Derek Koehl: Why Emergent Must Never Have Anything to Say

Welcome to the first guest blogger of the new year. Over the next several weeks you’ll get to meet a new group of my friends, theologians, philosophers, artists, and bloggers. I hope you enjoy interacting!

This week we meet Derek Koehl. A scribbler of verses, words, and random thoughts, Derek Koehl is also a master educator in the public school system. He has spent many years teaching young Unheard Voices to find their voice, first in Brownsville, Texas and now in Atlanta, Georgia. Derek is also committed to working actively for social justice at the local level through organizations such as Neighbors Abbey in the inner city neighborhoods where he lives in southwest Atlanta.


Why Emergent Must Never Have Anything to Say

I’m very much a visual thinker and a visual communicator. The other night when I was discussing this idea with my friend, Troy, I found that the best method of expressing it was to draw it out as a collection of circles and squares. So if you’re like me and like to draw things out, feel free to sketch on a piece paper as I take us 3D. Why? Because I can; imagination is a wonderful thing.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Now walk with me out into the mind space. The air is grey yet shimmering with energy. Immense spheres float suspended in the space. Moving near, we see words inscribed on their surface. On one, “Arts”, on another “Politics”, still another “Theology”, and another “Religion”, and so on. We approach the Arts sphere and push through the surface boundary into its interior domain.

Within the sphere, the space filled with similar but smaller spheres, “Realism”, “Modernism”, “Classicism,” “Surrealism”, “Postmodernism”, and many others. Hundreds of lines of vibrating with energy and sound emanate from each sphere. Some lines from different spheres entwine together; more often they collide, sparking in dissonance and misunderstanding. In the midst of the cacophony of ideas and perspectives, we come across a vast area that is neither sphere nor energy, concept or position. It is a vast rectangle, and like the city square or the university quad, its value lies entirely in its emptiness, its open space.

Within that open space of conversation, we observe that the various lines enter and begin to shift in their vibrations. Perceptions emerge. Intersections form. Understandings take shape. This is the Village Green, the best of what Emergent Village has been for years now. This is the purpose of Emergent. This is its worth. Emergent is that empty and open framework into which people can step with their various ideologies, doctrines, and beliefs and find common conversational ground with others.

Should Emergent turn from that empty openness, should it begin to embody content and perspectives due to a perceived need that it must have something to say, it will abdicate its place as that space of conversation. It will become yet another sphere among spheres, and those of us who have no interest in such things will have to fashion a new empty space of conversation. It is my hope that we will continue to maintain Emergent as that framework of openness where collaborative interactions between various communities of faith—such as the 8th Day Art Project—can continue to take shape.

Peace in non-happiness,

Derek Koehl

5 thoughts on “Derek Koehl: Why Emergent Must Never Have Anything to Say

  1. Derek-

    So I’ve been reflecting on this some since you posted it and I am really wondering about the liminal part of this.

    Recently, I’ve been hearing some talking about needing to redefine or find words for the new kind of progressive Christianity taking shape across the nation. Several people are beginning to suggest that only by beginning the process of describing it will one be able to call people together in an intentional network that will grow and become something of a movement.

    In your blog post, you name this space that I feel some wish to name in order to bring people to. You say its empty (with expectation I presume) and open. But you name it. You call it Emergent.

    My questions: wouldn’t that same group who value the space need to say to those who can’t value the space as empty and open that they aren’t welcome? Isn’t this part of preserving the space? And if so, isn’t this protection another way of exclusion? Or, inevitably is protection from the other a natural part of what it means to be alive and to flourish?

    Ergo, mustn’t we admit that sometimes, Emergent has to say ‘no’?

    Thanks for the post and thoughts…

  2. Joshua,

    Reflecting on your response, I would say that such spaces of emptiness simply exist, or should exist since it could be argued that at different times, intensity of ideologies thrust aside openness.

    Also I am not saying that that space is Emergent, but that Emergent has been and has the potential to remain such an empty space. However, that potential is increasingly threatened by a growing tendency I am seeing to try to define or bound Emergent (to use a metaphor from Danielle), to begin to cast it as a church (“the emerging church”), a movement, an ideology… essentially fill it with content.

    If that happens, it’s not necessarily tragic or unprecedented. It does mean that Emergent will no longer be an empty space of conversation. At that point it would become something that I personally would not have any interest in.

    To your final question, We must never say no to the ideology or doctrine of anyone who steps into the empty space. What we must say no to are attempts to overlay personal of group ideology onto Emergent itself.

  3. “Have you ever considered adding extra videos to your weblog posts to keep the readers far more entertained? I mean I just read by way of the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m much more of a visual learner,I found that to be a lot more helpful. Just my my idea, Good luck “

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