October 12, 2006

sausage, wine, frost and social space...

Last night Walker, Josh, Tony and May (our new housemates) and myself went to listen to Michael Frost speak at The Linkery-a fine dining establishment that has an expertise in sausages (hence, the name)-in North Park (thanks to the Mission Gathering folks for pulling it all together). Best line of the night, as Rich pointed out, was when Frost re-tells the story of a friend getting baptized, summarizing his journey to faith as waking up one morning and saying to himself, "Oh, shit! I think I'm a Christian now!" I think someone spilled their wine when he said that.

(Okay, this is mostly directed at my community of faith but I'm interested to know what others think, so please chime in)
I'm wrestling with something that I've been bouncing around in my head for some time. It's the issue of space. You see, Brooke and I have been starting faith communities in our home and other people's homes for over 6 years now (if you count all the 'bible studies' and 'small groups' we started while a part of traditional churches it's been more like 15 years. We've become very accustomed to the notion of people of faith meeting together in what I've been referring to as 'normative' social space. Depending on what you call success, I think it's worked out well, certainly better for an inner and outer spiritual life for us and I would believe the majority of those who have participated in these environments with us. But one thing that differs between what we've done and others that we've met over the last 6 years is what I can only sum up to in words like momentum and authority...

Let me see if I can make this clearer for both of us... Last night, Michael shared several stories from the life of their faith community in Sydney. All good, positive stuff. Place in the words you prefer, "kingdom", "missional", "post-modern", "post-christendom", [cringe] "emerging"... whatever, I hear what they are doing/being through the lens of having read Frost and Hirsch's book, The Shaping of Things to Come, and believe that they are headed in a good direction, leaving needless baggage (Constantine, Christendom, religiosity, etc.) behind. Whenever I hang out with my dear friend Kevin Rains from Vineyard Central I sense the same thing; good, positive momentum. Same with Ken and Deborah Loyd from the Bridge in Portland, or the infamous history of Church of the Savior in Washington DC. My point here is that even though the Monday-to-Friday life of these communities have many similarities to that of our community and others that have shed the many institutional trappings there is one major difference: they have public space and we don't. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not jealous, well, maybe a little envious... just a little, and I don't plan on going back into full-time ministry or start a building campaign (I already participated in that years ago... one was enough to last me a lifetime). But there is a certain 'authority' that is given to a community of faith that has a public space that they facilitate for the surrounding neighborhood and/or meet in on a regular basis. There also is a level of 'momentum', or 'impact' maybe, that these communities have that I have not seen or heard of faith communities w/o facilities having. Does that make what we do bad or lesser? No, I'm not saying that.

After Frost was finished speaking last night I spoke with him off to the side about this a little. He mentioned that their community has thought seriously about not using their facility as a meeting place any longer. My response is that's a good thing to wrestle with; "Does this building define/limit who we are?" But while they, like VC and Church of the Savior, have struggled with this and addressed the question in various ways I don't think that they can erase the impact of having had public space. It doesn't work in reverse I don't think. In other words, I'm not certain that any of these communities could have accomplished what they have without the space they occupy. If these communities had started un-centralized, could they have blessed their neighborhoods as they have? I don't know... currently, I think the answer is, No.

Now, I'm not saying that we should all close the front doors to our homes and go find empty store fronts. The truth in San Diego, at least, is that this is almost impossible due to the real estate market. And the majority of churches here with a lease or mortgage must conduct church in a manner that is highly attraction-based in order to stay afloat and if convicted to be more 'missional', they are in a sense... trapped.

So, what I'm currently struggling with is: are there positive implications of occupying public space (of various shapes and sizes) that we should be considering as collections of people of faith? Yes, this can be abused and/or neglected and used for negative means. But as the years go by and I watch communities evolve and mature I wonder if we are to be 'missional' if these are things to consider. One thing I am not saying is that we should return to old habits and rituals. I don't have the stomach for that any longer. But, if we feel 'called' or 'brought' to a community for a larger reason than having a roof over our heads, we like the school in this neighborhood, etc. ... Than, is it possible that we should be considering... a theology of space? I don't know. But we talked all the way home about this, Walker, Josh and myself. Shoot, Josh and I talk about this constantly lately. Josh and I even stood on our door stoop talking a little longer about this after Walker dropped us off. Still a lot swimming around in my head. Not sure if my intentions were clear in this ramble but your thoughts and comments and insights would be appreciated.

Tonight, I have the pleasure of showing off my beloved city to Frost. I'll have to make the poor guy help me think through this some more over great food at Pokez.

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