I and my friend and colleague, The Rev. Rita Nelson, are facilitating a book study on Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. If you haven't read it, make tracks to your nearest bookstore, or go to one on the internet, and get it. It's the right book for the right time. Tickle's premise is that we are smack dab in the middle of another re-formation, a phenomenon that comes along about every 500 years. Bishop Mark Dyer, whom she references in the introduction, compares the process we are in as our need to respond to the "intolerable carapace*" that the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity have become and that we struggle to shatter it so that renewal and new growth can happen.
One doesn't have to look too far to see this happening, not just in the Episcopal Church, but throughout Christendom--or what used to be Christendom. A recent article from the Episcopal News Service describes what is being called "the emergent Church." This is mainly about Episcopal circles, but the movement is happening in many other denominations as well. The Church is stretching its limbs and taking a deep breath of fresh air as it experiences the delicious freedom of being able to write new scripts for how it will respond to following in the way of Jesus. And, predictably, just as actively, those who are intimidated and frightened at such wide open spaces, are hunkering down and trying to nail the roof back on to keep from being blown away.
For me, it's the roof fixers who want a covenant and those who are enjoying the exciting possibilities still to be revealed by God who don't. I'm definitely in the second group. To sign onto this covenant is to crawl back under the intolerable carapace and submit again to the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity. And just when the Church is moving and dancing, seeking and finding. To use a scriptural image, it's like quenching the dimly burning wick which is eager to catch fire again and bring warmth and light to an aching world. (Isaiah 42:3)
I'm not so naive as to think that in our heady enjoyment of a new freedom we won't make mistakes. But the one mistake I hope we won't make is to sign on the dotted line of an instrument that I fear is being created for the express purpose of curbing any freedom of thought that differs from what the empowered structures want us to have. Our freedom may lead us to stumble and scrape our knees, but along with this awakening Church is what Annie Dillard calls "the waking God [who] may draw us out to where we can never return." Let's not return to the carapace. Its tight structure may promise safety, but its inflexibility will never draw us out.
*The protective hard shell-like shield that covers the back of an animal (such as a crab or a turtle).