Summary of Richard Rohr's 2009-3 Conference in Albuquerque by Bill Bailey.
The Emerging Church conference was sponsored by Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation (http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/). It was held at the Hotel Albuquerque from March 20 to March 22, 2009. A post-conference session was held on the morning of March 23.
The conference was attended by 953 people from at least 12 different Christian denominations.
The conference had 5 main presenters. The first was Phyllis Tickle. Ms. Tickle is the author of over two dozen books in religion and spirituality. [Author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why] Her role as the first speaker was to set the stage and point out that there is much scholarship that points to the fact that we are ripe for change. She proposed and defended the thesis that says that the Christian experience has had dramatic changes in cycles of 500 years. Those transformations generally coincided with other social, political, economic, and scientific events in history.
Moving back in time, she pointed to:
· Martin Luther 1517
· The Great Schism 1054
· The Council of Chalcedon 451 (Human and divine nature of Christ) Leo the Great
· Christ and the Apostles
· Babylonian Captivity 586 BCE
We are in a Great Emergence – a time of great change politically, socially, economically and scientifically.
· Domestic arrangements vs the families.
· Computerization – Quadrillion Computations per second
· People living on the land vs People living in the cities
· World is flat – impact on nation states.
With all this upheaval and change:
· Where is authority? That question is vital to each major change.
· We don’t know who we are as humans.
o Consciousness is not us – anti-Descartes
· Theology of religion
o Question of atonement originating with St. Anselm. How can it be that God could not solve the problem of sin with crucifixion of his Son?
It is time for a house-cleaning in matters of religion. In that activity, we will find things that have been overlooked. Look closely at our institutions. Historically we formulate a construct and then institutionalize it. After that, energy is expended to break down the institution. For example, in the Reformation, the Protestants determined that the authority should be scripture and not the papacy. Arguments arose early. By 1560, the Bible was rewritten into chapters and verses so that one could argue by “chapter and verse.” Currently there are 3900 Protestant sects worldwide.
Phyllis pointed out that the Emergence is coming from the unchurched as well as the churched.
The second presenter was Brian McLaren. His website says that Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists. In 1982, “he helped form Cedar Ridge Community Church, an innovative, nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region (crcc.org). He left higher education in 1986 to serve as the church's founding pastor and served in that capacity until 2006. During that time, Cedar Ridge earned a reputation as a leader among emerging missional congregations.”
Brian began his presentation with the statement:
“What you focus on determines what you miss!”
In support of that thesis, somewhere in his introductory material, Brian presented a video which he posed as being some sort of interesting exercise. He gave the audience direction. He pointed out that the video would show two teams each with three young people – a white team and a black team. Each team had a ball and the team members would pass directly or bounce pass to ball to another member of their team. This activity was to continue through the entire video. Audience members on one side of our ballroom were assigned to watch the white team and count the number of successful passes accomplished by that team. The other side was to do the same count for the members of the black team. The center of the audience was to count the total successful passes for both teams. The video began. I remember concentrating very hard to watch the white team members and I recorded 16 successful passes before the film ended. It would tough, because the two teams were constantly changing position in a tight area – as if moving within the boundaries of a 10 foot circle. Right after we got done, Brian asked for the counts. We yelled them out. I believe I heard 16 or 17 from our side of the room.
Finally, Brian said, “Good! And who saw the gorilla?” A few – very few people – laughed and said they had!!! He then reran the video. Ignoring the bouncing ball, there it was plain as day. Someone in a smiling gorilla suit danced – not at all stealthily – right through the 6 young people – waving its furry arms – and moved from one side of the video image to the other.
“What you focus on determines what you miss!” Makes you wonder!!!
Brian contends that we have missed a lot about Jesus. The stories we find in the Bible have been the puzzle pieces from which we are taught about Jesus. However, Brian contends that we have the wrong big picture which does not match the pieces. He asks us to consider: What if we’ve been puzzling over Jesus with the wrong lid on our puzzle box -- the wrong picture? The result is various images: The Us vs Them Jesus, The Personal Enhancement Jesus, The Stained Glass Jesus, The Ticket to Heaven Jesus, The Institutional Jesus, … In general, our ideas of Jesus are not wrong but partial.
[Richard Rohr seemed to speak of this dilemma in his evening presentation. He states that: We hurried and made everything a doctrine and never really dealt with many issues and positions.]
Consider the Evangelists. They also presented differing pictures as they added to the puzzle. Mark was the proclaimer of the “good news”. He described Jesus as ruler, Lord, Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Head of the Body. Luke’s gospel had a social justice flavor. Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." (Lk 4: 18,19) Luke describe Jesus as Christ , Messiah, and Savior. Matthew portrayed Jesus as Leader. Matthew uses images as Rabbi, Teacher, Good Shepherd, Last Adam. Finally, John shows Jesus as the Revealer and is the most contemplative.
In recent years, Jesus studies have turned the light on many areas that have been overlooked.
· The studies that put Jesus back in his native historical setting
· New insights into second-temple Judean Judaism.
· Studying Jesus through the sight of his ancestors rather than just his descendants.
· Studies that concern the formation of the gospels.
The Emerging Church is not a new slice of the old pie. It is the new outermost ring on the tree of Christian tradition representing life in current weather conditions. The tree is sturdy from years of growth, but new conditions affect that new emerging growth ring. All Christian traditions interact in this outer ring and contribute to what emerges.
Among the most common mis-directions which are held by Christians is the notion that Jesus proclaimed a new religion. Over and over, Jesus proclaimed a new kingdom. (In Jesus’ day, it was a dangerous time to proclaim a new kingdom. That kind of thing could get you killed. Kingdoms and empires were realities.) The church is only a vehicle that should advocate for that kingdom – the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom entailed a radically new way of life – life not limited to the present age.
Too few people understood the nature of the Kingdom of God. Many think it is heaven after you die. This is supported by Matthew’s references to “the kingdom of heaven.” But the Lord’s Prayer says “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew acts as the good Jew and uses Heaven as a substitute for a reference to God.
Why does John hardly ever say “kingdom” at all? John uses “kingdom” only in chapter 3 and 18. Elsewhere, he uses the phrase “life”-life to the full or eternal life. But to John, eternal life does not just mean life in heaven after you die.
Paul actually does speak constantly about the kingdom of God - but he uses a variety of kingdom-related terms.
The comments above point to the fact that the puzzle pieces related to the basic message of Jesus require much exegesis – much interpretation. The disciples – being the immediate students of Jesus – were notorious in misinterpreting the role of Jesus as related to the Kingdom. It was suggested that they were more aptly considered to be the “da”sciples.
Finally, the issue of our misguided focus was highlighted by references to Matthew 16:16-18. Jesus had just asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” In 16:16, Matthew says, “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” That statement was a powerfully political statement since Augustus Caesar owned the title of “the Son of the Living God.” Peter was proclaiming Jesus as God’s chosen king, ruler, leader, and supreme authority for humanity. Caesar wasn’t Lord: Jesus was! That was a statement to unpack in defining the role of Jesus. However, look what we do? We ignore 16:16 and focus on 16:18. We have spent centuries arguing about 16:18 “… thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Whatever the “emerging church” is …it begins by seeking a fresh vision of Jesus and the kingdom of God. It is radical -it goes back to the root. All of our traditions have contributed to this fresh vision of Jesus. Catholic liberation theologians, missionaries, and biblical scholars … Mainline Protestant Jesus scholars … Evangelical missionaries and Bible scholars … Eastern Orthodox scholars and leaders who maintained a non-Western approach… And sincere Christians of all traditions … who listened to the Holy Spirit speaking of Jesus in their hearts.
The slides from Brian McLaren in two pieces – very good!!!!
The conference was marked with several round table discussions: Jonathan Brink, a young Evangelical, sat our table for several discussion periods. He wrote his version of the conference in his blog. One link for Day 1 and one link for Day 2:
If you don’t read Jonathan’s words, I will attach some of his words about our round table on Day 1.
We spent almost thirty minutes in a round table talk. The average age at my table was 50 and Catholic. It was incredible hearing the voices from those in the Catholic Church on how they saw the Protestant Reformation. Some quotes include:
1. We’re so worried about abortion that we’re missing the fact that there are wars going on.
2. Our church is being thrown into total chaos over the GLBT issue.
3. Emergence is going from exclusionary to inclusionary.
4. Words of how we feel: hopeful, excited, searching, human, very excited, energized, thankful.
5. We see you Protestants as having been distracted over the last 500 years.
6. (a Catholic) We’re just now discovering we can read the Bible for ourselves.
7. I’m learning to debunk the myths of my own faith.
8. It’s nice to talk about who the central authority is: Jesus.
On March 20, Fr. Richard Rohr, the host of the conference, spoke from 7-8 PM. The contemplative mind. We had it, and we lost it. Now it is being rediscovered. The contemplative mind is non-dual. It is able to hold both good and bad, right and left, conservative and liberal, human and divine, and all other dualisms that we thrive on. It holds all the dualisms gently without judging or blaming. Jesus was non-dual in that he was both totally human and totally divine. We are also basically non-dual with life in both the divine and human spheres. Non-dualism is the third way – a way of oneness with all.
Many of our problems today are caused by our dualist mind. Contemplation was taught through the 15th century. Since the 1400s and 1500s, we have cultivated the dualistic mind. We have to be right. We need to say that they are wrong. We lost our capacity to think non-dualistically. In things spiritual such as divinity, humanity, and trinity, we made everything into doctrine and never really dealt with these important concepts. Once you have to prove someone is right and another is wrong, you cannot be contemplative.
Thomas Merton said that we don’t know the contemplative anymore. Monks were never taught contemplation. They were given behaviors, but nothing about what to do with their minds. Merton said that the monks at Gethsemane were not contemplative, but only introverts. That didn’t gain him many points with his brother monks.
Life has many non-dual issues. Suffering cannot be handled by dualism. In our world, if you suffer, you have to blame someone! Sue someone! Mystery is non-dual. (Fundamentalists only handle what they believe they know for certain.) Love your enemies is only done by non-dualists. The rain falls on both the good and the bad can only be held and accepted by the non-dual mind.
Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, but he came to change our mind about God. This is a statement about atonement and also about the way we think.
Contemplative thought was known to Teresa of Avila. She learned it from the Third Spiritual Alphabet published in 1527 and written by Francisco de Osuna. The practice was called pensar sin pensar, thinking without thinking.
We can think with this non-dual consciousness in times of great love and great suffering. For example, when a parent dies we find in our pain that we have no need to blame. We are in the presence of a greater mystery. When one falls in love, the beloved can do nothing wrong!!! He/she is just beyond right and wrong, …
Also we must be contemplative before we can truly see the actions needed to establish justice. That is why the name of Rohr’s center is Action and Contemplation. The most important word in the name is “and”. It holds to two together.
The left brain has been our control tower for the last 500 years. Ancient man knew God through original participation. That is available to all mankind at all times. In the last 500 years, except for the mystics, we have not participated in God’s creation in a non-dual way. The gorilla became lost to the dualistic mind. Inner experience is not necessary anymore in religion. Answers are all important. Even scientists can live with hypotheses, but not the clergy. They need the doctrine and not the mystery.
[Somewhere in his talks, Rohr quoted Einstein as saying something like “we cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created the problem.”]
Jesus was contemplative. He didn’t teach a verbal prayer until his disciples asked him. To that point, the disciples had not seen or heard his prayer. Rohr contends that Jesus in the desert wasn’t saying “Hail Marys.” Jesus was not praying with words. He went to his “hidden room” to pray. Christianity has missed this. Christianity is still infantile in what it knows about the message of Jesus. The fact that Christianity was openly racist until the last century shows it is infantile.
So in the Emerging Church we will move from Christianity that is belief-based and go to Christianity that is practice-based. We will not create a new church and discard the old church. We will pool our resources and build on lessons from the past. We will build a Church which incorporates many of the items we missed through the centuries.
The second day, March 21, had basically two speakers. Both illustrated the Spirit working in poor communities with the intention of providing Christian service. To guide my writing in this section, I must mention that I have been helped by a website of Jonathan Brink of Folsom, CA. Jonathan and cohort, Jeremy, were two of the eight at our table with whom we shared our ideas during conference break-out sessions.
Alexie Torres-Fleming has no degrees, is not a pastor, is a woman, and is a Puerto Rican. She grew up in the Bronx and was in the category of being an “at risk kid.” That was defined by all the bad things that one was probably going to experience – pregnancy, drugs, etc. Alexie spoke of her father who did hard janitorial work. She spoke of her growing up and the fact that the goal of most parents was to see how far their children could escape from life in the ghetto.
By chance, Alexie did leave the ghetto and had a good job with power and a residence in Manhattan.
She spoke that she was conflicted with this split in her life. When returning to the ghetto, she wondered – wasn’t I taught that God is here? Why do I want to get away from the poor? Then drugs --- crack and other drugs – were overtaking her old neighborhood. I believe it was the pastor of her former church who decided to organize a march to show community solidarity against the drug dealers. She participated with the conflict in mind --- a march ---that’s not what a church does!!!
In retrospect, she says that now she realizes that “The Kingdom of God is not going to fall out of the sky.” We need to do something other than doing charity to make you feel good. You have to go away from the things that make you too comfortable.
The march occurred --- and drug dealers torched the church!
Now there was more mental turmoil as she returned to see the church of her youth as a burned out shell. But she heard a little voice say, “I don’t live here.” --- not just in the destroyed church. God lives with the immigrants, the young people with the low pants, the girls pushing baby carriages …
The second march occurred in response to that burning and the drug issue. It generated the solidarity of the people behind the cause.
Two months later she quit her job and went back to the South Bronx. Unemployed and with limited savings, she went back without much financial means. But she went to work. She started to organize what is now the Youth Ministry for Peace and Justice (http://www.geocities.com/ympj_ny/). She said that the center started in the basement of a church with “ 10,000 rats and cockroaches.” Since then there have been rallies not just for MLK, but for housing, pollution, etc. The people are learning to raise their voices – and not just for charity. The center accomplishments do not just include the saving of the kids. In performing the ministries of the center, the kids “will fix us” – the ones who minister. Our work of service fixes us. This is a paradox of Christian service.
Alexie pointed out that the bread is so poorly divided. The old church paradigm of charity is not enough. We have to go beyond just charity.
Among the other quotes in her talk were:
“You cannot redeem what you do not assume. Are we willing to assume the mantle of poverty, pain, simplicity, and their struggles?”
“Everything that we don’t need does not belong to us.”
“We like our poor to act a certain way.”
After our table discussion, Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle responded to Ms. Torres. They added:
“Classism and clericalism is what we are emerging from.”
“We need to experience our faith in relationship and mystery.”
Ultimately Christian action includes prophetic action and community organizing. The twelve Apostles were community organizers. In such a ministry, we take people and turn them into recipients of their own transformation. We make them protagonists in their own story. We must always remember that “poverty is a result of circumstance and not a gauge of intelligence.” The journey out of poverty includes a journey to freedoms that are the domain of the privileged. Poverty is more than just an economic condition.
The afternoon session on Saturday featured an hour presentation by 32 year old Shane Claiborne wearing dreadlocks and speaking of insights he has gained in his work with the poor in Philadelphia. He is involved with the poor on many levels. He wrote a book called “Jesus for President.” He is an evangelical involved in the movement being known as the New Monasticism. He is becoming a much sought-after speaker. He mentioned that he was once driven 25 miles to a speaking engagement in an Amish buggy.
He began by posing “how can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and forget him on Monday.” He said that we should stop complaining about the church’s lack of action and, as Gandhi put it, “become the change we want to see.” We must rethink what it means to be Christian.
Shane spoke of the new monasticism which is not a new church. “That new monasticism is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by twelve marks (http://www.newmonasticism.org/12marks.php) -- like the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic marks.
1. Christian activity is moving toward the abandoned places. The inner city is the new desert. Move toward the ghetto and not away.
2. Share the economic resources of the community to bear the burdens of the poor. Tithing 10% of our incomes for the community.
3. Hospitality in our homes. Buying homes for immigrants. Moving AWOL soldiers to the Indiana Amish Underground Railroad.
4. Reconciliation of the racial divisions in the church. The most segregated hour of the week is the 11 AM Sunday morning service.
5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church. Welcome heroes and sheros into community prayer. Develop a common book of prayer.
6. Get liturgy into the street. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate.
7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8. Celebrate family and singleness. Church should become a place where people love and can be loved.
9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10. Value creation with a new caring. The ecology of the community. 60% of the children of Camden, NJ have asthma.
11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18. There is violence in the ghettos, but the government uses massive doses of violence as well.
12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life. We need to engage the church. The church is like Noah’s ark. It stinks inside; but if you get out, you will drown.
(These twelve points were recalled from my notes with the help of the New Monasticism website.)
In response to Shane, Richard Rohr, Karen Sloan, and Brian Froehle had a few minutes to tell their reactions. Karen spoke of her movement from her Presbyterian roots, to experiences in Dominican monasticism, and to her work in Pittsburgh for Formation House. (http://formationhouse.org/)
Rohr spoke of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, OH. He spoke of our need to be able to build a church that we can critique. He spoke of the need for a new and bigger vision - an ecclesial vision as a way to oppose empire. The new emerging church will be a place where Christianity is practiced without a whole lot of philosophy. It will be ecumenical in the sense of blurring the boundaries/crossing the boundaries of traditions. It will not reject existing traditions, but create a robust hybrid.
In a later panel discussion, Alexie pointed out three myths of social change. First was that there needed to be a super-hero like Gandhi or MLK. Second – that change came from something like spontaneous combustions. Finally, there is the myth that change occurs in an evolutionary way.
Ultimately she said that the power is within us! We must listen to the inner voice and not go to look for an answer from outside.
Richard Rohr said that Vatican II is good. So Catholics can stay inside the Church, but be there in a radical way.
Sunday morning’s liturgy was a beautiful ecumenical Mass presided by Fr. Richard Rohr and Anita Amstutz , a Mennonite minister.
Probably 100 of the participants of the Conference stayed for Post-Conference sessions held Sunday night and Monday morning. Presiders at these sessions were Brian Froehle and Anita Amstutz. The sessions served as an effort to determine what had occurred in the conference and what could be carried forward.
Comments that were heard:
“The Spirit is working already.”
“How can you “leave” the Church? We are all one in Christ.”
“The Church is not “emerging.” It is “a merging” Church.”
“Just use your gifts. You don’t have to personally change the world. There is no law against showing love.”
“We don’t see forgiveness modeled enough.”
“How can I be ordained … when women cannot?”
Another minister pointed out that sexism is now much more prevalent than racism in our churches.
Probably the most touching event of the conference occurred on Monday morning. A woman who was formerly a minister in a Protestant denomination had converted to Catholicism. She spoke of her frustration with the Church in that she could not continue her ministry in her new Church. In response, the Franciscan priest spontaneously asked for her forgiveness on behalf of the Church. She spoke words of reconciliation to a Franciscan priest. She forgave the Church for its treatment of women.
One young evangelical expressed his sorrow “on behalf of all men” for the treatment of women by all Christian religions.
Much less dramatic, we heard one Lutheran pastor who proclaimed the Franciscans were mid-wives of his Lutheran parish. The Franciscan friars are renting space for his church to hold services…15,000 square feet for $35 per week.