I attended the National House Church conference this weekend. One of the authors I work with was speaking and it's always good to support someone like that in the flesh. So, I flew out of DIA Friday morning along with all the folks coming off the Obama Rocky Mountain high.
I flew into Dallas/Foat Wuth; home of The Cowboys and the seminary I graduated from and folks who say "thaynks" and endless sunsets. The conference was o.k. My author friend did a good job and I could tell folks appreciated his words. However, the bulk of the conference seemed just a little off. Well, maybe a lot off.
If I heard someone say, it's about relationship, not religion once, I heard them say it a zillion times; as if it's either/or. I believe it's both/and. Trust me - I know about religion; son of a preacher man, and preached myself for quite some time. But the deep meaning of the word "religion" speaks of something being healed or restored, like a broken bone. That sounds an awful lot like the kind of "relationship" I want and need. Anyway, that soap-boxin' got old fast. I understand it's where a lot of those folks are on the path/journey/highway/rock-strewn trail, but nobody ever tempered that mindset with, well, what if it's both/and?
I also got the distinct impression that the house church folks believed they had found the promised land, freedom; this "gathering like they did in the New Testament" was the holy grail itself. I'm sure not everyone there felt that way, but I smelled it in the room.
The author I work with was one of the speakers on the ticket, but the big daddy speaker for the weekend was William Young, author of that little phenom The Shack. I'd never heard him in person; hell, I ain't even finished his book. I thought about reading it this weekend in preparation for the conference, but I found Annie Dillard's latest in paperback (The Maytrees) at the airport and sorry, Shack-man, but Annie hung the moon.
William Young did a good job. I appreciated his candor and ease. His story comes out of a truckload of pain and he's been a good steward of it. But at some point, I felt the House Church conference became The Shack Conference. All the speakers started referring to God as Papa and phrases like we all have our shacks started jumping out like Texas jackalopes and that got even older than the religion/relationship smackdown. It was fair; it's hard not to let something like that eclipse the party, such is its force right now.
This from Annie Dillard, describing her main character, Toby Maytree:
So he added his playful bits to the world perceived. How much better to heal and prevent disease; feed and inoculate and teach kids; provide sturdy breeds of animals and seeds! But poetry seemed to be his task...
I guess that's who I would have loved to have seen or heard at the conference this weekend: a poet. But I didn't. At one point, a speaker asked everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes for prayer. I pray eyes wide open, have for years now. Later, in a conversation with several folks, I mentioned looking around during the prayer, watching body language and such. One of the guys said, So you didn't close your eyes? He wasn't joshing me; he was dead serious. I said, No, that's not the way I pray. He said, Oh.
Maybe that sounds harsh. Maybe it is. It just seems we trade one thing for another, but still retain some of the other, but if there's enough people in the room we feel empowered and so we go with it and stand and raise our hands and take jabs at the folks we left and we have our gurus and we hang on their every word and this stuff is just as evident in the house church movement as it is in the institutional church movement. Sure, I've got my gurus too, like Annie Dillard; she taught me to pray eyes-wide-open.
I finished Dillard's book yesterday. Very good. I also caught the middle of Harry Potter's The Order of the Phoenix on the hotel's movie channel. Wow, I loved what I saw. I didn't get to finish it though because I had a relationship session to attend. Did you know some say it's not about religion? And then I caught those first snippets of Sarah Palin. My wife told me someone asked her about her favorite designer; she said, The North Face. Ah, a poet. I like that.
My writer friend, Winn Collier, brings another facet of the soul of this post. He does it in much more eloquent prose though. His name is in my Blogs of Note; just click and read. He's a poet too.