by Daniel Fan
Well, Day One of the 2010 Emergent Village Conversation is over. Actually no it’s not because a bunch of theologians went to a gastropub to continue the party as only theologians can. I’ll see if I can make it there myself, but first an update for you, my readers.
Registration started at 2:30, but nothing was scheduled till 5:30 (dinner). This gave plenty of time for the kind if informal hobnobbing that really serves as a value-add to the scheduled conference offerings. I caught a ride to a local coffee joint with Dwight Friesen, a professor at Mars Hill Graduate school in Seattle. Along the way we discussed topics like “what is the Emergent movement” and conference demographics.
After returning, we finalized the setup for tonight’s “conversation” with Richard Twiss. This took a hilarious turn when we parted the stage curtains to find that the painted backdrop was a golden prairie scene. I advised the setup crew that while the irony of using such a scene in a post-colonial conversation might be clearly apparent to those who were present, a photo taken out of context would cast Emergent Village as incredibly tone-deaf. We all agreed that the curtains would stay in place (but we did show the scene to Richard Twiss who LOL’d).
A bit of housekeeping: the scheduled main events are broken into three categories. The first is the “conversation” where an author or theologian has a conversation with two moderators. The questions are preplanned, but moderators can improve if led. The second format is “interaction” where audience members are encouraged to ask questions and/or dialogue with the author/theologian—we haven’t had one of these yet, so I will have to report the exact details of this practice later. Finally, there will be a “workshop” session where four speakers present various topics and you get to choose to go to one.
Upon completion of setup I went to dinner with about a dozen conference goers, including conference planner, Melvin Bray. It’s here were I was asked, and accepted, the chance to be a moderator for the conversation with Musa Dube. Kinda nervous, but I’ll let you all know how that turns out, or doesn’t. Musa Dube doesn’t pull any punches in her book, so it should be an interesting conversation.
During dinner, I had the chance to ask Dwight and Melvin about their reaction to Soong Chan Rah’s critique of the whiteness of the Emergent movement. They both agreed that his early criticisms were accurate, and that the lopsided preponderance of white, male, mega-church pastors which characterized the early phases of the movement was unfortunate and said a lot about the movement itself. But they defended the Emergent movement by stating that, since then, there has been a conscious effort to diversify and hear other voices, something which Rah hasn’t yet taken into account in terms of his criticisms of the contemporary Emergent movement.
Tonight’s conversation opened with Native American Lakota member and head of Wiconi International, Richard Twiss burning sage as a prayer. Richard then invited Jodi Scott-Treviso to perform another prayer, this time in the form of a jingle-dress dance. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first sage prayer that some of the mostly-white audience members have encountered, as they deftly wafted the smoke over themselves with practiced hand motions.
Richard gave his introductory story, which can be found elsewhere. But then he was asked to dispel the myth of white American innocence over the fate of Native America. Twiss pointed out the expected milestones like manifest destiny, but then turned his remarks to the imperialist interpretations of the gospel and the canonization of native peoples (relative to Exodus and Joshua).
When asked how he would avoid imperializing the gospel, Richard gave a few examples (I am distilling liberally here):
- Seeking out permission of existing tribal authorities before entering the land. This is in stark contrast to the historical reliance purely on the divine mandate + human agency and timeline.
- Allow Christianity to exist in native a form. Fear of syncretism often drove new native Christians to employ purely foreign forms and expressions of Christianity (guitars vs drums, adoption of western dress exclusively, destruction of native emblems and implements). Twiss correctly pointed at that the longer native Christians worshiped Creator using foreign forms, the longer Christianity would be perceived by other natives as an invasive foreign and colonial religion.
- Develop an academic program where native-driven theologies and studies are not merely elective would-be-nices, external to an essential Western/systematic theology-centric core (such a program is underway at George Fox University under the guidance of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies).
- Find an indigenous way to refer to your faith. Twiss uses the appellation “Follower of the Jesus way” instead of the baggage-laden term “Christian.” He stated that this name personalized his relationship with Jesus to a much greater degree than the more common western name.
- Be comfortable with ambiguity and mystery that is the Creator.
- Redefine “church” outside of western walls. Meetings with other followers of the Jesus Way in settings other than buildings with steeples count, as well as sweat lodges.
That’s it for tonight guys. I’ll try to check in throughout the day and answer questions if I am able to.