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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
wet fish
Reading the interesting comments about truth & doctrine in the other post, made me wonder, if we realize our ideas, about doctrine, truth, or even commenting on these topics, are so greatly informed by our cultural backdrop of postmodernity. The context of our environment, consciously or unconsciously, manipulates our answers, as well as our questions. I did a quick rundown of the last 300 years of these influences at my ethoughtsblog on xanga (gasp. I had it before I was on blogger, sorry.) There you can check out the influences we are under, (you get find it a the wit4life.com site, if need be.)

I’d like to pose the question- how many of you, my friends at emerging women, have notice we are sort of like fish swimming in water, and unaware that we are wet when it comes to our thoughts on these, and other matters?

There is sort of a vertigo quality to postmodernity, and the culture of it, that make it difficult to nail much down. I’m certainly affected because I’m part of my culture, and I think the answers I’m seeing show most of us are too. I’d say “all of us are”, but that would be too absolute. whoops.

Saying “Truth is a Person”, helps, but what does it clear up considering our particular thought paradigm? And do any of you see a move toward a different cultural backrop?

Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? : )

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posted by LisaColónDeLay at 9:23 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/29/2006 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I'm not for sure here what you are asking here. Are you wondering if we are aware of our cultural biases or if those assumptions will ever change? What are you wanting to "clear up"? Could you perhaps clarify a bit?

  • At 11/30/2006 07:33:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    My experience is that most people who participate in the Emerging Conversation are extremely conscious of the way cultural paradigms filter the way we think and conceptualize EVERYTHING. Personally, I think fewer a smaller percentage of those who participate in more conventional approaches to Christianity are aware of how much their thinking is influenced by the Enlightenment and modernism. I think there is a good paralell in physics, with Newtonian physics symbolozing modernism and Quantum mechanics symbolizing postmodernism. Just as Newtonian physics is brilliant and works great in many situations, but does not address the deeper, subatomic issues of Quantum mechanics, I think there's a place for "Newtonian truth" and a place for "Quantum truth." As in, "yes, the chair is real and it feels solid, but actually if you look deeper the electrons that make up the chair could theoretically be in any part of the universe and the chair is mostly made up of space." Does that mean we can't sit in chairs and appreciate them in a day to day way? Of course not! Modernism and postmodernism are modalities that each function to explain things on different levels. Either one can get out of hand when it tries to address the other's modality. We would not consult Newton about a long-term space flight, and we wouldn't appeal to quantum mechanics to tell us whether apples (here on earth) fall to the ground.

    Will a new paradigm that better or differently explains reality emerge in the future? Probably. Who knows?

    As for fish in water -- that's where they're supposed to be! But I know I'm stretching your metaphor :)

  • At 11/30/2006 08:43:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I agree with Julie, I am not quite sure what part of the question is. But to answer the obvious one...I personally know my thoughts are effected. I may not conciously think about it at every moment, but I am aware. That is why I try to be open to other thoughts and opinions. Not that I am always perfect at that, but I try. I think we as a human race will continue to evolve. I am sure other things will present themselves in the future. I have beliefs, and ideas, but not too much that I would say is "concrete". I try to have "flexible" beliefs, meaning I strongly believe certain things, but realize that somewhere down the path, I may understand something differently. It's hard to come from "concrete/absolute" thought, but I have found the more I don't feel I have to have absolutes and can respect differing views (sometimes, not really knowing what I think) the stronger my faith becomes, and the more I lean on God.
    Jemila, I get what you are saying...I couldn't have said it myself, but I agree.
    Not sure if that is an answer to the question. ;)

  • At 11/30/2006 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I read the 300 years summary on your website, W4L. It's pretty interesting.

    I think what you're asking (just tell me if I'm wrong) is whether we realize what presumptions, experiences, philosphies, theologies we actual subscribe to, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I know as I've been part of the emerging church conversation, I am ultra-aware of the water in which I'm swimming...so to speak. I make it a point to look at situations, doctrines, my view of God and how this Divine being works in the universe through different lenses. With each, I try to assess the particular and ultimate implications of that thought process, trying to determine whether it measures up.

    I would agree that there can be a sense of vertigo within postmodernity. But, for me, the movement incurred within my experience, specifically emergent thought, is not the pointless change characteristic of the word "vertigo". It's purposeful. It's aware, awake and alive.

  • At 11/30/2006 12:37:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Beautifully put, Amy.

  • At 11/30/2006 01:54:00 PM, Blogger wit4life

    First off-

    I should have thought of this before, but here’s the 300 year rundown, I mentioned. (So simple to cut and paste, that it didn’t enter my head at the time. Duh.)

    300 hundred American years of thought in bullet points
    8 cultural belief backdrops that effect our current cultural climate: (a la Jim Erhman, more or less.)

    300 years ago there was Theism - This cultural backdrop said we are responsible to an active and powerful, personal and infinite God. People lived this way or felt guilty not living so.

    270 years ago Deism - There exists a "whined up the world and watch it go" passive deity.

    200 years ago Naturalism - No divine reality, only the natural world exists. Science is the one true "God."

    150 years ago Nihilism - dead end detour- kills most of its prophets in a logical (and terribly authentic) end.

    100 years ago Humanism - Man is and should be the center of the universe and education is the remedy.

    1960's - Hopeful prophets of "Humanism" are murdered. JFK MLK RFK

    45 years ago Eastern Thought/Spiritualism - Reawakening to and recognition of the spiritual realm of existence, while rejecting the Theism of old.

    35 years ago New Age - East meets West Spiritualism. Eastern thought plus rugged American individualism. The belief in our status being godlike, and yet another rejection of old-timey Theism.

    20 years ago PostModernism - Rejection of organized voices and absolute truth assertions. The period of aftermath or backlash of the imposed religious and secular belief systems, which brought resulting feelings of manipulation. All voices deemed equal and valuable. Hello Neitzsche.

    Yes, Amy. That's what I was asking. You are a sleuth with a concentration in code breaking. Well done. (And sorry, gals, for the opacity.)

    From my experience, I've personally been quite aware of the "water" as a "fish”, and I was wondering if others on this blog have experienced the same thing.

    It seems, in general, we (as postmoderns, if you will,) seem to be comfortable with flexibility, and "not having everything nailed down" to feel right in the world, if that makes sense. It seems other Christian groups may "need" to have modern, or more concrete answers, or they feel uneasy, and maybe even doubtful in their faith. Maybe we welcome doubt as part of the journey, and can therefore weather more flux in our spiritual walk.

    So that makes we wonder will the inherent insufficiencies of postmodernity, (because each paradigm has its flaws,) cause it to, sort of, implode, or will it attach to another backdrop, and what might that back drop be? I’ve heard rumblings of “post-postmodernity” for over 15 in the art and architecture world, so it’ll be interesting to see where things evolve.

    The question I pose now is- Do you think emergents have a leg up, when it comes to spreading the gospel in this present day, because of being cognizant of the cultural context, or do you find it might muddy the waters a bit? OR, if you prefer, what are the strengths and struggles we face as Christians?

  • At 11/30/2006 02:51:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I think we will make mistakes, and look back and wish we could see something we didn't. I try to be forgiving, in that we do what we know. Past generations were doing what they knew. I would love to think due to "post moderns" being more flexible and not needing concrete answers, that we have a "leg up", but I also realize as we advance as humans, there is so much to come. I am ok with being the next step in the evolution. WHAT I do like about what I have experienced, is there definately seems to be "less" arrogance in some respects. Not that there isn't any, but those I have encountered, seem more humble, willing to say that they could be wrong, and willing to hear other perspectives...allowing more growth.
    I also think due to that, "sharing the gospel" might look different, because for many postmoderns, there is less agenda involved in "saving" (people from hell). The context of Salvation is different, and at least for me, I don't feel I have to be a "nazi" Christian. For the first time, I feel "salvation" can be experienced now, not just in death. I hope that makes sense. ;)

  • At 11/30/2006 03:28:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    Thanks for explaining your idea again. I just now understood what you were trying to say. :)

    I've personally been quite aware of the "water" as a "fish”, and I was wondering if others on this blog have experienced the same thing.

    Yes, very much so.

    I’ve heard rumblings of “post-postmodernity” for over 15 in the art and architecture world...

    From what I've read, trends in the art world (not sure about architecture) take a while to filter out to general society.

    In many ways I don't think western culture has even adjusted to postmodernism yet. Many communities - including the ones I grew up in- still seem to be more or less happy with the constructs of modernism.

    I think that the dissection of post-postmodernism (in a societal sense)would be a premature thing to do. It's something that - at least from what I've seen - isn't even on the radar yet.

    Do you think emergents have a leg up...

    I think it depends on how we use what we've learned from pomo thought.

  • At 11/30/2006 04:10:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    So many interesting, good thoughts!

  • At 11/30/2006 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Interesting question, W4L. I try not to think of having a leg up these days, but I do think being able to listen and really try to understand what's going on in the world, specifically with those we're in contact with, benefits everyone.

    Personally, the best part of emerging thought is the move away from a litmus test of right and wrong. Instead, I am learning to focus on loving others in the same way God loves me, sacrificially. Not to say there isn't an absolute truth, but as in the previous post, I do suspect my ability to completely comprehend that truth.

    In Donald Miller's book "Searching for God Knows What", he has a chapter entitled "Lifeboat: How to Kill Your Neighbor". He talks about how we tend to try to categorize ourselves and others based on looks, intelligence, wealth and then act in ways to try to climb the social ladder. When we've accepted God's love for us, we should realize that this mode of operation is faulty and we can be released to operate as Jesus did. I can't really do the thought justice in a few words, but the concept has captured my mind over the last few weeks...how does my world change when I really become like Jesus.

  • At 11/30/2006 05:57:00 PM, Blogger wit4life

    I was thinking about what Amy said, "I would agree that there can be a sense of vertigo within postmodernity. But, for me, the movement incurred within my experience, specifically emergent thought, is not the pointless change characteristic of the word "vertigo". It's purposeful. It's aware, awake and alive."

    Ya know, I really like this, and it resonates with me. I concur as for my experience too. It’s been a blessing to meet such thoughtful and gracious people in emergent circles... Great ideas, great love, and great heart for God. It’s coming at a perfect time for me in my career and my spiritual walk. It’s encouraging to know, Christians care about loving people, and not shoving something down someone’s throat. Also, that’s it’s important to listen to others, learn from them, and value them, and include them in our world, and walk.

    I’m trying to coin a phrase to this end, pointed toward less-than-gracious Christians, “If you have the moral high ground, don’t cause a killer mud slide.” This has happened far too much, and I think it’s hurt the cause for Christ.

    I believe it’s time to, in the best kind of gracious love, help other Christians to see that a Christian subculture is by nature, irrelevant, and sharing God’s love, and the redemptive power, and atonement of Jesus must trump any and all of our assertions of moral or righteous superiority. My hope is that emergent Christians are, oddly enough, missional to other Christians, and in love, restoring believers to a Jesus-style ministry mindset. A ministry focused on a gracious reestablishment of care and altruism for all those God loves.

  • At 11/30/2006 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I like this:

    "A ministry focused on a gracious reestablishment of care and altruism for all those God loves."

  • At 11/30/2006 10:12:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    What a great question and resultant conversation. I can't help but think most of us here would be mindful of contextual bias in our thoughts and perceptions.

    Ultimately, there are those who will indeed be comfortable with ambiguity and be able to live without distress under the mystery. And there will be those that fear it and strive for black and white assertions in order to make their worlds more predictable, comfortable and manageable.

    I assume (okay, I hope and believe)God is so much larger than all of this and that knowing we would be diverse in our understanding and methods of coping with the questions that arise with consciousness and out of our existence, made very sure we each had a way to find our way back and remember who we are. At least for short bursts of time. : )

  • At 11/30/2006 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Sue Van Stelle

    I did not know how Western my view of God was until I spent a year in China.
    I did not know how unaware of the Holy Spirit my cessationist church was until I got involved in the Vineyard.
    I did not know how profoundly restricted I had been as a woman in ministry until I left my denomination-of-origin and joined the PC(USA).
    I appreciate how the emerging conversation has exposed modernist presumptions.
    But I wonder how truly aware the emerging conversation is of its own presumptions.
    I really believe you do have to get out of a culture to see it more clearly.

  • At 12/01/2006 07:27:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Nancy, I hear you. Sue, of course we probably won't be able to rid ourselves of blind spots or presumptions completely while we are "in it" but what you do (and all of you) think some of them could be?

  • At 12/01/2006 08:52:00 AM, Blogger wit4life

    Jemlia, I was thinking about that too. One of the drawbacks to postmodernism, to me, is the tendency (perhaps) to discuss things, and be quite content to meander, and actual action can get had to come by.

    Moderns are goal oriented, and into producing, whereas we may enjoy the journey the most. Sometimes we get stuck in the theorizing.

    Does anybody agree with this, or have seen this aspect? Just a thought.

  • At 12/01/2006 02:23:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I think moderns and postmodern people are prone to be predominantly "productive" or "reflective," based more on personality than paradigm, but what actions are taken when moderns get productive versus what actions are taken when postmoderns get productive, as well as the content that is discussed, digested and reformulated probably differs significantly between moderns and postmoderns. For postmoderns, hanging out and just being with people because they are precious and valuable is considered productive, whereas moderns might only feel productive if the four spiritual laws were shared and there was an explictly religious/Christian conversation. Likewise, a modernist might feel productive designing alot of outreach programming, such as a big revival or cool evangelical youth event like "Acquire the Fire," whereas an Emerging person would be more likely to consider working toward social justice and the reduction of human suffering, "productive." Personally, I think the ideal is where there is a connection between loving God individually and nurturing the kingdom of God that is within you, and manifesting that kingdom in the world through mercy and justice. Does this make sense?

  • At 12/01/2006 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    I think I'd largely agree, Jemila. Both mods and postmods seem to appreciate the "academics", I think the expectations are just a bit different in each camp regarding both the process and the end product. Overall, I can't imagine there are any real purities of type in either paradigm. For example, I suspect that there are those in both groups that are highly relational, or missional or "mystical", to some degree. And those who are not. As you put it, some of it will have to do with personality; as this thread discusses, some variance will be culturally driven and maybe some just has to do with what God speaks into an individual's life. We are complicated beings, hard to classify, predict and understand.

    In some ways, thought seems to be evolving but it does so in spirals. It comes round and round but never quite lands in exactly the same place.

  • At 12/01/2006 04:29:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    Responding to wit4life's comment," actual action might be hard to come by," I think you have suggested something that is truly descriptive and true of the pomo mindset and something that I (and others who have posted here previously) have found to be difficult to "negotiate" in our attempts have a pomo, churching community of faith.

    Without the 'do-value' and only the 'be-value', what paradigm for a gathering community of faith/church will work? I took the risk of trying to put into reality these emerging pomo theories in the birth of an emerging faith community called Generations Quest two years ago and it is not "doable" (I struggle for a word here) for these very reasons of the majority in the community having a value of "being and theorizing" vs. "action/doing."

    Coming to this point of 'non-working' in a structured sense has been acknowledged by those in our GQ faith community, yet there also seems to be a "powerlessness" to come up with what would work for them given their values/biases.

    Jemila ... I think your assertions about what actions the pomo culture considers to be 'productive' are true because it's what I've experienced it at the ground level. I would also suggest that 'commitment' has taken on a totally different definition and image as well.

    What the emerging pomo culture labels as 'committed and productive', based on their values is not productive toward sustaining anything we've known (even of the most contemporary, contemplative variety) as 'church.'

    If this is what is emerging ... then the ramifications are much greater on the Christian Church (as we know it) than anyone has yet to be able to even write about or describe. I'd suggest that our 'emerging churches' (even those described in the pop emerging books so far) are not yet even close to what will accomodate this mega cultural shift.

  • At 12/01/2006 05:37:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    PTW, can you share a little more about your experience, what you are learning and what inklings you have about where God is leading you personally, and Emerging Christian faith in general?

  • At 12/01/2006 05:44:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    One of the drawbacks to postmodernism, to me, is the tendency (perhaps) to discuss things, and be quite content to meander, and actual action can get had to come by. Moderns are goal oriented, and into producing, whereas we may enjoy the journey the most. Sometimes we get stuck in the theorizing.

    I'm conflicted on this one. In postmodernism - yes discussion and theorizing can be popular - sometimes at the expense of doing. But where I hear that complaint most often is when pomos aren't doing the type stuff moderns want them to be doing. So just because pomos don't pursue the same paths as moderns or have decided that other things are more important that certain actions - doesn't mean that they don't "do" but that that doing looks different.

  • At 12/01/2006 08:26:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    Nancy ... you've shared some really meaningful reflections for me, especially, quote: "We are complicated beings, hard to classify, predict and understand.
    In some ways, thought seems to be evolving but it does so in spirals. It comes round and round but never quite lands in exactly the same place."

    JM - An inkling I have about Emerging is that maybe it is a conversation that is comparable to "treading water" ... something to keep the church's head above water during a very convoluted time in cultural history; the closure of one age and the not-quite-yet emergence of another. With people living much longer, there is an overlap of 4 generations (not ever experienced between other shifts in the 'ages') presenting us with the clash/overlap of intense cultural diversity in which the new age can't and most likely won't fully emerge until past age has more fully left the scene.

    And so I think what I quoted above from Nancy is true.. " (pomo) thought seems to be evolving but it does so in spirals." This puts creative imagery to my experience - that the current Emergent ideas/conversations represent a 'treading of water,' something to sustain the 'in-between' time, but ideas that are not yet capable of sustaining a 'churching community' life ... of swimming forward into the next to-be-Life of God's Body.

    Julie ... I would add to your posibilities of the dislink experienced by emerging communities of mixed cultural mindsets (from a current discussion in VA Beach by some emerging church planters) Even when committed members of a community agree on what postmodern 'doing' looks like, there is a unpredictable sporadicness, (that spiraling affect Nancy talked about) in it's enactment: "maybe this month but not sure about next month- or next week; maybe if I'm in town but I might not be --- let you know soon; certainly want to do this but don't count on me, at least not as of today but maybe tomorrow; we really, really love what is happening today but if it's not there tomorrow, that's probably okay too; leadership-yes, sort of but maybe not really."

    With everyone's best of intentions, it is confusing.

  • At 12/01/2006 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    PTW: You bring up a powerful point and it fits this discussion on culture. One of the unique qualities of our time is the effect of good health and longevity. As a result, we do have the benefit of more than two generations of experience and input into our culture to drive it. Perhaps it is part of what is energizing this paradigm shift we seem to be on the cusp of (at least for those of us here in the "west"). Personally, I find it exciting and I'm pleased to be witnessing it.

    My thoughts of the spiral are not specific to pomo thought. Nor are they uniquely mine. In fact, even in Ecclesiastes it is repeatedly stated, "There is nothing new under the sun". I would say that it is true to a degree and yet there is indeed movement. We come around to something "old" in our thinking but with the advantages of our place in time. And so it is just slightly outward from where it was once in the past and will likely circle around again. Like a conch shell and its chambers. Others see a pendulum...but I don't think it captures the essence of the process like a spiral.

    While I don't doubt that pomo thought too will spiral, it is also just a turn in the much larger beauty of the conch shell. We'll keep going round and round. But my hope is that this is how God has designed it. Like the infinity swirl, the spiral may be some wordless expression of the depth and complicatedness of a being so magnificant and imaginative and powerful so as to have birthed the universe...which by the way, has a swirl of its own! And isn't the Creator the one who dwells in the vast and unfathomable thing we call eternity, isn't God infinite? Forgive me, but I just love symbols and the connections between things. : ) I could take this further...but I'll spare you the meandering metaphor.

    God bless each of you this evening. I'm so grateful for every one of you.

  • At 12/02/2006 07:13:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Nancy, you articulated the beauty of Spiral in a very moving, elegant way. Thank you.

    I am wondering if ritual could be a key to helping pomo-emerging Christianity find its way to a commitment that remains beautifully open. I explore some of these thoughts indirectly in my response paper to "Jewish Ritual: A Brief Introduction for Christians."

  • At 12/02/2006 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    Jemila: Yes, I read the thread and thank you for that. I especially liked your discussion of two becoming one and the use of candles and so forth to remind us of this.

    Rob Bell does a nice job in discussing Rabbis and their "yokes" and how it was that people chose the yoke they best identified with or felt they could follow. And of course, Jesus said his yoke was easiest. I'm thinking it is consonant with this openness you reference and feel it describes what seems to be missing these days, doesn't it? There is some insistence on which "yoke" in Christianity is the true yoke or right type of Christian faith to get you into heaven. How did we ever wind up with such all or nothing thinking from something that seemed to be so embracing of diversity of thought? If it is as easy and light as Christ described, why do we insist on making it so burdensome? It's like we just can't help ourselves. And didn't Jesus chastize those who would make it difficult? "Whoa to you Pharisees...". Don't his words in those verses make your heart leap? They do mine.

  • At 12/02/2006 06:44:00 PM, Blogger Nancy


    Timely article that refers to the unique effects upon and of the Baby Boomers in the area of spirituality.

  • At 12/02/2006 08:57:00 PM, Blogger wit4life

    This has been a fascinating thread. It’s become its own undulating bring, its own swirl. Thank you ladies for the beauty of your thoughts and ideas.

    I was thinking that perhaps the ritualistic elements hearken back to ancient times. Times both more concrete and yet mystical, further from the flaw religion of “facts” and science as God than the era in which we are a part.

    I think the idea of the in-between period between two eras seems lucid. I think of a Disk Jockey that is moving from one song to another. First the beat in synchronized and overlaid and then as the dancers adjust to the new rhythm the older rhythm is dropped out. Perhaps the divine DJ is spinning this awing tune.


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