Help along the way


So, I’m beginning to get requests for speaking and leading workshops. I have some experience in all of it, but I thought I’d meet with someone with much more skill than I do. I mean, why make years of mistakes, flying by the seat of your pants, when you can learn from a person who’s already been there and done that?

I sat down for coffee with Stanley Ott, who runs the Vital Churches Institute. He’s been doing this for many years, has a PhD in running effective seminars, and he was willing to share some time and valuable advice with me. He was drinking a cranked-up cup o’ joe while I sipped my Zen tea. I’m pretty sure he’s an extrovert, and I know that I’m an introvert. So, I listened, most of the time. I even took notes, because it was important and that’s what I do. He was a wealth of information. Every once in a while, I joined in with a stammering sentence or two, but most of the time, I just took it all in.

I spent the first few minutes amazed. I’ve read a lot of Julia Cameron, and what she says is true. When you begin a creative endeavor, open to where the Spirit might move, you begin to find a myriad of people along the way who are willing to help.

It reminded me of the time when I was way over my head, negotiating for a shared equity agreement with my church. Suddenly, this random person, who had been a speaker at a “No 2 Torture” conference, called and asked if she could stay at our house for an evening. I had extended a general invitation to everyone at the event, and I was thrilled that she was taking me up on my offer.

That night, as we ate at my favorite D.C. restaurant, I told her a bit about what I was going through. Come to find out, she was not only an expert on the writ of habeas corpus, but she had been an HR lawyer. She told me everything that was fair and right and what to expect in the deal. She was like an angel. But she was better than some glowing ethereal image with wings, she was a kick-butt messenger with a law degree. Then after dispensing me the most important information of my life, she paid for dinner and bought my daughter Click, Clack, Moo.

And so, here I was again, with someone who knew exactly what I needed to hear and was willing to pray for me. Pretty nice.

We have a lot in common. We’re both interested in reaching out to younger generations. We’ve both worked in campus ministries. He was an AP when he began his church vitality work. We’re both interested in building community and spiritual connection within congregations.

Our commonalities ended when it came to same-sex relationships. He pointed out Romans, and said he took the Bible seriously and just didn’t know how to get around it. I explained that I wanted to be able to invite my friends to church, and there was no way I could do that if the church was committed to the exclusion of gays and lesbians. If I was going to err, I wanted to err on the side of grace.

We didn’t get out our swords, we didn’t even rehearse too much of it. We both knew the arguments. And he was still willing to pray for me at the end of it.

I’m having a lot of these conversations lately. They seem to be moments of mercy built on issue fatigue, and the glimmer of hope that we can move on. Is there a way that we can do it? Is there a way that people who are polarized by this issue can still work together to strengthen the body of Christ? I do want to move on. I really do.

But I still want to be able to invite my friends to church.

photo by matthaycraven84


5 thoughts on “Help along the way

  1. I’m delighted to hear that you and Stan had a good conversation. I think there is hope to be found in the coffee shop. That is the place where conversations can take place and votes don’t matter!
    I’m not sure how to best address this issue as a denomination but I’m certain that we’ve done a very poor job of it. As an evangelical, who would largely agree with Stan’s position, I have to confess that the way “our side” has approached it an entire group of people (homosexual) have felt ostracized and unwelcome in the church and that’s a shame.
    I’m also not convinced that either side has taken the brokenness of human sexuality seriously enough. Conservatives tend to draw a line in the sand that says “thank God I’m not like one of them” and this masks a brokenness of divorce, adultery, lust and pornography, but still makes us feel better. Liberals perhaps have a tendency to err to much on the side of grace which turns to license, or as Bonhoeffer calls it “cheap grace.” They hear the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery that because no one is left to condemn her then he won’t either but then sometimes miss the next statement of “go and leave your life of sin.”
    Miroslav Volf’s work on grace I think brings a wonderful corrective voice to both sides.
    Perhaps we should get a small group of differing perspectives from our presbytery together to have coffee.

  2. Carol – you are a great convesationalist as well as listener! (and by the way I am technically a MBTI “I”) What you are doing with Tribal Church has very exciting potential. The church (in fact the broader culture) sure needs it. While at times the church gets tied in knots over various issues, surely clearly the bottom line is the Spirit cares about people! Its clear you do as well. Blessings – Stan

  3. Brian, So which one would you say is most important? How does the ICCC balance the tensions?

    Neil, You’re right. Coffee shops do a world of good. And, it seems like the conversation’s changing. After exhausting our arguments, maybe we can sort something out.

    Jan, I hadn’t heard about Busboys and Poets in Shirlington. That’s fantastic. Yes! And Yes! I’d love to speak at Faith on Tap. Just let me know when.

    Stan, How nice of you to stop by, and for commenting (it certainly makes me look a lot more legit!). Thanks again for sharing your time and wisdom.

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