So- are ’emerging churches’ and the people that use the label middle class and self absorbed with their own little slice of post modern spirituality?
Check out this discussion thread, in which Paule Ede, who lives and works in a tough part of Glasgow as part of an ‘Urban Expression‘ church plant. I think the discussion rapidly got a little heated, which is a shame as it seemed to be digging into something that is very important. I have a lot of respect for the things that Paul was saying, and for the challenge it ought to bring to those of us whose lives are led in a different direction.
Poverty is not romantic. It is rarely a choice, and always brings the aspiration of escape. It brutalises and robs people of health and opportunity. But the presence of such inequality in our world is as much as anything, our shame. It’s presence in our streets and cities is a sign of our failure.
A consistent theme on this blog has been that of social justice. I have lived my life convinced that the call of Jesus is perhaps first and foremost towards the poor, broken and hungry. It pushed me towards a certain understanding of spirituality, and into a career in social work, and mental health work in particular.
But we can be creatures of contradiction and self congratulation in the face of contrary evidence. I live in a big house in a beautiful place. I have a fairly new car, and a well paid public sector job. Like most men I have a weakness for gadgets. I have accumulated lots of STUFF- most of which I do not really need. In short, I live a life like most of the other people in our affluent suburbs.
I discussed this with friends in my small ’emerging’ community the other day, and my thinking changed a little.
My own group is in Dunoon. Dunoon is a fairly affluent area, although has a significant underclass of folk who ended up here, almost washed up ‘doon the watter’ from the big city. We too have lots of difficulties- drugs, under age drinking. We also are a culture that has more than it’s fair share of loneliness, isolation and brokenness.
Last week we watched a Mike Frost DVD as part of a study we are doing around the book ‘Exiles’. Frost was thundering eloquently and movingly about the nature of our calling as Christians to get into ‘Dangerous criticism’ of the empire we are part of (Subordinate and secondary perhaps to our call to BLESS the empire where we can.) He spoke a lot about consumer driven over consumption, and the poor. Following on from the discussions on this blog, I began to shrink a little into the chair I sat in, in my big house, well heated and full of my friends.
But during the discussion that followed I looked around the room with tears in my eyes. Three of us have had serious mental health problems, two addictions, several have long term chronic illnesses, others carry other wounds. Some are on benefits, others are in work. Some will have a posh holiday this year, others will go camping when they can. But we have found a place of friendship and acceptance from which we are seeking means to bless others- particularly the poor.
Then there is the work and activity we do that is a direct result of the faith within us and the call of Jesus. I started to make a list of things that we are connected with-
One of us volunteers on the committee of a local addictions charity.
One runs the ‘time bank’
One supports volunteering opportunities and helps small community groups
One manages a charity that helps homeless young people
Two others work as life coaches and run stuff for young people
Another does suicide awareness training
Another is a counselor and has a particular interest in bereavement issues
Another is seeking to get allotments established to allow folk to grown their own food
Another has set a local charity to refurbish play equipment on the west bay
Another works in Greenock to help kids get some meaningful work experience
Another is a volunteer at a local old folks home
Another is a student who is studying addictions
Another is a reporter in the local paper, campaigning around justice issues
Does this get us ‘off the hook’ then?
I think the call of Jesus on our lives is always destabilising, always calling us out of comfort into the journey with him. As soon as we think we have it sorted- no matter how challenging the context, then we are destined to fall flat on our faces, or descend into mundanity. This is challenge for those of us in the emerging church as much as it is for any other church grouping.
And one of the ways that people who have lots of stuff are always going to be challenged is in relation to our comfort and wealth. We are challenged not because these things are bad, but because they can so easily be idolatrous and ensnaring.
So for those of us with big houses and cars- what use are we putting them to? How dependent are we on stuff in the chase for happiness and fulfillment- whether or not we have it, or just WANT it?
These are not easy questions, but Jesus knew that- remember the rich young ruler who Jesus ‘looked at with love’.
The emerging church, in it’s theologising and pontificating is indeed a middle class phenomenon. Perhaps it’s true test will be how it lives out the call of Jesus towards the poor.