Stop Tarrying with the Negative

When I learned that the editors of [D]mergent were interested in contributions from me, I was both flattered and intimidated. I had honestly already decided that I wanted to contribute something, but the fact that they reached out to me before I had to try and impose myself suddenly made me realize just how out of place I feel among those who have already contributed.

Consider the following: I am not an ordained minister. I am not a seminary student. I am not actively seeking a call to ministry. I am not an academic (anymore), and I am certainly no expert on the emergent church movement. I have received little formal theological training. I spend my week in an office doing things that are about as far removed from ministry as I am able to imagine. I am not a church professional, even though I have spent enough time around them to be able to talk the talk to some extent.

I find that I am also unusual among “emergent types” in my generally positive relationship with the institutional church. Many in the emergent church seem to be disillusioned with their youthful adherence, forced or voluntary, with more conservative expressions of evangelical Christianity. Although I had my share of run-ins with this brand of the faith growing up in rural Kentucky, I was not raised to be a fundamentalist or a biblical literalist, and I never felt the attraction to become one. I actually rejected Christianity as intellectually untenable until I went to college and took courses in Biblical studies with professors who were both devoted Christians and humane, broad-minded intellectuals. After they put the faith back into good intellectual odor for me, I have been a professed Christian ever since. I was active in a United Church of Christ congregation through six years of graduate school, and since 2002, I have been a member of a Disciples of Christ congregation.

Perhaps, though, it is because of, rather than in spite of, my relative oddity in this context that I feel compelled to add my voice to the conversation. I have my own scars and my own baggage where church is concerned, but they don’t burden me too much. I have my own issues with not wanting to be identified as one of “those” Christians, but deep down I know that the humane, loving Christianity I encounter in worship and prayer is stronger than the angry, ideological version of the faith on offer in so many quarters.

For too long, we have expended too much energy convincing ourselves and others of who and what we are not. While it is good to clarify that we offer an alternative, especially for people who have been damaged by other faith traditions, if all we are able to offer people is the ability to say “I am not that,” we do not help people to become who they are and who God calls them to be. It is, in fact, a mirror image of the very exclusivity we never tire of diagnosing in other Christian traditions: “We are not illegal immigrants. We are not gay. We are not liberals. We are not…” Defining oneself solely by negation fosters, in the end, nothing but spiritual emptiness.

It is time for the church to stop tarrying with the negative. It is time for all of us, myself included, to learn the risks and rewards of being something and to shed the easy self-satisfied comfort we take in not being something else. I am no paragon of excellence in this regard, but I hope to be on the way and, should God will, to be part of the church’s learning to be something as well. I look forward to walking along the way with you.

By Brian Cubbage

Brian Cubbage is a member and Elder of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, KY. He and his wife, Cheryl, have a young (but rapidly growing) son. Brian has numerous interests, some more embarrassing than others. The picture is not really of Brian; photos of him are rumored to exist but their authenticity is highly doubtful.


7 thoughts on “Stop Tarrying with the Negative

  1. Hi, Brian – thanks for an interesting post.

    My smile increased as I read your opening list of “things I’m not” – I can relate and sometimes struggle to keep up with those who are more immersed in the theological details through training and experience.

    Being raised Catholic, I was taught to learn and obey, but not to question and discuss.

    You have hit on an important issue for us as Disciples – what ARE we rather than what are we NOT. For me, we are always “people of the questions” with our open support and encouragement of study, analysis, discussion, and discernment allowing all to come to a personal understanding of God’s place in our lives.


  2. I liked John Smith’s comment on Brian Cubbage’s post, which I also liked a lot. As John states, all Disciples are encouraged to study, and analyze and discuss and discern, and come to new understandings. On a whim, I styled myself “Don’t want to be a pew potato” because I think that laypersons, while not trained theologians, can and should enter the sudy/analysis/discernment/conversational processes as we “emerge.”

  3. Thanks for your comments. I apologize for how long it has taken me to respond.

    John: I like the notion of being “people of the questions.” I was honestly a bit worried that my post would come off as an appeal for us to pick certain theological or ecclesiological tenets as being somehow fundamental or essential and then shoehorning the rest of the faith into the mold that forms. Not my intent at all. I think many evangelical Christians don’t think mainline Christians stand for anything because they refuse to play this “pick and choose” game. We stand for something– we can stand for something– just not an easily identifiable dogma.

    “Don’t”: Couldn’t agree more about lay involvement and leadership. I love the professional clergy in my church– both them as individuals and the fact that they are educated professionals. However, I also don’t see why there has to be such a divide between clergy and laity– a very Disciples way to feel, I think. Perhaps it’s grist for a future post, but I think that the divide between Christians who have received advanced education in their faith, on the one hand, and popular Christianity on the other is vast and troubling. I believe that there are numerous professional pastors who are not able, for one reason or another, to give their congregations the full benefit of their education and reflection, since they have good reason to believe that some segment or another of their congregation will be offended by what they hear. I think laypersons have a role to play in helping to bridge that gap.

    • Brian, Thank you for responding to my comment. I liked your response very much. I agree that it is true to the Disciples tradition to feel/think that there need not be a great divide between the trained clergy and the laity. I think that this perspective can be a strength for Disciples as we explore and/or participate in the emerging/emergent movements. I hope that you will fashion a future post around this topic!

  4. One resulting consequence of the Disciple’s tradition of the participation of the laity in the serious theological work of the congregation is the reduction or elimination of the distance between the ordained ministry and the laity. Not every minister is willing or able to cede that distance. It requires a brave, thick skinned, and patient minister to survive in such a peculiar environment.

    I count myself blessed here in Michigan to have met so many ministers who not only survive but thrive in the peculiar circumstance of DOC ministry.

  5. Pingback: Visit [D]mergent! « Thought Required; Pants Optional.

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