Minneapolis in October
Three weeks ago I attended the OPEN conference in Minneapolis. A fascinating crowd of dreamers, intellectuals and assorted pilgrims gathered to discuss what it means to be a progressive, inclusive leader in today’s Evangelical-ish church. Speakers included Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Frank Schaeffer, Kent Dobson, and a variety of other better and lesser-known folk.
As with most conferences, the unscheduled conversations were the most enjoyable part of the event. I listened to the heartfelt stories of a few megachurch senior pastors who lost half their members because they became LGBTQ inclusive, but who can now sleep at night. I had dinner with Teresa Pasquale, the author of an excellent book on spiritual abuse called Sacred Wounds. I enjoyed lunch with a seminary administrator who has bravely moved beyond her southern fundamentalist roots. I listened to a brilliant young therapist who helps families work through their children’s sexual and gender identities.
I especially enjoyed the hours spent in our rental house with many of the dear leaders from Highlands Church, grateful that God has led me to such a transparent, devoted community. With the Highlands folk we welcomed the staff from a church in New York and talked late into the night about the bold steps of faith to which God is calling us all.
I’m guessing no one in attendance was a person who believed in unquestioned obedience to the Scriptures. This was not a group that sees the Bible as an inerrant rulebook. This was a group of faithful questioners who see the Bible as the inspired record of God’s people on earth, a guide to understanding what it means to live as Jesus might live today. In the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, they call into question the typical way of seeing things and humbly, yet boldly proclaim the news that the gospel really is good news for all.
Many of those in attendance have been on a spiritual journey similar to my own (well, without the part about transitioning genders.) They grew up in Evangelical or Fundamentalist homes and through a thousand questions processed by curious minds, they all arrived at the station platform surprised and delighted to meet others waiting for the same train. Echoing the words of Carl Sandburg, they all know the travelers on the Sunset Limited are going somewhere beyond Omaha.
We are wired for community, so I should not be surprised these people managed to find one another. No one wants to blaze a trail alone. There were common names that played a part in all of us buying tickets to the same destination – Mary Oliver, Phyllis Tickle, Wendell Berry, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Richard Rohr. All are people on similar journeys, though Phyllis Tickle’s journey has moved to another plane.
There was a ten-foot wild goose hanging from the ceiling at the church building in which the conference was held! Yep, a little odd. Yet it sent our thoughts to a poem treasured by many, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, a poem I memorized years ago. On the final morning the poem was quoted, acknowledging what many were feeling, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” The poem ends with these life affirming words: “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. It calls to you, like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
And so it goes.