Thursday, April 24, 2008

Debbie Blue, Russell Rathbun and Linda Buturian

Hello emerging folks. Doesn't it feel good to identify with that word in this season of emergence? Buds from barren sticks, you know?

Last week, we had a phenomenal gathering of 17 folks, 3 speakers and 4 people that knew the speakers. Our speakers were Debbie Blue, Russell Rathbun and Linda Buturian, all members of the House of Mercy up in St. Paul, all folks that have books available at Cathedral Hill Press.

Russell started out the conversation by describing their church, which they formed when they got out of seminary because they wanted a church where they would actually want to attend and that their friends, who were artists and stuff, would also want to attend. Russell, who looked like he would fit in quite well in Wicker Park with his black cowboy shirt with embroidered banjos and funky glasses, pointed out that their church had been around for 12 years, which is ancient for an emergent church.

I liked watching the energy of the two pastors: Russell and Debbie. Both were a little twitchy and awkward. Obviously, they wanted to be there and had such beautiful, honest and vulnerable things to say. But, part of that honesty and vulnerability involved allowing themselves to be the self-proclaimed introverts that they are, even in front of a group of strangers. As someone who has been trained to pull out my most charismatic identity when addressing groups of people, I admire their courage to simply be themselves.

Debbie read first from her book, From Stone to Living Word, and I was impressed by the clarity and originality that she wrote about Biblical interpretation as idolatry and then about love. It's so easy to say the same old Hallmark-card-for-the-rest-of-us things about love and I felt like Debbie really avoided that. She even wrote that it felt corny to even talk about love, "like I'm young and I don't know anything." She also said that love wasn't "consistently positive regard" because "who could live with anyone and feel that?" I bought a copy of the book even though I haven't read a book that wasn't for class since last August.

Russell read from his book, Post-Rapture Radio, a novel that at one point describes a hipster pastor in a mocking tone and I want to give Russell the benefit of the doubt that he read that with utter awareness of the irony. The excerpt he read was beautifully written and my church's resident atheist loved the whole book when he read it.

Finally, Linda read from her book that had only been released the week before. She lives in an "intentional cul-de-sac" with Debbie's family and a couple of others and her book, World Gone Beautiful, is a collection of memoirs from that experience. Her reading resonated with me the most because I think her neuroses are probably the most like mine. At one point she described feeling like "the world is a model airplane that I must assemble in the dark" while she lay awake being unable to fall asleep. I think this might have been one of the first times she's read from this work publicly since she kept laughing to remember the events that was reading about. That connection of the words to the actual events rather than connecting the words to a particular way to tell a story effectively was utterly charming. The words themselves were also terribly vulnerable and lovely. I bought a copy of her book also.

They wrapped up their presentation by talking a little bit more about their church and how they find relevance in traditional worship by singing old hymns with irony and discussing how they find success because their people are "allowed, encouraged and required to poke fun at the structures" of the church. They answered great questions and hung around for a long time to talk with folks after we formally closed.

Next month's meeting will be on Monday, May 19 at 7:00 at Wicker Park Grace (click on the link in the sidebar for directions). We're going to focus our discussion on the talks that Brian McLaren gave here in the area but everyone is welcome to join us, even those that didn't attend.


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