Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The Green Room
Or, daring to step outside...
I’ve been reading the chapter  on ‘Transforming Secular Space’ (one of the 3 core practices, and 9 shared practices overall, that characterise emerging churches) in Gibbs’ & Bolger’s Emerging Churches. The desire to deconstruct the dualism of modernity – such as the sacred/secular division – and to reclaim the whole earth and all that is in it as belonging to God (Psalm 24:1), and holy to him, resonates strongly with me. The complicity of the modern church in the sacred/secular divide – the withdrawal to address only ‘spiritual’ matters, in ‘spiritual’ spaces; and the removal of God from even those spaces – shapes, to a large degree, where those of us who have grown up within the church are coming from – and, hopefully, coming out from…
(Note that by ‘Space,’ we do not mean only architectural space, but any cultural space, such as music or film or politics…In each of these arenas we can see a sacred/secular or religious/civic divide.)
One image that struck me was borrowed from Mark Scandrette at ReIMAGINE! Mark uses the picture-image of colour to address the transcendent/immanent (that is: God is beyond human understanding, and experience / God actively participates in creation) dualism, especially strong in the modern church. Gibbs & Bolger explain:
“Green is not a primary color – blue and yellow are. Yellow is the vertical axis, the spiritual axis, the pursuit of God. The higher it goes, the more faint it becomes. This is the sole pursuit of the Creator, of transcendence. Blue is the pursuit of creation, social justice, the good life, doing good to others. It becomes darker and darker as one moves away from the centre. This is the pursuit of the immanence of God. Yellow people view God only as transcendent. Often they are evangelicals and conservatives. With their focus on transcendence, they care about God but not about what God loves. Blue people love what God loves – they love the earth, humanity, the environment, and the sensuality of being human. They are liberals. With their focus on immanence, they don’t love God and they deny Jesus, but they long for the kingdom.
At ReIMAGINE! the focus is green. Jesus is the ultimate green, for Creator and creation meet in Christ. People are fallen and are either blue or yellow. ReIMAGINE!’s task is to help yellow people add blue to their palette (becoming tied to creation) and to help blue people add yellow (becoming tied to the Creator)…” [p. 74]
While the summary of evangelicals and liberals might be seen as extreme, there is a great deal of truth in it. Evangelicals do tend to focus on transcendence, as seen in their highly conceptual worship – God is approached through the mind, for conservative evangelicals; and through the emotions, for charismatic evangelicals – and their heaven-focused evangelism. Liberals do tend to focus on immanence, as seen in their highly material worship – God is approached through the sacraments, and through creation; and is to be found in the face of the other, as each person is made in God’s image – and their earth-focused evangelism.
As the quoted passage hints at, the transcendent/immanent dualism does not only exist within the church, but to an extent characterises those who, in the language of Acts 17, worship an Unknown God. The image of helping people add a particular colour to their palette calls into question both the evangelical assumption that God has done nothing in the life of an individual or community or culture until he sent us to tell them what they need to believe (that there is no godly colour in their lives, until we bring it – though, with a focus on transcendence, and the corresponding suspicion of the material, we are more likely to seek to remove them to our utilitarian blue room than to help paint their room green); and the liberal assumption that we should not speak into the beliefs of another (that it doesn’t matter if they are yellow or blue, so long as they are sincere in their yellowness or blueness). Moreover, an appreciation of both yellow and blue confronts both the evangelical assumption that blue does not exist outside of heaven; and the liberal assumption that yellow does not exist…And it is a great way of treating people with integrity, rather than as a project.
Scandrette’s colour image expresses a humble centred-set ecclesiology and missiology, in which we are all moving closer to, or further away from, Jesus, “the ultimate green,” and our goal is to follow him more closely and invite others to follow him too (as opposed to the dogmatic bounded-set – where one is either ‘in’ or ‘out’ – of the modern church). It also expresses a holistic theology of sacralization, in which all things are offered to God to be made holy by him (as opposed to a dualistic theology of compartmentalism, where some things are spiritual – and worthy of attention – and some things are not – our work, our culture, etc.). This means that, rather than withdrawing from the world, with occasional forays to take captives for Christ, the world comes to be seen as something being transformed by the kingdom of God, something that the church can engage with creatively. All these developments are cause for joy and hope!
Emerging Churches ; Gibbs and Bolger ; transforming secular space ; ReIMAGINE! ; Mark Scandrette ; transcendence ; immanence ; centred-set ; sacralization