Of Mountain Trout and the Soul of a Man

Welcome to the first installment in my “Flashback Friday” series, where I’m going to share some of my favorite from my writing archives. This essay first appeared September 10, 2013, in EcoTheo Review.


Waters collected from the rains and snows of millennia gather and rush down primordial paths folded and worn into these mountains, the oldest in the world. From droplets and trickles tumbling off ridgetops they meet, flirting along bouldered slopes, consummating into something new and powerful and beautiful. Always downward, carving deeper and wider into soil and rock, ever finding new partners to join in their endless dance, all the while gaining might and urgency.

And as the waters cavort through ditches and ravines and hollows and valleys, they find a new consort. Painted trout, perfectly formed. Breathing in life through scarlet gills, capering with fins and tails, securing sanctuary in the chilly depths. From centuries of old they became one with the waters, and the waters became one with the mountains, and they all became one with each other.

It is in this place where I first found my soul.

Some have called it the Mountain State. John Denver called it Almost Heaven. But for those of us who make our lives here, who proudly proclaim “montani semper liberi,” it will always and ever be West-By-God-Virginia.

Sometimes I take people–friends–into these mountains, along these cascading streams and rivers, and they see them, and they are utterly gobsmacked by the visual splendor of it all. And they say things like, “How can you look at this view and say there’s no God?”

I guess I understand what they’re saying. But for me it has never been about just seeing it. Yes, it is a feast for the eyes. Stunning broad vistas from the peaks. The play of color and light in the valleys. It is always ancient, always new, both real and surreal.

No, for me it is the water. Always the water. The closer to its source I go, the closer I find myself to my own. The more intimate I become with it, the more I discover its story, the more connected I become with the One Great Story. It awakes the soul it led me to discover as a boy, and stirs it to life in ways that always thrill and surprise me.

It is the water. And with the water came trout. And in the water, the trout and I became friends.

With my finely-tapered magic wand of split bamboo, and with wisps of fur and feather lashed on tiny hooks attached to gossamer monofilament, I step tentatively into the flow, glancing about for a flash beneath the surface or a nose poking up into that mysterious place where water meets sky. I remember that the early Hebrews referred to “heaven” as “sky,” thinking of it not as someplace within the great blue expanse above the horizon  or as the twinkling black sea of night, but as that omnipresent ether that is always and ever all around us. It is in the very air we breathe. Near, not distant. Something we are part of, not apart from. And I wonder how we managed to forget.

I scan my viewscape for the telltale glint of a mayfly’s wing, knowing it would mean the buffet is open for the salmonids lurking below. I look into branches and inspect spider webs to see what tasty treats the arachnids and trout might share here today. Are there caddis? Stoneflies? Or will this be a day for terrestrials, when ants, beetles and grasshoppers will be the preferred fare? Or might it be best to imitate the nymphal stages and work beneath the meniscus where bugs have not yet hatched but where hungry trout aren’t patient enough to wait?

As I gain my footing on the cobbled streambed, I feel myself beginning to find the rhythm of the water and the air and the wind and the clouds and the trees and the grass. The current pulses against my shins as I wade upstream, taking a few careful steps at first, and then moving more confidently as my feet and legs remember. The sun warms my face as the breeze sweeps down the ridge and gently kisses my cheeks. Sweet honeysuckle and lilac blend with the subtle muskiness of hemlock and infuse each breath I take. The river’s song rises in harmony with the wind in the pines as the mountain’s orchestra reaches a stunning crescendo.

I start to notice the way the stream is put together…where rocks break the flow here, where the current gathers speed there, where a fallen tree branch creates a calm pool and the flow swirls back into itself, where the rocky underwater floor dips deep and then rises sharply. These are the places where the river feeds and protects its residents, delivering tiny six-legged morsels to every doorstep, or providing refuge from larger predators both within and without.

As observation gives way to instinct, I enter the dance. Conjuring ancient spells with my mystic cane, I start casting flies first to this pool, up against that rock, along the subtle line of bubbles that define a seam in the current. I know where the trout live. They have invited me into their homes time and time again, and they have showed me the signs on their doorposts.

One cast becomes a dozen, then a hundred. Some of the trout are at home, and a few deign to play my little game, pretending to be fooled by my feathered concoctions so we can gambol together to the rising strain of forest music. Some, I’m sure, are perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves if I were to keep one for a meal in camp. But most know instinctively that they will be safely returned. Because if it is the mark of friendship that one would give his own life for the other, it is the true sign of brotherhood that the other values his friend’s life too much to take it.

A hundred casts become two hundred, and I am now part of the river. I forget where stream and sky end and I begin. I absorb it all, and it envelops me. We move together as one, me and the river and the mountain and the trout. There is nothing else but this moment.

And I find it again. My soul. I know it has never left, that it never stays behind just to await my return, but it is in this here and now that it rises up and reminds me who I am.

It is not the mere sight of this place and its beauty that proves its creator. That implies a standing apart from it, a detachment, a looking at it as something that is other, that is outside oneself and separate and different.

No, it is this moment. When all the world and all of creation is inexorably focused in this breath, in this heartbeat. When earth and sky and wind and water and sounds and smells coalesce in one astonishing, impossible instant, and everything is revealed all at once.

And I cast again, and a trout rises, and takes the fly, and God smiles, and his laugh carries on the breeze down the mountain and through my soul, and my essence comes alive anew.

And I know. I know who I am. And I know what it means to be perfect.

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The Lament of Words

words

Welcome to the long-overdue reboot of joewebbwrites.com. I’ve spent this week with some amazing students from around the WV Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church working as a mentor to a group of high schoolers in the WVUMC’s Radical Discipleship Academy of Appalachia. Today’s entry came out of a prayer practice called the Daily Examen the kids & staff were led through earlier this week. This piece reflects some of the struggle I’ve had lately with my discipline of writing, but it holds much more than that. I hope it finds meaning in your life, and that you’ll keep coming back for new content in the weeks and months to come. Shalom!

The Lament of Words

These words and thoughts
and thoughts and words
have meaning
have power
have danger
have hope.

I mean them to be helpful.
I hope them to be hopeful.
But lurking behind them
are doubts
and fears.
Are they good enough?
Are they strong enough?

Am I good enough?
Am I strong enough?

These words and thoughts
and thoughts and words
hold universes,
skip from star to star,
span the void
from eternity to eternity.

But sometimes they seem so small,
so weak.
And sometimes the smallest and weakest
become the loudest,
shouting into the void
to escape their inadequacies.

These words and thoughts
and thoughts and words.
Are they even mine?
So often they slip out
unnoticed
And before I know it
they’re bouncing around in the wide world
out of control
and whether they’re useful or not
or good or not
isn’t up to me.

So who’s are they?

These words and thoughts
and thoughts and words
are all I have.
My offering to God.
My offering from God.
Are they mine?
Are they God’s?

Are they yours?

Are they ours?

Time to turn the page…

turnpage

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To all things, Wisdom wrote, there is a season.

And so it is with TheAwesomenessConspiracy.com. And a fine season it’s been!

This site was birthed in January 2013 from my previous blog, faithrants.com, in an effort to bring more voices into the conversation and expand offerings to become a full-fledged resource site. I partnered with several brilliant and talented co-conspirators to diversify content and spark new ideas. It’s been a terrific ride with some amazing people.

And now, it’s time for another change. In January, I’ll be re-launching with a new design and a new name, joewebbwrites.com.

The new site will still feature faith-based content, but from a slightly renewed perspective. In some ways it will be a back-to-the-future kind of move, as I hope to return to writing about those places where I find the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary, and moments of sacredness growing out of common experiences.

I also hope to do more storytelling on the new site…both stories of my own as well as those of people who are doing remarkable things in the world whose stories you may not have heard.

I’m planning some regular features, including some devotional-type pieces to invite reflection and introspection. And I’ll still try to provide lots of resources to help us explore together what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century and to give you tools you can use in whatever setting you find yourself.

And since this is more of a relaunch/re-branding than a total start-over-from-scratch sort of effort, all of the content from here at TheAwesomenessConspiracy.com will continue to be available in archived form on joewebbwrites.com. If you’ve signed up to follow us by e-mail or via RSS, you’ll continue to receive updates.

Ultimately, this blog is for you, so I value your feedback, suggestions, ideas, and critique. Feel free to use the comment section here or reach me by email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Whether you’ve been a regular reader or have just checked in occasionally, I appreciate your support. I hope you’ll find the coming site updates to be something you’ll want to continue to enjoy. I’m excited about where we’re going together! See you in January at joewebbwrites.com!

Shalom,

Joe

Judgment

Pearls before swine old quotation from bible

(This is the seventh installment of The Awesomeness Conspiracy’s 2015 Lenten devotional on the Sermon on the Mount. Follow us to receive e-mail updates for each new post.)

[Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3]  [Part 4]  [Part 5]  [Part 6]

Today’s reading: Matthew 6:25-7:12

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Love your enemies. Treasure what God treasures. Pray for love.

Their worldview was fully unraveled now. This was Israel. Chosen nation. God’s own people.

Tied together by legal codes that specified who was and was not in God’s favor.

It was all about getting from out to in. From unclean to clean. From excluded to included.

These were things worth fretting over.

But even this, Jesus says, is not as it seems.

Why worry? Isn’t God in charge? Either he is or he isn’t. See these birds? They work, but only to be what God made them to be. See these flowers? Each one beautiful, not because it chose to be beautiful, but because God created it beautiful.

You are blessed. From the highest and greatest to the lowest and least. Blessed.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Righteousness. There’s that word again. Not the righteousness of the Pharisees, of the law-enforcers, the status-quo-protectors.

The righteousness of God.

You have heard it said…but I tell you….

Anger, contempt, indulgence. Objectification. Dehumanization. Condemnation.

Splinters and logs.

You must see others for who they are. Created by, loved by, cared for by the One who created, loves, and cares for you.

Condemnation blinds. Only love can see.

It was all so hard to hear. So hard to accept.

Particularly, perhaps, for those most threatened by it.

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

This Kingdom is dangerous. Love is dangerous.

Be perfect, Jesus said. Repent. Reorient.

But if even the Pharisees and teachers of the law have missed the point, how then could these outcasts and misfits access this love Jesus proclaims?

Ask. Seek. Knock.

Grace.

It cannot come from human will alone. Only God has that power.

But God, it seems, is willing to share it with his children.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength.

And love your neighbor as yourself.

This is it! This is the law!

Love God fully. Love others fully.

Trust God, pray to God, to give you power where you have none. To see as God sees.

Not through eyes of distrust or condemnation or judgment.

But through eyes full of the light of love.

Next: Authority

Have Yourself a Compelling Little Christmas

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The gospel is compelling, not coercive.

Is there a statement that more fully embodies the Christmas story?

In a time when Christian denominations offer a fragmented picture of the body of Christ, when self-appointed gatekeepers impose narrow definitions and restrictive requirements for what is and is not acceptable, and when fear is wielded as the primary motivator of faith, we as the church would do well to be reminded of the compelling nature of God’s entry into our winner-take-all existence.

The ancient Hebrews spoke of God’s hesed love. Hesed is most often translated as “loving-kindness,” eliciting mercy, loyalty, faithfulness and compassion.

Hesed love is not conditional. It is not a love that wavers with our commitment or diminishes in the face of our disobedience. It is not love that pushes us to change in order to be acceptable.

Hesed is love that comes to us in a story of the poor and oppressed, of the despised and reviled. Of a baby born in dirt and filth to an unwed mother, whose coming was announced not to kings or religious leaders but to untrustworthy field workers and immigrant astrologers.

It is no coincidence that hesed is by its very nature incarnational. It is love that comes to us not as a warm and fuzzy feeling of attraction and excitement but as something that comes alive and takes shape in us and through us.

It is not just something that is delivered to us, but produces something in us, something new and surprising.

Something faithful and compassionate and merciful and just and beautiful.

There is nothing coercive about this kind of love. Nothing about it screams, “accept me or else!

But could there be anything more compelling?

Is there anything else, any other power in the universe that so captivates us? That grabs our imagination and makes us ask, what if life could REALLY be like this?

That’s the answer that Christmas gives us.

The compelling story that life really CAN be like this. That there is a love that reaches past our sorry commitments and our disobedience. That brings the incarnational beauty of hesed alive in us and unites us.

This Christmas, may we truly embrace the hesed loving-kindness of God through the incarnation of Jesus. And may we, like him, become a compelling force for mercy, love, justice, and compassion.

Happy Christmas!

Faith Not Fear: A story of inspiration

FNF_01

Dear fellow Conspirators for Awesomeness,

As a seminary student and someone seeking to discern a call into vocational ministry, I often find myself in conversations about discovering our purpose in the world. Often, we find ourselves talking about how we’ll know what God’s will is for our lives.

What I’ve come to believe is that, more often than not, God’s not so much directing us to a particular activity or position as he is encouraging us to find something that ignites our passions. Maybe, rather than waiting to hear what God is calling us to, we should do what excites us most and allow God to bless it.

A few months ago my friend Allie started a new venture called Faith Not Fear Apparel. FNF sells inspirational t-shirts as a means for people to start meaningful conversations, and gives away a portion of all sales to help empower others.

I wanted to feature FNF here on TheAwesomnessConspiracy.com both to help spread the word about their products as well as to tell Allie’s story. I think it’s a shining example of finding that place where your gifts and talents intersect with your passions, and watching God go to work with it in spectacular ways.

I recently had a chance to ask Allie to share the story behind FNF. And while many are rushing stores today for Black Friday deals, I thought today would be a good day to feature a possible alternative for your Christmas shopping.

What inspired you to start Faith Not Fear? 

Faith Not Fear Apparel was born out of a desire to “do more” to encourage people’s faith. After coming back from a life-changing mission trip to Haiti, I knew I couldn’t go back to sitting behind a desk, looking at the computer screen all day, when just a few days prior I put shoes on the feet of impoverished children, handed out Bibles and prayed with strangers. While sitting at my desk I kept wondering what I could do to make a difference here…as Mother Teresa said, “love begins at home.”

FNF_02Why t-shirts?

America is not a third world country and is privileged in many, many ways. But it’s a land full of hurting people, people who need Jesus. However, as a Christian it’s sometimes hard to start a conversation about God with strangers (or even friends!) − how do you bring it up a topic like that to that person behind you at the grocery store or that mom waiting to pick up her children beside of you. A t-shirt − that is was it! I decided that that was the way I could try to make a difference in my own community. It is our hope that by wearing a Faith Not Fear Apparel shirt that someone might ask you about it and give you the opportunity to share a little bit about faith/God/church with them. As a company, we strive to develop shirts you would be proud to wear and that have a simple, powerful message.

You said your trip to Haiti was life-changing. What was it about that experience that motivated you to do something like this?

With the root of the idea being planted in Haiti, 10% of the sales price of what we sell goes to support the ApParent Project, a nonprofit I visited there. The ApParent Project provides opportunities for Haitians to have steady employment. Haitian artisans learn skills, which enable them to provide for their children rather than send them to an orphanage due to extreme poverty. The Apparent Project distributes Haitian recycled, or “upcycled” items, which have become beautiful products including jewelry, home décor, pottery and more! They are making great strides in empowering Haitian people and keeping families together. To learn more about this heartwarming organization visit them at http://www.apparentproject.org

What’s in the name, “Faith Not Fear?” Is there a story there?

FNF_03Dave Willis, a leading expert on building strong Christian marriages, said, “There isn’t enough room in your life for both fear and faith. Each day, you must decide which one gets to stay.” This quote really stuck out to me − fear is something so many people (including myself) struggle with, it’s something the devil uses to paralyze us, so as the quote says, each and every day we have to make a conscious decision to squash those lies and choose to believe the promises from God.

How have other people spoken into your vision for FNF? Was it important for you to hear other voices? If so, why?

I have received a lot of encouragement from others to continue down this journey and each time I start to take a step back, God puts someone, even strangers, in my life at the right time to continue to push me! People have shared their heartfelt testimonies with me, and shared the reason they want a shirt whether it to be wear themself or to give it as a gift to encourage someone else. I love the way people want to shine God’s light on others using Faith Not Fear Apparel as a vehicle to do so. 

If we could fast-forward to a year from now and you could call FNF a success story, what would that look like for you?

I would love to walk down the street and see people wearing my shirts! I would also love to be able to send significant contributions to the ApParent Projects and be able to see the wonderful ways they will put the money to good use! 

What dreams do you have for the future of FNF…both in terms of product as well as mission?

I hope to expand the product line to include more designs and possibly a workout line of apparel. My main goal will continue to be to think of ways to shine God’s light on hurting people and find ways to help encourage people’s walk in faith.

To learn more about Faith Not Fear apparel, visit their fully-featured online store at www.faithnotfearapparel.com.

 

A prayer for Ferguson

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I’m praying for Ferguson today.

Not just in that semi-sincere “Christian-ese” way that feels sorry for someone and says, “Oh, I’ll be praying for you.” I am literally on my knees. Praying. Begging God to make things right.

I’m praying that your city will find peace, and that neighbors can learn to live alongside one another without fear. That your people who desired nothing more than a nonviolent protest in response to a devastating announcement aren’t further victimized by criminals who used your pain as an excuse to loot and pillage, and your peaceful attempt to be heard as a cover for their selfish actions.

I’m praying for Michael Brown’s family. Your loss is insurmountable. And regardless of what the grand jury said, regardless of the evidence they saw, or maybe didn’t see, you deserved better than a cheap explanation from a slick politician.

I’m praying for Darren Wilson and his family. You have experienced something awful. You made a decision no one should ever have to make. You too are a victim of sorts. A victim of a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality that makes deadly force your first instinct instead of a desperate measure of last resort.

I’m praying for justice. Not revenge. Not retribution. Those are different. I’m praying for real justice, the kind that brings reconciliation, the kind where something beautiful grows out of something horrible.

I’m praying that we can stop calling killing of any kind “justifiable.” I understand self-defense. I get that “kill or be killed” is a real, powerful, primal instinct. But because it’s understandable doesn’t make it justifiable. Again, that word implies that justice was somehow achieved. It’s more than semantics. Words matter, and we need to be less careless when our words are this important.

I’m praying that we can stop promoting and elevating fear as a motivation for our actions. The more we do that, the more superficial the things on which we base our fear…to the point where we become afraid of each other based on something as ultimately superficial as the color of our skin.

I’m praying that our news media will honor its responsibility to inform citizens, discover truth, and uncover corruption rather than selfishly escalating viewers’ emotions and inflaming conflict in the interest of selling more of its product.

I’m praying that white Americans can begin to empathize with the different perception our black neighbors have of life in our country. That we can recognize our privileged position in society and admit that we are able to live without much of the daily anxiety African-Americans must endure every moment of every day. That we can stop deflecting the argument toward so-called “black-on-black” violence. Or the notion that had Darren Wilson and Michael Brown been of the same race, their confrontation would have never made headlines. Those are cheap excuses that keep us from confronting legitimate issues.

I’m praying that the people of Jesus, who should be best equipped to bring about the kind of change that can end violence and injustice, will worry less about the silent voices of invisible imps and demons tempting them to misbehave and worry more about the systemic sin of an industrial/political/military complex that stirs fear and mistrust in order to protect its wealth and power and privilege. I’m praying that we will take seriously the call to stand up for the poor and oppressed and marginalized and stop defending those who oppress and marginalize.

And finally, I’m praying for love. Not a soft, sentimental emotion, but a love that has the power to burst through horrifying events to create communities of genuine affection and caring. A love that refuses to fear and insists on kindness, respect, dignity, and the common good.

A love that breaks down barriers and exposes our mutual humanity.

That’s my prayer for Ferguson. And for all of us.

Amen.

Shorter days

fall_tree

Leaves scatter
at each step
like glory
rising
and falling.

The sky empties itself
of color
from gray to gray
inviting neither
joy nor gloom.
Paint splashed randomly
across a leaden canvas
that tastes like life
and death.

Breath stings.

The earth itself
heaves in giant gasps,
fighting
for what will soon be lost,
yearning
for what
will soon
be found.

Promise.

What dies
will rise.
A dormant planet
rests
and waits
while musty smells
and stunning contrast
fill chilled ether.

And the music of the leaves
sings in the wind
in rising crescendo
only to fade
into the soil
from which it was born.

Waiting.

Time to come clean…

writing notesIt’s time to come clean.

I’ve kicked around explanations and excuses for weeks, and I just have to admit it.

I got lazy.

I haven’t gone this long without publishing something here on the blog for almost two years. Even when I was in a dry spell, I was trying to find interesting content to link, or at least pull something out of the archives to re-post.

But since about the end of July, I’ve found precious little time to update my little corner of the interwebs. Wait. Strike that. I’ve had time. I just haven’t been motivated.

I’ve been writing long enough to know that these extended bouts of unproductiveness happen from time to time. But to be honest, this time has been different.

Every time I’ve tried to sit down to write something, I’ve allowed distractions to creep in and steal my attention & focus.

It has been a busy and eventful few months. I got to spend the summer working as a ministry intern at a traditionally African-American church in the heart of one of the whitest cultural areas of the country. I learned and grew a lot during my time there.

About the time that gig was wrapping up, I accepted a part-time job as the director of youth & children’s ministry at another church in my area. I never really saw myself going back into youth ministry, but it seems like a good fit and, even though I’ve only been at it a few weeks, I feel a genuine connection with the students, families and congregation.

I also busted my hump by loading up on extra hours during the summer term so I can finish my master’s degree in December. The heavier-than-usual workload took some adjusting on my part, but hopefully it will be worth it to finish things up a semester ahead of schedule.

But even with all the work that has gone into those endeavors I still have to admit that my failure to keep the blog updated is due less to busyness than to laziness. And so, not for the first time, I’m trying to jump-start and get things rolling again.

I think part of the problem is that I sort of lost focus. I had begun to drift into what can be a dangerous area for writers. I had started to think I needed to write about things people wanted to read.

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the blogosphere, it’s that writing to your perceived audience is almost always ultimately a dead-end road. It causes you to over-think and makes you hypercritical. And it rarely has the desired effect.

What experience tells me (and conversations with other writer friends bears this out), is that I’m at my best when I just write what I need to write, whether I believe anyone else wants to read it or not. The best I can do is invite you along for the ride and hope you find something that connects, that inspires, that breathes life into something you, too, may be wrestling with.

So that’s my goal. I hope my rants and rambles will find a place in your imagination and help you give voice to your own thoughts and dreams.

Let’s conspire together again.

Peace,
Joe

Excerpt from An Ecological Eschatology

MontanaSkyIs the church waiting around for God to bring about his ends? Or, perhaps, is God waiting for us to get on board? What if our mandate for creation care is more than simple stewardship? What if our call is to be agents of redemption?

If those questions intrigue you, you might be interested in my latest Benthics column over at The EcoTheo Review. Here’s a snippet:

“In the broad sweep of scripture, an overarching story unfolds. And that story is one wherein God’s ends are achieved through the activities of human beings in history.

The elect people of Israel come about because of Abraham’s faith and obedience. The line of Judah (from which Jesus is eventually born) is carried on through the long-suffering faithfulness of Joseph. Rahab shelters Joshua and Caleb so the Israelites can conquer Canaan. Ruth lays on the threshing floor with Boaz, and a couple of generations later King David is born. The heroic actions of Esther and Mordecai preserve the Jewish race during the exile.

Again and again, God uses ordinary people to unfold his redemption plan. A plan which, as Romans 8 reveals, includes not just human salvation, but rescue for all of creation.

It seems that waiting for God is not so much a passive thing.

In fact, it seems like something we get to participate in.

God’s plan, it seems, is not so much something that magically reveals itself in a flash of light and a puff of smoke. Rather, it appears to come to life as human beings actually live into it.”

You can read the full article here.

Crazy Busy-ness and Pub Church Awesomeness

wineskinsIt has been a crazy and eventful summer here at the home offices of The Awesomeness Conspiracy. A 9-hour course load (which included an intensive ministry internship) to push me toward the finish of my master’s degree from Asbury Theological Seminary this fall has dominated my time.

Add to that the move of Elder Daughter and TAC Poet Laureate Anna to Pittsburgh for her new career at ModCloth Clothing, and prepping Younger Daughter Amanda for her driving test and junior year in high school, and there hasn’t been much temporal or mental space for content update here!

Things never really seem to slow down much, but hopefully the clearing of those particular life events will clear out a little room to get back to updating the site and engaging the broader conversation of how we can bring more awesomeness to the world around us.

And speaking of awesomeness, there’s been a little movement happening here in the Mid-Ohio Valley that I wanted to share with you faithful readers.

If you’ve noticed the little tabby things at the top of the page, you may have observed that one called “New Wineskins” has appeared there in the past few months. New Wineskins is a discussion group that some of us are having every other week to bring to light various ways in which the church might re-examine contemporary issues in light of our growing postmodern cultural context.

It’s all based in Jesus’ words that appear in some form in Matthew, Mark, and Luke about the need for a new interpretation of what it means to be God’s people in light of God’s ever-present revelation of himself in new ways for each new generation and each culture in which the gospel comes alive.

My friends at the Marietta Brewing Company have been kind enough to host our little gatherings, giving it sort of a hip pub church kind of vibe. Each meeting focuses on a particular idea or issue that we present in various formats such as music, poetry, narrative, story-telling, etc.

And then, we just talk. Everyone gets the chance to respond to whatever has been presented, to raise questions, to share insight, and to dig deeper. Over the past several months we’ve discussed culture wars, depression/recovery, science, gender roles, and a number of other topics where it seems the church finds itself struggling.

What has been most remarkable has been the raw vulnerability that participants continue to bring to the discussion. People have been unbelievably willing to share their deepest doubts, their hardest questions, and their rawest emotions…often with complete strangers.

The result is that we are all beginning to understand one another better. To separate issues from people. To learn to love and be loved.

And it all happens around the table, sharing food and drinks, growing friendships.

If you live in these parts, or if you find yourself in the Parkersburg-Marietta area some Sunday evening and have a couple of hours to kill, we’d love to see you at one of our gatherings. Upcoming discussion dates and topics are posted and updated regularly on the New Wineskins website, and we have a Facebook event page where people can invite other friends and share ideas between gatherings.

Even if you can’t join us in person, we’d love to have your voice in the conversation. There are comment sections posted with each weekly update both on the website and on the Facebook page. It’s not exactly the same as being there, but we live in a connected world where participation transcends physical space.

And thanks for being part of what we’re doing here at The Awesomeness Conspiracy. New content is constantly brewing, and I hope you’ll tune in often and join the conversation!

Peace,

Joe