I have been thinking about what it means to be emerging/emergent/missional/buzzword in light of the circumstances I wrestle with embracing any "post"modern moniker. It does place me outside of the “traditional” church paradigm. It sounds exotic and cool. It is a way for me to carve out a niche for my ministry.
I am wondering if my call has changed as I embraced the moniker of postmodern. Is not the use of language to label or define anything modern in of itself? What does it mean to be a postmodern? What does it mean to be missional? If I was really "missional" would I have a place in "church" at all? I have been reading Levinas and his gesture towards God. That guy would look at postmoderns and giggle.
Does calling oneself postmodern/missional skirt the responsibility we have to the current systemic injustice that invades the very nature of our modern culture. We cannot be postmodern if we subscribe or even exist in the reality. Where do we escape modernism and move into postmodernism? While we fight for postmodernity most of the world struggles for modernity. We must acknowledge that our ideas stem from the leisure and luxury of modern convenience and liberated us from a struggle to merely survive.
Why does it matter? I am reminded of a time just after high school when I heard on pop radio a song by The Offspring. I was pissed. I had spent the last four of five years living the punk rock life style. I witnessed the pop music, the hip-hop, and the reggae revolution of my peers. We were the misfits.
We listened to urban ballads of NOFX, Bad Religion, Down By Law, Pennywise, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, 7 Seconds, and Operation Ivy. We dressed the part. We affiliated with our kind. We did not let anyone trespass into our clique. We mocked anyone that tried to enter. We threw all the parties and dared anyone to come and when they did we ridiculed them.
We were jerks. We were punks. When I heard that Offspring song being played inside that brand new Bronco just outside of the party I was threatened. There was someone I perceived to be better than me.They were popular with the ladies. They were what I wanted to be. When they did not let us in we made our own club. A club that let us in and accepted us as we where. Now they are entering our world and crashing our parties.
I get the same feeling about the Emergent/Emerging/missional movement as I did when Offspring happened. Many folks are entering the conversation. It is growing by leaps and bounds. There are pieces all over the place on the missional topics. If you slap the label on your back you can run in NASCAR.Postmodernism is hot. It is all the buzz in many youth circles. The Boomers are trying to understand it and grasp its amazing power.
Boomers fear this movement as well. What is funny is as much as the pioneers wished they had legitimacy they angrily or begrudgingly separate themselves into factions and seek to claim the greatest and purest lineage to the origins of “emergent.” It is almost a ecclesial/theological pissing contest. Does it really matter who you know or who your blog is linked to or even who you worship?
I despised those folks that came to the party that night blaring Offspring because they invaded my identity. I perceived that they infringed on my territory. Therefore I labeled them not punk enough. We coined a catch phrase that is still used today, “I am punker than you.” We probably did not create the term rather it found life in our community. Many beautiful rites, practices, and language have found new life in the Emergent/Emerging/missional movement. The Emergent/Emerging/missional movement is not the sole source of new life and relevant or organic actions in the church. To claim so is to cry out “I am punker than you.”
In Christ no one is punker than anyone. Jesus is the ultimate punker! He out punked us all by dying on the cross. In this he messed up the systemic injustice of “us” and “them”. He called us to a higher righteousness. He called us to forgo charity and walk in obligation to one another. No one is more punk.
The sad thing is no one was ever punk enough. We missed the point. Punk is an attitude and not a faction/fashion. Emerging/missional is an attitude/posture not a faction/fashion. The harder the fight for inclusion the harder the fight is to highlight and exclude. It is a power positioning. Is anyone missional enough?
What I did not know was that I was witnessing the third wave (generation) of punk. What was a very real and exciting movement I was genuinely a part of was based upon those that perceived me. Those bands did not happen out of thin air. They covered songs that influenced them. Those bands I was into, the scene I was in to emulated and borrowed from the past.
The Emergent/Emerging/missional movement borrows, redefines norms, and evolves as well. The movement is not static. It cries in the face of the movement to hold on to ways of yore just because it is where we began. I cried out, “I am punker than you!” I am afraid of losing my relevancy. I then sought to exclude others by making it complex and intimidating to be a part of the punk clique I was part of.
Where is the call to reach into the margins with life giving actions.? The call to less consumption? Where is the call to cease the death penalty? Where is the dialogue with other religions? If we were truly emerging and seeking to model the Kingdom of God in a missional posture we would be far more willing to relinquish ownership of what we imagine and experience God to be in our efforts of service, acceptance, and love. The same stuff that plagued the beauty that is and was punk, clouds these emerging movements within Christianity. I heard this said this week, “We are good at giving from the fat of your lives. When will we give of the meat?”
There is no room for exclusion in the Emergent/Emerging/missional movement. I see it as a move toward radical inclusion and the defending of those marginalized by the very system we enjoy from the climate controlled boxes we live and drive in. If we bicker or worry about our place in the Emergent/Emerging/missional machine are we not missing the point? It is about a greater good that points to Christ and all that was done in death and resurrection.
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
No one is punk enough to judge others good enough, relevant enough to be a part of any part of the Kingdom. We fail when we seek to put our standards upon God's charge to heed the Son. Punks felt intimidated by the influx of folks to their ideas. They were being displaced. They fought back and fractured, they are no longer relevant and perhaps just a historical relic. Punk died, but the posture did not. It emerges from its smokey dank hall to again rebel against the machine…
By Ryan Kemp-Pappan
Ryan is a minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and a M.Div. from Austin Seminary (TX). He delivers mad Esoteric Piracy. He likes to think of himself as a Royal Pain in the south end of a north bound donkey, Master of 3 of the 5 logical oceans, Beloved creation, 1985 Beer Chug Champion, Amateur Sock Puppeteer, Buckaroo, Reclaimer of lost treasures, Seeker of truth, Tamer of lions, Pugilist of toothless circus bears, Servant, & Tinker of convoluted ideas…