faith tradition, bringing the best of our respective traditions to the conversation and all the while glorifying God. This type of vulnerability, where we can unpack some of the cultural / historical baggage and just ask questions from brothers and sisters of other Christian streams was incredibly enlightening. To understand that we are all, on many different fronts, wrestling with culture, tradition, and oh yes, God, his ways, and his words. It was a night unlike any other night spent at any church I’ve been to, where I felt that people who were so unlike me, and who I was so unlike, were walking with me towards the same Jesus, who were asking how can we make you known, and how can we better bring your kingdom here on earth? We are asking these questions from different streams at a time that was never quite possible like this before. It is possible now, this sense of emerging, and I believe it is a good thing, especially on nights like tonight.

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Comments

  1. djchuang says:

    Dave, you’ve got quite the eye (and ears) for details, I woulda never been able to recall the pastiche of conversational topics that flew around the room. What you’d experienced last night is very similar to what I love about emergent, and it’s a little sad to me that this level of conversation is so hard to find in the typical church or other gatherings of Christians at conferences and such.

  2. josh says:

    Ahh… on some rare occasions I get to have these conversations with other staff types of an organization not to be named because, well, it probably isn’t good to disclose that here. Also had a good conversation with a new prof of church history at Vanderbilt – 1st Korean and first evangelical at the Divinity School… no pressure there!

  3. David Park says:

    DJ, you would’ve loved it, I think. And just think, those were just the conversations within arm’s length! I couldn’t even hear the other conversations at the far end of the table. Perhaps we will get the same chance again this weekend…

  4. David Park says:

    Josh, don’t tempt me. I have a soft spot for Nashville. I’ve always been a little wary of Vandy Div School, but with you there, it might be worth taking a chance if I toe the line between Vandy and IV. I’ll be up there in a couple of weeks, can I give you a call?

  5. josh says:

    Sure you can call me… as your hyung I’ll treat you to lunch!

  6. Sivin says:

    wow! wish I was there …

  7. paulmkim says:

    sounds awesome; is this meeting at all an application of the emergent church model? as a traditional missionary i feel more urgently than ever of our need to evaluate our ministry structures to “make room” for the actual work of the gospel.

  8. peterong says:

    i could almost smell the german ale and the sounds of scraping footsteps of cohorts…sounds good bro…so did andy stanley show up? muahahaha

  9. David Park says:

    Paul, good question. I’m not sure if emergents would claim a “church model” so to speak, because they are sensitive to context, and are willing to change a great deal of variables to get people to engage. But I do know that a basic understanding of emergent is definitely giving room for conversation and questions. And it usually breaks down “church-speak” to get to authenticity, so if someone says, “God is so good. He’s breaking me.” It is fair ground for me to ask him, “What in the world do you mean by that? Please explain.”

    I think people think more deeply than the church gives them credit for, so while it may not easily fit into a “ministry structure”, I think it’s good to engage those honest questions to get to how the Gospel speaks to those thoughts.

    Of course, what ministry structures were you thinking need to be evaluated? Any in particular?

  10. paul says:

    right, i guess there is no single emergent church model; just a sensitivity to the cultural context to respond constructively to whatever “model” our church is structured around, which may be propping up unnecessary hurdles for potential believers or xn leaders;

    so, can a group of believers that “are willing to change a great deal of variables to get people to engage” the gospel establish a dynamic structure and be recognized as a biblical church by korean presbyterian churches (my background and affiliation)?

  11. David Park says:

    that answer i believe is largely up to leadership to step out either within their own church context or outside to engage with others. i don’t know if they will be accepted by korean presbyterian churches as “biblical”, in fact, i have found a range of emotions from reticence, or ambivalence, curiosity, and even excitement towards this type of meeting from the few people i have spoken to. however, i do believe that there is a substantial case to view this type of gathering as “biblical” and necessary.

    i do hope that korean presbyterians would engage other streams of Christianity because there is a strong respect for korean spiritual practices and cultural understandings as well as the fact that i think korean presbyterians can learn a great deal from others.

    the reality that i see is this: there is a type of collective authenticity that churches miss out on if they are not willing to have this conversation with others. with you in a missionary context, i’m sure you may understand that some of our denominational quarrels can appear silly (at best) and self-defeating and hypocritical (at worst) to nonbelievers. if nothing else, this emerging dialogue fosters a hopeful understanding that we are all wrestling with the larger question of what Christ is calling us to, which is one where we are called to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come, is coming, and will come on earth.

    i can see where this type of open conversation may sound threatening to a denomination, but i think the alternative (not acknowledging, not engaging, not addressing) is even more dangerous. the world cannot understand a christian church that is divided, that condemns its own brothers and yet tries to extend its hand to others. while the church can often use our own fallenness as an excuse for our church fragmentation, but when we, as pastors and leaders, refuse to work to heal the body universal, which is the bride of Christ, i believe we do an enormous disservice to the Gospel that we carry as well.

  12. paul says:

    yeah, i think it’d be cool for denominations to face these “threatening” conversations for the edification of the larger body of Christ. i think those at my presbytery at least are open or willing to participate in such conversations.

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