Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever
May 13, 2020
“The Great Realization”
For years I have been reading the works of those who call themselves “emergent” Christians. Their books are among the most creative I have ever read. Emergent or Emergence Christianity is a hard-to-define “conversation” that has been around for over a couple of decades now. I will leave it to you to google it and get a sense of what it is about.
One of the best-known figures in Emergent Christianity is the late Phyllis Tickle. If you have not heard of her either, I will ask you to google her as well to learn about her career and writings.
She wrote a book published in 2008 called “The Great Emergence,” (show book) and at the beginning of that book she talks about an Anglican bishop, Mark Dyer, who famously observed that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And what is a rummage sale: Getting rid of stuff we do not need so that presumably we can find better replacements.
A rummage sale is a way to “clean house,” and I bet that many of you are doing that now because of all the free time you have. According to Mark Dyer and Phyllis Tickle, this is what happens every five hundred years—give or take a few—in the church (which, of course, spills out into the wider culture).
To illustrate their point, Phyllis talks about the Great Transformation, which refers to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent development of the early church. About five hundred years later there was Gregory the Great and the monastic movement, which basically marks the beginning of the Catholic church.
Then, about five hundred years after that we had the Great Schism, when Eastern and Western Christianity divided into the Orthodox and Catholic expressions of Christianity. About five hundred years after that we had the Great Reformation, the beginning of Protestantism. And now, five hundred years after that, there is something else going on that some are now calling the Great Emergence.
Five hundred years is, of course, an arbitrary timescale, but it is interesting to think about the periodic changes that occur in the church (and the world) that lead to permanent change—and I’m not just talking about those weird hairstyles people used to get back in the day.
So here we are, five hundred years after Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door at the church in Wittenberg, and there are obvious changes in the air, especially in the church. For several decades we have been charting the demise of Western Christianity (and religion in general), and we keep hearing words like post-Christian, post-Protestant, post-evangelical, post-liberal, post-conservative, post-denominational, postmodern, post-traditional—a lot of “posts”! We have more posts than a Texas ranch.
The word “post” refers, in this sense, to things that come after, and Emergent Christians see themselves as coming “after” what came before. As a pastor for the last thirty years, I have seen many changes and shifts occur, more than can be discussed in this venue—enough to agree with Bob Dylan, who said: “The times they are a-changin.”
I think the emergent Christians may be on to something by calling this era “The Great Emergence,” but there is another title for this era that might give it some competition: “The Great Realization.” Have you heard of this? It suggests that this pandemic is making us realize some things we had formerly ignored.
At the very least, isn’t this pandemic compelling us to have a giant rummage sale, literally for some and metaphorically for all? Things we thought were important do not seem as important as they used to: ballgames, concerts, eating in restaurants, etc.
And things that some folks did not value as much as they should have, are now valued a great deal, such as our health and wellbeing, spending time with family, the environment, essential workers who are underpaid, etc. This feels like a giant rummage sale to me.
So, what will the world look like when this is all “over” (if that is even a word that even applies here)? Will the year 2020 prove to be “hindsight”? In recent years we have talked about being “woke.” Well, is this pandemic making us “more woke,” and if so, how so?
There is a beautiful poem that has gone viral, titled “the Great Realization.” I came across it on a video where a guy named Tom is telling a bedtime story to a kid that is not seen in the video. The kid asks Tom to tell him the story about the virus and how it changed the world we lived in.
I am going to read Tom’s poem to you because I think it speaks beautifully and directly to the Great Realization that is happening in our world today:
The Great Realization.
This story starts before then, in a world I once would dwell
It was a world of waste and wonder, and of poverty and plenty,
Back before we understood why hindsight is 2020.
You see, the people came up with companies to trade across all lands,
But they swelled and got much bigger than we ever could have planned.
We’d always had our wants,
But now, it got so quick
You could have anything you dreamed of, in a day and with a click.
We noticed families had stopped talking,
That’s not to say they never spoke.
But the meaning must have melted and the work-life balance broke.
The children’s eyes grew squarer, and every toddler had a phone.
They filtered out the imperfections but amidst the noise, they felt alone.
And every day the skies grew thicker, till you couldn’t see the stars.
So we flew in planes to find them, while down below we filled our cars.
We’d drive around all day in circles,
We’d forgotten how to run.
We swapped the grass to tarmac,
Shrunk the parks till there were none.
We filled the sea with plastic, because our waste was never capped.
Until each day when you went fishing, you’d pull them out, already wrapped.
And while we drank and smoked and gambled,
Our leaders taught us why,
It’s best to not upset the lobbies,
It’s more convenient to die.
But then, in 2020,
A new virus came our way,
The government reacted, they told us all to hide away.
But while we all were hidden, amidst the fear and all the while,
The people dusted off their instincts, they remembered how to smile.
They started clapping to say thank you, and calling up their moms,
And while their car keys gathered dust, they would look forward to their runs.
And with the sky less full of voyagers, the earth began to breathe.
The beaches bore new wildlife that scuttled off into the sea.
Some people started dancing,
Some were singing,
Some were baking.
We’d grown so used to bad news but some good news was in the making.
So when we found the cure, and were allowed to go outside,
We all preferred the world we found, to the one we left behind.
Old habits became extinct and made way for the new.
And every single act of kindness, was now given its due.
But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?
Well, sometimes you have to get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.
Now lie down and dream of tomorrow, and all the things that we can do.
Who knows if you dream hard enough, maybe some of them will come true.
We now call it the Great Realization.
And yes since then there have been many,
But that’s the story of how it started.
Why hindsight’s 2020.
So, should we call this era the Great Realization, the Great Emergence, or something else? Regardless, Dylan was right: the times they are a-changin.