Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Emerging, Emergent Community

As a university administrator, it’s not often that I speak at meetings where the number of tattoos exceeds the number of participants. But was the case in San Diego earlier this week at a gathering called Soularize.

The invitation came from its organizer Spencer Burke, who’s the founder of the online community known as TheOoze. And the meeting was held at a remarkable urban church called Mission Gathering, a progressive congregation of the Disciples of Christ. Claremont School of Theology was a sponsor of the event, and we volunteered to set up an outdoor "living room" to facilitate conversation and community between sessions.  (You can see a photo of me in the "idea chair"-- a big orange Barcalounger--on our Facebook page.) From the short time I was there, I could tell this was truly a grass roots event for uncomfortable Christians (and other followers of Jesus).

What I found there was a group of passionate thinkers, artists and activists on the fringes of their denominations, congregations, and sometimes their own families. There were pastors and former pastors; intellectuals and artists; former evangelicals and former mainliners; gay, lesbian and transgender Christians; and yes, plenty of people with tattoos and piercings. Our own Philip Clayton (who has no tattoos that I know of) spoke at the event, along with me, professor Monica A. Coleman, Rita Nakashima Brock and philosopher John Caputo. They joined such emergent leaders as Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye), Peter Rollins, and the so-called "Whiskey Preacher" (a.k.a. Phil Shephard). Though this motley group would not all claim to be part of the emergent movement, the movement wouldn't be where it is without them.

Claremont has a history of being on the leading edge of church and society, and providing a place for conversation for the emergent movement continues in that legacy. You may have heard about “the new CST,” which in part involves learning about and learning from this fringe community. And I believe Claremont has much to offer the emergent conversation, especially with our emphases and expertise in matters of social justice, diversity, and process theology.

Emerging Christianity is a community focused on the life and works of Jesus, on the love that Jesus showed those around him, and his enduring influence in the world.  For those of us who are Christians, this focus is hard to ignore. And this emergent community is pushing us all—mainliners and evangelicals, liberals and conservatives—in new directions. It may not be comfortable, and we may not agree with it all, but it’s a necessary conversation for the future of Christianity as we put the love of Jesus to work in the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Welcoming Brian McLaren to Claremont

Most of us will never make a “Most Influential” list in Time magazine, but a new trustee at Claremont School of Theology did just that.  In 2005, Brian McLaren was named one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”  And today he’s one of the newest members the Board of Trustees at Claremont School of Theology.

Depending on whom you ask, Brian is either a prophet or a heretic, a conservative or a liberal, a peacemaker or a rabble-rouser.  In fact, he’s probably most of these on any given day.  By all accounts, Brian’s a successful pastor, influential author, insightful intellectual, prolific blogger, and provocative speaker who is often considered one of the “founding fathers” of Emergent Christianity. I encourage you to pick up one of his books, such as A New Kind of Christianity or his most recent, Naked Spirituality.

Without a doubt, Brian shares the forward-leaning spirit that has always characterized Claremont.  He’s passionate about finding the overlooked ways of Jesus in a diverse and conflicted world.  And he asks those of us who are followers of Jesus to seek our place within what he calls the ecology of God.  (Take a few minutes to watch him discuss this provocative theme in the video below.)

Brian McLaren recognizes that Claremont School of Theology is a place where this authentic search for the way of Jesus can take place in earnest.  We welcome his poking and prodding as we educate the next generation of leaders to follow the examples of Jesus in a multireligious world.

Are we trying to control God's system or find harmony within it?