Saturday, May 21, 2005

Interview with Bryan McFerrin, Part 1 "It's a Conversation"

Demergent Churches sat down with Bryan McFerrin, author of A Generous Ego, in Nashville this weekend at the big Emergent conference. This did not take place in a coffee house, no coffee was drunk, no beer was consumed, neither party listened to an iPod, and no text messaging took place. This is Part One of a multi-segment interview.

Demergent Churches: “Cardinal” Bryan McFerrin, thank you for sitting down with us for an interview.

Bryan McFerrin: You’re welcome. But I must say, I don’t really like the title “Cardinal.”

DC: My bad. I was just kidding. But aren’t you something like a Cardinal of the Emergent Village?

BMc: Well, technically no one is in charge. We don’t recognize authority, hierarchies. And so “Cardinal” would not be appropriate.

DC: What do you prefer? Don’t you, in fact, exercise great leadership in the Village?

BMc: I wouldn’t say I ‘lead’. I express thoughts I’m having and engage others in conversation.

DC: So you’re a Thinker in the movement.

BMc: Well, yes and no. I am a thinker but it’s not a movement. It’s a conversation.

DC: Wouldn’t it be fair to say that you are the principal Thinker of the Village? I know there are other players, but given the reception of A New Fangled Christian and A Generous Ego, it would seem that you’re the 400lb gorilla of the movement.

BMc.: You mean 800lb gorilla. And it’s not a movement. It’s a conversation. [frown]
..... [smile]

DC: Conversation. Right. Sorry.

BMc: I am uncomfortable with the titles, the emphasis on my leadership.

DC: And I’m just trying to say what is actually going on. I appreciate your humility, and all, but can’t we just be real? Name another living person who exercises more influence on the Village?

BMc: [crabby] Oh, alright.

DC: So what would your position be in the movement.

BMc: [eye brow raised, as if DC is a bit off] Conversation.

DC: Right. Conversation. So what is your position? Given that you’re the most influential person...

BMc: We don’t do hierarchies. We don’t have lines, or structure. [pause] I guess you could say that I function as something of a guru.

DC: So you’re the guru of a conversation? [upspeak, reflecting incredulity]

[uncomfortable silence]

BMc: Look, I didn’t want to get into all this emphasis on my leadership but you said you wanted to be honest. So yeah, I haven’t sought it out at all, but yeah, people see me as something of a guru.

DC: Of a conversation?

BMc: Why do you have to make fun?

DC: I’m not trying to make fun. It’s just a little weird. Come on, a conversation? Gimme a break. It’s freakin’ movement!

BMc: No it’s not. Movement is so Enlightenment and we’re past all that.

DC: Okay, what makes it a conversation?

BMc: We don’t have a top down hierarchical leadership structure. We’re not building empires of books and conferences focused on a cult of personality. That’s the modernist way, it’s very much of the world and we’re not doing that.

There’s a lot of danger in knowledge and power. Power can be and is used all the time in the church to hurt people. We’re trying to make a new way, to give power away, like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. Boromir wanted the One Ring so he could take on Mordor, but look what would have happened? Even without the Ring he was corrupted. How much worse would he have been once the Ring owned him?

DC: So how’s this about the Enlightenment again?

BMc: Trust me, everything we do comes back to that. If I don’t reference the Enlightenment or modernism every 3 minutes something is wrong. The Emergent Conversation exists to tell young people about the evils of the Enlightenment.

Back to Frodo. If the Church tries to be like Boromir, and it was in the modern period, trying to take power back from secularism and trying to wield power, if the Church tries to be like that we’re just going to keep on hurting people, losing people. We’ve got to be like Frodo, and intentionally march to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.

DC: And a conversation does that?

BMc: Yeah, it does. Look around you, what do you see? Evangelical empires, cults of personality, publicity machines, book deals, radio shows, television shows, conferences. It’s about top down authority, doing what works to grow the organizations, straitjacket thinking, efficiency, results. This is an abuse of power and a bastardization of the gospel. We’re not going to do that. Instead we’re having a conversation.

DC: So the conversation is a reaction against the evils of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was about knowledge as power, and the Church did that too. Is that what you’re saying? That’s why you’re a conversation, not an evil modernist movement?

BMc: Yes, that’s right.

DC: So, you guys must be doing things really differently.

BMc: [smiling] Yes, we are trying to.

DC: So no empires, no cult of personality, publicity machines, book deals conferences….

BMc: Uh. Well…..

Further segments of the interview with Bryan McFerrin will appear soon.