Emergent Malaysia conversations on Holy Saturday

“Emergent is a growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Our dream is to join in the activity of God in the world wherever we are able, so that God’s dreams for our world come true. In the process, the world can be healed and changed, and so can we.” ~ Emergent Village Website

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To be honest, every time we manage to organize a meeting inviting friends to come and participate it’s hard to know what to expect. And then there will always be a surprise or two.

With a special “peace offering” from Jade – i.e. “Yau Cha Guai” (in Cantonese) and other goodies on the table, we stared introducing ourselves and telling in a sentence or two how did we land up here … a couple actually said they didn’t know :-), most of the others because we knew someone (or someone who knew someone), many of us are concerned with the changes that’s happening in our churches as well as personal Christian lives in Malaysia, a lot of us are already on the emergentmalaysia Yahoo! group , of course there were returnees from our previous Christmas party and/or the kind of maiden meeting in 2004 last year.

It’s quite amazing how it just started with 3 guys sitting in a room talking about some common concerns and the authors we’ve been reading (of course a number of emails to and fro). But, everything has got to start somewhere right. We honour small beginnings.

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“Emergent seeks to create space where people who might not ordinarily interact with each other can gather and engage each other in areas related to theology, practices, culture and how churches and organizations engage missionally for the sake of the world. In order to do this we must assume a posture of openness, humility and desire. We must believe the best of one another. It’s not that we won’t or don’t disagree (often vigorously) but rather we maintain the Spirit of Christ as we do so.” ~ Emergent Village: Conversation

Some of us had a chance to share our stories in last years meetings, and last Christmas we brainstormed a sampling of what we thought were important to us. This round we started with Kia Meng (“our resident philosopher”) to share his story and some insights he’s picked up about his faith (especially the transitions, people and church communities that impacted him). When you have words like “Charismatic”, “miracles on demand”, “personal struggle”, “questions”, “losing my faith”, “language to express my angst “, “Vampire Christianity”, “Barcode Faith” , etc combined with names like “Francis Schaeffer”,”John Piper”, “Vineyard”, “George Ladd”, “Dallas Willard”, “Brian McLaren”, “Jason Clark”, “Big Kahuna”, “NT Wright”, “”Mennonites”, etc all in one interview (which I just prompted). This is one story worth listening (and still very much in the making – unfinished yet!) I think it was Nouwen who highlighted, “what’s most personal is most universal” (something like that! *grin)

I was glad Liz with her advanced typing skills could record a kind of draft transcript of the interview and a number of “open” questions and interactions that emerged (*smile*) from his sharing. Once our emergent Malaysia website is ready hopefully we could post it up!

One close to heart concern was “evangelism” and how that really works out in a variety of circumstance (e.g. for “our neighbors”, “children”, those with disabilities, ect). This little interaction even strengthened my resolve to work on what I learnt 5 years ago from William J. Abraham, author of the Logic of Evangelism when he said, “The great need in evangelism is not for some new program, not for a fresh wave of activism, but for a renewal of theological vision and a reworking of our basic conceptuality” My intuitive sense behind the practical aspects of “evangelism” highlighted was this need that Prof. Abraham tallks about!

Later, I passed around this Missional Evangelism Booklet from another interesting similar kind of “network” the ekklesia project to a number of people (I still had some copies around). More stuff in there.

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Then we broke into smaller groups to share our stories – with Yew Khuen giving us a simple framework from listening to practicing and then listening again (the cycle goes on)

Being the “facilitator” I had the freedom to eavesdrop and interuppt different groups and it was pretty facinating how these dynamics work.
Each group of at least three and not more than 4 (to facilitate closer conversations) and one person who tries (I repeat try) to be the scribe capture the conversations on paper.

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After we drew the “conversations” to a close, we opened it up again just to listen to three groups share a sampling of their conversations. This included issues relating to “youth” growing up in a so called “Christian subculture” and then once “set free” (usually after going overseas for studies) realize that the faith they were brought up had no connection with their everyday life in the world.

BTW, there was limited use of lingo like “postmodernism”, “postcolonialism”, etc. Only a number of times with qualifiers. Due to the variety of individuals present from me as a pastor, to an “ordinary” lay person (which I think coming to a meeting like this is not ordinary!) as well as small groups leaders, worship leaders, Christian fellowship leaders and potential leaders, I strongly felt we needed to try our best to “include” all present as much as we could.

Another interesting thing is to take note of the Christian traditions kind of represented there today. We had for lack of better labels (or just using common labels) – Brethrens (which was a delightful surprise!), Lutherans, Methodists, Charismatics, Reformed, … etc. Someone cheekily said, “semi-Lutheran”, another quiped, “I’m a hybrid.” And then all of us laughed because we are all pretty “Rojak” in a way (To our English speaking Global friends: Rojak is a kind of mixed vege & fruit dish). Indeed these labels carry less meaning nowadays. But it did help for humor at times.

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having some form of record was very important, so we could go deeper beyond our last conversation and also trust that the time spend would somehow “change” us for the better.

I just took note in the booklet I mentioned above (which I gave a few copies out) comments on “Faithful conversation”:

“Faithful conversation is multi-layered dialogue. As such it involves self-respect: a knowledge of and respect for one’s own beliefs and positions, and self-exposure: an acknowledgement of and openness to the other as other, as distinct and different. And perhaps most important, a willingness to get caught up in the to-and-fro of the dialogue that participants may be profoundly changed in the midst of the process.”

There’s more and I think I learnt that today as I tried to discern the “language” that each person used to express themselves (I’m thinking about myself as well). The following is worth considering:

“… faithful conversation does not depend upon all members of the congregation (note: in our case participants in today’s meeting and beyond) speaking the same language (whether ethnic, professional, cultural, or theological), but upon their openness to the koinonia of the Holy Spirit active and present in their midst.”

I believe this happened today in many ways. And I’m thankful also for the post-meeting lunch conversations as well. Oh yes, I did manage to do my very best in describing what we’re trying to do “Malaysian style” summarizing the info (and contextualizing it a bit)

like unpacking “growing generative friendship among missional Christian leaders” as well as what probably can be called the emergent order or commitments so we can move together locally as well as globally with friends on a similar journey.

On this Holy Saturday, as I remember that we’re in between the Cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, in this space of silence between two significant events of our lives, we gave ourselves to listen to one another and in the process I pray we heard God’s voice for us in our time and context here and now in Malaysia. I loved what I read yesterday and I think the phrase itself is enough to energize me…

‘It Is Finished’ But It Is Not Over”

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