life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

café dolce (four): community...

Well, I'm back to blogging again. Thank you so much for your patience. We still haven't figured out what I have but we started the exploration process on Thursday afternoon. Today I can actually think. I'm not so thick-headed as I have been for the past couple of weeks. Well... I guess you can decide whether or not I am after you've read the post below. Here's the latest, with hopefully at least two more café dolce posts to come....

café dolce (four): community...

Tones just gave me back the copy he borrowed of Brian McLaren’s latest book in the A New Kind of Christian trilogy. It is called The Last Word and the Word After That. Besides the head-spinning deconstruction of hell that he does (at least my head is still spinning – whoa! not as in The Exorcist though; does that date me?), there is one section of the book that is incredibly attractive to me. Found in chapters 21-25, it portrays Neo’s invitation to a deeper church community experience of a group of somewhat likeminded people once a year. McClaren calls it deep ecclesiology.

Neo, it turns out, has been attending this conclave with a small number of other mentors for many years. It is a time of questioning and discussion and worship (not in the traditional sense) and true fellowship. It is the group that Neo “knows with,” a fascinating way of looking at things. (McLaren believes that knowing is a social event… from October’s lectures at Zoe: “You can’t kiss alone, you can’t reproduce alone, you can’t know alone. It’s hidden in the etymology of the word conscious – to ‘know with.’”)

Most of all, it allows the group to ask and hear in depth honest answers from each other in regards to five important questions; he calls them “the five queries”:

-- How is your soul?
-- How have you seen God at work in and through your life since we last met?
-- What are you struggling with?
-- What are you grateful for?
-- What God-given dream are you nurturing?

I have to tell you that of all that he says in this book, this is the single most attractive piece of what he says. When I gave the book to Tones I told him that there was one thing in the book that would really resonate with him. I didn’t tell him what. That’s the piece he first commented on.

When I think of Café Dolce, I think of it as a gathering place, a watering hole, where people can come to know, not simply in theory or syllogism, but in experience as well. I dream of community where one doesn’t drift in and drift out, where there is some open, honest sharing, where the emphasis and direction is actually geared toward becoming a spiritual apprentice of Jesus Christ, rather than a Bible know-it-all. I dream of it being a place where true kingdom living can break out so that all people in the world could be blessed, no matter what their religion or nationality.

By the way, kudos to the G8 nations in canceling that $55 billion in debt for the poorest nations. That’s a good first step. Now, let’s figure out some next steps and get this thing going.

Grace and peace!



Blogger Shane Coffman said...

Owen -

I just finished that book as well, and the "retreat" idea seemed inviting. I'm not sure how (or with whom) to make that happen in my life, but it's swimming around in there right now...

Hope you get to feeling better soon.


2:00 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Shane --

Welcome. I figured you've been out there lurking for awhile but just hadn't commented. Thanks for the well-wishes about whatever it is I have. Maybe it's just old age! (I've refused that self-diagnosis so far, and no one has disagreed with me.)

I think such "retreat" holds so much good promise that I hope the idea "swims" out of your head and into reality at some point.

Tones and I are having discussions about this right now. We hope to begin something like this on the west coast for a few of us perhaps as early as this fall.

We've been asking the same questions, especially the "who" question. I'm thinking the answer requires a good bit of prayer, thought and broadened horizons. I have begun to look outside our "fellowship" and I'm going to encourage Tones to do the same. (Actually, he already is and has made an excellent suggestion toward that end.) I also think it is really important make sure women are included as well, certainly wives if they are interested in such embracing fellowship. Probably asking yourself "Who are the people I 'think with' right now?" is a good exercise in this process. But you have to be careful with that approach because you won't have any "cross-fertilization" of thought if you only "think with" people from your own church or denomination. That could be quite dangerous or at least self-defeating to the process. Whatever the makeup, I hope what we come up with is post-protestant.

As to the "how", I think the details as to when and where, etc, are pretty easy. But I don't think scheduling is what you mean by "how." I think perhaps the first year or two -- or anytime a new member is added to the deep ecclesiological fellowship -- that nothing should be forced. If there are not established relationships, those five questions are going to appear very threatening to some. So all shouldn't be required to share if they don't feel comfortable. It may take a year (or two) to develop that trust. But whatever is said needs to assure the one who said it confidentiality.

There may be some practical thoughts about doing this somewhere on the Emergent website. Think I'll go there and check it out when I can.

Anyway, I wish you blessings as you deal with this idea. All I know is that it strikes a resounding chord in me, enough that I would like to commit some years to it to see what happens.

Grace and peace,

6:49 AM  
Blogger Tones said...

Shane, I appreciate your thoughts about this. I know that, at least for me, this idea has to become a reality. I just feel such a longing for this type of knowing. I don't know how it's going to happen other than just getting a couple of people and getting a callendar and saying "here". I imagine that in a few years there might be some better advice out there on how to begin this, but I just am unwilling to wait that long. I hope that you will also just learn to swim by diving in. Keep us posted, and we'll keep you posted.


8:57 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

How is your soul?

Turbulent. But at peace, relative to how it was during the dark days of separation. Stirred, aching, angry… But, on the other hand, calming, resolving, settling…

Maturing, but not along party lines. Perhaps I am becoming a liberal Christian. Perhaps I am becoming a sort of Christian-Taoist-Humanist hybrid.

Or perhaps I am merely becoming Marshall. And perhaps that is not a matter of adopting the proper -ism. It does seem, however, to be the basis of any healthy spiritual path to come.

How have you seen God at work in and through your life since we last met?

God seems to have been deconstructing me in order to reconstruct me. Or in order to allow me to reconstruct myself. I have been blasted to my foundations by mid-life. I feel as though my spirit has been surgically splayed open on the operating table without benefit of anesthetic. I feel as though my cells have been probed and my DNA unzipped.

As a consequence, I have become intensely aware of how religion can serve as either a mask or a crutch, as it has for me in the past, neither of which is healthy. I am becoming “without guile.” And, to others, I have become a sort of prophet of reality, of honest, sincere spirituality, rather than legalistic, fearful adherance to an interpretation of an ancient text. I am deeply moved by McLaren’s spiritual modus operandi, to count conversations rather than conversions.

What are you struggling with?

What am I not struggling with? I am struggling with how to realize the best ethic in contemporary society. I am struggling with how much or little of the Bible I should feel bound by. I am struggling with whether and how to “socialize” my sexuality. I am struggling with loneliness. I am struggling with my art, whether and to what extent to censor.

I am struggling with the problem of pain - why is God's world so unjust and unmerciful? The myth of Adam and Eve does not satisfy me - it's our fault?! And I am struggling with the notion of the Holy Spirit as enabler of a more righteous life. I have given and given and given myself to God, and I remain a mess. I am sure the world is full of child-molesting priests who have begged God for a lifetime to help them stop. Something in the neo-orthodox Christian worldview now seems to me fundamentally flawed.

What are you grateful for?

Life. Mind. Heart. My daughters. My friends and family. The practice of mindfulness. The prospect of intimacy. Kindness not born of an imposed, social need to be "righteous." Forgiveness. My job. Distractions – comics, books, recorded music, movies, my guitar. Wit. All that is healthy.

What God-given dream are you nurturing?

I’m not sure it’s God-given, but a spirituality not based in fear, that acknowledges the divine but allows for and even encourages human mistake-making, a spirituality that views God as doctor rather than punitive or long-suffering parent. A spirituality primarily concerned with health in all its aspects, rather than "righteousness," which has done so much harm. A spirituality awake to the obvious or the new, that does not deny or run from scientific discovery, that can converse with those who adhere to diverse worldviews. A spirituality that views itself as process rather than product. A spirituality that breeds humility rather than pride, peace rather than war, healing rather than regimentation. A spirituality that listens.

3:02 PM  

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