The car was packed. Last meeting over. Last stop at the ladies room…. and that is when it seemed the fun began!
I’m the wrong person to give a good complete picture of this past weekend in Essen, since I spent a significant amount of time in only 3 rooms, but I guess my perspective is also a perspective, so here it is.
The smell of the kerosine burners wafting in from the buffet in the adjacent room accompanied the obvious Black and White themed room decoration with living room lamps and soft candle light wresting a cozy atmosphere from the otherwise unattractive, all purpose room big enough to hold the (plus/minus) 130 of us. A rough start with the visual and sound technics, which seemed intent to buck us off our time plan, had to be subdued by the incredible team from the Weigle Haus before we were able to jump into our theme for the evening with a fun ice breaker, that got people talking to each other. This was followed by a personal introduction from me, which was meant to highlight the problematic of the dualistic, “either/or”, “black and white” thinking that presupposes a need to look for a “Third Way.” (I’ll post that in German with the pictures I showed). The official part of the evening ended with a beautiful meditation and sung call and response prayer (gregorian style).
What everyone else did after that was lost on me, since I was again engulfed with the final preparations for the theme room which Esther Deletree and I spent many, many hours creating. A better title for our room, than the one given to us, would have been “Exclusion and Embrace: a way forward for individuals and communities to negotiate their boundaries (values, ethics, needs, wants) with each other and avoid the unfruitful and stifling polarities of victimization and violence.” As it was, there was some confusion! We had a slow trickle come through our very elaborate installation throughout most of the day, which only picked up in the evenings after the other workshops were done. However, those that did invest some time in our presentation, found it to be well worth it, and we plan to put it to good use in the near future.
The lounge area was filled with mostly young people!!! Lots of young, white guys with something in their hand with which to twitter, and when any given one was asked, most likely would admit to being in seminary. The few that I met were very “sympatisch” or “likable.” Lots more young women this year than in previous ones… (yeah!) also studying theology some of them. Most people were there for the first time. Few were die hards, like us, who had been to all four Forums. And it seemed like the big question on everyone’s mind was “how can we change things? How can we do things differently?
Saturday evening found us all together again for a great wrap up. First Sandra Bils, had us all laughing as she told of attempts to explain “Emerging Church” to her colleagues who wanted to know what this new “Emergency room” is. In this humorous way, Sandra was able to touch on the somewhat “elitist” nature and insider language often used at these forums, and helped us all to laugh a little about ourselves. Then came my favorite thing from the whole forum: An artist had been invited, who had had no previous connection to Emergent, to experience the entire weekend and then make comic sketches and present a review. The sketches can be seen here, which, along with his honest commentary, again made for a hilarious, somewhat ironic laugh at ourselves. Directly following this was a photo montage by Judith Goppelsröder, whose unique way of seeing things was a feast for the eyes and provided me with a peak in the rooms I hadn’t gotten to see at all. I’m hoping all of her pictures will come online soon.
I can’t say much to the “meat” of the weekend, since I didn’t get to visit any of the rooms except for ours. The titles of the workshop rooms can be found on the Emergent webpage.
As we were packing and loading, cleaning and putting things back in order, another group was slowly starting to gather and pick up momentum until by the time we were just about ready to get in the car and set our navigation systems, they had burst into song and dance. An African church service uses the Weigle-Haus facilities, and tho there was a regular trickle of finely dressed African people still making their way into the building, the vibrant worship service was already in full swing. We couldn’t help ourselves, and stood sheepishly in the doorway, letting the music course through our limbs and persuade them to convulse in time to the music. I wanted to stay. I wanted to dance with these beautiful people. I wanted to meet each one of them, hear their stories, and just soak them in. I became acutely aware of a deep thirst and hunger to be in their presence and thrust myself in this black sea, but we had a long drive ahead and three children waiting for us to finally come home. And then I saw a funny sight… a couple of rows from the front of the room, there was a small, white, middle aged German man in his Sunday best suit, also moving “expressively” to the music. He was so out of time and looked so out of place, that it was quite amusing to watch him. But I was filled with admiration for him, and had to think of David dancing before the ark… making a fool of himself for the lord, with no thought of his own honor.
This man was doing what we at Emergent Forum had yet failed to do, and that is to cross over cultural boundaries. As different as each person was from another, and as from as many places on the map of Germany we had hailed from, it was still a pretty homogeneous group, with narrowly defined aesthetic appreciations, and a rather narrowly defined cultural niche. We have not yet truly, in this frame at least, “opened ourselves to the distant other” as Volf would put it, and the ache I felt as I drove away from Essen was of a child artist who has been given a box of crayons with only a few varying shades of just one color to play with, and the disappointing suspicion, that a truly “Third Way” still lies far beyond us.
pictures by Judith Goppelsröder