Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Missional Tale

In the constant quest to define missional, I offer the following:

Tonight I attended an inaugural ball in our neighborhood. Well, ball is a relative term. It wasn't gowns and tuxes or anything fancy. It was in our neighborhood community center with its requisite linoleum floor and fluorescent lights. There were coats and hats and gloves and puddles from the snow clinging to the bottoms of our boots. And there were children and potato chips and brownies and cold cuts. And there was a band. Not a Tommy Dorsey kind of band. But something closer to a jug band. An Appalachian folk music band with a caller to help us folk dance.

It was an introverts nightmare. I knew less than half the people there. And I was going to be "dancing" with them. But I was brave because of the joy of the day. I have friends who were in the grandstands at the inaugural in DC today. That made me feel closer to the event. Being at something where people were celebrating this momentous day was the right thing to do, even if it wasn't quite my thing.

Now here's the deal. There's something about traditional dances that bring people together. I admit that when we did it in seventh grade I thought it to be the worst idea in the history of human interaction. But in just minutes, we are all fumbling around together, linking arms, holding hands, and welcoming each other. You can't help but smile and feel a part. I've participated in traditional dances in Brazil, and nothing I have ever done has broken down barriers faster.

I wonder, given the boundary crossing nature of the gospel, why there aren't more stories of Christians dancing. Well, ok, I know why. I'm just saying that this was as sacramental as breaking bread. I happen to prefer the Brazilian folk dances to the Appalachian ones. They're just more fun. But they do the same thing. They create community.

My buddy, John Ogren, organized this thing. And if you know John, you know anything he's involved with will include prayer. So, we wrote prayers through the evening on brightly colored strips of cloth and hung them on a string that crossed the room. And after a good deal of dancing we paused for prayer. John had invited a young Muslim woman working on a Master's degree in Islamic studies to pray. She sang the first chapter of the Koran and then translated it for us. It was beautiful.

Then my friend Lucy, a PhD student in pastoral theology from Kenya (her study carel is right next to mine), prayed in Swahili, and then in English. And Lucy can pray. And she did, a prayer filled with scriptural allusions on behalf of America and all the world.

And then a Jewish woman prayed. She prayed from Scripture, first in English, then in Hebrew. And like the others, she prayed for the momentum of this occasion, that it would roll into a time of peace.

I was deeply moved by each prayer. (They were better, in my estimation, than either prayer at the inauguration. Let the Yellow be mellow? And that was the better of the two prayers). I have no idea the faith commitments, or lack thereof, represented in the room. But after you've do-sie-doed with someone, prayer isn't as threatening.

This was missional to me for several reasons. It was in public space, not a gathering or a club or like minded people behind socially bounded space. It was public, an ecclesia. It was a vision of the future of God when all will dance together to the sweet strains of heaven. It was joy filled, an event occasioned by good news. It required no expertise or pride of position to participate. We crossed boundaries, welcomed strangers, and practiced peace. It took our entire person to participate; heart, mind, and body. It was relentlessly ecumenical and respectful. And God was right in the thick of it. There was prayer.

My heart is full today. It is such a vibrant day. It is so hopeful. And I know other days will be darker and less full of promise. But today touched something rare, and I went to an inaugural ball I will always remember.


Richard Beck said...

I think this post will be my definition of missional from here on out.

Redlefty said...

Love it. A glimpse of the kingdom right here.

Anonymous said...

Amazing! A night filled with faith and hope.

Steve said...

We went to a similarly fun inaugural "ball" here in East Boston ... complete with jug band and awkward dancing. Funny that we came to many of the same conclusions regarding the missional nature of such an event.

I plan to read this at our gathering tomorrow night. Thanks for this.

Mark Love said...

Thanks, Anon. Nights filled with faith and hope have always been amazing.