Never Ending Story

“Conversion is a process, it is not a goal, not a product we consume. And it’s a bodily process, not only an emotional or intellectual one. The very cells in our body are busy changing, renewing themselves, every few days. Yet we remain recognizably ourselves. That is how conversion works, a paradox beautifully expressed in two vows that in two vows that are unique to Benedictine life. To join a monastic community, people promise stability, pledging to remain in that community for life. At the same time they also promise to remain always open to change, to what is loosely translated as  a ‘conversion of life.’ …Maybe the real scariness of conversion lies in admitting that God can work in us however, whenever, and through whatever means God chooses. If the incarnation of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it is that conversion is not one-size-fits-all. Christian conversion is, in fact, incarnational; it is worked out by each individual within the community of faith.”

-Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Yesterday the HOS preached on Saul/Paul’s conversion, and invited us to think more about the various ways we experience conversion through the “lesser” characters of Ananias, and even the man who had to provide hospitality to Saul. I like the different pieces to the story as they relate to the kinds of shifts God initiates in our lives so that we can experience God’s power and grace in new ways. I feel that these kinds of moments are somehow much more relate-able to a lot of people rather than the dramatic, born-again type experiences (although these are always compelling and interesting, too, but just rare…) Turning these thoughts of conversion over and over in my mind made me recall some of Kathleen Norris’ words on conversion, and how much I love the way she creates a whole language for faith through stories of her encounters with people. The terms that are standard to our faith become almost miraculous revelations when she mines them through a deep engagement of her own life.

So, this makes me reflect on various conversion moments in my life. What comes to mind are seemingly small but utterly important shifts within me – I remember the first experiences of a strange, desperate thirst for God’s presence, an increasing consciousness about my racial identity, a desire to connect with those who suffer social/economic injustices, a growing discomfort with the institutional church, a sad realization at the inequities that are still present in faith communities. This is a bit rambly, because my emerging thoughts (haha) always take a while to take form. But, what is compelling to me is seeing similar things emerging in people around me. It may happen in conversations with a youth who wants to find a deeper connection with God but he/she is struggling to find words to understand, much less question, how it is that God loves them…Or it may come up in discussions with millenials who want to experience worship that is impactful with music and prayers that move through them in meaningful ways…Or it may occur when I’m sharing with those in my season of life – those who are getting married or those with young children – those who worry about the world we live in and the world their children will have to inhabit in the future – will there be enough resources, will there still be racism, will there be too much running to and fro from commitment to commitment?

What these conversations, stories, and glimpses reveal to me is that there is something bubbling beneath the surface of people’s crazy busy lives. At the Emergence Now Conference, Phillip Clayton encouraged us to embrace the reality that these shifts have to occur in us and around us; it is a part of the natural order of the world, and most importantly…indicates life…it is a sign of thriving, hungering, seeking life…and maybe in even more concrete theological terms, as Norris suggests above, it’s a sign of God working in and through us…

I guess a caveat is necessary – to run from or to avoid the inevitability of these shifts and changes…these little adjustments is dangerous. I admit that in my own life the stories that give me fire are not always on the forefront of my mind, particularly those that have to do with lifting up marginalized communities, like the Asian American community and women’s community. I feel the negative consequences of not letting the work of those shifts do what is necessary in me. Today, I am newly convicted to create a space for what is emerging in me and in people around me, and to be more intentional about these conversion moments – to be true to them…lift them up…and share how the grace of God is present and at work here and now.

This entry is part of a Synchroblog on “What is Emerging?” in the church today. Here’s a list of other contributions to this conversation.

Pam Hogeweide compares the emerging church movement to a game of ping pong.
Sarah-Ji comments that the emerging questions people are asking are far bigger than any defined movement.
Sharon Brown writes about using labels as an excuse.
Peter Walker reflects on how the emerging church conversation helped him recognize his power and privlege as a white male.
Dave Huth posts a on new ways to talk about religion.
Kathy Escobar finds hope in seeing a spirit of love in action emerging in the church.
Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on the the beautiful things she sees emerging in her church community.
Chad Holtz writes on our Our Emerging Jewishness.
MojoJules describes her organic entry into the emerging church and reflects on moving forward with a new public face.
Dave Brown comments on the emerging church and swarm theory.
Danielle Shoyer reflects on what is emerging in the church.
Brian Merritt offers his pros and cons of the emerging church.
Julie Clawson is grateful for emerging globalized Christianity.
Susan Philips points out that emergence happens as G-d redeems our shattered realities.
Mike Clawson reflects on the non-western voices that brought him to the emerging conversation.
Jake Bouma suggest that what is emerging is a collapse into simplicity.
Liz Dyer believes a chastened epistemology is a valuable characteristic emerging out of the church today.
Rachel Held Evans writes on what is changing in the church.
Tia Lynn Lecorchick describes the emerging movement as a wood between worlds (from The Magician’s Nephew).
Amy Moffitt shares her journey towards a theology of humility.
Travis Mamone comments on the need for the emerging church to rely on the word of God.
Sa Say reflects on the the prick of doubt.
David Henson lists what he sees as what is emerging in the church.
Angela Harms writes in in defense of emergent.
Wendy Gritter asks how we can listening to the voices from the margins.
Bruce Epperly comments on the largeness of spirit of emerging spirituality.
Linda Jamentz reflects on listening to the voices from the margins in church.
Lisa Bain Carlton hopes that our emerging conversation can respond humbly to our moment in time.
Christine Sine asks how far are we willing to be transformed.
Lori Allen Wilson reflects on what is emerging in the younger generations.
Cynthia Norris Clack sees love emerging in the church.
Bob Fisher lists the values emerging in his faith community
Mihee Kim-Kort writes of the conversions and conversations she sees around her.
Ann Catherine Pittman believes that what is emerging in the church is inclusivity.
Matthew Gallion describes how emergence is spread thin across the whole church.
Phil Snider offers guarded praise of emergent.

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