I returned from the Everything Must Change conference last night needing a long nap. My day had started early and realizing I must've picked up a cold or other sickness bug while at the conference, by the time I got home I was more tired and worn out than usual. The conference itself was incredible and I am glad to say that I wasn't disappointed (I was worrying that I might be after the previous night's implication of white privilege introducing the "cure' the world needs to hear from us, the privileged white Christians.)
The conference began with music and time to get acquainted. Following that, the morning consisted of personal testimonies that reflected on our need to be "in the world" but not "of it". Sure, this is Christian-speak but it simply means that Christians are to live by the values of Jesus rather than of the values that demean, destroy, and promote unsustainable wickedness. These testimonies began with coffee...the free coffee that was provided was of the Just Coffee category--coffee that isn't just free trade, but grown, packaged, and sold by farmers for farmers. This basically meant that the coffee farmers received a fairer share of the profits than through the normal ways in which they receive less.
Afterwards, a panel discussion was provided with a talk-show-like conversation between McLaren and 5 Latino workers from the church where the conference was held. One worker was the pastor of the church, one was an evangelist, two were social workers, and the last was the pastor of a recent church start in Harlem. These particular workers were and are involved in the restoration of the South Bronx (which historically has been a hotbed of crime and ridiculous poverty). These workers shared their vision of equality, hope, sustainability, and Jesus. It was a powerful time of testimony. And, what made it even more interesting was their critique of McLaren's way of confronting the 'suicide machine' by showing how "we" help to keep the machine moving. One of the panelists named Gabriel (the evangelist) explained it by commenting on a liturgy we all recited about our involvement in creating the continued atmosphere of destruction, "When you say 'we', I was shocked because I didn't create it, I am living in it. I am living in the machine that you created!" While victimhood often precludes a person from thinking they are ever a part of the system they are condemning and deconstructing, Gabriel made a great point. He explained that one reason the machine continues to dominate our culture is due to racism--he explained it further, "If a Spanish man had led this conference, would you have come? If I spoke in Spanish, how many of you would have understood me (he illustrated this point by, yes, speaking in Spanish)?" He concluded his testimony by underscoring everyone's responsibility to share in each other's framing stories so that the smaller voices can become larger ones. Seriously, this was one of the most powerful testimonies I've heard in a long time and the audience agreed with an eruption of applause, Amens, and the recognition that Gabriel was more than right.
After the panel discussion, we were led in a time of prayer and meditation. The meditation focused on artwork created for the conference series presented 15-or so cities across the country). At the end of the evening, everyone was to be (and was) invited to Union Theological Seminary's James Chapel to see the artwork that was shown on the monitors and copies of the artwork that was included in the information packets handed out at the beginning of the conference. The prayer and medication lasted for about an hour, that also inclued written and shared poetry, flow poetry (that is also called Slam Poetry here in NYC) and song.
Following this, we broke for lunch. And let me tell you, it was tasty!
We regrouped after lunch and heard more testimonials from those in the evangelical circles sharing what they are doing to reimagine church. One such person that I later made a personal contact with was Jeff Kursonis, the developer for EmergentVillage.com, an online gathering spot for emergent cohorts (small meeting groups) that meet across the country.
There were also a testimonial and presentations from one of the sponsors of the conference Mars Hill Graduate School. Later, we heard a testimonial from Jay Bakker, the infamous son of Jim and the late Tammy Faye Bakker. Jay is the pastor of Revolution, a new church start in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, focusing on a newer generation of post-modern and hip Christians. You'd be surprised by his tattoos. They are ALL over his body and some of them even made those sitting around me cringe. Personally I love tattoos (and even have one off my own). Later I had a chance to meet him personally. He has such a spirit of peace about him.
After a brief break and a time to pick up some books from the bookstore (I bought McLaren's Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, Diana Butler Bass's Christianity for the Rest of Us, and Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination), McLaren took the stage. He preached a good sermon on Jesus and the need to bring him into the conversation of restoration, reformation, and social renewal. He showed us ways in which we can begin to be a part of the renewal process by getting involved in environmental causes and concerns, using our buying power to shop wisely and support companies that promote the vision for a cleaner and better earth, and how our faith can speak to those who challenge us (and we will be challenged and confronted, he said). He showed ways to integrate these ideas into church liturgies, sermons, and faith conversations. After his sermon-like presentation, we concluded the conference with a time of prayer and a fun exercise whereby everyone wrote messages on their hands, they were photographed to be used on a larger montage for the conference itself, and joined together in closing liturgies, prayers, and song.
All in all, I had a nice time. But not everyone did. My friend Michael continued his frustration from the evening before with what appeared to be 'white privilege' revealing itself again during this day's conversations. Sure, that could be gleaned but it was actually named and identified from the panelists and later from McLaren. Still, this didn't sit well with him and I have asked him if he wouldn't mind letting me post his concerns here in another post later. He said that he'd think about it.
As for me, I found it to be the continued motivation to bring Jesus' call for unity and societal justice into a larger framing story that epitomizes my own call and ministry. It was a time of personal and spiritual renewal for me. I am glad I went. And, I am glad to have met new friends as well as sharing my time with old ones.
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