Anybody who knows me knows that I love me some West African music... and I'm not talking National Geographic type stuff here. I'm talking about the wide range of fantastic music that has come out of West Africa in the past 30 years that blends the melodies and rhythms of traditional tribal music with blues, rock and jazz to create something that is, in my opinion, more beautiful than any of those forms on their own. I picked "moffou" for the domain of this blog because it's the title of one of my favorite albums of all time by the Malian musician Salif Keita... and yeah, it kinda sounds like my last name.
The past couple of weeks, I've been listening to "The River" by Ali Farka Toure, who is internationally famous as the "Bluesman of Mali", and probably the creator of the Mali Blues sound. I was fortunate to see him perform in DC before his death in 2006, and this album is one of the all time must-haves of Mali music. The music on "The River" is desert music... the sound is spare and clean, and Toure spins dry webs out of musical loops that he repeats over and over again, developing them as he goes, but always returning to the main theme, sustained by a strong, syncopated rhythm.
I've concluded that this music is making sense to me because the past two weeks have been desert weeks for me, a time of an unusual amount of physical and emotional suffering, and of the sudden, violent death of the first romantic love I'd allowed myself in over a year. This reached a crescendo on Friday, right as I was preparing for the Emergent Village visioning gathering in DC. I went into the gathering a total wreck, having not really been able to eat or sleep much for several days. I know that sounds melodramatic, but eh, it's true.
So I entered the process with my shattered self, thinking I was alone. And what I discovered is that I wasn't. Not in the least. Emergent Village is at the most bare-bones stage that it's been in a while... no money, most of the board members have stepped down, and there's a lot of confusion about the future as many of the iconic figures of the Emergent conversation have moved on to other roles. When the lot of us came together on Friday night, there were people who were anticipating administering final rites, and some of them were pretty upset. About 2 hours in to the gathering, about 80% of the people in the room had declared that they felt like they were "outsiders" in the discussion, which seemed really awkward at the time... all these "outsiders" staring at each other, wondering who was on the "inside". So, I wasn't alone... everybody there felt jittery and/or out of place.
The truth, of course, is that there really isn't an inside. There are folks who know a little more than other folks, but it became apparent --to me at least-- that every single person there is an exile in some sense. We came together, believing in the real worth of Emergent Village, because it has served as a meeting place for us... a place where, for once, we could feel that we were accepted in our fullness without being expelled for failure to conform, where our desire to not only love Jesus but live with integrity to our particular experiences in and perceptions of the world is valued despite the theology that logically follows from this integrity... theology that upsets the apple cart in most denominations. I think I can say with confidence that this was a room full of People Who Can't Lie Worth Shit... a bunch of people who have to call it as they truly see it, even if that gets them in trouble. And it has. And it will. And we can all pretty much live with that.
So, I know there are folks who want to know What Was Decided. You already know this from the other blogs, but there's no burying of E.V. It will continue to live. A lot of ideas were thrown out that revolved around the value of the flat organizational structure and of continuing to have the energy, activities, and ideas come from the local and regional levels. There was a clear desire to support the arts, and justice issues, and above all, to preserve the forum that E.V. provides for the continued connecting of people who reside between the lines but who still love and seek to follow Christ. Although there is not yet a definite model for the structure of the "New" E.V., it seems very likely that any future structure will incorporate those goals.
I think the most important and powerful takeway, though, was the strong sense that there is no "inside". The folks who came to this gathering really did come from all kinds of theological and cultural backgrounds with connections to all kinds of churches and para-church organizations, and we were all allowed to be there as individuals with our own individual voices without any sense that this posed a threat to the conversation as a whole or to any of the individuals there. I ended up breaking down on Saturday and leaving, but when I came back on Sunday there were only a few expressions of genuine concern from individuals, and I was immediately welcomed back into the conversation. There was no sense that I'd broken a rule, but also nobody babied me. It was cool. I was a person dealing with my personal trauma, and there was respect for that. I felt like everybody there was treated like that, with respect for their opinions, for their perspective, for their experience.
Over and over again, I was struck by how incredible each person there really was... in their intelligence, their idealism, and their integrity. When people spoke, they spoke from their hearts, without apologies for their ideas, and they spoke beautifully. There were people who spoke less often, but when they spoke it was with intelligence and presence. Everyone there was really, truly THERE. I can't say I've ever been in a place with people who were so fully present... even when they were tired, bored, and irritable...
and it's this, in the end, that truly gives me hope for E.V. Many of the people who were there had travelled a long way, and many of them, like me, were carrying deep, ugly wounds from their personal experiences. We were all there because we really need for E.V. to survive. We really need each other. God has led us each on these winding, rocky paths, and we've ended up as these patchwork people who don't necessarily fit anywhere but who are continuing to follow Him as He leads. For many of us, our separation from the churches that nourished our faith is a source of sorrow that never really goes away, and the choices we've made have hurt people in our lives, so that, too, is a pain that stays and stays and stays, even as we thank God for what He's done in our lives.
I think in images, and this is my image of us as we move forward... we are dancing to the music of the desert with tears streaming down our faces. God hasn't really turned our mourning into dancing just yet... we're doing both at the same time. We're celebrating each other, and the new life that God will bring to E.V. and to us, and we're mourning all of the losses that have resulted from our choices and the choices of others because of our refusal as individuals and as a group to Just Shut Up And Sit Down. We're celebrating and mourning at once, because that is True. That is life... and in the end, that ability to look with honesty at our situation, to both mourn and celebrate, is what will enable this to survive.