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come to the table

Bloged in apprenticeship, church, community, emergent gathering by rod Wednesday October 19, 2005

A day or two ago, a list of bloggers from the Emergent Gathering appeared on the Emergent blog. I had a few blogs in my brain from some conversations, and had visited them, but I was excited to see so many and hopefully get the chance to see what others were saying upon their returns from our conversations. Some folks got even more interesting when they got back to their computers.
Yesterday Andrew Jones very favorably about the gathering, and ironically, described it mostly in terms of what it was not. Allison laughed when I told her about that, because one of my greatest beefs (as my blog plainly rants) is defining things by what they are not.
In the case of the gathering though, I’m not sure there was a better way to erase a picture of a christian conference in the minds of folks who weren’t there. Andrew went on to explain what it was though, and in doing that, hit on what I think was one of the most important things about the conference, “It took place in kitchens, I like kitchens.”
This is a picture of my upbringing. When Allison first met my family, she couldn’t figure out why everyone loitered at the table a LONG time after the meal was finished. Ironically, my family rarely had a meal prepared, to which everyone sat down, ate, and rose from. Food would magically appear from my mother’s magic ability and people mill about the kitchen, visiting and chatting, and chewing, and grabbing and laughing. When extended family gather at my parents’ house the same thing happens. Dinner is ongoing and provides a means for people to move about and talk with many different people as they eat. Or should I say, eat as they talk with many different people?
This is what the Gathering was like. So that the more formal, scheduled conversations that took place under a tree or on the steps, or a rock, or at an art gallery, were easier and friendlier and more tolerant and more edifying, because folks had eaten together. I think there is no better facilitator of friendship than food and drink.
One of the most (if not the most) important benefits that we are afforded here at work, is that the faculty are given lunch if they eat with students. This has been a perk for as long as I’ve been here, and I believe that lunch is as important as any other time in campus life, including classroom and chapel.
We woo our wives with dinner. Perhaps the confusion of means to intimacy and expression of intimacy would be lessened if all expression was preceeded with a stint at the table. We received as a wedding gift 19 years ago, a book called, “first, we have coffee.”
Jesus instituted the symbol of the new covenant with food and drink. And he refers to us as his bride. Is there any possible way to participate in this symbol without growing closer to him? Is there any way to participate in communion in community (sorry to be redundant) without growing closer to the represented body that is partaking of the represented broken body?
Jesus seems not to have been able to resist the table, for it was there that he broke the bread and poured the wine, taught as if there was no tomorrow (true in many ways), prayed long and hard for those who had just eaten with him, wrapped a towel around himself and washed their feet.
As I thought about this aspect of the gathering, I thought of the very first conversation I was a part of, that dealt with means of connecting students between colleges like ours, with other colleges close by. We were brainstorming ideas of getting students together across disciplines and campuses to discuss issues that were common to both. I told the group about a two friends of mine, a couple from Japan who take guitar lessons from me. This couple have a full time ministry to students at USC, that centers upon lunch. They provide lunch, students come and eat and hang and talk, and my friends become a part of their lives. Everything else they do together, everything they talk about, is all made possible from a friendship grown at the table.
Everything I am now, or will ever attain to is made possible by a gift that was symbolized, before it even happened, at the table.

in the long run

Bloged in apprenticeship, church, emergent gathering by rod Saturday October 15, 2005

well, it’s Saturday night (actually Sunday morning) and I’ve not posted since Thursday. Although, I spent the entire day yesterday en route (I got up at 4:30a to make it to the airport, and arrived home around 10p), it is still a bit odd to have a blank day on the blog considering all I’ve experienced this week. Truth is, huge things are playing in my head, they just don’t find themselves made into words yet. This evening, I’ve sat and pondered and still nothing to sum anything up. The conversations this week ran the gamut of topics, from immediate day-to-day appenticeship stuff, to huge, decade long stuff that seems impossible to realize.
In one conversation, Brian McLaren was talking about some things to which someone responded, is this something that can happen in the church as we know it, or is this a change that would have to take place over decades? The response was one that caused great contemplation on my part.
There are some areas of my life in which I have unfathomable stamina. There are things that I’ve been at for many years seeing only incremental progress. I spent 10 years in graduate school trying to become the best guitarist I could be, but many things in my life don’t come about because I don’t want to wait on them. Granted, these are often only tiny insignificant things, but so often my procrastinating reasoning makes no sense at all. I’ll want a book and put off ordering it because it will take so long to get here. Of course, when I finally order it, it comes a week or two later than it originally would have. To have to wait for something so often douses my desire for it. Can’t I just issue a decree or proclamation and have everything immediately become the way it ought to be, or the way I want it? The answer? NO!
This has caused me to look back for encouragement in the things that have happened because I’ve stayed the course. Even Paul warned us that this was what it was going to take. We press on toward the mark of the high calling. Imagine the distance runner.

You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…

It’s the test of ultimate will, the heartbreak climb uphill. The road ahead is sometimes very discouraging. Muscles burn, sweat gets in your eyes, obstacles are thrown in your path. One needs to be reminded of what has been accomplished through perseverance. These are the stories that encourage us. Often we know the stories - we just need to be reminded. McLaren’s response to the question was, “what if it were 1840 - would you rather be on the side of the abolitionists, or not?” I know I’d rather be on the right side, though we know that it took another quarter century for things to be righted, and in 1840, there was surely no encouragement that things would ever change. A way of life meant the preservation of a great wrong. But perseverance beat out preservation.
Often the very things that need to be changed are the current location of a marathon of movement. The course has been altered or lost, and it’s like changing the direction of a train with so much forward momentum on a rail. But it can be done. It can be done.

listen and see

Bloged in church, community, emergent gathering by rod Thursday October 13, 2005

Three days of conversation concludes with voiceless people standing looking at one another. It is astounding how long a group of people can stand together and look into one another’s eyes without speaking. Eyes going about the group and making contact one at a time.
For three days the conversation was non-stop. Incredibly important dialogue and ideas concerning the Church Emerging. If THE church, yours and mine, traditional, contemporary, reformed, wesleyan, seeker, liturgical, is going to emerge as healer and shaper of hurting and malformed culture, who and how should we be? We felt as if God were fueling our conversation, speaking to us through one another. Then this morning, after prayer, poems, prayer, encouragement, prayer, eucharist - he closed our mouths and asked us to look around at representatives of his church and listen to his voice and go. We listened deep within our hearts and looked deep into one another and saw beautiful things that even days of conversation couldn’t show us.

taking it to the streets

Bloged in apprenticeship, church, emergent gathering by rod Wednesday October 12, 2005

Sometimes you can have an aha moment that is such an epiphany that it defies words. Sometimes the aha is a concise, clear way of saying something, or representing a concept that forms in your brain, but when the attempt is made to say something in this concise and clear way, you realize that it was still only a concise and clear concept that formed in your brain, and that it still eludes verbiage. Sometimes the new concise and clear way of way turns out to be just as verbose and muddy as the other way. The resulting thought frustrated thought process is something like, “AHA!!! - Darn”.
Sometimes the aha is merely something that has suddenly become clear to you, but once clear, you realize that everyone else already knew and understood it. This results in something like, “AHA!!!!! - duh.”
Today, I was thinking some more about the way we misunderstand Jesus things and often apply kingdom concepts to earthly methodologies. I was thinking more about our ill-fated attempts to imitate Jesus’ methods and teachings, but seem to get the two mixed mixed up. I sometimes wonder if we are so content merely to invite folks to come to Jesus, because he used conceptual verbiage that sounds like this. Jesus said, “All who are thirsty, come…” So we set up shop, gather for worship, and then advertise our church as a space for people to come and receive the gospel. But Jesus never created a space to invite people to come to, he always came to them and then invited them to come with him. He began this by coming to earth. He continued by going about and gathering his disciples rather than putting an ad in the classifieds. He went to the shore to get the fishermen, he went to the money table to get the tax collector. He went to the well to bring living water to the Samaritan woman. He didn’t ask us to come and die, he went to the cross and invited us to follow him.
It seems to me like more than a nuanced difference between the Field of Dreams mentality and the acting of taking the gospel to the people who need good news.

no lurking

Bloged in church, community, emergent gathering by rod Tuesday October 11, 2005

It snowed last night here in Santa Fe. Well, actually, it snowed higher up the mountains, so that when we woke, the mountains glistened. The sun didn’t shine much until early this evening, but that was just in time to scatter hundreds of different skyscapes throughout the huge New Mexico sky. Myriad hues and shades shone against the remaining, scattering clouds and crepuscular happiness illuminated the snowy mountains.
It was pineapple, muskmellon, and crepes for breakfast, rice and stir fry for lunch, and blue corn enchiladas with green for supper.
Last night at the organizational/informational meeting, a comment was made about the focus on community. “If you see someone being alone, go and be with them, that is until you find out that they wanted to be alone.” Yes, the word “conversation” is still used to describe what is going on, and being on the receiving end only, is something that is frowned upon. No one should be a lurker. That is, of course, unless you want to be a lurker.
I was thinking this morning in the shower about the conversation idea. Everyone is involved. Everyone has a contribution. As opposed to conferences that I’ve attended where every detail of your existing is taken care of so that you can concentrate on listening to an expert or proven success story say some things to which you want to listen, at this gathering all the things that conference attendees normally have done and provided for them are done together as part of the gathering. While over at the “come and see how I do it” conference a facilitated feeling of community is being attempted with some clever icebreaker game, here, folks are growing together by preparing meals with and for one another, washing dishes, and cleaning up.
Folks have introduced conversation topics that they would like to facilitate or be a part of, and it is not uncommon for them to say very little once the conversation is started.
So while I was showering, I had the thought that once this idea is embraced, it is very difficult to lurk. But this can be a very difficult idea to embrace. In church and society, we have made it about so few things that a narrow set of abilities, personalities, gifts, and ideas are needed to make things work. If you’ve got these, we need you. If you don’t, you lurk and listen and try to find someone’s wagon to jump on. But is that really real? Is that really all that it’s about? At the personal level, is that really all we need from each other? And why do we not always operate at the personal level. We’re people after all.
So I realized that what people need from you is not what you don’t have. Somehow we’ve bought into what we’ve been told people need, and we ain’t got it. So we lurk. But what people really need is you. They need me, too. Isn’t that weird? Here they know it, and they’re asking for it. Today in a small group conversation, I made a comment about a characteristic of mine that seems to put people ill at ease, or that they misunderstand. All day long, people approached me talk specifically about THAT. Not to help me overcome it, but to discuss how to become more like that.
Guess they could have asked me to preach, but they don’t need from me what I don’t have.


Bloged in church, community, emergent gathering by rod Monday October 10, 2005

When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure I’ll be there.

I’m in the air on my way to Albuquerque where I’ll get a car and drive up to Santa Fe and to Glorieta for a gathering of like-minded Christian wierdos like me. At least that’s why I’m going – I’m expecting to be able to converse with other believers without having someone look at me like I’ve lost my last marble.
All morning I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ promise that when we gather in his name he will be in our midst. Last year after I took Jack to the Rush concert in Atlanta, I blogged about the intense feeling of unity and community among the concert goers. There were thousands of people there from all walks of life, backgrounds, cultural contexts, but everyone was there for the same reason. I lamented that you gather a couple hundred people at church and possibly find fifty different reasons for the gathering. Because we do not gather to worship and seek God, community rarely results.
I’ve gathered many times to seek God with a small group of single-purpose, like-minded friends and felt the intensity of the Spirit in our midst. The resulting bond and community in the group is one that can’t be attained in any other way. We can make music and play foosball together and become good friends, but we will never experience community like that fostered in the seeking of the Spirit.
On a particular night, we gathered on a patio outside Borders bookstore in Charlotte with tons of weighty, scary, dimly lit questions and wispy hearts. We spoke into the lives of one another and found ourselves honored with the presence of an extra friend. When we realized that we’d probably ought to head back toward Columbia, we thought about praying, but it was as if that would have been a sort of slap in the face to one who had been sitting among us, listening and translating, speaking to and through us all evening long. We realized that we’d been praying so we breathed an amen and drove home.
I’ve been anticipating this trip with such expectations. Can you imagine 150 people gathered for a single purpose? Worship, guidance, community. I’m preparing for an intensity of shekinah that I’ve never experienced before. For this I am praying.

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