On Monday, December 17, 12 of us gathered at Wicker Park Grace to drink mulled cider, eat a variety of cookie that involved cinnamon and create a safe space for discussion regarding the use of liturgy (The Lord's Prayer) in these meetings and our unique characteristic of being attractive to agnostics, atheists and folks of other faiths. That last category included Menachem, who identified himself as part of the emerging Judaism movement, which was super-cool to hear about, in my book. We also spent a good portion of time telling the stories of our lives to strengthen the community that we're creating.
It has been awhile since the meeting (almost a month), so this summary will lack a certain immediacy in the retelling. Helen wrote about it in a much more timely fashion here. I haven't read it yet because I didn't want it to color my own report, but Helen's always interesting and reliable in her perspective.
These are the quotes (possibly paraphrased) that I wrote down during the meeting. I think they represent well the flow of the conversation.
"A concatenation of words can't offend. It offends as a symbol." -Steve about the Lord's Prayer
"We're pursuing truth. It shouldn't surprise us that atheists come." -James
"The word truth, I try to stay away from because so many Christians use it to describe absolute belief rather than their experiences." -Helen
"What if we called it the Lord's Poem?" -Lyndi
"Liturgy inevitably draws a line. Why do people recite words together?" -Nanette
"How can we better serve each other and love God? How can we be human together?" -Lyndi
"I want to say, 'Your church would have a really hard time with me,' but I shouldn't because you're [indicating the group] part of your church." -Helen
The major ideas that I got from the conversation were that we all valued the group for creating a space for theological conversation but at the same time, many Christians liked that the conversation could tie together it's loose ends at the end of the meeting with an affirmation that something, probably God, connected us together in a common purpose. The atheists, agnostics, and others present were extremely gracious in their desire not to "take that affirmation away from us" but in retrospect, I personally don't like the divide that creates in the group. I have a real desire for the group to be organic in its purpose, forming naturally around the people that compose it. And the reality is that although up/rooted has some very Christian statements of purpose as it's founding principles, this city branch of it is composed of people that are not necessarily Christian. Doug Pagitt talked at the Midwest Emergent Gathering (audio here) about how the adoption of two Hispanic kids into his family changed the family as well as the lives of the kids. He used this personal anecdote as a metaphor for the emerging church. I think that if we believe in a generous orthodoxy, we must not simply tolerate and make space for those that do not claim Christ as a leader, but embrace them as truly family, changing each other as we meet and are vulnerable in telling our stories, expressing our opinions and asking our questions. (Did you notice how many of the quotes that struck me were questions?) If we believe that a loving God is at the center and that we're all simply on different paths heading toward the same goal, we should be able to trust that -through our thirst- she'll keep us traveling in the right direction regardless of who we find to travel with on the journey.
So, some suggestion of possible alternatives to reciting the Lord's Prayer at the end of meetings involve:
-acknowledging that not all present necessarily agree but asking their indulgence as the rest of us pray
-ending in some sort of silent, personal prayer
-reciting something else
There were probably others but grad school is really getting in the way of my ability to remember them. I'm really sorry. Please add what's missing in any comments to this post.
We tried the silent prayer and although we didn't discuss it, I was personally dissatisfied with it. It didn't give quite the sense of "tying up the loose ends" of the discussion, as James said. I'd love to try the recitation of other words. Please suggest possible texts (secular and religious) that are more inclusive either in the comments section of this post or in an email to me. I'll figure out a way to let the group vote on which ones are best once I've received some suggestions.
I am so thankful for the role this up/rooted.city group is playing in my life. I am itching for our next meeting, which won't be until Monday, January 28 because of the MLK holiday. We'll be meeting again at Wicker Park Grace, which is located at 1741 N. Western and we'll start at 7:00 with the intent that folks will be able to start heading back home around 9:00.