When Esther was four weeks old, she and I got on a plane for four hours to San Francisco, then in a car for a five hour trip over the mountain to an old hippie commune turned retreat center with 20+ strangers so that we could get to know one another at the beginning of a two year cohort experience. All of us care passionately about community development to the point of being young (25-40) leaders in the field.
As usual, I feared being an outsider. In fact, I had billed myself as one in my application to look attractive for the diversity I'd bring. (haha, funny joke in an organization that is proactive about racial reconciliation) Most folks in the organization that sponsored the cohort are evangelical and do direct service work with under-resourced people. However, I am mainline Protestant -emergent, no less - and try to work at a systemic level to effect change. These differences had the potential to drastically deforest our common ground both culturally and personally.
For instance, a week before the retreat, the organizer sent out an email to group, telling us we were responsible for our own praise and worship time. He pointed out that previous cohorts had contained members who were active in their music programs at church so if those folks in this group would bring their instruments, we would be able to put something together ad hoc.
Although I have some worship team experience, it was mostly when I was a much younger Christian and my repertoire consists mostly of late 90s Christian camp songs and "contemporary" hymns.
Mot of my spiritual communities since then have been more traditionally liturgical or contemplative in nature and haven't kept up with the latest praise music.
As a result, when the annual conference for this organization is always dominated evangelical worship teams, I often feel left out because I don't know the songs and, generally, the songs I do know don't particularly inspire worship in me. So, I had a sinking feeling that the same thing would happen on this retreat.
As it turned out, no one in our cohort had the requisite "spiritual gifts" to lead that type of experience. What we did have were a couple of people who work in a camp ministry and regularly lead young children and teenagers in easy to learn music.
I loved it.
I'm generally quite reserved when it comes to music and worship. I don't dance when our crazy rabbi leads our minyan and I'm somewhat inhibited when it comes to clapping and such in other services. I just don't tend to feel the spirit that way and so have no reason to overcome my default staidness.
However, with this group of strangers I decided to just have fun, you know?
I don't often have fun. I enjoy myself and I experience satisfaction, contentment and happiness. However, grinning and giggling in fun are less frequent.
Still, with a brand-new babe sleeping in her Moby wrap and the sense of freedom brought on by successfully navigating our travel, I figured whatthehell.
So, each session, I danced as I peeled bananas with hand motions and laughed as I shouted, "Go Bananas! Go, go bananas!"
And I grinned as I looked around at all these other adults - working so hard to extend the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of God, with all of the seriousness that requires - spinning with their arms flailing like peels. I could be like them if I gave myself over to it. If I let God in enough to remind me that I have never been an outsider to her.
And then we sang, "As a deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee," and I could hear my junior high youth director sing in my head, "Bom, bom" in a rising third like he always did in those days when fun and the awakenings of spirituality were so inextricably bound together.
There comes a time in most new groups when I get some sort of feedback from the other people that I am now known and, often, liked. This time came on this trip when I was expressing my enthusiasm for the worship by saying, "This is so much better than two sensitive guys with guitars."
One of the men leaned over so he could see me, laughed and replied, "You just said that, didn't you," as disbelieving affirmation.
Yes. Yes, I did.
Now let me see your funky chicken.
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