Thursday, October 2, 2014

In the Middle of the Mess

This post is about our experience of this year's CCDA conference, which had very little to do with the quality of the sessions, organizers or speakers. For a rich interaction with the central theme of the conference, you might want to visit the blog of our friend Marc Nettleton. His reflection is compelling and beautiful.

Here's how I experienced the conference:

When we first attended the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference four years ago, Ruthie and I felt like we had discovered our tribe.

With these people, we didn't have to explain how the Good News of Jesus Christ and the work of loving our neighbors fit together. We didn't have to defend the idea of resisting an unjust political and cultural power structure. And the pains and joys of loving our community in faithful, unsexy ways every day were shared by so many everywhere we went.

So despite having a newborn baby and some significant financial concerns, we decided to make the trip and to bring four young leaders from the neighborhood along.

Everything turned out to be even harder than expected. One hour out of Raleigh, with an SUV full of youth and a restless baby in our backseat, we learned that our reservation at a hotel within walking distance of the conference had been inexplicably canceled. Priceline "resolved" this problem by re-booking us at a hotel that was a 20-minute drive away. So I spent a good chunk of the conference shuttling people from the hotel to the convention center and back.

We also had to figure out how to take care of Jack and keep him as close to his feeding and sleeping schedule as possible. Which meant less-than-perfect nights of sleep and logistical juggling during the days. When excited CCDA friends asked us which sessions we planned to attend, we had to shrug. I was able to go to one of the evening plenaries. Ruthie went to two. Jack was mercifully well-behaved, cooing and snoring his way through them.

Those plenaries were great, though. Our pain at violence and injustice was named, and through lament, it was woven into the fabric of a hopeful story. We heard about reconciliation and compassion, and genuine community transformation.

And, after the conference ended, we had a great time with the youth at a cheap theme park in Raleigh, where we played mini-golf (I won), laser tag (we all lost to the only people playing as a team, a group of thirty-something men who in camouflage who ran a diamond formation to beat the middle-schoolers and high-schoolers running around, which didn't do much to dispel some of our ideas about culture in North Carolina) and go-carts (we all climbed the rankings and had a great time).

On our last morning in Raleigh, we gathered with Miguel, Guzman, Susana, Vanesa, and Ryan to talk about the conference. We all named it as a high point of our year. Ruthie, Ryan, and I expressed how the highlight for us had been the time with the youth.

We discussed where each of us were on our faith journey. Some of us felt like we got closer to intimacy with God, then retreated. Some of us felt like we couldn't believe in God. We encouraged each other to keep the conversation open, presented the Gospel, and agreed to continue walking together through our questions.

So I didn't get what I was supposed to get from the conference. I didn't learn a single helpful theory of community development, didn't get much quality time with other practitioners, and didn't feel recharged at the end.

But, in the middle of the mess of running a booth, getting everyone where they were supposed to be, and staying caffeinated enough to deal with the sleep deprivation, something good happened: I grew in love for my neighbors, and we grew together in our vision for the work. That's good enough reason to keep going.

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