The last few weeks have been bitter sweet. The end of April beginning of May is one of my favorite times of the year, mainly because of Orange Conference. This year though the week started off on a sad note, as I sat with a family in my church waiting for the news that one of their loved ones passed from an unexpected accident. In addition to all of that we live and minister in Baltimore. The week of Orange also was one of the most intense weeks in the city, and our kids were staying in the City with my mother in law. They were perfectly safe, in our insulated community in the city limits, a fact that makes me happy, knowing they were safe, and sad because we were so disconnected from the hurt and anger and seeming hopelessness felt by a city and a people who have been misused and mistreated for hundreds of years.
I look forward Orange, I told J that I live from Orange to Orange. Being a pastor in a church in the city, a church that has been struggling, a church that is getting it’s footing and will be doing some great things, but isn’t there yet. I get tired. I get worn out, and I feel an intense need to come to an oasis. Orange has been that oasis. I can join with other people who get it, nurse my delusions of one day being an Orange Specialist, or even being able to share the struggles of a pastor working hard to change an entire culture not just in his church but in the community that church serves. allow me to qualify that last statement. I love the people in my church. I love that they are there, have been faithful for years, I know that there have to be some radical changes if the church is going to be relevant and remain in the neighborhood in the next 5 years. They do too, but change is hard, and we all can recognize the need to change, and even agree that it needs to happen but that doesn’t mean we like it, and can support it.
That’s something else that I am learning. Knowing and wanting to do something, or wanting to be able to do something doesn’t mean we can do it. Sometimes we have to let go of what we have, realize that we can’t make the transition, but allow that transition to be made regardless. Increasingly I am finding that one of the most important things that I can do in the coming months and years is help people not just see the need, not just accept the need but embrace the fact that their roots may be too deep, that the change is going to be more than they can handle, and is it fair for me to expect them to just suck it up and handle it? For people who have been in the church, have seen the church in good times, and seen it steadily decline, is it realistic to get them to completely give themselves over to the new things that must be done? I don’t think so. It comes down to the idea of old wine and new wine, no one says the old wine is bad, on the contrary the aged wine has some great qualities, people look for a good year when they look for a good wine and rarely is that year the one that they are currently in, but the old wine has also made it to a stage that it is what it’s going to be regardless you can move it from one container to another but that’s about it, there isn’t much change left. New wine is different, it takes time to become what it is going to be, it has to go through the process of growing into what it is going to become. Which is where we find ourselves currently in our church. There are new things that have to happen and it’s hard for people to jump on board, it doesn’t make them bad people at all, on the contrary they have been and remain faithful, it just means that moving forward we have to be creative, planting something new, growing a different kind of church along side the existing church. Which leads us to looking at who we are and what we are doing as a new church plant in some ways. The tension between the two can, at times be a bit overwhelming, but the pay offs are also well worth the investment, at least to me they are.
I love the people that have been in the church for years, I love the community of Locust Point and I can say that the people both new and old in this part of the city have a place in my heart that is hard to explain. I see people in any number of the local pubs, or walking their dog, or playing with their kids in the park, or sitting on their stoops and I have a collective desire to see all of them come to terms with God. I want the church we are and the church we aspire to be, to be one of the navigation helps on the road to relationship with God. I’m sure it can happen and we will continue to walk through the tension of the old and the new with the grace that God gives without measure, I just hope that I can apply some of the same grace when I get frustrated, lol.
Orange gives me an opportunity to hang out with people who see what can be, to be poured into by people who have been there, or are traveling that same road. This year I was able to take J with me which was pretty cool, I wanted to take more from the church but with all that was going on back here it is easy to understand why that just wasn’t really possible, hopefully next year. Every part of Orange is enjoyable to me, from the worship to the speakers in the main sessions, to the breakouts all of it is great, but this year two things stood out, things that for many would seem unimportant, but for someone who craves connection with like minded people made the conference all the more special.
Thing 1. We went to a hang out session with Carey Nieuwhof, great author really neat guy and someone I follow pretty extensively through blog, book, and pod cast. I’ve commented on his blog and been really excited each time he has mentioned the post in some way. When we got there he saw my name tag said hi but also remembered me from the other interactions we have had, that was really neat, for someone of his stature, at least in my world, to remember me was a big deal, then he saw me again in the hall outside the main arena and said hey. It’s a silly thing to some but that little bit of interaction made my day. There is something about being recognized by someone you deem as important and realizing that they are accessible.
Thing 2. Jon Acuff…lets see where do we go with this one? I’ve been reading Stuff Christians like for a while, just finished the book of the same name, and find him both witty and thought provoking at the same time. I’ve also commando tweeted the guy before but was kinda never really on his radar. Something happened at Orange, I am fairly certain it had to do with my kid sending a picture of herself with one of the National Guardsman stationed outside her school, and that kid being close in age to his own kid but who knows, anyway he started following me on twitter. Now again this is big for me, I was totally geeking out over it, mainly because of the respect I have for him. He’s made it in this world that I have been pushing myself into more and more and I like the thought that it’s possible for me to make it as well. So when he started to follow me it was a big deal. The fact that he has like 80 Billion followers, and follows a bunch of people as well is beside the point, he started following this pastor of a small church that is looking to birth something new into a community that needs connection and well it just was a huge encouragement to me. Couple that with me calling him out for using an app to automatically favorite tweets with certain words, and being told by him that he doesn’t even know what an auto favoriter is (yes I made up that terminology but they do exist), and well yeah you get the picture, I told that story several times and am telling it again here because I found it so cool.
The fact is whenever someone in the Orange world interacts with my via social media I perk up a bit. It’s like this connection to a wider world of people, trying to change the conversation revolving around faith, culture, and interaction with the world at large. The ability to bridge the gaps between churches and communities is hard enough with all the negative press Christ Followers receive mainly because of vocal minority who somehow have big medias attention. Doing church differently is something that must be done, and in these two guys at least I see a desire to make that happen on a grander scale. For that I’m thankful.
I still haven’t hit the holy grail of Orangdom though… That moment when Reggie Joiner engages on a different level… then of course the only thing left will be Andy Stanley giving me a favorite. Ah well when that happens I am sure that rainbows and unicorns will sing and dance through a field of lucky charms while I eat a bowl of Captain Crunch… yea that makes no sense, but you get the idea. And just so we’re clear, I know they are just a couple of guys doing what God has called them too, I know that they have a lot on their plates, that they do all the things I do as a guy. I know that what’s special about them isn’t who they are but who they serve. I know it, I embrace it, and I’m not trying to be them. The point is God knows when we need a shot in the arm, and in addition to knowing when we need it he knows just the type of shot to give us. So yea while these guys are great, and I admire them, more importantly I admire a God who knows what will make me smile, and cares enough to nudge things in that direction.