I’ve been trying to write a follow-up blog post about my trip to The Great Emergence event in Memphis since I returned to New York last week. This should have been a no-brainer, really. The event was well produced in a stunningly beautiful Episcopal cathedral. Author and keynote speaker Phyllis Tickle delivered her thought-provoking thesis about the unfolding of a new Christian reformation with a perfect balance of humility, humor and passion. The more than 300 attendees were engaged and friendly and I was able to connect with a handful of people with whom I look forward to keeping in touch. I even had the opportunity to sample some down-home Memphis cooking on Beale Street with some new friends. All in all, this should be a simple and stellar review.
This is the point at which each of my attempts to capture the event derailed. In the midst of it all, there was—something—that gave me pause. I’ve spent the past week trying to put my finger on it. I even reached out to the organizers of the event to see if I could gain some clarity. And yet, while they were responsive, I’m left with a mixed reaction that I am finding difficult to articulate.
When a couple of people who generously follow my blog asked when I might write a follow up, I told them the same thing. This conversation is important, I said. It tends to create more debate than dialog outside of the folks that embrace and follow it. I want to take care before I write to be sure that I am part of the dialog, not adding to the he-said-she-said noise and contributing to what appears to be a growing dis-unity between those who embrace a new vision for the church and those who view it as everything from irresponsible to heretical.”
So I decided not to force it. To wait and write nothing unless I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to do so.
On Saturday morning, my intention to work on my manuscript for an hour or two before heading over to help set up the room for my son’s Christmas play was thwarted by a familiar compulsion. So I closed my computer and pulled out a small black leather Bible that I opened without intention to the first page of the book of Ecclesiastes. As I began to read, I knew there was something there for me. Something relevant to my struggle to understand my place in this conversation and, ultimately, my place in this disparate Body of Christ.
Then, as I read, it hit me. This one-two punch that came in the form of a deeper understanding of meaninglessness and what the author of the book repeatedly calls “chasing the wind.”
Phyllis Tickle may be right. We may be in the midst of a dramatic shift away from Sola Scriptura toward a more Christ or Spirit-centered expression of faith. Then again, those that would call her a heretic or an apostate may be right. Sola Scriptura may, indeed, be the way and this new movement may not be of God at all. And, I suppose, it is quite possible that those who embrace the Catholic faith might say that both camps are wrong and have been for 500 years.
Which brings me back Ecclesiastes.
There is nothing new under the sun. God is on His throne. We are broken people. Some of us seek this God and attempt to do what we perceive to be pleasing to Him. Others like me don’t seek, but get found anyway. Revolutions and reformations come and go. The sun rises and sets on Christians and non-Christians alike. So we eat and drink and, if we are blessed, enjoy our families, our work and our lives. Wisdom is better than folly, but ultimately we (and our ideas, books, podcasts and blog posts) are miniscule when compared to Creator of all things. Big questions have big answers that we can wrestle with to our hearts content. In fact, I believe that the pursuit of a deeper understanding is likely pleasing to God. But if we set out to know it all or have a hand in the big change that will finally get it all “right” we are, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, just chasing the wind.
So I choose to follow the author’s suggestion to fear God and follow His commandments. Simple advice that I read as a call to love God with reverential awe and love God’s creation sacrificially.
At least it’s a start.