Saturday, March 11, 2006

“Dear Ish”

Lately I’ve been receiving emails from concerned lurkers who find themselves facing unique personal issues with respect to their relationships with the Emerging Church. One of the issues that’s been on the minds of some is complex and multilayered. But before we jump the gun and declare a five-year moratorium on dealing with it, let’s at least read the emails:

Dear Ish,

I find myself strangely attracted to the Emerging Church, despite the fact that I’m African-American. I was introduced to it by one of my fellow students here at M.I.T. and I find it quite stimulating. I’ve even skipped meetings of the campus chess club on more than one occasion just to be there.

Some of the cultural adjustments I’ve had to make to fit in with the EC have been challenging, however. For one thing, I’ve had to learn to avoid expressing my opinions in matters of aesthetic taste. Don’t get me wrong: Green Day’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds. But I’m not sure how much further I can stretch.

Lately I’ve been living under the shadow of a brooding cloud of angst. Do I have to wear a goatee to really belong in the EC? At first it seemed that only the leaders wore them. But on the last two Sundays I looked around and it seems like everyone's growing one (or trying to)! I’m not sure if I can take that step. What should I do?

—Misgivings in Massachusetts

And then there was this:

Yo, Ish!

Like I gots me dis problem, dig? First wuz dat I couldn’ fine none of deez e-merging places in ma hood, so I hads to jet somewheres else. Den, when I gets dare an’ starts kickin’ it its like—’sup wi’ all deez crackahs wearin’ mohawks on der chins an ever-thin? Like, I don’ mine all da candles, cuz I tries to keep da lights down in ma crib anyhow. An’ deez “eye-kons” o’ whatevah—it's like, if yo’ wanna get yo’ crayola thing on, dat’s cool. But dat south-pole fuzz dat blows around on a windy day—to me it jes looks wack. But den I’s wond’rin: is dat what da thugs in dis hood wear o’ what? Cuz like—I don’ wanna mess wit no body’s turf—uh-uh! I’s already gots me ’nuff problems with da stuff ’round ma own crib! You down wit’ dis?

—Tryin’ to Chill in Philly

Believe it or not, I can strongly empathize with the plight you’re both enduring. The first time I saw a goatee on an emerging college sophomore a few years ago, I nearly shot a mouthful of Starbucks out my nose. You see, in my mind, goatees will forever be associated with the character of Maynard G. Krebs on an old TV show called “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” which had been in re-runs for a few years by the time I was old enough to notice it. By that time (the mid-to-late ’60s) Jack Kerouac, beatniks, and the “beat generation” had been replaced by the Beatles, hippies, Yippies, and the SDS, as the youth culture’s new avant-garde—a term that isn’t used as much today as it was back then, but it’s fairly descriptive of how the Emerging Church thinks of itself.

All this creates the odd dynamic of something being already passé for an older group of people while simultaneously considered cutting-edge by a younger group. But none of this solves your problem, and it probably doesn’t even address the precise reasons for your discomfort. And now that I think about it, it probably doesn’t even convince you that I can empathize with your plight.

But I digress. Is there a way around the issue?

First of all, our friend in Philly can relax. The only turf wars fought in Emerging Churches are over things like the color schemes for outdoor worship experiences, and whether to use Macs or PCs for multimedia Stations of the Cross. The presence or absence of hair on your chin is totally unrelated to any drive-by shootings that may occur. But what about the pressure to conform that our friend with the misgivings senses?

Well, the Emerging Church has no canon law—at least not yet (although the best-selling volumes of its “conversation” are approaching canonical status in some quarters)—and it hasn’t come up with anything remotely resembling a book of church order, so there’s no way of knowing its exact position on the issue of goatees. But it is, at least, interesting that Brian McLaren felt compelled to sport an appropriately middle-aged stubble for the cover of A Generous Orthodoxy. So we should not rule out the possibility that the EC may eventually break into two branches: the “FHR (Facial Hair Required) Emergents” and the “NFHR (No Facial Hair Required) Emergents.”

Meanwhile, take heart. When’s the last time you saw some white guy do something new or start dressing funky and millions of black people suddenly tripped all over themselves trying to act or dress the same? (Why do you think all those white beatniks started wearing goatees in the first place?) If you two found a way to grow your eyebrows long and tie them in bows behind your heads, most of the white guys in your churches would be Googling for hair-growing chemicals within the next half-hour.

So keep your chins up—and groomed however you please.


FreeThinker said...

Methinks goatees are cool -- albeit very '90s!

Call Me Ishmael said...

I’m getting used to them.

Wayne Hatcher said...


Deeapaulitan said...

just so long as they don't begin the walrus mustache thing, I am all for groovy/totally tubular/wicked sick facial hair.

stew said...

not everyone can grow a mustache like you, Ish!

codepoke said...

I have been trying to figure out what emergent is. This will probably form the cornerstone of my decision.


Anonymous said...

I am the EC man
They are the EC men
I am the walrus

Call Me Ishmael said...

Goo-goo g'joob.

Carla said...

Funny you should associate Maynard with EC. I did too, about a year ago.

Call Me Ishmael said...


How funny! I especially like your observation:

“Maynard was a beatnick, a hip cat, an ‘artist... man’. He was deep, and yet he had no point. He was groovy, and yet he had no clue. Maynard was always going places, but never left.”

The rest of your post deserves to be read and re-read as well.


indy said...

there are two people you would have hated, Martin Luther and Jesus, both of them had an emerging idea that seemed idiotic at the time, and still is by many

Call Me Ishmael said...

So many logical fallacies; so little time. What’s a blogger to do?

Jeff Kursonis said...

Oh man, this is why we need NYC people to lead the emerging church aesthetic, because this mid america discovery of the goatee, ten years after it ceased to be cool is just so typical.

Hello, please read the NY Times recent article on facial hair if you have any ambitions towards aesthetic progressiveness.

Dr Dale said...

"Goo-goo g-joob"?

I always thought it was "koo-koo k'choo"!

What effect might this have on my ability to apprehend the EC paradigm?

Do you think I should shave off my goatee before going to an EC service? I really would hate to do something that might draw attention to me. The only reason I grew a goatee in the first place was to avoid comments from people who think my mustache makes me look like Adolf Hitler.

Call Me Ishmael said...

Dr. Dale wrote:

“‘Goo-goo g-joob’?

“I always thought it was ‘koo-koo k’choo’!”

“Goo-goo g-joob” comes from the Beatles’ song, “I Am the Walrus,” to which lyrics (“I am the eggman / They are the eggmen / I am the Walrus / Goo-goo g-joob”) Anonymous made reference. “Koo-koo k’choo” is from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” Perhaps they represent different dialects of the same heavenly language.

It would be interesting to know how much the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements influenced the popular music of the 1960s. One thinks of the lyrics to “Good Morning Starshine” from the musical “Hair:”

“Gliddy glub gloopy / Nibby nabby noopy / La la la lo lo / Sabba sibby sabba / Nooby abba nabba / Le le lo lo / Tooby ooby walla / Nooby abba naba / Early morning singing song”

And, of course, “Hair” anticipated a prominent postmodernist theme with its subtitle, “The American Tribal Love Rock Musical.”

So when Dr. Dale writes, “What effect might this have on my ability to apprehend the EC paradigm?” I think you have to first ask how open the EC is to speaking in tongues, and if so, whether an interpreter is always required.

Dr. Dale also writes: “Do you think I should shave off my goatee before going to an EC service? I really would hate to do something that might draw attention to me. The only reason I grew a goatee in the first place was to avoid comments from people who think my mustache makes me look like Adolf Hitler.”

You certainly do not want to be identified with Hitler, if for no other reason than that it can be argued that he was a product of modernism. But is Maynard G. Krebs any less a product of modernism? And is Thomas Oden correct when he posits that what most people have been calling postmodernism is actually ultra-modernism? And if so, should we groom our facial hair the same way he does?

And why aren’t more people asking these kinds of questions?

SolaMeanie said...

This is uncanny. On my radio program this week, I made comment about the EC having a "look" about them, and then I find this. Too funny!

I hear the kid's game company responsible for the 60s game "Twister" is releasing a new version for the EC. Theological Twister. Sounds like great fun.

Nida said...

i love this post….!!!
its is so awesum…….i ws lost in a trance while i ws readin it……
gr8 wrk !!!!

source: Urdu Poetry