Sunday, March 28, 2010

Is it that I'm not Listening or Have I Never Been Heard?

I am trying to grapple with the Anglobaptist's response to and the conversation on Facebook around my recent post on Brian McLaren and the emergent church. I am realizing that this is not merely about ideas or rhetoric or history (is it ever).

I have drafts of two responses (and will post them soon). The first addresses the issue of rhetoric, and Mike Clawson encouraged me to look beyond the rhetoric of "new" and equivocal use of "Christian". I can't do so since the rhetoric means something, it is not merely ornamental, it forms perceptions it is part of the meaning, it is not merely a conveyor of a meaning that I can have apart from the rhetoric, even if the rhetoric isn't all McLaren is saying. The second is attempting to get at what might give the personal and emotive force behind my discomfort with this rhetoric.

The Anglobaptist in his brief socio-historical account of his own personal experience of the American Modernist/Fundamentalist split and controversy, is a beginning. I found it helpful, because I personally do not resonate with that story of needing to choose sides and now needing to somehow hear each other again. Being told I should listen to other's peoples saints and hear how they are possibly "orthodox" in their own way, makes sense and is painful to hear.

The reason for the pain is layered, bound up in the alienation of being an immigrant (Not literally myself). All of my childhood a much of my adult life I lived in immigrant churches, in a denomination that was and in many places still is Swedish. Now most of those churches were in various stages of assimilation, and mostly very late stages of that assimilation process, so one would look at them and simply say they were white churches. However, my father is a naturalized citizen, his family were displaced persons and refuges after WWII, as his parents were German missionaries to China, who for some sense of protection destroyed their German citizenship papers and documents and were made Chinese citizens, and then due to the devastation in Germany could not prove they were German citizens. They came to the states. My father was not treated well in his first years in school in the States, even though my father has a great deal of love for the US, he also told us those stories of rejection and alienation. My Grandparents also had stories as children and grandchildren of Swedish parents of discrimination and assimilation. Of course, as Northern Europeans, once the language (German or Swedish) was given up and cultural difference were relegated to family food traditions of Christmas, the privilege of being white was given without question. While I seem to be the few of my generation in my family to struggle with this, I have found it difficult to assimilate the pain of the immigrant experience, the cultural and religious identity passed on, and the fact of assimilation.

What all this has to do with the conversation around McLaren and the Emergent Church is that the tensions of this experience of immigration and resistance to assimilation, for me was lodged in a faith tradition and identity, one that itself may be disappearing. When the Anglobaptist talks about sharing our saints I wonder who are my saints. Other than Luther I don't know who my paternal grandfather's "saints" would have been. And for the Swedish and Evangelical Covenant side of my story I did not grow up with stories of "saints", we were good Protestants of a sort where the gathered people of God were the saints, the stories were communal stories. Though the Covenant does have it's "saints" though I first began to hear their stories late High School, early College in the midst of conflict in the covenant church we were members which was attempting to resolve the tensions of the Covenant immigrant identity and assimilate into the conservative fundamentalist end side of the American Protestant experience. However, I didn't actually discover our "saints", Waldenstrom, Nyvall, Lund, etc. until I came to North Park Theological Seminary and realized that all I had been taught by my parents and my Grandparents and church of childhood, was not accidental and merely communal but the intention of these saints, and intention that once in the American context was a refusal of the Modernist/fundamentalist dualism and controversy. So, Mclaren's attempted mediation, and even his questioning of a certain theory of the atonement prevalent in American conservative Evangelicalism isn't new. And I wonder, shouldn't those who are seeking mediation listen to these "saints" these Swedish immigrants who refused American definitions of Christian faith as a witness to another way? Is my criticism really a lack of hearing, or is it an attempt to finally be heard?

I have difficulty putting into words to what degree saying all this is frightening, and at the same time feels like I should just let go and simply accept, and that in comparison to others I have it well and other voices really should be heard rather than mine. So, many voices aren't being and haven't been heard. Then I wonder do I help those other voices by simply being quiet and pretending that the dominant American stories are mine, and simply assimilate and appropriate that dominant story as my own. So, I wonder if Mike and Robyn spoke past each other when Robyn asked where are the queer's and people of color in the emergent church conversation and Mike responded saying there were such people prominently part of the conversation at a recent emergent conference. Because I too could simply be part of the conversation, as long as I would simply accept the rhetoric and dominant religious story of the American context, and ignore that my particular story has not been told and no one actually knows my "saints". Can we who do not share this white Protestant story, really speak, is Brian Mclaren and the emergent church really making space for truly different stories. When I read Brian Mclaren, when I have attended local emergent gatherings, I truthfully have never felt I had space to truly speak in my native tongue or even give the time to translate my tongue into a common tongue. This is how I feel, perhaps I have misinterpreted, but I continually experience an unacknowledged difference. A difference that it seems I am to sublimate and pretend doesn't exist. So, I am speaking attempting to admit the tensions, the contradictions, and relative privilege.