Observations From the Big Tent

September 9, 2010


Well, Day 1 of Big Tent Christianity is in the can.  If you’re too lazy to click on the link, Big Tent is about reuniting the Church (Universal), ending all the bickering and getting the hell back to what we’re supposed to be doing: being the Church.  One of the organizers, Phillip Clayton, likened it to Pat Robertson and John Shelby Spong coming together for a great big hug.  It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it was interesting.  It’s my first conference of this sort and there are a few I want to tell you about:

  • I’m tragically unhip.     I found myself adrift in a sea of MacBooks, iPhones, Blackberry’s and people tweeting and Facebooking whatever they felt was relevant.  Many of them were dressed in the deliberately casual fashion so common today.  Meanwhile, there I was looking like someone’s dad (I am, but that’s beside the point) in a polo shirt and jeans, taking notes with (gasp) paper and pen!  I thought I was a pretty hip guy because I read Rachel Evans interview with Brett McCracken about his book “Hipster Christianity”.  In the post, there’s a link to a quiz to determine if you’re a Christian hipster and I scored a 76/120, and it said “High CHQ. You are a pretty progressive, stylish, hipster-leaning Christian, even while you could easily feel at home in a decidedly un-hip non-denominational church. You are conservative on some issues and liberal on others, and sometimes you grow weary of trendy “alt-Christianity.” But make no mistake: You are a Christian hipster to at least some degree.”  Today, I found out that wasn’t true.  It was reinforced when I left.  As I walked through the parking lot my truck, I counted 4 Toyota Prius hybrids.  I drive a 4WD Mitsubishi Raider with a v-8 and kinda loud mufflers.  I told you I wasn’t hip.
  • I was in over my head.  I thought I was pretty sharp when it came to all things Christian.  But, the panel discussion on “Big Tent Bible” disabused me of this notion.  There was great stuff brought out, but at least half of it left me scratching my head.  I only understood about a third of what Peter Rollins had to say, but it sounded so good with that Irish brogue I didn’t mind. 
  • The venue is outside the norm.  I’m not complaining, I’m just not used to talking about church stuff while sitting under a basketball goal.  Seriously, though, the folks at New Community Church are going out of their way to make everyone feel at home and I appreciate the hospitality.
  • I didn’t see a Starbuck’s cup all day.  Which, considering this crowd, is a bit odd.  Things didn’t crank up until 1 pm, though.  I’m betting it’ll be a different story in the morning.
  • I’ve met some really cool people.  Tuesday night, I had dinner at The Pit with Hugh Hollowell, Christina Whitehouse-Suggs, Doug Pagitt and others.  That’s definitely the first time I’ve ever had beer and barbecue with pastor. 
  • Phyllis Tickle is just as funny as she is smart.  The author of way too many books to list, Ms. Tickle was my favorite presenter of the day.  It didn’t hurt that the first thing she said was “I’m an Episcopalian and some of my best ideas came while I was on a bar stool.”  Now, that’s an opening line!

The day was long, sometimes drawn out, but not boring.  Tuesday night, at dinner, someone asked what brought me to the idea of the big tent and one of things I mentioned was that several of the presenters were referred to as heretics by  more conservative Christians and with my rebellious streak, this was something I had to check out.  Someone said, “You found your tribe.”  Yeah, I believe I have. 

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