Monday, August 18, 2014

Entering An Appropriate Conversation--Church Imaginings

My mind is all a flutter.

I want to talk about Ferguson, Missouri and Mike Brown and Darren Wilson but any electronic conversation seems petty and misunderstood in the wake of what has happened. I spoke on it at worship yesterday and that will have to suffice. If I have anything hopeful to say or offer, it’s a video of a heavenly banquet. I strongly recommend that you watch the whole movie, Places in the Heart, but this video clip is the hook. I have posted this clip before in other contexts and it might be a starting place for communities to imagine a non-hateful response to violence. This is all communities. No one gets off the hook.


I want to talk about Robin Williams. I am so sorry for any death, suffering, addiction and depression. Just when we think we have survived into our 60's and we are going to make it, we don’t. But none of us are going to make it, or better, all of us are going to make it. Don’t sensationalize or romanticize suffering. Just let this one sit and don’t say anything mean. People have died this week and you want to watch your words.

I want to talk and will talk (and write) about the future of church imagination around the world. Reading Viaduct Park followed us on Twitter this morning and it gave me all new hope for what the church can look like in a building-less imagination.  Take a look at this article on the re-configuring of 10 elevated parks around the world. In typical fashion we might imagine the end of these parks as places for exercise and homes for new vegetation, maybe even some new art. I am for all of those things. I like sweating, beautiful sculptures and the fine smell of blooming daffodils. In fact all of those things are part of what I would call the "end" for all of these new parks/trails. These re-constituted parks are long bodies of land that are God’s unfolding kingdom—the church. We can commission Christians and ordain pastors to gather at all of these spaces. With intention we can ask all of these cultivating Christian communities to make friends with all who use these spaces.


Right now I am imagining the commissioning of art work, maybe a great sculpture or some intentional graffiti/art work along the American Tobacco Trail in Durham. I want this art in the most “dangerous” places so that we could start walking and running tours to come out and see these great monuments. We need to go out into the streets and invite the people to come see what is along the trail. Our response to danger and threat cannot just be more emergency phone booths and patrolling. That's not a buy-in from the community or for the community though I am thankful for these additions. 

What is our God doing in dangerous places? Erecting monuments. It does not have to be a cross or a statue of Mother Mary. I am not trying to corner the market on beauty on behalf of churchy symbols. What about a statue honoring Blind Boy Fuller at mile two on the ATT? Not just a plaque, but I want to see him strumming the banjo like the picture in the new train station. How fitting that where actual trains really run, his image could take up space along an old abandoned railway. I would love to see a giant marble version of Thelonius Monk banging away on the keys with enough room for me to sit on the piano bench with him and dream of his music in my mind as the birds sing away the afternoon. I am certain that Monk harmonizes with the birds each afternoon in heaven and God takes a long listen from a slow rocking chair.


I am not ducking Ferguson or Robin Williams, I just don’t know what to add to already broken conversations. I cannot speak in ultimate "rights" and "wrongs" on matters of death, justice, vindication, retribution where vengeance, depression, suicide are concerned. I just don’t know. People are going to be mad whatever the findings of the investigations are, understandably. Our culture solves chaotic problems with weapons. Why isn't anyone angry about that?

More than a decade ago, I got so mad at the church and its' leaders when it did not speak prophetically and quickly after 9-11-01, but I just don't know what to say now that it is my time to speak. Silence is also a form of prophetic imagination. Sometimes it is just too soon. Still, I am thankful for all who speak out. Continue with courage.

But I do know this: a long city park, once a railroad, Is a church in the kingdom of the God whom I worship. We, the Tobacco Trail Church, have already been about this project going into year five. We are small in numbers, and Ginormous in God’s imagination for what we can show the world. Maybe we are city planners. I am starting to think our people could be consultants to cities all over the world. Give us your tired and your poor plots of land. Reconstitute these spaces using a beautiful mind. The process will be fraught with challenges, but stay at it. Cross neighborhood boundaries. Gather despite fear and humiliation. Let the old railroads tell decade-old stories and broken economic and racial stories. Even the railroads, with each tie pulled up and re-tread with asphalt or compact screening or gravel will tell the truth of who we have really been and who we can be going forward. 

Do not be afraid to fail as you gather for worship and prayer. Get to the trail early and often and help the community with the re-design of these trails. If your church plant does not work--so what? You tried. Effort counts a lot in the kingdom, not for salvation or grace, but for showing courage. Most stuff in the world fails on a first attempt. And if you worship outside and it doesn't work, you do not have a mortgage or a lease to contend with. You are light with burden. 

I promise you this; your cities leadership will not mind you gathering so long as others can freely use the space. They want you out there and so does God. Anybody want to plant an outdoor church in or near Ferguson, Missouri? I will bet my back yard there is an abandoned railroad within a stone's throw of where blood was shed. Might have to turn a couple swords to plowshares in order to churn up the earth and get the land leveled so you can lay down a picnic blanket or two.
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