There were about 25 people, more than they usually have, from a lot of different places. Mostly youngish, 20- and 30-somethings. Some are deeply involved in a church, some are looking for a new religious community, some are paid staff in churches, some are students. The hosts were the Scandrettes, a couple who are in their second or third wave of starting a new religious community.
So everyone was very nice and interesting people, and the food was good, and the room was crowded in a friendly way. But I didn't quite connect. I don't know quite what I expected. But I left mildly disappointed.
In the smaller group discussion that I was in, the topic was "What are your secret dreams for church? What are the ideas you have had that seemed too far out to talk about, but you hold onto?" The idea was to move past talking about all the things that are wrong with churches and into describing what we want. I have a lot of dreams like this, but I picked the wrong one to talk about, for this audience, and I talked badly about it. Babbled is more like it. And they had no idea what I was talking about when I said First Day School - Note to self: jargon is not helpful.
On another note about language, I realized that I am still mildly uncomfortable with too much Jesus talk. At least the kind that sounds glib and taken for granted. Part of this is my problem, and I hope to get over it, because really people were just being honest and not trying to impose on anyone else. But I still felt my hackles go up.
I realized that for me, not drinking alcohol feels like a countercultural and God-led activity and for some folks who grew up in fundamentalist families, drinking wine IS a countercultural activity, a demonstration of their freedom and independence, not to mention a Jesus sanctioned activity. It's still not right for me.
The two questions for discussion that I proposed that didn't get taken up:
1) how do we balance needing to settle, to set up community, set down roots and to be accountable versus being free to look for something new, to move to where we might be happier, to follow the leadings of the Spirit wherever they may blow.
2) Where do words come from? How do people write prayers like the one that was read before dinner that was written by one of the ReImagine folks? How do we recognize the words that are given us from the Spirit?
What I really left with was the feeling that I want to have these conversations with other Quakers. I don't want to have to explain all the time what a Quaker meeting for worship is. I want to talk about new forms, "new wineskins" as they would put it, for Quaker meetings, not generic church. I felt an unhealthy kind of pride at being a Quaker. Some people had never heard of Quakers, one guy went to Haverford, one had been part of an evangelical Friends church in San Diego before, others were in the Quakers are cool camp. One person asked me if there were other unprogrammed Christian Quakers like me. He asked when our meeting for worship is.
And I felt old. Settled. Not seeking. I realized more clearly than ever that I am not looking for a new religious organization to join. I don't want to start something new, I want to reform the organization I already belong to because I believe that there is something precious and powerful about the organization I already belong to.
Here is a link to one of the posts on the ReImagine blog, Thoughts on a Regional Community and a quote:
"One thing we learned with ReIMAGINE in the early days when 6 of us were giving our time to creating kingdom-based neighborhood communities is that there are always people who want to look but aren't ready to commit to a way of life. If we paid too much attention to those people, they end up clogging the process and bringing a lot of needs."
So I don't want to clog things up. I mean, I know this isn't their main attitude towards new people, and one of the leaders was specifically welcoming of people who are not negative about their church. But I realize that I also don't want to waste a lot of time with people who don't want to commit to the same way of life as me.
On the other hand, one of the things Lisa Scandrette and I talked about briefly as I was leaving was that maybe this gathering shows that there is a demand, a pent-up demand for the chance to talk to other people who share some of the same concerns, dreams, to find others who want to live an authentic kingdom life here and now.
I just know that I had more 'fun' at Berkeley Friends Church. I was more jazzed by that encounter. More on that later.
Finally, something that I really liked was that at the beginning of the discussion time after dinner, one of the ReImagine guys read aloud a chapter from the Bible, which they said is part of their community practice. He said that he and his wife actually take turns reading to each other from the Bible. Chris and I tried it last night before we went to sleep. I hope that this will become a part of our practice as well. Marital bonding and spiritual formation in one short activity requiring no babysitters or new equipment. What more could I want?
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