Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dandelion Seed Texas Report--July 18-19

We recently had a very short Dandelion Seed gathering in Texas. We met at the Runnels house in Wylie. The theme was worship. We were together Friday night, and Saturday from 10 until 2. Christa kept time. We talked, did creativity exercises, hung out, and ended up at a pizza shop and then at the movie theater for The Dark Knight. I'll tell you a little bit about the time and some questions that were raised that I'd like to keep talking about together. Please join in if you're interested.

We created a working definition for worship:

Worship is finding value in things and connecting that value to God. (Or "Worship is finding value in things and discovering how that value is connected to God.")

This definition opens up worship to include a lot of things. Things like skateboarding, computer programming, running, playing music, painting, talking to a friend, giving a gift to someone in need, sitting in silence, looking at art, imagining conversations between Jesus and a vampire, etc.

Does this definition open it up too wide, so wide that the definition isn't helpful?

I remember Mark yelling at one of the first Dandelion Seed conferences "I get it -- art, God! They're connected." That was a highlight in my worship life so far. I remember another conversation with a writer in which, somehow, his faith connected his writing -- in an organic, real way. Then there was that time when all of a sudden a love for music became also a conversation with God that had been going on in the background, unrecognized for years.

But is that worship?

If we open up the definition of worship like this, it now includes much of what most churches do together, but doesn't exclude the many people for whom those expressions are difficult to connect with. It also validates parts of the body of Christ who tend to be overlooked (which are the ones we should give special honor to -- introverts, visual communicators, etc).

So, with this new and much wider definition, how do we "worship together?" One way is to choose several worship practices and do them together.

For example, at the Charlottesville Project we're working at these practices:

1. Meditation. We're drawing on several eastern traditions in practicing this discipline. The goals are to slow down and make space for God, trust and a receiving posture.

2. Improvisational playing, singing and art making. We draw on a number of traditions here: gospel music, charismatic free-singing, jazz improv. I've also wondered whether a study of the mystical practices of the Hebrew prophets and Sufi worship might teach us something we could use in worshiping our Lord Jesus.

3. Corporate singing of old and new songs. We draw on Christian traditions here, which probably drew a lot from Hebrew traditions. We also use some popular music and original music when we sing together.

One element that made the discussions at our recent gathering great was that they included people from four communities: the Charlottesville Project; a house church in the Dallas area; a group made up mainly of 20 year olds who are trying new things within the wider context of a local church (New Hope); and Segue, a church plant in the arts district of Dallas. People had different experiences and perspectives—as each of these communities grow conversation between them will become more and more helpful.

We also had a lot of fun doing writing exercises. We started with the sentence "The air above my head was clear." The rest we wrote on the fly, quickly. Here is an excerpt from one of them:

"The air above my head was clear. I walked, stiletto-clap, click on plastic fields stretched tan and rose in all directions. Smoke stacks empty, machinery frozen, eyes of robots empty and staring, sockets, not grain of sand or smell of earth..."

It was a good DSC time: building relationships, building creativity, and exploring ideas.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The folks in Texas: another arm of the DSC

So I'm rushing off to Texas. It's an interesting state, at least the few parts I've connected with. I'm going to this little town called Wylie. There's a legend that it was founded by pirates. No, it isn't near the coast (that way people wouldn't suspect it was a pirate town, right?) But that's part of what I love about Texas -- they just do and say things there that people in other places wouldn't. Take belt buckles and cowboy boots, for example. A good Texan can wear them anywhere in the country and not think about it. There's something about fitting in that just isn't on the radar in the same way that it is in some other subcultures I'm a part of.

Of course, there's a dark side to that as well. Some Texans, in the spirit of this unselfconscious confidence, have done things that have resulted in damage that will have long term ramifications. Yet, the overly cautious also do damage with their inaction.

So every time I go to Texas I am struck by the cultural contrast between the Texan vibe and the current DSC culture (as much as we have a culture, which I think we actually do). DSC culture, I think, tends to be somewhat tentative and self-critical (or at the very least pretty self-reflective). This introspective, questioning vibe seems pretty standard for GenXers, and the DSC culture was started by artistic GenXers who all had some sense of displacement, so that kind of makes sense.

One of the groovier changes I've seen happening lately is the infusion of younger than GenXers into the DSC. I think this is beginning to shift our culture a little bit -- these younger people (Justin, Jordan, Kimberly, Zac, etc) tend to have a different way of being. There is still angst there, but there's an ability to engage life in the present moment, and relationships with openness and joy. There's awareness of differences without them being divisive, and a way of embodying things they care about without self-incrimination, which I find really inspiring. I see these qualities on the NING interactions and on some of the younger DSCers blogs (one example is Kimberly's last post in which she talks about sailing). You won't catch me saying this culture is perfect either, but I think what God is building in the DSC capitalizes on the coming together of these two subcultures with their strengths and weaknesses.

So, I'd like to see how Texas rubs off on the good ole' DSC. We're going to do another small DSC gathering in Texas while I'm down there. There are a couple Virginians and a North Carolina DSCer also visiting, so it seems like a natural mix. Can't wait to see what comes out of it.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Happened in Virginia?

I'm sitting propped up in a wicker chair writing on my old G4 hooked into a big old monitor (the laptop screen is gone) with rain glistening on the grass and trees outside my window. Thunder grumbles halfheartedly above Moby playing in the living room. It's good to be home.

Christa and I went on a six mile walk today on old back roads and talked strategy: what's going on in our lives and what do we do about it? What opportunities face us? What challenges face us? What is priority?

It's been three weeks since the DSC mini-gathering in VA and I've been doing a lot of thinking about why it feels like a turning point for the DSC. What was going on? Exactly what happened in Virginia?

I'll talk about it from two angles. 1. Practically what we did, and 2. significant themes or surprises I think may have to do with this sense of change.

Wednesday and Thursday people began trickling in. Joel from Texas. Bryn and Jordan from North Carolina. Justin from Three Hills. Later Kimberly, Troy, and Ken arrived (from IN and MI). Zac and Aneke from South Africa (via 3 Hills) and a number of Charlottesville Project people.

This is what we did:
We watched and discussed a documentary called "Jesus Camp".
We heard excerpts and discussed the book "The War of Art". Joel introduced this book about the battle with resistance we face moving towards what is meaningful, what we're called to.
We identified and talked about fears and dreams -- individual and corporate. Many fears were related to community, church and art.
Ken talked about missional church, theology and different ways of thinking about the church (contrasting a farm with fences with ranches where the cattle stay close because the water is there).
Sessions started with meditation (silence) and music -- hymns, a few worship songs, and original tunes.
Christa talked about meditation and learning from eastern traditions (and we discussed this).
We talked about and smelled essential oils (including myrrh and frankincense and other ancient substances -- thank you Troy).
We prayed together.
We went to the theatre and watched the Hulk 2 or the Happening.
We drank vitamin water, tea, beer, root beer and off-brand gatorade and ate a lot of wonderful food prepared and/or provided by Anita, Jonathan, Christa, Bryn, Joel and others.
We hung out and talked, played music, talked, talked, and talked. (Which was part of why the silence of meditation was so beautiful).

Themes and Surprises:
Generational Synergy: During this mini-conference I was called "old people" by one of the younger participants, and assured that "it was nothing to be ashamed of". And it isn't. It's actually exciting and a sign that the DSC is maturing, getting beyond a few friends sitting around talking about ideas. The DSC is 6 or 7 years old now. Those of us who started it are now in our mid 30s. The VA gathering had people with ages ranging between 17 and 40 something. This synergy between generations is key if we're going anywhere as a group.
Multi-community: Represented at this little gathering were 2 churches, 2 house churches, a microchurch and a mission outreach center. Everyone's varied experiences and understandings of community and church were helpful as we talked and prayed about being the body of Christ in new ways at a new time in history.
Host community: I think the fact that the Charlottesville Project has been up and running over two years now trying to embody the values and vision of the DSC helped create the setting for this gathering.
Technology: People understand blogs and have been on myspace and facebook long enough that when Justin got the DSC Ning site set up it took very little work for people to engage it. We've tried connecting online before, but before now the learning curve was high enough few people climbed it. Now it's normal and working.
Taking Ownership: For some reason at the end of this mini-conference almost everyone who was there volunteered to do something to move things forward for this group and the wider DSC. When people make that shift from "I wish someone would do something about this" to "what could I do?" everything changes...

It's almost dark now and a mouse just scurried across my desk -- a downside of being in a beautiful wooded area. Christa and Megan are talking about art in the next room. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Prophets, Ning, Viral

Prophets: I just got back from Arkansas. There I met an old prophet who has been doing mysterious, bizarre God stuff for more than 6 decades. I've been hearing stories and I finally got to meet this man. He's my friend Glen's uncle. He said a couple things to me that I think are relevant to the DSC. This is in my words, as close as I can remember:

1. "There is something building and growing around you and the people you're with. It's building in intensity and momentum, but it's not formed yet and it's not clear what it is. At the right time God will speak a creative word into that group that will form it, ignite it and propel it forward."

2. "I see you falling into a lake of fire that stretches into every direction. You're standing in it. It's the purifying work of God."

3. "You don't think much of it right now, but there is something in you that will change how the church in the future understands praise and worship. We don't get it."

-- I do feel like something is happening in the DSC -- what has been loose connections is becoming something more. This is leading somewhere, somewhere only God knows. We're not just building relationships and community to feel more at home -- there is a God-idea behind all this that will become more clear in the days to come -- at least that's what I'm longing for and praying will happen. And it really will need to include purifying work from God. Everyone needs it, and we as a network need it. It's not something we can make happen, but God can do it. There are things in our lives that we've been struggling with for years that God can and will change in an instant. And I'm not talking about when we die!

Ning: Something is happening on this site. It's connection, and remembering and dreaming. I think it's also timely and strategic.

Viral: Part of what's needed to happen for some time, and is beginning to happen in a new way is this: this thing is getting viral. The Kingdom of God always was viral (the yeast in the dough, the salt in the soup, the little seed in the ground). What is happening with us is happening small, organic, real, and everyone has a part -- the leaders don't make it all happen anymore. They (we, I) have a really important role, but it's more speaking into what is going on and bringing it together by seeing what God is doing -- than it is planning and organizing and controlling. So act! Pray. Talk. Create. Be. Love. Listen.