Last week I attended Transform East, a gathering of emergent types organized by Steve Knight and his buddies. It took place in Washington DC at Wesley Methodist seminary.
My primary purpose for going was to (as I described it to my newfound friends from the conference), "put flesh on pixels." I had met a number of the people who would be attending through Facebook, Twitter, and as fellow SynchroBloggers over the years. So, this was an opportunity to finally meet many of them face to face.
I spent time with people I knew like @imageoffish (Callid Keefe-Perry), and Brian McLaren, and with people I was only just meeting such as the Outlaw Preachers, Rick the Zen Buddhist monk awesome Christian dude, and Rev. Vince.
As far as the presentations from the conference, I want to focus on one single moment following a single message. I think it holds some insight, and reveals a tension within the emergent movement which will only expand if the movement seeks to continue growing in influence.
I have periodically given voice to this tension over the last 5 years. Whether through occasional posts, or in discussion with people like Tony Jones. It is the tension of predominantly post reformed evangelical emergents, with their charismatic, Pentecostal, and in this case mystical Quaker brethren who also identify with the heartbeat of the movement.
I sat outside the doors at the back, in the foyer of the chapel. I could hear the entirety of the lecture. Pete's theme was based upon the phrase that "to believe is human, to doubt is divine." Of course, this is a common thread in Pete's writing and thinking. He purposely turns things upside down, and creates a dynamic tension and struggle in our faith. He is filled with paradox, and gutsy philosophical dark battles of the soul.
The evening ended with a song by Padraig O Tuama, an Irish poet/musician who traveled with Pete on the Pub Tour. It is a haunting chorus, which highlights redemption through struggle, failure and loss. Rev. Vince performed the song with Amy Moffit. Between his growling delivery and mad piano skills, and her gorgeous voice it was a an incredibly beautiful ending. I stepped forward to the back door and stood next to Brian McLaren who had been standing in the back during the message.
The last two verses are the most poignant. Partly due to the fact that the next to the last verse uses the F-bomb: "I f***ed it up so many times, I f***ed it up so many times, I f***ed it up so many times, Hallelujah." I suppose someone would have to hang out with Pete and listen to his Hegelian tension theology to come up with that line.
Then the last verse ended with a line describing going to Babylon and finding a home in exile.
When the song ended there was a brief moment in which the audience did not know how to respond, and everyone sat in silence. As a Pentecostal, I recognized this as a moment pregnant with a nearly palpable sense of God's Spirit.
Then Pete rose and mentioned that the song was rooted in thoughts from Jeremiah.
Then everyone clapped.
Steve Knight who was the host for the event stood up to do some "housekeeping." You know, the boring stuff that every conference requires to transition from event to event.
That's when "it" happened. My buddy Callid, who is a Quaker with a heavily mystical leaning stood up, interrupting Steve and said something. Callid was in the front of the room, and I could not hear him, so I had to step forward to Brian and ask him if he heard what Callid said.
Brian replied, "He said something about the kingdom of God having arrived in the room, and that we should stop to acknowledge it."
I laughed softly, and said to Brian, "Well, isn't that gloriously Quaker."
Steve had a bit of an 'I'm not sure what to do here' look on his face, and then we continued in silence for a few more moments. He then mentioned that it was difficult to move on, and the evening ended with the "housekeeping."
Callid left as the housekeeping was going on, as many people do during conference announcements.
The following day there were was some discussion about the experience. Some people struggled with what occurred. Others were glad Callid spoke up, because they felt a holy tension in that moment. Callid was spoken to by a number of people, including some of the leadership of the conference who had a concern that his interruption might be misunderstood by some of the people at the event.
To view the moment you can go to the transform network page and watch the video here. The song is played at about 1:23:00 in the event and you can watch to through the end.
I have been saying for some time that there is an uncomfortable alliance with the emergent discussion and those who identify with it who are coming from a Pentecostal or Charismatic persuasion. Tony Jones has been studying what emergent has to say to the Pentecostal church, and vice versa recently, and it is something I have questioned him about a few times over the last few years, but the answers have always been stated in terms of being open to discussion. This moment at Transform East highlights to unsatisfactory nature of relegating the tensions to a discussion.
Pentecostal, Charismatic, and mystical Quaker experience are just that - experience. Talking about that experience is insufficient as an agent of transformation. The experience must be experienced. It is bound by a mystical union of the church with God's Spirit, and the moment by moment acknowledgements of God's Spirit speaking and acting among us. The experience is anarchic, and messy, because God arrives at times most unexpected. These mystical traditions have learned to stop for those moments, and reflect and respond accordingly.
Many of the people who are a part of the emergent discussion do not have experience in these more mystical traditions. Instead emergent has adopted more easily controlled mysticism, and so they light candles, and place icons around the room. These things do not necessarily acknowledge an interruption in the order of service from a God Who could often care less about what we were supposed to do next.
After about 5 years of networking with various emergent types, and discussing this exact issue with those from my own Pentecostal tradition who identify with the emergent discussion, I am not sure that we are any closer now to bridging this tension, or even having a sense of how to do it than we were 5 years ago.
5 years ago my Pent-emergent friends were feeling like they did not fit well into the movement. That light tension remains there still, and this was evidence by the fact that there were people in leadership who did not know what to do with Callid's interruption, and were uncomfortable with it.
Callid said about the experience, "When these things happen, I really don't know what to do with them."
He did the right thing, he acknowledged the moment - that is how I, a pastor from a Pentecostal tradition or over 20 years feel.
I pointed out that none of us know what to do with God's interrupting activities. I am also convinced that we do not need to know what to do in these moments, we nearly need to know what to do, when we do not know what to do. If that doesn't make sense to you, then you are still on the other side of understanding the heart of mystical church life found in Pentecostal and Quaker traditions.
There is a plan for creating Transform West in the near future. I would hope the leadership would lean on the shoulders of some of the Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Quakers who might understand how to ford this river into the uncharted territories of worshiping together with the mystical expressions as part of the experience. Until that happens those of us from the mystical traditions will probably remain mildly uncomfortable and feeling slightly outside the circle.
My prayer is that the Quaking may continue in gatherings such as this. Callid asked one of the leaders how many Pentecostals they thought were present at the event. The answer was, "maybe 10." They both acknowledged that something was wrong with that number being so low. When Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Quakers feel accepted as a group complete with their religious experience those numbers will change.
At least that is what I think. What do you think?