DISCLAIMER: I am a book (and blog) nerd who has been involved on the edges of what is often referred to as the phenomenon that is the "emerging church". It is likely that a phone booth could contain the number of other people as fascinated by this intersection of change & media as I am. If this bores you, the next week might be a good time to look at some other good blogs
A few weeks ago, I posted about objects of sociality, a somewhat geeky term that simply describes the objects we gather around - the places we’ve gone to, the words we’ve spoken, and the movies we’ve seen. In a world that is connected in many new ways, these objects can span continents and increasingly come from the bottom of the pyramid or from voices often seen at the margins of traditional media.
In the world of Western churchianity, people I know often cluster around books, drawing insights, meaning and sometimes even identity from ink on pieces of paper bound by cardboard. In a time where Western churches resemble the proverbial boiled frog, books about faith, doubt or the space between are the only category in publishing that has grown over the last few years. The message may be that we no longer want our membership in organized religion, but we want to read about everything we can find, from dhamra punks to internet monks. To paraphrase a recent best-seller, millions of us want to read, pray and then meet in a book group.
In this rising tide, the phenomenon that is the "emerging church" genre has aspects that are consistent with the overall tide, while at the same time having some that are truly unique. Like most books about faith, the authors in the "emerging church" genre are disproportionately suburban white males, while the readers are disproportionately white women (and the pastors who need them for their churches to function). Certainly there are exceptions, but for every Lauren Winner's, there are 10 Donald Miller wanna-bes. Unlike most of the rest of the faith category, em church books are mostly lily white - look at books on any "emerging church" shelf at your local Cokebury and you'll see very few people of a color other than beige as the authors or the buyers.
What is truly odd to me is that in the U.S., for the most part, the market for "emerging church" books & conferences preceded the actual expression of these types of faith communities. It might be a function of our consumerist core - I buy, there I am - but this is very different from similar expressions in the U.K., Canada & New Zealand. Over the past year, it seems that the mad rush to sign any guy with a goatee, a Mac and a blog has finally tailed off. For a while, it appeared that the ratio of "emerging church" authors to "emerging church" members (or whatever we are supposed to call ourselves these days) was fast approaching 1:1 - an example of truly participatory publishing.
I must confess, I have read more than my share of these books - ok, I'll come clean --- I have 6 boxes of these books, and that's after giving away ~3 boxes of 'em. As I unpacked them in our new home, I struggled to assign an organization to them, some sort of pomo Dewey Decimal system.
From Lady Vervaine
After many attempts, I've come up with the Big Bob's BBQ system (tm):
- Sausage Books: so many of these books feel like a 10 page magazine article (or increasingly a series of blog posts) that are being shoved into a book format. Don't get me wrong - there's meat in 'em, but there is also filler and stuff I do not even want to know about.
- Brisket Books: the lion share of these book are sliced right off the bones of people's struggle to follow God in a Jesus way - memoirs or psuedo memoirs that are just as personal as Kansas City chopped beef, Carolina Smoked or Texas supersized. Just like brisket at a 'que joint, these books move quickly.
- Pulled Pork Books: many of these books are semi-fiction, stories that try to tell a story, pulling meaning out of a narrative. They are an acquired taste, but they also grab cult followings faster than you can say Neo
- Smoked Chicken Books: about 2 years ago, authors in the churchianity establishment - ya know, the ones with grey hair and titles like Dr. or Bishop - smelled the BBQ and decided to throw some of that sauce on their work. You quickly saw Refromed warrior, liberal lion and progressive pators weaving emerging into their book titles and back cover blurbs. It may have sauce on it, but most of these books are.....chicken. I am like chicken, I eat lots of chicken - but chicken usually ain't BBQ
- Rib Books: reading some of the books actually takes some work - these books are not comfy or even some times positive. The meat in these is still on the bone, challenging the reader to work at it, to chew and search and chew some more
Tomorrow, a rib book is being published, one that is smoky and complex and even a bit mouth-searing. It takes inspiration from other recipes for preparing ribs, with profound indebtedness to the evangelical, contemplative and Catholic social justice threads in Western churchianity.
I relish eating good ribs when I can find them - just like that, I relish reading books like Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. The book transcends the "emerging church" or even religious book categories, in the urgency of it's challenge, the gentle-ness of its tone and the hope that it calls all of creation to.
This is a book that is on par for me with authors like bell hooks, Michael Pollan, Rachel Carson, and Francis Fukuyama or documentaries like The Corporation, An Inconvenient Truth and Hearts & Minds . This is a provocative, even explosive book - not in it's voice, but in it's implications for earth, heaven and those who wish to inhabit them.
There is so much meat on the bones of this book that I plan on posting about it for the rest of this week.