I heard a song on the radio this evening by Patrick Stump featuring Lupe Fiasco called, "This City." It's a new single, it has an okay beat and the lyrics are kind of lame. As one listener texted in, it sounds like a song that should be on high school musical. Teen pop, whatever.
But as I sat there thinking about the lyrics, I thought, here are two guys who are totally proud of their city, in spite of all of the bad things that happen in it. They mention corruption and gentrification and racism and even the weather, but they love that city (Chicago) anyways.
My emergent cohort read this month Tony Jones' new book "The Church is Flat." He describes a relational ecclesiology that he finds within emergent theology and emergent congregations across the United States. Being his doctoral dissertation, it is a bit heavy, but was a good mental exercise to explore.
As I drove in the car listening to this new song playing on the radio, running through my head was the conversation I had only an hour before about identity and belonging and authority.
Pulling from new social movement theory and characterizations, Jones claims that the emergent church movement helps people to claim a "new or formerly weak dimensions of identity." In the process, the "relation between the individual and the collective is blurred." The actions, behaviors and identity of a person become all wrapped up into the movement and your very participation in that movement gives you an identity.
Think about it like this: 50 years ago when a couple introduced themselves to new neighbors, one of the first sentences they might have shared was, "We go to the Methodist church." Their very identity was wrapped up in the church. They raised their children in the church. They belonged on the church softball team. But then came the 60's and 70's and that communal identity started to be questioned. The next generation would go back to the church only to raise their kids, if at all. And then the GenXers who followed were either not brought up in the church at all, or it was a background institution that had little to no bearing on their personal identity.
As an offhand comment, there was a mention somewhere in the book about how that dillusion of identity also has come from parents marrying outside of their denominational upbringing. A child of Lutheran-Methodist parents might have far less denominational loyalty as someone whose whole family has come from a particular tradition.
The claim that Jones makes in his book is that this is not true in emergent congregations. In these communities, the life of the individual is tied to the life of the movement. They claim it as a part of who they are. It impacts where they eat and what they buy and who they spend time with. And that is a conscious action based upon their identity.
Is that so much to ask?