I said in my last post that I'd try to blog some about my experience at the Ekklesia Gathering 2006. For those who are unfamiliar with the Ekklesia Gathering, it is the yearly conference of the Ekklesia Project, a network of academics, pastors, and lay people from many different church traditions who are thinking together about what it means to be the church in the world and what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the world. Two particularly distinctive aspects of the Ekklesia Project are their commitment to pacifism and their belief that the Kingdom of God is the primary political loyalty of the Christian rather than the nation-state or any other earthly entity. While I am not a pacifist (I am a just-war adherent), I still think that many Christians in our times, especially in the United States, need to think more clearly and seriously about the relationship between violence and Christianity and about the nature of our loyalties to governments, countries, and other earthly groups.
I attended the gathering with the two pastors from my church, who are both full endorsers of the Ekklesia Project. The theme of this year's gathering was "The Kingdom of Heaven is Like: Imagining Our Life Together in Christ," and focused specifically on the parables of Jesus which deal with this theme. The gathering opened with a worship service, with the opening sermon delivered by the theologian Stanley Hauerwas. I had been excited about hearing him preach, but I confess I found his sermon to be more like a lecture and pretty dry. One intriguing thing he said, was that Jesus himself is the ultimate parable, though I can't remember how he unpacked that idea, unfortunately. An interesting idea for reflection though.
After the opening service came the first plenary session, which was lead by Sam Wells, a Hauerwas protege and author of the book "Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics," which re-envisions ethics in terms of drama and narrative rather than in terms of prescription and proposition. This was my favorite part of the first day. Wells spoke on the parable of the shrewd manager found in Luke 16: 1-9. He rejected conventional understandings of the parable, which he summarized as "Sometimes you have to be crafty." Instead, Wells sees the parable as being about generosity and friendship, and about using our worldly wealth in such a way that when it is gone, we will have formed the kind of friendships that enable us to live without it. This was summed up by the statement "Generosity is the best way we do business." There is more I could say about what he said, but I'll cut it short for now. I bought Well's book, so maybe I'll do a longer entry on him later.
The last part of day one was an open discussion about the practice of fasting as a communal practice. Later in the evening, there was a concert by the musical group The Psalters, whose music is a mixture of many world/folk traditions with a more punk ethos and strong political and spiritual lyrics (you can download some of their stuff for free on their website). Unfortunately, we were all tired and needed to get up early the next day, so we didn't stay for the concert.
There were a lot of good books available and they were all at seriously discounted prices for the convention. I got four books: The formerly mentioned Sam Wells book, "Postmodernism 101" by Heath White, Laura Smit's "Loves Me, Loves Me Not," and a used copy of John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus." So that's pretty much it for day one.
I'll blog later about day two. Peace.