If you want to know where I am (or where I’m about to leave, since I’m currently sitting in the airport), you can find all the clues you need here. Unfortunately, those pictures were taken on the only evening I had a chance to wander. The rest of the time, I was stuck in a boring hotel in the industrial wasteland near the airport. (Sorry Karla – no chance to hook up this time.)
But it’s been good. So good. Surprisingly good.
I’m at a Christian charities conference, and the last time I came to one of these, I felt like a fish out of water. As much as I make a continuous (or perhaps I should say repeated and sometimes sporadic) choice to be a person of faith, I do not speak the language of religion well. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that I “do” religion well. I’m a bit of a faltering Christian without the same sense of a box in which to place my faith as many people seem to have. Especially people who tend to gather in a place like this. The shape of my faith is a little less like a box and more like a loosely woven basket. (I know some of you are smiling right now, because you’ve got baskets too. And some of the holes are even bigger than you’d like, right?)
So when I’m in a context surrounded by hundreds of people for whom the language is as natural as breathing, I get a little antsy and often feel inclined to run from the room. Sometimes I envy them their boxes and their common language, but I just know it doesn’t work for me. (Like, for example, the guy who delivers the “spiritual challenge” – a mini-sermon – each morning, who says “God bless you” every time he steps out of the elevator. I seem to share an elevator with him every time I go to my room. I don’t know how to respond. “Um – yeah thanks?” Good thing he hasn’t noticed that I’ve managed to skip the “spiritual challenge” part of the morning every day since the first day.)
You can see then, why a place like a “Christian charities conference” leaves me feeling a little like an impostor. And an alien. A stranger in a strange land.
But this time, it’s been different. Not because I’ve conformed to the box or learned the language – quite the opposite. I’ve been having the most amazing conversations. I have found lots of other baskets in rooms I assumed were full of boxes. I’ve had pleasant surprises. I’ve had to readjust my perceptions of people. I love that. With one person in particular, whom I’ve known for a couple of years, a person who is a leader in a Christian relief and development agency – someone you’d assume almost certainly fits in the box category – I’ve had a couple of truly remarkable conversations. He’s faced the same doubts, the same anger at organized religion, and the same shaking of a faith he thought was fairly secure. He’s had to climb out of the box too, and is still trying to figure out the shape of his new faith. He is now my friend on a very different level than he was two days ago. What a lovely surprise!
And I’ve gotten to attend two sessions with one of my favourite writers, Brian McLaren. And after each workshop, I got a chance to chat with him one on one. He’s even more cool in person than in his books. Definitely a basket kind of guy. A basket guy who doesn’t pretend he’s got a box. My kind of guy. I’ve even got an advance copy of his new (not even released yet) book that he’s asked me to pass on as a surprise to a mutual friend of ours (but I get to read it first on the airplane on the way home). How cool is that?
There have been other great sessions too. I’ve definitely been refreshed. And I have some great ideas floating around in my grey matter.
I never expected I’d be this glad I came.