something to identify as

I heard a song on the radio this evening by Patrick Stump featuring Lupe Fiasco called, “This City.”  It’s a new single, it has an okay beat and the lyrics are kind of lame.  As one listener texted in, it sounds like a song that should be on high school musical.  Teen pop, whatever.

But as I sat there thinking about the lyrics, I thought, here are two guys who are totally proud of their city, in spite of all of the bad things that happen in it.  They mention corruption and gentrification and racism and even the weather, but they love that city (Chicago) anyways.

My emergent cohort read this month Tony Jones’ new book “The Church is Flat.”  He describes a relational ecclesiology that he finds within emergent theology and emergent congregations across the United States.  Being his doctoral dissertation, it is a bit heavy, but was a good mental exercise to explore.

As I drove in the car listening to this new song playing on the radio, running through my head was the conversation I had only an hour before about identity and belonging and authority.

Pulling from new social movement theory and characterizations, Jones claims that the emergent church movement helps people to claim a “new or formerly weak dimensions of identity.” In the process, the “relation between the individual and the collective is blurred.” The actions, behaviors and identity of a person become all wrapped up into the movement and your very participation in that movement gives you an identity.

Think about it like this:  50 years ago when a couple introduced themselves to new neighbors, one of the first sentences they might have shared was, “We go to the Methodist church.”  Their very identity was wrapped up in the church.  They raised their children in the church.  They belonged on the church softball team.  But then came the 60’s and 70’s and that communal identity started to be questioned.  The next generation would go back to the church only to raise their kids, if at all.  And then the GenXers who followed were either not brought up in the church at all, or it was a background institution that had little to no bearing on their personal identity.

As an offhand comment, there was a mention somewhere in the book about how that dillusion of identity also has come from parents marrying outside of their denominational upbringing.  A child of Lutheran-Methodist parents might have far less denominational loyalty as someone whose whole family has come from a particular tradition.
If we look at the religious landscape today, there are few who proudly claim their denominational identity as one of the primary markers of their personal identity.  I have a friend or two with a “John Wesley is my homeboy” t-shirt, but they are few and far between.  I am much more likely to encounter someone who tells me that they are a farmer or a vegetarian or a Marxist than I am to find someone in my daily walk who will tell me, I am a Presbyterian. Our churches do not form the core of our identities.

The claim that Jones makes in his book is that this is not true in emergent congregations.  In these communities, the life of the individual is tied to the life of the movement. They claim it as a part of who they are.  It impacts where they eat and what they buy and who they spend time with.  And that is a conscious action based upon their identity.

I am torn at many times in my life between denominational loyalty and faithfulness to the Wesleyan understanding of community.  While at times I hope and pray that they can be the same thing, there are many days when it is not so.  I want to belong to and lead a church that lives out their faith every single day, that is committed to the virtues that community cultivates, and that deeply seeks to follow Jesus Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, the institutional church just doesn’t do it for me.  Sometimes, I see glimpses and I’m energized once more.
I guess what I’m saying is, I want to write a song called “This Church.”  And I want to proudly proclaim to all the world that I love this church, in spite of its flaws.  I found my faith in this church, it raised me to know and love God, and if I have my way I’m going to stay here. You can burn it to the ground, or let it flood, but this church is in my blood. And I want to be a part of a community that every day in small and ordinary ways, seeks the will of God in all that they do. I want to be a part of a community that has the gospel in its blood… whose very identity as individuals is predicated on their participation in the body of Christ called the church in this place.

Is that so much to ask?

1 Comment

  • Jill

    September 13, 2011 at 11:10 am Reply

    Have you heard the song by Derek Webb called "The Church"? If not, check it out. I think it speaks to some of your thoughts about it!

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