Earlier this week, I returned from “Christianity21″ which took place in Denver. After that I got to spend a few days in Phoenix visiting my sister and her family so I am still catching up at home, in my ministry and processing a few of my notes. I have a few drafts on actual content (so much goodness articulated there) and I am excited to post them soon.
If you have heard me tell my story, you know I say that among the things God used to help me find my love for the Church again was the emerging church conversation.
I remember reading Tony Jones’ Postmodern Youth Ministry and thinking, “Hey, I’m not crazy.” I remember reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren and thinking, “Thank you, I’m not crazy.” And I remember reading Doug Pagitt’s Church Re-Imagined and thinking “Thank God, I’m not that crazy.”
Many great minds and many books later and add all the blog reading, the goodness of social media, countless conversations over coffee and beers, a seminary degree and being a part of good community in the Church, I find myself in a better place. All of this (and more) has played an important role.
Now maybe God would have used something else like a donkey similar to Balaam’s, or an El Camino (modern day version of a donkey?), or maybe even a fundamentalist (postmodern day version of a donkey?). I don’t know as I refuse to put anything beyond God’s reach. But I’m glad He used people with great minds who were just pissed enough to put themselves out there and kind-hearted, relationally-gifted enough to birth a needed conversation for so many who were/are disenchanted with the church.
All that to say, when the Jopa Group (what are they going to call themselves now with the great addition of Sarah Cunningham?) posts an event, I try to get to it even if my ministry budget has been allocated somewhere else. Among the benefits of having your birthday be Christmas Eve is combining your requests for one single (bigger) gift. With a little cash, some airline miles, Expedia points and my wife’s blessing, I was Denver-bound.
A great line-up of 21 presenters giving 21 minutes talks were announced including: Phyllis Tickle, Jonathan Merritt, Sarah Bessey, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jamie “the Very Worst Missionary” Wright, Charles Lee, Paul Raushenbush and so many more.
Also scheduled were group discussions on topics including the morality and marketing of child sponsorship, pastoring in the 21st century, blogging, “Changing the World Without Losing Your Soul,” and a few others. There were 7-21 Talks in which regular folks like me could present a 7 minute presentation with 21 slides that automatically advance every twenty seconds. I had a lot of fun with mine and will share a bit more later but along the same lines, so much of the goodness of these types of events has to do with your fellow attenders. If you have been to these types of gatherings, you know so much goodness is found in the eating and after-partying (I use the term “after-party” in a very tamed sense here).
So clearly there was going to be great content and fine people but why is this gathering so important to me? Can I say this and not sound snobby? Umm, I really needed this event to not suck. And before registering I kept asking myself, “What compels me to go?” Some of these presenters can be caught on YouTube and have years of content on their blogs. Why am I going? Is it merely nostalgia? Or a party for ministry/theology nerds?
Not at all. While most of the presenters have a great social media presence, I wanted the part I couldn’t experience on YouTube. And I don’t mean the 10 seconds of conversation where you go up to the presenter and say, “Really liked what you said …” Instead I mean receiving the message with other people and going out afterwards. I love social media because it enhances real friendships and real moments but for me this is why it’s important to come to these gatherings. I want to be a friend to people and I want to enjoy the friendship of others. I also desire to see where my friends are headed. And part of it is to witness what God is doing through others in different corners of the Kingdom. Not to take anything away from social media but we all know such things cannot merely be found online.
I want to be careful that I don’t over-glamorize anything here. The green room was the church’s bridal room. I looked inside and I saw bottles of water, a modest spread of pretzels bags and couches that may have been donated by the youth group. Initially I thought all the presenters were hanging out in the lobby because they were so cool and relationally generous now I’m wondering if it was because they were avoiding the mold I detected in the green room.
I kid but there is no glamor at these events. They told us to bring our own coffee mugs, water bottles and name tags (I kept waiting for the email that said “bring your own chair too”). I asked my Twitter friends if anyone had a Promise Keeper name tag with the name “Linda” on it and I would have hit the jackpot had I thought to make a Left Behind Conference badge. Please let me know if that happens by the way because … I’ll go.
I think I just stumbled on something here. Yep, I’m starting a rumor that there will be a Left Behind conference happening in the near future. Yeah, Nicolas Cage and Kirk Cameron will be presenting on dispensationalism, the tribulation and what it’s like to get snubbed by the Academy. Yeah both of them – New Jerusalems will collide my friends.
Sorry I digress. Where was I? Oh, no glamor here. And I think that’s part of what I enjoy so much and why C21 was so important to me. I am struck by how special this conversation and gathering is for me because I resonate with so much I find there – the freedom, the frustration, the friendships new and old, the acute self-awareness and the deep belief that we can be better stewards and givers of God’s love. Yeah, God could be using donkeys, El Caminos and fundamentalists but I am so glad it’s gatherings like Christianity21 that’s helping me to love more and more of the Church at work in the world today.