Saturday, May 08, 2010

Quaking at Transform East

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.

On Friday evening, Peter Rollins was the speaker.  He was giving a shortened rendition - without the chapter breaks - of his Insurrection Pub Tour.  I had heard this before, because Pete brought his Pub tour to Boston, and I had set up the sound, and ran it for that evening.

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.

My Thoughts:

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?


Duh-sciple Tim said...

Hey, it's your new Lutheran buddy, Tim. I loved that Callid interrupted and asked for the pause to acknowledge the God Moment! Of course, I could see that Steve was caught off guard, yet he yielded to the suggestion. Together they participated in a holy awkwardness, and through the crack there was a tender silence where the Spirit shouted healing to my soul.

I also appreciate Steve's organizing of this event. Without his gifts I would never have been able to meet such awesome people for those two days. He provided the structure for us to have the experience. So I think it is "both/and." Because of Steve there was the "embodiment" of people we previously experienced online.

We need both Steve's organizing and Callid's discernment to say, "hey, pay attention, the Spirit's whisper is blowing through."

I confess that I come from a very conventional, traditional background. Our worship has creed and kyrie and confession (notice my amazing alliteration). And I was so enriched by your stories of ministering in Salem, Mass. The Spirit was teaching me through you. So I think we all need each other.

That's what I think. Duh T

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Tim,

It was great spending some time with you on Friday. I agree completely with every assessment you make here, and I too am thankful for the event. Yet, it will be interesting to follow the continued development of these mash up events with people from different traditions. Hopefully the grace you express will make way for all our kooky traditions to blend in harmony.

Beth said...

What a great post, Phil. I suppose the fact that I resonate so strongly with your reaction to the post-Reformed "not knowing what to do when God shows up" may be in part because of my charismatic phase, but it is far more out of my liturgical background (I mean the primal deep structure, as opposed to safe trappings like lighting candles and putting icons in the room - I mean liturgy in the sense of, as a favorite liturgical theologian of mine describes it, "regularly being brought to the brink of chaos in the presence of the living God.") When I see moments like you describe ignored, or talked away, or sung away, it always makes me think, "We are not all engaged in quite the same activity here."

Anonymous said...

More later,(when not on my blackberry) but I wanted to clarify ) that the "how many" pentacostals question was not with a leadership team person. Unless being a faithful Christian counts as being on the leadership team.


cern said...

This 'discomfort' with how to handle the spontaneous attention from 'deity/spirit/God' is very interesting. It's almost like 'we're having this gathering to communicate with 'deity/spirit/God', so he/she/it had better shut up and listen. In a way, I'd expect that more within the Pagan gatherings I am familiar with as the perceived relationship between deity and humans is one where the idea is more of a working relationship than one where people are gathering in the presence of an all powerful being. I've certainly seen the discomfort in Pagan circles. In Christian gatherings, that discomfort suggests that those gathered aren't expecting God to actually be listening... even less to choose to drop in. Odd when you consider scripture that suggests that when a certain number of Christians gather in Jesus name, he is going to be there too.

An additional reflection.... if Christians are uncomfortable when in the presence of their God whilst they're still in 'this mortal coil', should there be some reflection on how they might respond once they've moved on?

If you're engaging in some spiritual activity, it should not be a source of discomfort if someone draws attention to the fact that the focus of that spiritual activity has turned up. My personal feeling is that what actually happens is that someone makes such an announcement and others feel uncomfortable because they don't feel the presence.

A reflection on that..... within many spiritual traditions, particularly within Christianity, there is an acknowledgment that the relationship between deity and humans is a personal one. Perhaps it might be understood that 'deity' might visit a person in a crowd, but only visit that one person at that point in time. So a moment when someone senses 'deity' is present might very well be a personal moment.... one that others shouldn't expect to feel at that point in time. The source of discomfort? 'Why didn't I get to sense deity? What has that person got that I don't?'.... and the answer is 'because it wasn't your time just then, but you're as 'worthy' as that person in your own time'. So what to do when someone is so moved by the experience of being in the presence of deity that they speak out about it? Acknowledge that it is happening, celebrate the fact that someone (and deity) has found a moment in your gathering that has resulted in a touching of spirit and that you too will experience the same when the time is right for you and deity.

But I could have just typed a load of rubbish just then. :)



Steve Hayes said...

I suppose a lot depends on what you're emerging from.

And Pentecostal, charismatic, Quaker (with, I would say, the addition of Neopentecostal) rather different things.

The problem I find with Emerging people is that they often say things like "We must change the way we do church" without explaining who they mean by "we", and what they mean by "do church".

The moles are emerging from different holes and don't know what the other moles' holes look like.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Beth,

Deep liturgy and charismatic chaos often have the same dynamics of Spirit life don't they? My reaction is really more out of a desire to broaden the tent, which I know is the desire of emergent as well, and that means we do the messy work of worshiping together and learning from the many traditions.

There are not many of us who are comfortable in a wide variety of settings.

Pastor Phil said...


Thanks for the clarification on that point.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Cerny Mike,

"It's almost like 'we're having this gathering to communicate with 'deity/spirit/God', so he/she/it had better shut up and listen." Great Line!

No load of rubbish in what you said. As always you make a good preacher for a Pagan. :-) We have lots to learn from you.

On the issue of some feeling it and some not: This was true for the event described above for some, although probably not for most as we discovered in conversation. I am not sure if those who did not feel it struggled more, but even that is simply a matter of education in the things of mystery.

Pastor Phil said...


Great observation.

I am not sure how to define Neo-Pentecostal from here, and whether it looks different than in South Africa. Your writings on the subject make me think that is so. Our version here and now in the US would be the New Mystics and those who preceded the movement - Vineyard and the like.

And yes, the moles do not appear to know what other mole holes look like. Nice observation.

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting to note that some people think that post-modernity started during the beginning of the twentieth century while others think during the 1960/70s. These two time periods coincide with the beginnings of the worldwide pentecostal revival of the early 1900s and the charismatic movement of the 60s.

Steve K. said...


This is a great reflection on what happened in those sacred moments on Friday night at the TransFORM East Coast conference. I'm going to be pondering this for some time, especially your challenge to us as we consider the organization of a West Coast gathering sometime in the near future.

Certainly there needs to be a greater partnership between the evangelical and mainline streams of the emerging church with the Pentecostal/charismatic stream. No doubt about that. The question is how to do that? It takes both a reaching out from those of us who do not come from Pentecostal tribes and grabbing hold/leaning in by more of those who do come from Pentecostal tribes. (Both sides coming together in friendship and relationship.)

This becomes increasingly urgent as we think about the sheer size and reach of the global Pentecostal movement. Where is it headed and how can it be engaged? These are questions I take very seriously as a global Christian and someone who's been engaged in international work since 1996.

I would point out, in respect to the relatively small number of Pentecostals at the TransFORM East Coast Gathering, two things:

1) of the four main speakers, one was a black Pentecostal minister - that has to count for something! ;-) Seriously, though, was the invitation to Anthony Smith a token gesture? Some I spoke to in D.C. thought so. I (and Anthony) would disagree. Anthony has become one of my greatest friends, and he's a core member of the Leadership Team for TransFORM ( He was asked to give one of the main talks at the conference because frankly he does bring a unique perspective that is sorely needed - both as a black Christian and a Pentecostal who is deeply immersed in the emergent missional conversation. He's one of the best kept secrets, in my opinion, but hopefully the word is getting out that this is a brother to keep an eye on.

2) the Pentecostal/charismatic stream tends to be more rigidly conservative in its theology - and those within that stream tend to be critics of emergence Christianity, rather than embracers and participants in the shaping of it. That's a huge generalization, to be sure, but I think it does begin to explain where there weren't more Pentecostals at the event - and why there aren't more Pentecostals interested in and engaged in the conversation. I've had some good conversations recently with folks at IHOP in Kansas City, which have been somewhat reconciliatory - but there's still a great deal of concern and reluctance about the emergence/what is emerging/emergent.

(continued next comment)

Steve K. said...

(continued from previous comment)

Having said all that, Anthony is really the only Pentecostal on the Leadership Team of TransFORM, and frankly he's the only Pentecostal I know well enough and trust (at this point) to ask to be involved in that way. I'm beginning to get to know you and Callid and others, but these are new friendships and relationships. I'm excited to see where this leads in the future, but I'm just being honest about where I'm at right now (and where I see TransFORM being at this point).

I hate to end with this, but one comment you made, Phil, that I'm still wrestling with is this: "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. ... When Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Quakers feel accepted as a group complete with their religious experience those numbers will change."

What I hear you saying is you would like to see more Pentecostals be invited to bring their gifts and their tradition to bear on future events as a whole (which is an idea that I warmly embrace). However, I wonder if these gatherings can/should really become a "United Nations" where Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Evangelical expressions all get equal air time, if you will. Certainly, as relationships and friendships continue to grow and expand that might be the natural outgrowth - and that would certainly be sweet to my soul. Until then, I will try to humbly embrace this critique and challenge to go deeper into relationship with my Pentecostal brothers and sisters - and look forward to doing that.

Thanks for helping to process and reflect on the experience we shared together. It was indeed a beautiful and holy thing. I did sense the heaviness of the Spirit in that moment (and other moments that weekend - esp. during the closing liturgy on Saturday night). It awakened in me a deeper desire for that in my life, which I'm very grateful for.

Until next time ...

Steve K.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for responding fully. I appreciate the inside perspective you have given here.

What you say that you "hate[d] to end with" is actually the heart of the matter, and as you describe - you are wrestling with it, and say the "United Nations" approach would not be unwelcome. I am not really even suggesting that approach. I am merely presenting a tension I have experienced in times past, and have had described to me by others. In reflection of the tension, which was highlighted mildly in Callid's call to observation of the Spirit driven moment, I am merely calling for the wrestling to become more open and engaging not only in dialogue, but also in praxis of worship.

Partly in conjunction with this is also my leaning toward an anabaptist anarchic position. The struggle is equally as dynamic in this respect. The more emergent events lean toward a top-down approach of leadership, the more likely they will appear as less of a discussion, and more of driven event. This in turn will have a tendency to diminish the tensions - not because they don't exist, but because they are removed from the agenda for the sake of a smooth running event.

Sorry - just added another dynamic tension into the discussion, didn't I? Well, that is part of the Pentecostal worship experience as well I suppose - relaxing the top-down approach in communal worship to allow for the chaotic move of God's Spirit. :-)

Pob Hwyl,

Pastor Phil said...

Wow Carl! Cool observation. I have been saying that the movements have things to teach one another for some time. Perhaps they have been learning similar things for some time. :-)

Steve K. said...

"merely calling for the wrestling to become more open and engaging not only in dialogue, but also in praxis of worship"

I like that, Phil! I hope we can answer that call.

And as for throwing the anabaptist anarchic position into the mix as well, that's one of the reasons I'm glad Eliacin Rosario-Cruz is involved on the Leadership Team for TransFORM (as well as of Emergent Village, BTW). Eliacin is one of the people who's swimming in that stream (as well as the Episcopal / neo-monastic streams!) and has a lot to teach all of us.

Thanks again, Phil.

Jonathan Brink said...


First, it was a pleasure meeting you after participating in so many Synchroblogs.

I was one who specifically sought Callid out in order to process experience. I was literally sitting two seats away from him and felt much of the tension the Spirit probably pressed upon him.

I grew up an evangelical but my mentor is a passionate Pentecostal who speaks in tongues. The experience of learning under him broadened my understanding in such a profound way.

So when Callid jumped up I was wearing so many hats at that moment. As a leader, I wanted to make sure everything was okay. The song was so profound but I knew that it was bending people a bit. I wanted to make sure Callid was okay (and he was). I also knew from talking to several people that probably half the room didn't even know what he said.

As an evangelical I knew the movement of the Spirit like that probably freaked a few people out. Yet the evangelicals need that kind of experience to broaden their understanding of how God moves.

And as an emergent, I knew Callid had something to teach us. I asked him to consider thinking about ways to participate in the conversation in the future.

With that being said, this is what I loved about the Gathering. It was filled with so many diverse voices all learning from each other. There was enough freedom to explore, enough grace to learn, and enough truth to push us farther down the road.

Much love

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jonathan,

Thanks for a little more of the Leadership team insider's perspective of the event, and of that moment.

Your observation on the fact that many people might not have heard Callid is correct, and that is where those with experience in spontaneous combustion mystic spirituality can help direct the times of worshiping together. This ties into the anarchic anabaptist leanings of Charismatic worship, and often requires nothing more than the simple observation to the larger audience that something positive and powerful just happened. In a sense leadership only becomes a definer, facilitator, and releasing agent of that which is happening in the larger body of worshipers. Not in the sense of understanding what is happening, but in the sense of allowing the experiences to wash over us, and let them speak into us. Of course, it is also fraught with chaos and potential weirdness - but, hey who cares? The body of those in the audience can be trusted to forage through the chaff methinks.

I see this worship practice as an extension of the dynamics of discussion in emergent. It is the place we allow experience of plurality to be spoken to us by the Spirit. It is the place we are allowed to practice what we preach about the dynamics of church life, and the acceptance of the multiple streams of Christianity.

It was a definite pleasure to meet you and hear you presentation on atonement theory as well.

Peace bro,

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Steve,

Nice to hear that we anarchists are in the mix too. :-) Isn't Mike Morrell also from an anabaptist stream?

Gwyn Dy Fyd,

Steve K. said...

I believe Mike Morrell swims in many streams, Anabaptist anarchist being one of those.

Just to clarify, despite what Doug Pagitt may have said on his radio show, Mike is not part of the Leadership Team for TransFORM ;-) Not to diminish Mike's many other roles and accomplishments, but he hasn't been involved in this way with TransFORM, nor with the planning of the D.C. event. Not sure where Doug got that idea ...

Jonathan Brink said...

Phil, Callid suggested the same thing, that within the Quaker movement, understanding the moment is not necessary. I've experienced those moments, not in Quaker traditions, but in similar contexts, and when the space is familiar with the experience, I would totally agree its not necessary to explain.

The problem was that most of the audience was not familiar with it. In that moment, it becomes important to help people process it for the sake of understanding what is they can learn and engage the moment. When I talked with people after the fact, people were concerned Callid was angry. Yet he wasn't. If they understood what was going on, they may have been more attuned to listening in the moment. I just thought it was important to create a space of learning from that type of context.

I would also say that in spite of Steve's awkwardness about the moment, I thought he handled it really well, giving space to the silence.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jonathan On-the-Brink,

Creating that "space of learning" is indeed what is needed, and that is where those who are familiar with leading from the chaos of spiritual mysticism can help, if they are there to do so when the moments occur, and even if it is stated ahead of time that these things are both welcome and anticipated in the mash-up of blending traditions.

This is not actually something that takes much preparation or planning at all - except maybe to plan for the extended time to allow it to happen.

Yes, Steve did the right thing and allowed the moment to be felt in the silence of introspection. Good and proper move to, in a sense do nothing, but allow the moment to be.

Pob Hwyl,

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Steve,

I actually didn't think Mike was involved in leadership, and didn't hear Doug state that. I was merely pointing to someone who also walked in those circles.

Thanks for the clarification though.


Unknown said...

The uncomfortableness of the moment is that we are looking for "something to do." The true action of the moment is to do nothing. It is up to God to act not us. It may be audible, visible or nothing at either case it is still mystical in practice. It is if at that instant God is saying, "Stop!" Don't worry in a few "moments" we will be back to our precious schedule.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mr Bruce Winans01,

Do you mean God gives us "precious moments?" That means Hallmark cards stores in the mall are Pentecostal churches. :-) Okay - bad joke.

But yes, I like your observations - you crazy mystic.

kristina keefe-perry said...

Hey Phil, et al:

I am grateful for this post and for opening up this conversation about worship and The Spirit. I have been longing to comment -- and we have been moving house this week so found myself with little time for thoughtful contribution.

However, I just came across the following quotation - in our Quaker Meeting Newsletter for the week - and I would say that it speaks to my condition. I will post more context and content, when the dust settles here at Chez KP.

Meanwhile - blessings upon you all!

"The silent meeting makes Quaker worship unique among the religious
traditions of the world. It is first of all a communal experience, yet a communality quite distinct from the silent meditation of other
traditions, even when practiced in a group, because the silence is
alive with the possibility of prophecy. For Quakers, the time of
prophecy has not passed. The prophets are not dead; they are alive and still among us. The Spirit may call any person out of this silence to be a prophet on any occasion, just as among the Apostles at Pentecost, when they were alight with flames that descended upon them and caused
them to speak in tongues. It is this Voice for which we listen."

Tom Rothschild (Brooklyn MM), "Parabola", quoted in the School of the Spirit Spring


Pastor Phil said...

Hi Kristina,

All I have to say about that is: "Rockin' hot quote!" Thanks. I love it. It is so...pregnant with possibility, and hope, and the agency of the Spirit.

Peace in your new place.

Unknown said...

I too want to thank Callid for voicing what I believe so many of us were feeling. I do believe the Spirit was stirring in our midst at that moment and that the only right thing to do was to pause. Between Tim Rollins' words, the incredible hymn of lament, the tears that were flowing down so many of our cheeks ... and Callid's prophetic call for us to just sit in the quiet of the moment ... I'd have to say this was the most powerful moment in the entire conference for me. I ripped a copy of the song from the video feed and have listened to it several time since and am still moved by it. I just wish I could play it in the church I pastor ... but then I would have to find another church to pastor. ;-) But God spoke to me through each and every word in it.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi Christof,

Yeah, I wish I could play it at church too. Maybe at some of the small groups we have, but not during a service methinks. It was a holy moment indeed.

Thanks for popping into Square No More.