C.S. Lewis said that the person who tries to be unique never is, and the person who sets out to be original seldom is.
I would suggest that the IM blog and IM radio podcast audience are made up of people who may, at least at some point, have felt they were “the only ones,” or one of a few.
Slowly, as books and blogs and stories and coffee shop conversations proliferated, their view changed.
Now, they/we know. There are thousands of us at a thousand different places in the evangelical wilderness. Our experiences in evangelicalism weren’t exactly what we originally thought. Given a place to stop, listen and talk, it turns out there are many of us, not just a few. No one seems to have a map, everyone seems to have a story. Very few of us want to go back to whatever evangelicalism was when we were happily going along with the show.
We are simply here, and we’re greatly strengthened by the stories we’re hearing and the reality we’ve discovered can’t be questioned.
Whenever I write, I’m aware of this. An audience exists around this web site and around some of what I have written, who understand what the wilderness experience means. They do not all want or even understand the post-evangelical label. They do not all agree with me or my pessimism about the future. They are not a “movement.” (Good grief.) They are not all reading Brian Mclaren, or N.T. Wright or Don Miller. They are not all anything, any denomination or any common complaint. They are not some common hoard of emerging caricatures.
We are every denomination, every age, both genders, in and out of ministry, holding on to different parts of what we once were. We take encouragement from some of the same voices, but we are most definitely not anyone’s club of the discontented. We are tribes, hermits, monastics, liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, emergers, contemplatives, prophets, lamenters, artists, solo players and plodders. Most of us have found a place to live out this wilderness experience and we go to work every day doing something for Jesus.
The audience for what I write is very real and very there….having an experience that my critics will endlessly and tirelessly describe as nothing more than the whimperings and whinings of people who can’t get over some aspect of their fundamentalist past or can’t see the glory of the evangelical present and future.
This audience has found thousands of faithful and happy evangelicals, but it has also found those who have left, are leaving and will leave. The people with no where to go. The people who don’t know what to do with their experience in evangelicalism. The people who have found shelter in some half-way house, oasis or way station.
For eight years of blogging and for most of three years of controversy, this audience has grown every year.
I could name the names of other individual Christian bloggers with large audiences and no one would embarrass themselves saying they were illusions or insignificant. But my audience? Apparently this audience either isn’t there, doesn’t matter or should be labeled as the source of the problem.
Be that as it may, the audience for this blog is real. They can be diagnosed, shuttled off to the back lot with all the other wimps, cranks and troubled kids who won’t behave. You can dispose of this audience with a word and swish of your rhetorical wand, but this audience, its experiences and its place in and out of an evangelicalism gone sour is not imaginary.
This audience and their experience of evangelicalism is part of what is happening in evangelicalism, right there along side the culture war and the latest efforts to save everything with a conference. There is no amount of diagnosing me personally that is going to make one person in the IM/IMR audience cease to exist, cease to have their experience or cease to find themselves moving out of, through and beyond evangelicalism.
If you think it’s about me being “sensitive,” well have a coke and stay a while. Ask yourself if my lack of obsequiousness is the real core issue here. Ask yourself why the blogosphere would be such a pleasant place in some corners if I just closed up shop? Ask yourself what it is that this blog and its numbers represent? Ask yourself how the stories- and people- on this blog would be treated elsewhere?
Then go back to being REAL, IM audience. That’s what you do best.