This image is carved into a building a few blocks from our apartment in the downtown neighborhood known as Belltown. It depicts the arrival of the first settlers in what has now, after a few variations, become to be known as the city of Seattle. I have walked by it dozens of times, but only recently have begun to see something more personal. As we begin a new phase in our grand experiment that we call Common Table, I am beginning to understand this process as more of a voyage than anything else, and its a voyage that is not nearly at its end. I’d like to be able to drop anchor and say this is what I’ve learned, but since the process continues, here are a few things that I (we) are learning along the way.
- It is about the journey, not the destination: This seemed like a quaint saying that I used to quote when I felt more philosophical and whimsical. It’s neither quaint nor whimsical any longer, it’s truth. I know this to be true because after nearly 4 years ago, not only have we not arrived anywhere recognizable, We are still not sure that we are even following the right course. Many would tell you that we are not, but that is because they think that the one they’ve arrived at is the same destination that everyone has. I used to be one of them. I used to set my sights on Monday morning with the course set for the following Sunday, fully having an image of what it would look like when I got there. So focused would I be and so sure of the image, I would often miss the nuances of each particular weekly journey … so much so in fact that I think I became disillusioned and couldn’t distinguish between the image and the reality. Here in the midst of this journey to build a faith community in an environment that pushes back against both faith and community, all preconceived images have come and gone. Sunday is no longer the destination, only another part of a journey that continues, with the end seeming further away with every passing Sunday. The beauty of this, once you get over yourself and your own images, is you have nothing left but to experience the journey, to wander, to look around, sometimes even to enjoy the voyage.
- Wait on the wind: In our case, the wind of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been sailing enough to understand the importance of wind to a vessel built to be powered by it. I’ve spent enough time needlessly paddling on this voyage to know the exhaustion that it beings. Waiting on wind requires a combination of patience and faith … patience to wait when all you want to do is move forward and faith that, even in the calmest of seas, the wind will one day blow again. I could legitimately point to many things that contributed to my desire to paddle our way to the end. I could tell you about the pressure from those who thought we needed to go faster, try harder, work longer. I could tell you about my own impatience and desire to prove that I could in fact “get us there”. I could tell you about the anxiety that a long journey means that supplies (read finances) will run out before the end. None of it matters because I am the captain and, for the most part, those other forces were all safely on shore with no idea what we were experiencing out here on the sea. I can tell you though when you are resting on the wind, however and wherever it blows, the journey comes alive. Notice I said resting … for that is what you get to do. When you are not consumed with how far and how fast all you need to do is focus on adjusting sails. You can focus on it, it makes you more sensitive to its nuances and movements, you see it in the sails and you see it in the wake. On more occasions than I care to count I have considered the journey hopelessly done, only to have one more gust blow wind into our sails and push us along. The wind of the Spirit will always blow, but as the prophet Tom Petty sings “the waiting is the hardest part”.
- Take what you’re given: My leadership heritage is from a world of programs. Years have been invested in learning the best methods for getting people in to the building with programs and then keeping them there. It became my default setting, almost part of my spiritual DNA. Now don’t mistake what I’m saying to be disparaging to the traditional church model. It works in many settings, it has been effective, both in getting them in and then keeping them in. In fact, it could be argued that, for some, it is remains their destination. Many wonderful followers of Jesus began their journeys because of programs and the churches who housed them. However, this is not the case for many and for many they’ve become an excuse for not actually living their faith outside of safe walls. I will tell you that these leadership habits are hard to unlearn when your course takes you into a culture where programs have little affect and walls are seen as impenetrable. Time and again I would guide us back to the familiar world where I created and waited for response. Time and again there was in fact little to no response. In these waters a capable hand is one that takes what is given, and doesn’t force what isn’t there. Forcing the work is at best wasted effort and at its worst can endanger everyone. The uncharted journey is one that requires reacting to what you’re given, not what you wish you could manage.
I’d like to say that these things I’m learning have given me comfort, security, or even confidence in my ability to lead. They haven’t really. They are just a continual processing in real time of the journey that we are on. I can tell you, even though the passing geography is nothing that I could have ever imagined, I am learning a bit more to enjoy the journey.