As I process the conversations I had recently at EVDC09 (a gathering of emerging church participants to discuss the future of Emergent Village), I realized that one of the topics that keeps surfacing in relation to Emergent Village is that of the inclusivity of all voices. Critiques have been made (with good reason) regarding how EV often seems like a club for insiders. Heck, I've even said that before -- wishing that more voices could be heard as part of this conversation. And as I've mentioned before, this critique is not so often based on reality as it is on the perception of reality. So even if all voices/people have always been welcomed, that welcome or presence hasn't been seen by wider audiences and so is perceived not to exist.
Even amidst the group gathered this past weekend we had to confront the feeling of being an outsider. On one hand we had to admit that from a certain perspective the 23 of us gathered in a room to discuss the future of Emergent Village screamed "insider." Just the act of gathering like that might imply to some that we were on the inside of some secret society that held all the power. But in fact as we confessed to each other that first evening, we all felt like outsiders, wondering why we were there.
This feeling is not something I am unfamiliar with at all. For a long while my interactions with Emergent came through reading the books and occasionally going to hear some big-name author speak. Sure I participated in online discussions and a local cohort, but I didn't feel like I had a voice within Emergent as a whole. My experience attending the 2005 Emergent Convention in Nashville only confirmed that outsider status. For reference, I attended with my 3-month-old daughter and was under the impression that I would never again be a fully-functioning human being (much less get a full night of sleep). I recall attending the Emerging Women lunch and feeling very overwhelmed and worthless as all the other women at my table talked about their seminary experience and recent conversations on their blogs. So while I resonated and came alive with everything I heard there, I felt like I could never truly belong.
Same thing at the 2006 Emergent Glorietta Gathering. I felt like I was crashing a party of really good friends. But after that event, as I started connecting online with the people I had met at the Gathering, relationships were built. I slowly realized that being part of the Emergent conversation simply meant making the effort to be a part of it. So for better or worse, I jumped in -- hosting blogs and events to help facilitate the conversation. Did that turn me into an insider? Maybe. To me it just felt like joining the conversation.
But at the same time I completely understand the barriers that are still perceived to exist. And those barriers were talked about this weekend. No matter how often we in Emergent say we are open source or about shared power, if people can't easily perceive and access that then our words have no value. So there need to be deliberate steps taken to listen to the voices of the many, to link to the diversity of voices within the conversation, and to make invitations to join the conversation (both publicly and privately) up front and apparent. Unless leadership is transparent and invitations for involvement continually offered, the perception of a closed group of insiders will persist. Granted, there will always be some that will be angry about being on the outside unless they (or at least their special-interest group) is handed power, and that can't be helped. But the truth is being part of Emergent often means being willing to put in the work of stepping up, using their voice, and working for the good of the whole. It's about choosing to serve and share power -- always extending invitations to the Other.
So of course we have a long way to go to reach a point of true openness; there is no denying that. And while we can say that all are welcome if they will just step up to the conversation, I think the burden of inclusion should be on us who are already comfortable as part of the conversation. We need to be the ones extending invitations, welcoming others in, and making it easy for them to be a part of the conversation.
So while we may not see ourselves as insiders, we are at the very least in a place where we can at least blur the perceived line between insiders and outsiders. Because in the end those desiring to be a part of this conversation are all in the same place. We all struggle, we all question, and we all desire a community to do all that together with. I think Amy Moffitt described it best in her reflection this past weekend:
The truth, of course, is that there really isn't an inside. There are folks who know a little more than other folks, but it became apparent -- to me at least -- that every single person there is an exile in some sense. We came together, believing in the real worth of Emergent Village, because it has served as a meeting place for us