Emergence... Biological, Ecclesiological, Neurological and Missional


A dialog begins here... and one we need to continue for United Methodists...

And continues here... and we need to talk about this, too...

I responded to Tony on his Facebook page, where he also posted his video response.

For those who may not have Facebook, or have Tony as a friend there, here's what I wrote there (but view his video before reading this!):

Church as emergent reality... spot on.

I don't think this quite means that CHANGE is norm per se, but rather more precisely that ongoing responsiveness-- conscious and unconscious-- to our environment... is the nature of anything that purports to be a living organism. Church certainly does.

The other biological piece I might add into that mix, and to which you already referred a bit in terms of computers as extensions and in some ways instantiations of mind, is that not everything in a biological system is necessarily biological itself. Nearly all biological systems live always in symbiosis with non-biological, non-living and even fairly static realities. Remove that static reality, and the living parts of the system die or are severely challenged.

I think that for too long the church has acted as if the static realities were the one truly reliable thing about us. We've lost our faith in the reliability and resiliency of Life. Maybe we can appreciate both going forward.

There's another piece that can be added here, to which Tony also alludes... the finding of neuroscience that "mind" or "consciousness" is itself an emergent property of "brain-in-network." There is no "little me" in our heads somewhere that sort of directs all that goes on. Our sense of self and moment to moment awareness of everything around us is rather the emergent property of all sorts of things happening very quickly across the interactions of neurons in our bodies and the world around us.

So... several things we might discuss further...

1) Dr Clayton's question about whether the whole concept of emergence in the sciences (a concept which is now compellingly present across biology, neuroscience, psychology, social psychology, physics, cosmology and computer science, to name a few) no longer has a naturalistic "cap"-- but might mean that God could be pulling the whole system forward, luring it forward in some way... and there are no pre-determined limits on what that might mean. (BTW, this is rather similar to process theology, to which Dr Clayton refers in other videos... though some in the evangelical world may never have heard of this or may have dismissed it as heretical on the face of it...)

2) The character of emergence as quintessentially descriptive for what church is or even must be if it is faithful...

3) The concerns and resistances often raised in emerging/emergent circles to institutions and anything static... vs. my observation that in fact nearly all biological systems, to survive, always depend on a symbiosis between "living" and "non-living" entities-- think about how essential rocks or ship hulls are for barnacles as a kind of extreme example, but think, too, how important a constant supply of minerals (which are non-living) are to our health as humans. The translation to ecclesiology might be that institutions (quasi-living, slowly changing fairly stable systems) are symbiotic partners for "movement" which may be seen as sort of the instantiation and ever-moving frontier of mission

4) While Alan Hirsch and others have been wondering (with some good reason) whether "emergent" is missional, in what ways might this larger conversation about emergence help us frame not whether but rather HOW what we're getting at IS missional, and then how to move the UMC more and more in this direction?

Lots to talk about-- this may end up being several posts worth.

But let's start talking. I think this provides at least part of the background conversation we need to be ready to do more than just meet and talk, but actually plan a ground strategy, for the re-emergence of missional Methodism when we gather in the fall...,

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards