We have a young neighbor, Jefferson, who loves to make tedious tasks into a party. In fact, he likes to make everything into a party. He has re-written our church’s mission statement (“We are called to impact our world with the love and the message of Jesus Christ”) into “We are called to impact our world with the love and the message of Jesus Christ in partyish sort of way. It has kind of become our neighborhood motto these days. Whatever you do, do it in a partyish sort of way.
So it was that David and I began planning a trip up north to close up our cottage and say goodbye to summer. This is never a happy trip, so we decided to try to do it in Jefferson’s partyish sort of way. We began by flying to the wrong city. We flew to New York to have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Carmines, and wander around the city. The next day we boarded Amtrak’s Acela Express, the high-speed train that connects the Northeast Corridor. We had been inspired by reading a book called “$20 Per Gallon” by Christopher Steiner. In one chapter, the author describes the future of travel in escalating gas price ranges. High-speed trains are a part of that future, and we wanted to get a taste now.
What we found on the Acela Express was an amazing day of travel. First of all, you arrive at Penn Station a mere 30 minutes before travel. And during that 30 minutes you wander about hunting for Starbucks (hint: it’s downstairs and a long, long way away from the departure gates!). Fifteen minutes or so before departure time they call your train, and you line up and wander down to the train, where you pick your own seat. We had a suitcase with us, which was happily tucked into a cubby in our own car. If we had wanted to change clothes or fish out my computer power cord, our suitcase was there. Next we were greeted by Chuck, the man clearly in charge of our car. I don’t know his proper title, but he seemed like a steward to me, and that’s what I thought of him as. He began to feed us and entertain us as soon as we sat down. David and I had our table unfolded, our computers out and powered (yes!), drinks set in front of us before we even left the station, five minutes after boarding.
The trip took us a little over three hours. Longer than flying, but shorter in duration if you consider airport commuting and security. And all with no stress. But the best part was the atmosphere along the way. The scenery rolled by, including lots of pictoresque coastlines. The people around us chatted quietly, either on their phones or to each other. One somewhat hyper-active patron (don’t blame him too much, he was from LA and returning from the VMA’s and NYC’s Fashion week…overstimulation must be the name of his game) paced the aisles and traded jokes with Chuck. And Chuck, well he was doing his best to convince the two female IRS agents sitting near us to come to dinner with the train crew that night.
I was sorry, almost, when the train pulled into Boston’s South Station and David and I had to return to the real world. If traveling by high-speed train is part of the future, I’m for it now. I’m already imagining what it would be like to get to Orlando and Mickey that way, a project long-rumored in South Florida.
And Jefferson, you would have loved the train party. Maybe next time.
As most of you know, I’m still processing all that I heard at Q last week. If you missed them, you can find my Q posts further down in April. Q is an amazing conference in that it brings together people from all backgrounds, cultures and persuasions. As my husband David said several times, during the course of Q he wanted to stand up and cheer for the person on stage and at other times he wanted to stand up and throw something. That has become the definition of a worthwhile conversation to us. Why in the world would you want to pay good money to go to a conference where everyone thinks exactly the same way you do? Not a problem at Q: you name it, you can find it.
That kind of openness to dialogue, however, can lead to an opposite reaction than intended. We have the desire, ability and even responsibility to discuss what we are hearing and evaluate it. The conversations started this way are valuable. But we can’t cross the line into the territory where we are cutting down another follower of Christ simply because we don’t agree with him, or maligning the motives of a teacher or pastor simply because he seems wrong to us. We need to develop the conversation based on a mutual understanding that we all want to know God truer and deeper because of our association with each other.
I read a blog by one of my favorite preachers that captures this thought best for me. Take a few minutes to click over to Stephen Furtick’s blog. He is the lead pastor of Elevation church. Read this post, and then resolve with me that we will be humbled by the others around us who are striving to put their faith into action.
This is a cool little coffee shop that we found in SOHO yesterday while walking off all the espressos we found in other coffee shops! David and I were struck with the design of the shop, the colors, and of course the aroma (which happens to be the name of their coffee blends). In fact, as visitors to NYC, we found a couple of things appealing about this coffee shop that would, in fact, be not so appealing at home.
- People are lined up in institutional rows, hidden behind their computers. David and I have differing opinions on whether this is a good thing. Oddly enough, David does not like it and I do! I feel like the arrangement almost forces you to sit with someone else and interact with the. He thinks he could hide behind the computer. I think we are both right.
- It was a very noisy coffee shop, which made talking difficult. Perhaps some sound-softening fabrics?
On the other hand, you can easily imagine a small group or a few friends snagging one of those long tables and being able to have an impromptu or planned meeting.
We enjoyed the discussions begun at Q about what makes an atmosphere warm, welcoming and conducive to sharing life. I am also, might I add, hunting for that kind of coffee shop at home in Palm Beach Gardens!
One of the best parts of Q has been the 3 minute sessions, where participants can get up and explain their projects in 3 minutes or less. There were a couple of really interesting presentations this morning with links to go check out.
Some of the guys who organize Q have started giftcardgiver.com. The theory is simple: send them your odd amounts of leftover giftcards or cards to places you don’t love. They will use them to help homeless, poor….people who will be blessed by those unused pieces of plastic. Great idea.
For another example of a small idea that can have a big impact, check out just4one.org. These guys find concrete ways to help a community and then make it so everyone, everywhere can participate. My favorite initiative of theirs is “Trashcan can make a difference.” Download a sticker form their site, put it on a trash can, collect resources for a local charity (soap, clothing, books…whatever is listed by the charity), then drop off your can to the charity you chose.
I am blown away by how achievable these small acts to change the world are. Maybe, just maybe, that will be the lasting benefit to Q: recognizing the power of God in the smallest act.
Day Two has started with a bang. It was an early morning, but even I think it was worth it!
Louie Giglio started us out with a reminder, as culture shapers, to honor the past while moving forward with the church. I loved his illustration. In Hong Kong, designers retained three ancient trees and an ancient house while building a skyscraper around it. He also talked about Chris Tomlin rewriting Amazing Grace. My chains are gone, I’ve been set free…Honoring the past while moving to the future.
Next up was Jamie Tworkowski, from To Write Love on Her Arms. If you aren’t familiar with his movement, check it out on the internet. I loved his thought that we are meant to live in community, and it is that deep interaction with other people that brings healing and health.
Jim Wallis, social activist, was next up with a reminder that successful social movements have spiritual foundations at their heart. He wrote the book “The Great Awakening,” which examines major revivals and their societal impact.
Finally, Michael Luo, a reporter for the New York Times, entertained us and educated us about the reality of life in the media and the media cycle. A believer working at the New York Times? Now that was worth coming for. Favorite quote of the morning came from him. Gabe Lyon asked him whether he thought faith should be a litmus test for candidates. With a smirk on his face he replied, “I don’t have opinions.”
By the way, the weather here in NYC is in the upper 60’s and beautiful. Trees are budding, flowers are blooming. David and I are sitting in a Starbucks located inside Macy’s overlooking the perfume floor (ie: Serendipity, Elf, every other New York Movie). This is a great coffee shop!
Day one at the Q conference has drawn to a close, and I am exhausted! But what an interesting stretching day we had. Some highlights from the late afternoon/evening sessions:
During a 3 minute session Scott Harrison spoke about his brainchild, Charity:. Charity: is not an overtly Christian organization, but it is dedicated to raising money to drill clear water wells in developing countries that have no good drinking water. This guy has just been faithful in doing seemingly small projects. But along the way, his small projects were noticed by people with big connections. For instance, he had a 2 minute spot air on American Idol tonight. How cool is that? I’m challenged to help by doing the small things.
Andy Crouch spoke about why we can’t change the world. It was a great reminder that God is the one who changes the world, not us. We just get to join him where he is at work. When God changes the world, it often takes time, happens in out-of-the-way places, and gives power to the powerless. What a relief to realize that we don’t have to shoulder the burdens of the world, just be faithful to our relationship with Christ. Culture — and the world — belong to God.
After our dinner break we had a great time of worship before Tim Keller got up to speak. He spoke on the call of the city on our lives. As the highest density of people per square mile, the city is ripe for God’s work. Keller passionately believes in his mission to the city, and he is passionate about everyone else understanding the opportunities and challenges posed by the city as well. By the way, a city is defined for his purposes as a mixed-use walkable human settlement exhibiting density and diversity. Size is not the defining characteristic. Tim Keller’s talk was challenging, especially at the end of a long day.
We closed our day by meeting Greg Reade, a worship leader for Student Ministries at Christ Fellowship, for dessert at a great restaurant. Not a bad start! Tomorrow we get new table assignments, meet new people and go on our field trips.
By the way, the illustration at the top of the blog was drawn real-time by a “scribe artist.” I loved the way he captures the essence of a talk in a sheet of paper. In case you can not read this one, it is about Charles Colson’s talk.
Chuck Colson lead out the speakers with a great reminder that God has given us a cultural commission to transform our culture for the kingdom. He reminded us to do this in a winsome, loving way.
Leroy Barber spoke very eloquently about Martin Luther King’s beloved community, and how that should look in the world. One of his points really struck me. In the early church climate of RADICAL Christianity, one of the ways this faith was worked out was by eating together in their homes. There is a theme near and dear to my heart! Imagine: inviting people into your home is a radical, transformational act. It makes me want to go home and be more intentional about the diversity of who we bring home in addition to the usual cast of characters.
Finally, Eboo Patel (Interfaith Youth Corp) spoke about Christians and Muslims working together for good. “We may have different perspectives about eternity, but we share the same view of earth” Given all the thought David and I have put into the Muslim outreaches, we were really impressed with Eboo’s presentation.
Right now there is a panel of three guys who are discussing their outreaches and how their faith lives in the world. Socrates in the City…great name.
We are on our first lunch break from Q and already the conference has been worth the trip. Gotham Hall, where it is located,is very cool and very funky. In the center hall there is a circular area FULL of circular tables, where we are seated. In an interesting side note, the Q organizers intentionally put members of the same party at different tables, to promote interaction. If I were to pick one highlight so far, it would actually be meeting the people from all over the country at my table. Ironically, John Stalls from Grace Fellowship in Atlanta is at my table, along with a Northpoint College ministries guy named Joel. I loved meeting everyone.
Sessions so far: Jon Tyson gave great presentation on God’s call for us to return to the cities, where culture is formed and celebrated and influenced. Bill McKibben spoke on Deep Economy and our need to evaluate our stewardship of the earth, and Francis Collins spoke about the Human Genome Project.
I think for indepth analysis we have to wait until tonight!!!
I am getting excited about our trip to the Q conference in NYC coming soon! If you haven’t heard about it, check out their website. I will be attending the conference from the perspective of the future intersection of the church and culture. I see so many new and unusual connections between the world we live in and the church we love, and I am hoping Q helps clarify my thinking on the subject.
So stay tuned for blogs from the conference April 9 – 11. I’ll try to post pics and summaries as quickly as I can each day.