August 17, 2007

on the impotence of words such as missional, emergent and emerging

I've learned that most people are not interested in the ecclesiastic buzz words people like me get so excited about. For most folks, they mean absolutely nothing. In fact, I'm beginning to think that ecclesiastic leaders (church planters, thinkers, pastors etc.) prefer them only because it makes them sound like they know something you don't (read: false sense of power/authority).


Ryan Lee Sharp said...


Words like this are shorthand...and shorthand points to a community. People seem to be interested in the age old question of "by what authority" still. We use shorthand to offer that authority.

Yes, they are power plays. Yes, they are impotent as far as generating real change.

However, they can be efficient tools, those are labels and categories. But whoever said those are a Kingdom virtues?

Jason said...

Ah, yes. Community is right. I agree with you there. And community assumes some sense of context. But what happens when the idea precedes community as far as priorities? Then the meaning and depth of the word loses it's potency and teeters towards meaninglessness. In other words, when it has become a marketing catch phrase over being used exclusively amongst friends it becomes meaningless even amongst the friends (no longer an effective shorhand tool)... The power of media, eh!? So, I doubt their efficiency most often. They are certainly a crutch. We use them lazily. We raise an eyebrow when we say them so as to imply, 'You know what I mean.' When the truth is it's easier to do that than actually do the harder work of living out the conversation next to each other to ensure that we do in fact mean the same thing.

We need Joel to weigh in on this. He's certain to think Foucault has something to say about this.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a common tool of the left...while it is shorthand, and to be sure in some cases used lazily, i'm starting to believe that it's become a pernicious tool of the powerful. Jason, you wrote false sense of authority/power, but is it really? We are in control of the words we use, the context they are used, and the audience therein. In speaking to an inner-city community, for example, these profound words turn catchphrase demand respect eliciting a 'proper' response. That is why "we" use them, no?

In to further my point, please allow me two examples: First, is the thought behind language as unification. In France, a unified language coincided with the buttressing of the monarchical state. The "right" words, phrases and so forth categorized individuals as either upper or lower class. Language functioned (and functions) as a means of normalization. That is an inherent danger within the emergent (or whatever you want to call it) leadership. They have run the risk of alienating the very people they aim to help through language. Alienation through power, or obfuscation.

The second, the risk of displayed impotence in words. When we look at a word like event, much comes to mind. For the sake of brevity, i want to look at t

Anonymous said...

(okay, that was premature...i was trying to preview it...)

The second, when we use words like a previously mentioned, we run the risk of a displayed impotence. Take the word event. By itself it conjures up a variety of images none worth more than the next without context. But, if we take the name of an event, for example, the cross or resurrection, we imagine something restless and pliable, but more importantly, something seeking expression. This expression, however, is sometimes best understood in its unexpressed potentiality. The cross is powerful not due to the name we have given it, nor the way in which we use it, but in how it transforms our current context because of the potentiality that occurs IN the event. This is the essence of the event if you will; I like how Deleuze puts it, "The event is not what occurs, it is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed. It signals and awaits us."

The more we rely on buzz words and catchphrases, the more we run the risk of further marginalizing those we aim to unify; it becomes false, and the words hegemonic. However, and this is what I think Deleuze is trying to say, words have the ability to transform as we continually strive towards the potentiality of the cross, thus becoming displays of that which is IN the event, rather than relying on the wordplay in order to legitimate our endeavors.


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