Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Great Emergence

July 27, 2014

Good morning, Friends,

Thinking today—again—yet?—about change.

Arguably, change is the only thing that does not change. But the shape and impact of change—that is a quite different matter. 

For example, this turn-of-the-century is frequently described as a time of cataclysmic change by wordsmiths fond of the word. (Try saying cataclysmic aloud. You’ll like it too. It has a fine sound.)

This semantic antic points, however, to a present change process that is marked by a scope and impact that makes it more than the change-as-usual that shapes today differently from yesterday. 

Even so, there have been comparable times of upheaval in human history. Despite the apparent randomness that change produces, these times of major upheaval have appeared before in the history of the Western World with such distinctness that historians have given them names. 

For example, most of us can readily think back to the Great Reformation, that massive time of change that, five-hundred years ago, altered forever the way in which people in the Western Christianized world understood and ordered life.

Perhaps—even in the matter of change itself—there is nothing new under the sun. But, paradoxically, what challenges us in this new experience of the old pattern of upheaval are the specific points around which the force of change appears to be focused. 

In a visual sense, observing events that are shaping the world around us is something like emptying a packet of iron shavings on a magnetized surface then watching the shavings form patterns that cluster around the positive and negative poles. In this instance, however, we are both an observer of the experiment and a participant—we are (in a metaphorical sense) the iron shavings that are reorienting ourselves in relationship to force fields that are not readily observable, nor easy to measure. 

Remembering how iron shavings respond to a magnetized surface can be helpful in thinking about patterns of change in random events.  This experiment is quite misleading, however, if we fail to recognize its limitations.  People are not iron filings, passive objects shaped by an impersonal force field.  Despite the tsunami of change in which we find ourselves, we remain participant architects. The power (and responsibility) of human choice has not been altered although the options for choice are not the same as they once were in the world we have left behind. 

The name that historians are presently attaching to this time of change is “The Great Emergence.” 

The first time I encountered this term, I experienced considerable annoyance. Whatever emergence may mean to an historian, I thought irritably, for ordinary readers like myself the word sounds pretentious, and carries more ambiguity than definition. However (full disclosure), I think my initial response to emergence was too hasty. What better word for a time in which what we know and believe about ourselves and our universe is engaged in a “. . . wrenching, deconstructing, liberating, anxiety-producing world-rending change,” as Phyllis Tickle has described it?**

What is yet to be reconfigured from this collapse of old structures is not fully apparent, nor, importantly, not yet fully determined.  But it is a time of “The Great Emergence.”  Like the phrase or not, I must concede that it actually catches the essence of the time in which we live. It is a time of great emergence, although there may be great disagreement about the nature of that which is emerging, and heated dispute about its value.

As you all know, I think a good bit about the way in which my understanding of macro-cosmic things plays out in the ordinariness of my daily life. And I wonder about that for you too.

What is emerging in your life—in yourself—these days?

I will see you again in two weeks, the blog for August 23. 

I am attending a wedding out of state next weekend, and teaching a woman’s group the following weekend, so happy vacation.  

See you August 23.


Tickle, Phyllis. 2012. Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It is Going, and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. P. 17.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Spider--and a Request for Feedback

July 20, 2014

Dear Friends,

Coffee with Annie was a delightful and instructive time this morning.

As I drank my coffee, Annie dozed and watched the puddle on the walk for any bird that might unwisely risk an early shower there. I think she was more interested in her nap than in hunting, however. As she “watched” I could hear her purring. From my understanding of cat thinking, serious hunting and purring are not congruent.

A hummingbird came and investigated the helianthus, but did not find them to her liking and so left. Her investigation was, I suppose, business-as-usual for her, but it permitted me to attend an intricately choreographed ballet. Much of the beauty of her dance was too fast for my human eyes to follow but I could see some of it and applaud her performance.

But the show-stopper today was provided by a rather nondescript small brown spider.

I had noticed a web strung between a branch of the barberry bush and the porch post. It was a rather sorry-looking web, not very large, lop-sided, and, to my inexpert human eye, damaged. There appeared to be at least two large holes that were not a part of the original spider design. The web held, however, a drop of dew that made a tiny diamond in the early light. I watched the light in the dew drop in a fashion much like Annie’s observation of the puddle—half-attentive and totally content. 

Then a slight motion shook the web. As I watched, a small spider arrived. He proceeded directly to the center of the web and sat down (I assume that spiders sit).  

I anticipated that the spider would continue to sit until some incautious insect entered the web and became the spider’s breakfast. That, however, did not happen.

After a bit, the spider got up. Then, systematically going to each of the anchoring threads in turn, the spider dismantled the web!!

I continued to watch, astonished. I have seen spiders weaving webs many times, and their skill and engineering never fail to amaze me. But I had never before watched a spider engineer the deconstruction of a web.

I knew about weaving, but I didn’t know that unweaving was also in the spider’s repertoire of skills.  It took a minute for me to realize consciously what I was seeing.

The procedure was amazing—systematic, efficient, purposeful, and incredibly neat. When the spider was finished, I could not see any remaining evidence of the web anywhere, and I soon lost sight of the spider who (supremely indifferent both to my presence and my admiration) disappeared into the barberry bush.

I am still astonished. The spider’s behavior appeared purposeful, and carefully calculated—at no time did the spider's behavior appear to be random. What an amazing glimpse that spider gave me into the world around me that pursues life according to its own rhythms and meaning.

I am thinking—again—about the mystery of place. 

We humans, while despairingly imperfect, appear in some ways to hold preeminence of position in God’s creation—we are the “glorious ruin” as C.S. Lewis described the human race. However, watching that small brown spider teaches me again that I am not the only marvelous life form in God’s great creation.  I am not the only act in town. Observation alone will teach me this if the practice of humility lies beyond my ability.

See you next week.


*****Feed-back, please?
Have there been any of my blogs that over time have particularly caught your attention—blogs that have triggered thought?
If this has happened, would you let me know which blogs have had some value to you?
Send me a note at or  Just mention the date and/or the title.  If you have time to add an additional note about the content, I will be grateful.
As you would anticipate, writing blogs is one thing—figuring out what to do with blogs once they have been written is another. I am working on the challenge!!  Smiles.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Working out a Bargain with God

July 13, 2014

Dear Friends,

Suppose that God invited you to help with a Kingdom project.  Such an invitation would likely be greeted initially as good news and a great opportunity.

However, suppose you reviewed the project carefully and discovered that there would be considerable personal expense involved. Would this influence your decision to accept or reject God's offer?  

The Persian poet Hafiz wrote:

Frantic Screaming

We are going to make
all spiritual talk simple today: 
God is trying to sell you something,
but you don't want to buy.
And this is the source of your suffering:
All your constant haggling,
And your frantic screaming
Over the price.

Hafiz was pointing out in a none too gentle way that we humans spend enormous effort attempting to extract a bargain from God. Despite its edge, Hafiz’s poem reflects an uncomfortable picture of the aggressive self-interest we often display in our relationship with God.

A possible opportunity to work with God on a project came up in my life this week. I remembered Hafiz's poem, but a different question came into my mind.

What if the project God offers does entail high personal price? Is it not, none-the-less, an eternal bargain?

To me it seems that haggling with God is ridiculous, and ignorant. I am not saying that I have never done so, nor am I in this blog promising God a haggle-free tomorrow. What I am reporting (full disclosure) is my understanding that such behavior is both rude and an act of cosmic-level foolishness.

Suppose the project does carry an initial high cost of investment. Does God ever offer anything other than good to His children? And, seen in the context of that truth, does He ever offer anything to us  that is not a bargain?

See you next week.