Chris Meeham the CRC communications writer after reading this posting wanted a few quotes. Coming up with quotes is hard so I wrote a narrative from which he could quote. Here’s the note I wrote to him.
I was skeptical of this endeavor at first. I didn’t know about its genesis (a couple of people approached me and said basically it was the idea of such and such a person or such and such a classis or organization or effort) but I wondered “well who will go to this thing. Certainly not me.”
How did I get there?
My friend Mark Hoffman, the pastor at Alameda told Paula Wigboldy that I absolutely must do a breakout group about the RLI effort. He started prompting me and then she started pestering me. I don’t know how many times I thought and said “no” to them for a host of reasons but Paula simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer so i finally relented. Along the way I got roped into other things that I had second thoughts about and got passive-aggressive-resistant over but in the end I took the red-eye to Detroit and checked into the hotel a fairly determined cynic. I figured I would enjoy part of it for the reason I often enjoy going to Synod, it gives me a chance to see old friends from college and seminary and to hang out in person with people I’ve met and related to online since online became an option. I was anticipating that kind of fun but the rest of it I was uncertain and hesitant about. I’m not a big conference goer because I figure I’d rather spend the few hundred dollars they cost on books and gadgets that fuel and facilitate my ongoing education. I don’t often find conferences for me a very helpful deployment system for learning or for community growth.
I didn’t know why we were meeting in Detroit. That reveals my lack of awareness about the geography of the CRC in Canada. When I got there I tried to take an immediate measure of who came, and the Canadian presence stood out. I thought “that’s pretty savvy having it here really if you want to strengthen binationality.”
I also began to notice how strong the African American community is in Detroit. I knew that theoretically but it became very obvious at the Renaissance center. I’m accustomed to traveling in the American west where most of the service staff is of Hispanic origin but the Detroit culture came though quickly. Having grown up at my father’s church where the African American great migration context governed (read Isabel Wilkerson’s great book Warmth of Other Suns ) I knew some of the culture complexity that this conference would have to have. This obviously played into the reflections in the personal history blog post. I remember Canadian students coming to Calvin College never having seen, much less personally known, an African American individual. Growing up in Paterson that completely shocked me. I grew up assuming that black Americans were the majority in the US because as a child so much of my small world was filled with them. Later of course I my perception was corrected by statistics but the CRC’s relationship with diversity is complex and often clumsy. I began to see the value of a conference that was multi-cultural without it being called multi-cultural. Once you promote that label you create a set of expectations that i think invites people into some alien third space from which they intend to retreat from upon returning home. In my life that third space has always been my home space, and it is equally true for me in Sacramento as it was in Paterson.
I began to appreciate the setup of Inspire as a sort of working laboratory for ministry without having to be too self-conscious about it. Breakout sessions were offered by ministry practitioners. The real benefit of the conference though I think is often the real benefit that Synod has offered CRC office bearers but now without the restriction of office holding towards membership in the temporary learning community. Part of the genius of it was the generalism. Once I was there I began wishing that many more of my friends and church members were there too. I began to see the value of a gathering that was really more convention than Synod. I’m not saying we should drop Synod or our specialty conferences, but the convention spirit could help the CRC do the real body work it needs to do to forge its new identity for a far more complicated and diverse world it is emerging into.
As I noted in my blog post I’ve been listening to a lot of Jordan Peterson and soaking up some Piaget. Scientists are increasingly aware that we act into theory more than we act out of it. The body comes first and the abstract conceptualization comes second. For this reason I think a generalist convention type even it pretty important for the CRC for the future. The speakers and the teaching things are important but secondary to the opportunity for body life that the event affords. Denominations are fundamentally apparatuses of trust. That’s what’s behind credentialing and branding and all the things we do that we don’t immediately associate with trust. So much CRC cohesiveness and covenantal faithfulness was built on that trust in the past was facilitated by so many communitarian signals like ethnicity or confessional fidelity. Now as we face a larger world where ethnicity and confessionality are more complicated we need to create spaces where we can practice trust before we conceptualize it, which is what made Inspire 2017 so helpful. It allows the CRC to do the body work necessary to facilitate the harder conversations we need to have to engage our complex larger world.