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Sunday, August 7, 2005

Flirting with Emergent, part IV (final part).

Before Philocrites returns to take his rightful place at the helm, I wanted to finish my series on "Flirting with Emergent." In late June / early July I attended Jacob's Well, a local Emergent Church, for three consecutive Sundays. Then I decided to blog about the experience of being a "mystery worshipper" and also ask some questions about the "soul" of Emergent and what UUism might learn from it.

I realize that in the previous entries, I've said a lot about the form and style of Jacob's Well, but not a lot about the content. So I want to briefly describe each of the three sermons I heard there.

The first sermon was on the subject of generosity. It was probably the most listenable stewardship sermon I've ever heard. It was not a sermon specifically about how the church needs your money. In fact, the preacher even said at one point (without a hint of suggesting otherwise) that the church was doing so well financially that it didn't need the financial assistance of anyone who gave out of any feeling other than a love of God. The sermon was based on 2 Corinthians 8 and reflected the Pauline theology of emphasizing the motivations and attitudes underlying actions. All in all, it was a challenging sermon that left space for me to ponder my own relationship with generosity. Rating: Excellent.

The second service I attended featured a guest preacher. It was horrible. The "sermon" was testimony from a person who had been living with addiction and self-destructiveness but was now saved. The theology was simplistic and immature. A section in the middle about how the just-converted young man zealously attempted to "save" his family of origin was terribly sad and angering and agonizing. I wish I hadn't gone to church. Rating: Atrocious.

The third sermon was on the subject of marriage. The sermon began with a dimming of the lights and a playing of the marriage scene from "The Princess Bride." I have mixed feelings on this sermon. On one hand, the sermon was absolutely targeted to the demographic of 20-something singles, young couples thinking about marriage, or recently married folks figuring it out. How amazing to have my generation spoken to! The basic message was that marriage is one context for living a holy life, not an end in itself. The preacher took issue with evangelical Christianity for making an idolatry out of marriage. He spared liberal churches from any criticism. In this sermon he had very little to say about divorce, except for a part about marriage being a covenant rather than a contract. Not sure what I thought of this. I found this sermon wanting in that he never touched (not even indirectly) on same-sex marriage, used heterosexist terminology, and was fairly mono-cultural. Rating: Pretty good.

To conclude this whole Emergent-review, I believe that an Emergent UU Church aimed at Young Adults would be successful. I think the key to this would be an engagement with the lived realities of young people, expressed in a way that is culturally intelligent without being culturally beholden. Another key would be the using of stories to create a powerful metaphorical frame for reflecting upon life. There was little in the preacher's sermons that I would have to change if I wanted to preach the message in a UU context.

Copyright © 2005 by Thom Belote | Posted 7 August 2005 at 6:22 PM

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August 8, 2005 12:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Interesting. If you go to their website it doesn't feel "UU" to me - God, Christ, and Jesus and nothing about including those with other beliefs. How "UU" can they really be without that? Or maybe my brief scans of the links just didn't show me more diversity? (I'll look again later!)

I loved the idea of the marriage sermon, targeted at the young people. I am not surprised that heterosexual language was used, that's what marriage is and that's why this lesbian isn't all that hot for gay marriage - having to fit into societies ideas of marriage doesn't work for me, though it works fine for other gays.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the mp3 links to the sermons! Talk about reaching out! I hope our Fellowship will consider adding the audio alongside the written transcrips, I think it would do wonders for us and in particular for the youth of our congregation who leave when the children do to do the youth group "thang". My 15 year old daughter is always wondering about the sermons, what she missed, and what she could have learned if she had only resisted the temptation to hang with her friends... the mp3 would server her well!

Thanks for the great post about your visits! I love the mystery worshiper idea.


August 8, 2005 05:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Perhaps I exagerrate about how little I would have to change to UU-ify the Jacob's Well sermons. What I should have said was this: the message in both the generosity and marriage sermons was challenging, evocative, discomforting, and interesting. It relied heavily on the Bible and Christian theology but used these to expand the message. Both sermons were not without problems, but I think I could offer a UU version of a similar sermon.


August 8, 2005 10:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't mind UU sermons with Christian theology at all, I think it's important and necessary for UUs to hear it all and think about it all and be inspired by it all.

I think I just misunderstood your phrasing about Jacob's Well in general. ;-)

I actually am going to download some of their sermonds, (there are some interesting titles), and give them a listen.

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