In the TNT that comes out this evening, we get a call about the difficulties of starting new communities. We had Tim – the Elder of Hops – in the house and some really good stuff came out in the conversation.
As I drove back from Tripp’s I thought of about some other things that seemed relevant to the conversation. I took some time yesterday to type up a couple of thoughts from this past Sunday’s conversation at the Loft to share here.
In this past Sunday’s gathering we talked about the importance of being physically together as a community. This is true for both our gatherings but also our service projects. This is why we don’t call our Sunday times together ‘services’ but gatherings – because service happens when we are outside the walls together.
I was able to share some things that I find compelling about a couple of other religions. Islam’s ‘5 Pillars’ all have a physical component. Confessing, praying, giving, fasting and going on a pilgrimage are all embodied practices. The connection of religious beliefs to the body is something that intrigues me. (We also talked about physical considerations in the Jewish observance of Sabbath)
I admit that it puzzles me that Christianity – a religion whose central event in the incarnation where we believe that the Word became flesh – can so often be an intellectual and abstract religion. Christianity has come to see itself as a very universal religion … almost to the point that it is can be un-embodied.
- We don’t have to pray out loud.
- We don’t have to face any specific direction.
- We are not required to travel anywhere.
- We don’t need to fast.
- We might give to those in need.
This seems like a problem to me. I know that throughout Christian history there have been (and continue to be) many powerful physical practices that deepen or expand our devotion, insight, perspective and experience. Some branches of the church family are far better a sustaining these practices than others. In the 21st century, it is going to become increasingly difficult to integrate those practices into a communities or traditions that are not familiar with them.
This led us to talking about ‘the worth of words’ and the power of symbols (signs) when it comes to both portraying yourself to the outside world and attracting the kind of friends/attention that you are seeking. We do this perpetually – whether intentionally or not – both as individuals and as a community.
Which brings us to the title of this blog. I have wanted to have cameras in the Loft space since the beginning. The other leaders have vetoed this idea at every turn. I thought it would help people see how innovative the gatherings were and to have some sense of what they were being invited to. This seem necessary because we have tweaked both the form and the content.
It would be one thing if we just sat on couches in the round, drank coffee and had conversations about standard run-of-the-mill Christianity.
It would be another thing if we had a super progressive message but kept all the other things the same: sitting in rows, facing the same direction, one presenter for 30 minutes after 4 songs off the newest ‘worship’ album.
We have changed both the form and the content which has caused a case of dis-orientation for some. That is why I wanted the cameras – so that people would see it and have some idea of what they would be coming into.
In the end, we decided that it was more important to provide a safe space for those who actually attend than to produce a good show for those who watched remotely. I now think this was a good decision.
The question remained though: how do we get the attention of those who we think would love to participate if they only know about it?
My humorous suggestion was to begin referring to ourselves as ‘a small batch artisan church with farm to table spirituality’. That got a big reaction … because we all know that those words don’t exactly mean anything when used like that. BUT we all know that those are the types of words that are important to the kind of folks we are made up of. For others it might be words and phrases like organic or free-range or fresh brewed.
We laugh because we know that these are the kinds of world that are used to market consumer goods to us. We, of course, are not looking to market nor are we offering a consumer good. We are however looking for like-minded souls with whom we can have (and form) community in the midst of a very busy city.
So until we find a better way to do so … I’m going to tell people that we are “a small batch artisanal church with farm-to-market spirituality” and see how that goes. I even made poster to see how it looked!
This has generated some great conversations. No, those words don’t exactly convey our actual values or commitments … but at the same time they do hint at a certain vibe and ethos that is telling. It’s like ‘Homebrewed Christianity’. We don’t brew faith per se but … it is a play on words that conveys a certain sense of the attitude and atmosphere that you can expect.
I would very interested in the words and phrases that appeal to you when think or talk about church community.