Tuesday evening I met up with some people I knew only from Twitter and who have various connections to the Emergent Church movement. The Anglobaptist who was there as well is the exception. It was a good and enjoyable and thought provoking evening. I also have a melancholy about the evening. I have been struggling to articulate what it was. And found myself distancing myself from the melancholy in analysis of our general situation of "emergence" but that just didn't do the encounter between us justice.
I will not, nor could I necessarily, recount our conversation and our stories that we told in brief. However, there were tensions, in each of us, and between us. We were okay with that, perhaps even reveled in them a little. The stories that were told were ones of moving away from one thing to something else, as well as discovery of faith in a more meaningful way: In these stories there were things rejected, and here is one possible source of melancholy. In these stories what had been rejected seemed to loom large behind what is now held. I know this tendency in myself and it rarely if ever serves me nor the search for God and Truth well. Mostly the melancholy comes from memories of sitting with a group of friends in L.A. from various backgrounds and churches: Roman Catholic, variously Evangelical and Charismatic and Mainline spending time in evangelical churches. I don't think the melancholy was missing those people and those conversations though I do miss them, but more that twenty two years ago when I first met this group (first calling themselves "Minds for Christ", eventually calling ourselves "The Society") we were dealing with pretty much exactly the same issues that came up in our conversation and telling of stories on Tuesday evening. Though with a difference: somehow those of the Society were more aware both of the previous history of evangelicalism which we were admittedly critiquing and we were more aware of a forms of Christianity that were not defined by either Progressive or Conservative, Modernist or Fundamentalist. Or in other words for us Christianity wasn't defined solely and primarily by the American context. The Society couldn't help but respond to the evangelical churches we were in who were threatened by young members of theirs reading Augustine, Calvin and Luther etc. for themselves, yet we were also aware of how the mainline churches even in their progressive stances that some of us were attracted to, did not by themselves serve us in our search for authentic Christian faith. We were seeking something beyond the American dualism. It was just a tad depressing to see how much that dualism continues to be something that remains a defining reality, perhaps even more so than it did 22 years ago.
So a melancholy hangs over my experience of Tuesday evening, because 22 years ago we in The Society were quite hopeful of our ability to extricate ourselves from American dualism and the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy and split: to find oneself still there to find the vortex of that controversy to be so powerful that one can't even escape it by being part of a denomination that has tried to bridge that split for most if not all of its history and starting an Ecumenical congregation, and founding an intentional Christian community. I search for the Church, not really other disciples of Jesus wandering about, though when I find said wandering disciples it is a joy, but I'd rather those disciples be also seeking to know not in the fuzy sentimental way of the free church and believers church, but in a catholic and truly incarnational way the church. And yes I know that a rejection is looming large in my search for the Church. This is part of the Melancholy I find myself in. For 22 years I have sought to live in the tensions, resisted fleeing to Orthodoxy or Catholicism at certain points I could have thrown myself into those contexts with evangelical enthusiasm, finding "liberal' and "conservative" or now "progressive" and "conservative" as poorly fitting clothing, and frankly in my opinion neither actually about being clothed in Christ in the final analysis.
Tuesday night reminded me that I have felt stuck for quite sometime, truly seeking to bridge and mend the divide isn't really what most American Christians are really interested in. We are interested in our journeys, which makes sense. but I have to ask to what are we all journeying? Not that The Society is some grand thing to copy, the results of our conversations is perhaps under scrutiny ambiguous at best. Several of us became and have remained atheist or agnostic. I don't think any of us returned either to the Mainline churches or evangelicalism. Some of us remained where we were, other's returned to the ethnic and orthodox churches of their families. Christianity in some general sense failed us, yet that it seems is what we are still seeking a generalized Christianity that can wear one of the coats of American dualism in a way we are comfortable with. I think I have given up on Christianity, what I am looking for is the Church, the mystical and real and tangible body of Christ. My fellow disciples of Jesus wandering about in this barren landscape we call America I invite you on that search, and have to admit that if that is not what you are looking for we probably wont walk long together.
My Melancholy is perhaps my sense that what I long for few others truly long for, what I seek few others seek. Also, from the outside it seems to be something few members of the two claimants to be the Church care much about, as they seem just as caught up in American dualism as everyone else. It seems an odd thing for an American Christian (of any stripe) to seek,yet here I am.