Friday, September 22, 2006

The Known Ways to the Unknown Future

Like the epistles of Paul, what you have below is just one-side of a conversation. I had such fun writing it a few minutes ago after receiving some questions this morning from a colleague, that I wanted to send it out here too. Without revealing anything about the other side of the conversation, the questions centered on speculation about the future of Unitarian Universalism (which always has an undercurrent of how you read the past) and its connection to the future of Christianity, especially in emergent varieties. What I like about my colleague's questions is that s/he isn't trying to tie in who we were or are with where Christianity was or is, but looking down the road at points of convergence, departure, etc.

Here is a one-sided response (I wonder if Paul ever had his scribe reread and change anything after he had composed it, probably not given the difficulty and expense of the writing then, perhaps another way in an ironic way that our 21st century communication mode resembles the first century way. And this reminds me to post soon about my continuing immersion in Paul studies, because of course they are crucial to planting God communities in the spirit of Jesus):

1. We have to move emergent and that means being incarnational which means finding ways to multiply ourselves, i.e. not starting churches but starting church planting churches that also are free to redefine what church means. So far David Owens essay in the Living the Call book (see is about the only other voice sounding this note, not only in UUism but throughout the mainstream liberal progressive Christian world too which has been so late on the bandwagon of emergent and now is getting it wrong a lot of the time when it does try to "do" it (myself included). Working on my own essay on all this. There are signs of this in the Episcopalians, but only among the more conservative dioceses; and there is a great initiative 2020 by the Disciples called 1,000 new churches in 1,000 new ways, so that every church can see itself as a church planting church regardless of its size, but there has been very little notice of this on the national level where we seem to be more interested in talking about how the Christian right is neither right nor Christian, which is of course correct but no one is paying attention to us because we aren't incarnating it.

2. Don't count out Buddhism, or some Christo-Buddhist Taize Contemplative Mindfulness Convergence that begins to mark what will be one part of two wings at least of what Protestantism will be, I think, the other being the more reactionary scarcity driven model of the Right (how it mutates or becomes its own retreat from the world in the succeeding generations will be interesting too; the emergent folks want to channel its energy but change it, whether they will succeed or be driven to the other wing i don't know). [I will add my own caveat and change to my response here, to say that narrative, or the stories, are all important. Not so much a clash of civilizations as a clash of story. In this way not sure what will happen in the future. The story of Jesus, and the stories of the followers of Jesus (those who gave their life not just for the religion of Jesus but the religion about Jesus and became a part of that very religion) is so powerful and revealing that for me it can't be equated on a one-to-one ratio thing with any other Great Story. But that's just me. New generations might have a different take, and different ways to see themselves as part of a Story of Freedom that more easily merges Jesus, Buddha, etc. and, the key point here, is able to incarnate the story in their lives and world. Always easier to focus the heart on one story, particularly such an unlimited one as the Christian story. ]

3. pagan/wiccan will i think merge with what Crossan calls the fantasy element of the spiritual life. He says this century will see the great divide not between liberal and fundamentalist but between religious and fantasy, with religious being denoted by the outward thrust of social gospel, politics in its polis nature, while fantasy (and that includes so many manifestations of popular culture now it is almost unbelievable, as many as there are religious denominations I think, from creative anachronism to entertainment driven communities, trekkies and successors, and on and on) will rise up for the personal communal needs of so many.

4. where will uu as we know it be in 2025-2050-2075?
my hunch is that our basic theological thrust has always been connected to being connected to Christianity, and that when we moved outside of it, we lost the context which drove our constant radical motion, hence we have been standing still which means losing ground in the changing world. this is a kind of hegelian understanding, i admit, betraying my own philosophical underpinnings of my theology. This is kind of what I hear you saying about the connect with Christianity at large as it changes to come closer to where we were/are.
But...I think theology often changes due to organizational change (this is something I was taught and borrowed from X who got it from Y (don't want to guilt folks by association without contacting them first, which is something fortunately I guess Paul wasn't able to do with Jesus lol) who got it from god knows where; think historically of the organizational changes due to the destruction of the second temple; of constantine's change of the church; of Luther, of the Puritans, etc.) and, here is the kicker that they didn't apply to it but which I do, coming from the emergent folks and schaller and some new testament work with my advisor in seminary, organizational change is due in large part to communication or media change.
So, how will internet and its reated media changes and what god knows is still yet to come, change the UU organization, both association wide, but also what it means for a church to be church, and how will the spirituality of the net and its effects create theological change? Where and how will God be conceived then, and how will the church be formed in response to that--note the difference, that the church doesn't conceive God and find ways to get that message out, promote it, etc. as in the past, the church doesn't have a mission but is a mission of something larger than itself. [I think the conception of God will then most likely come from outside the "church" but then I'm a Spirit-centered theologian, and the church that thrives will be that which responds to the new conception} one of those shifts that i think is often lost on those of us born before 1963, even 1975, but which will seem like a duh to those born afterwards, particularly those born after 2006.

So....for one scenario, maybe we will go the way of the museum churches of Europe, and be like the International Order of Odd Fellows (to which my father still belongs, bless him and them). And/Or, we let loose our churches and those that survive are those that connect with emergent ways and other churches doing the same by whatever name, and the names Unitarian Universalist may drop by the wayside in the process, attached to those museum churches. And/or maybe there will be a decentralizing and there will be a core church in a core city that keeps the old name but sees itself as spinning out all these new ways of incarnating faith in its city, some of which will be Christian in the newChristian way, and some may be Buddhist in a newBuddhist way, and some newPagan, etc. In this way, the "church" which will be more seminary and missionary-sending in pluralistic settings and it will not be defined by central act of worship, central act of theological identity, or central building, but by its effectiveness in infiltrating the surrounding culture, becoming native to its place, and connecting and nurturing its diverse missionaries. One step toward this---taking our covenant groups and small groups that we have begun nurturing and that reflect often a pluralistic range, and charging them with being the church themselves in their community and finding ways to multiply themselves.

Well, I didn't have time for this today lol but thanks. Hope I have muddied things up for you.
Looking forward to more chat,