Thursday, August 9, 2007

Where's Waldo?

Locating oneself amid the world of assumptions, expectations and longings to connect is quite an adventurous, and often confusing and complex tale. For me, the last few weeks have been a good sabbath rest of tending the primary relationships of life, immersing myself with companions along the way who are equally concerned with meaningful existence and how to extend and envelop others in it as well as the experience of bumping up against what many refer to as the modern day ecclesiastical empire.

A two week vacation with the kids and family camping down the oregon coast beginning in Astoria and ending in Newport Beach. One of the most beautiful coastlines along the west that one can ever experience. It sure is healing to breathe in the clean, crisp, salty ocean air and rich fertile greenery that is offered in this stretch of land. With visits to museums, beaches, aquariums, historic bridges and lighthouses, even breweries, i.e. Rogue in Newport Beach, our trip offered great time away with newly shared experiences that will enrich our family life for years to come.

My seminary experience was fine. It's always great to be with those who give you encouragement for the journey engaging around meaningful conversation. I was fortunate as well to have met a couple emergents including one of the pastors at House of Mercy, and share some beer one warm mid-west evening with Ryan Torma at Spirit Garage. Thanks for the time and insight Ryan.

Most recently some interesting developments with the elca national church and concerning the grant we applied for for this new emerging church. I should not have been suprised to learn that the national church has some reservations about this new venture here in Flagstaff and turned down the grant. However, I have been told that it is not dead and that they are interested in learning more about it by sending out some 3 individuals (someone from Chicago, some other leader who has supposedly been doing this emerging stuff and someone else, pretty vague at this point) to have conversation with us to better articulate, all for their own needs, and devise a better system for measurement to ease their concern for investing. Interestingly, after sharing this with one of our emerging companions he said, 'isn't measurement kind of anti-emergent idea?' This is exactly the friggin problem that we have. I am not averse to measurement, but I do have my own reservations as to the old ways we've measured, especially around an externally imposed understanding for success that is much more conducive for a growing suburban territory that is supposedly a universal way for effective congregational development, as if the 'butts in a pew' methodology is the only marker of faithfulness. I know a lot of people who are in church every Sunday who still just don't get it! This is why, as I mentioned back a few months ago, Margaret Wheatley has some wonderful and helpful ways for bridging us into the future. Her article on measurement suggests much more of a feedback based system which can lead to a more effective and comprehensive way of "justifying" one's existence and the broad reach/influence that it is accomplishing.

I'm not really sure how Jesus, or his disciples, ever managed without such a system in place!

The first few hours following this news I was hit pretty hard, but words of encouragement kept coming from both inside and outside that this is exactly what the present church is in need of. We are a part of a reforming, rather than 'reformed', church and we need to, all of us I suppose, learn to learn and be open to one another. I'm not particularly worried as I once was however. At least in my situation, I'm pretty fortunate that my wife is carrying the burden of our financial stability and can branch off and follow the dream of what God is up to in the community of Flagstaff as well as inside of me. Following Derek's first day of VBS I asked him what they did. He said we talked about Abraham. "Daddy", he said, "God asked Abraham to leave his country, with his whole family." Out of the mouths of babes really!

God is asking me to leave a country that many of us have become familiar and comfortable with for the sake of exploring new lands for how God's promises and life are unfolding. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that the battling over territory in the middle East is exactly the kind of struggles that will continue to manifest themselves in the life of church. But, at least, I'm still of the opinion, perhaps naive, that the best is desired and that further opportunities will be sought for and found. Not, of course, without its continued frustrations and heated debates. But there is definitely a strong need for everyone in the system to be reforming even as much as those from the mother ship even suppose that we're the ones who perhaps just don't get it.

Who knows how it will all work out. I'm a more than a little suspicious for the strings that come along with funding and am not quite sure if this is exactly what we should be ready and open to receive as yet at this point. So from my perspective with a potential upcoming consultation we'll be interviewing them with as much consideration and critique as they desire to check us out.

We're bridge builders! McClaren described this in some article somewhere, and I completely agree. To what, I'm not completely sure. Perhaps to a more diverse perspective of being and doing church that is as shaped by the dreamers and grassroots movers as it is encouraged and even welcomed by those at the supposed "top" of the ecclesiastical food chain.

The story continues to unfold for sure exposing our our own assumptions and expectations as we dream and bump up against one another. My only prayer is that I don't become too cynical, and that my cynicism is upheld by hope instead. For after all this is not my venture or yours or theirs, but God's! For me, that's a word of hope.