Reflections on Doxology-Part 2 (2005)

Doxology was a pretty profound experience, which could either mean I’m so overwhelmed that I have nothing to say, or that I have so much to say that it’ll take time. Guess which …

Opportunity for the Redemptive Opposite

Participating in Doxology was a renewing experience for me. In it, I saw where the Father arranged possibilities for a redemptive transformation of several particularly destructive situations that have occurred over the past 25 years. Where the former experiences inflicted toxicity, trauma, and the death of hope, Doxology infused cleansing, healing, and life.

I will not get too specific about the former situations, as it is important to leave those involved a way out – a way to go forward where guilt and shame can be dissolved in the face of repentance, if/when they come to their senses and realize the abusive impact they had on me and others. But I will give the following framework, because the delight I found in Doxology only makes sense in light of the degree of sadness which parallel but opposite situations inflicted before.

I have been in several multicultural ministries and churches that had every appearance of possibly shifting to an intercultural paradigm. That’s a key thing, as I happen to think becoming intercultural is actually what Christ intends for the Church to be and to do. To me, being intercultural means that people do more than just honor the cultural differences among a group’s members. That kind of multiculturalism is worthy, but ultimately it can prove passive. Instead, when a diverse group’s goal is to become intercultural, people actively seek to identify their own gaps of spiritual omissions and their own encrustments of antibiblical cultural syncretisms. (Actually, we are seldom able to see such things in our own lives on our own; they have to be identified for us, which means that if we truly want to grow into Christlikeness, we must actively allow others in to fill in our spiritual blind spots.) Interculturalism is not at all the same as “ecumenism.” The former is more organic, sustainable, and growing where typical ecumenicalism is far more organizational, static, and sinking. (And as both a post-liberal AND a post-conservative, all I can say about that is there is much more to the story of this critique to tell another time!)

Well, the people and possibilities that God brought together in these multicultural ministries and churches created a simply electrifying atmosphere! It was obvious to insiders and outsiders alike that the Holy Spirit was at work in unique ways to create a new wineskin to match the new wine. But then, something went wrong. In most cases, the leaders and/or pastors – who ultimately used a more traditional model of “leadership” – backed away from the required paradigm shift needed to forge an intercultural reality out of the diverse, multicultural group they worked with. I think they went into various degrees of culture shock, actually, and did not know how to handle the radical changes that had happened. Or perhaps, even more difficult, they did not know how or didn’t want to see what radical additional changes were needed in order to facilitate true integration into an intercultural group – where people’s distinctive gifts and cultural traits were viewed as positive, and people expected to learn from others and be challenged to move toward Christlikeness as individuals and toward “Kingdom Culture” as a group.

I have been wounded multiple times by seeing waves of different cultural groups depart these ministries and churches. In their wake, all that was left was pretty much an empty shell of what could have been possible. Did I claim too much ownership, and that’s why I got hurt? Or not enough ownership? Did I trust too much to the leaders/pastors in these situations, or perhaps not trust other people enough? How can any group of people get through that critical inertia barrier that otherwise prevents genuine intercultural integration from taking place?

Thankfuly, the Doxology team/community provided the exact opposite experience to those former problematic situations. With Doxology, a diverse, multicultural group stayed together during several excruciatingly intense days. Never before had all dozen of us been together. So, there was not a lot of relational history involved here. (In fact, I’d only spent three hours or so with Rob and Aimie in person seven months ago, meeting them with Dave Robinson at a coffeehouse in Sausalito!) Yet, members of the Doxology community continued to love each other in the midst of stamina-taxing work physically, short fuses emotionally, and spiritually stretching encounters with all kinds of people.

It may be hard to give freely of ourselves, but I suspect that it is even more rare to freely receive from others. Such is the brokenness of overreliance on self. I am still amazed that Rob transferred ownership of the Doxology experience to all of us as a community, even when this new community would not have existed without his artwork. The entrustment involved was phenomenal. I kept thinking things like, This is how it should be. This is the way Kingdom and church should function! After a series of disappointments over the years, how renewing it was to finally be in the midst of such a relationally successful venture!

It is a paradox, a mystery . . . and yet, this made Doxology one of those kinds of holistic healing experiences that I believe we all long for. I suspect we all desire to recast our past so that we can move on more fully and functionally into a positive future. But this “laying down of new tracks” over where old wounds were is not something we can demand of God, nor could we have foreseen His timing for it when it does happen. Such events are gifts of grace, made far more potent by a heart that perseveres and continues to reach out for God’s love and comfort in the midst of our emotional, spiritual, and physical pain.

It was a healing surprise sent from heaven, and I am glad that I followed the Holy Spirit’s leading to be sure I was in Houston for Doxology! It cost everything I had available at that moment, but it was worth it. (And I know I’m not the only one who used all their resources of whatever type for this community-forming event.)

Doxological Futures

And on that concept of God’s surprises, I found some intriguing quotes while reading on the Greyhound home. They come from Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, by James Carse. I think they capture well the joie de vivre that I (and I believe others) found in Doxology.

First Carse says that “there are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite; the other infinite” (page 3). The dustjacket picks up from this quote and adds: “Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change – as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end.”

Later on, Carse notes: “The finite play for life is serious; the infinite play of life is joyous. Infinite play resounds throughout with a kind of laughter. It is not a laughter at others who have come to an unexpected end, having thought they were going somewhere else. It is laughter with others with whom we have discovered that the end we thought we were coming to has unexpectedly opened. We laugh not at what has surprisingly come to be impossible for others, but over what has surprisingly come to be possible with others” (page 25). [Sidenote 2008: Here I am reminded of the scene from The Return of the King with Gandalf and Frodo laughing after the quest of the Ring has been completed, and Frodo finally awakes from his exhaustion. What better response than laughter to the surprise of being alive?]

I suspect that Doxology will spawn many other such communities, entrusting people to experience Jesus directly for themselves, encouraging them to connect with each other in a journey on the way of Jesus, and providing a framework of joy to celebrate the connectivity and activity of life together.

Learnings in the DoxComm

Bringing it all the way back to the redemptive perspective, this is amazingly theological stuff! For many years, I have pondered the depths of a paradoxical doctrine that I don’t know what to call except, “Agent of Damage, Parallel Agent of Healing.” It comes from the Bible books of Romans and 1 Corinthians, which talk about Jesus as the “second Adam” or the “last Adam.” And so, as by one man (literally, in the Greek, it refers to a male) Adam sin entered the world and death by sin, this Last Adam – Jesus Christ – cancelled out the penalty of sin by His sacrifice and so opened the way to an abundant life. (Romans 5:6-20. 1 Corinthians 15, especially verses 35-49.)

Even so, Doxology showed me the real possibilities for a trust-based, intercultural community that is far, far more than just a collection of individuals. Perhaps the wounds of the past have been flushed out and can heal, as the underlying muscles find their intended original strength!

But I gained other insights from Doxology. Here are the short versions of some key ones that I’m still processing.

  • There is a difference between being genuinely paternal and being paternalistic. As the oldest male on the creative team, I couldn’t exactly escape the reality that I am in many ways a “father in the faith.” But that role is one of coming alongside others to share encouragement, advocating, perspective, and blessing. On the other hand, how often I’ve been in situations of being paternized, where someone older was trying to control or even hijack a ministry or event. I’ve always hated that when I experienced it; I hope I never do it – or at least that anyone who thinks I’m being paternalistic talks to me about it. I know I’m as susceptible as the next person to control issues . . .
  • I witnessed people using their spiritual gifts and special areas of knowledge, but also jumping right in to do whatever they could to serve, regardless. Such humility is always a challenge, but also always an encouragement to see. If any one DoxComm member had not been present, or if any of the spontaneous volunteers had not shown up (thanks Cynthia, Eric, Erica, Jason, Karen, Nate, Sheila!), the exhibit could not have opened. And without Beth, Dawn, and Mark, there wouldn’t have been refreshments served. (And I’m sure to have missed some people, because I was running around so much I didn’t capture all that was happening.)
  • Experiences in relationship with Jesus transcend all philosophical approaches. Jesus is available for everyone, but He goes beyond a mass Jesus that is mere populism. We are responsible for our interactions with Him, but this is more than libertarian individualism. We are transformed by His presence, but that’s more than just transactional analysis or personal recovery. Society and culture can be changed by Him through us, but this isn’t the same as classic liberalism or progressive politics. When we live out the presence of unconditional love, we  really can go beyond merely being nice, moral neighbors.
  • Doxology was a success in the deepest sense. As a community we got through the tough stuff and still loved each other and were talking with each other afterwards. The same is pretty much true for all of us who lived in community in Austin from November 2003 through July 2004 – wonderful to see Erica, Jess, Lora, Stacy, TK, and favorite visitors Jenn and Debra. Wish Nathan and Amy could have made it, but sounds like their activities that weekend went well and were a joy for them. (P.S. it was also great to see the Chapmans, Millers, Rudds, Standerfers, Thames, Woods.)

Okay, so I’ve spent another 2-plus hours adding all this other detail and perspective on Doxology. Time for sleep, and I’ll transfer it to my blog tomorrow. And I will eventually get to the parts about “Greyhound Jesus.” That trip had many good experiences in it as well, but is taking longer because it actually was one of the more thought-provoking parts of the overall experience.

Originally posted October 14, 2005, on futuristguy’s Randomocities.