many years ago i was working for a week at a christian festival, spring harvest. it was actually the last time i agreed to go (though i am going back for a week this year). it proved to be a difficult week. i had been invited to do something creative or different but when i got there the expectation clearly wasn't that. but that week someone who i didn't really know very well asked to meet me for coffee to chat. they knew nothing of the experience i was having. but one of the things they said has stuck with me since -
you don't fit and that's your gift
it reminds me of a marshall macluhan quote - the role of the artist is to create an anti-environment as a means of perception and adjustment. it was so surprising from this particular person and was a huge relief at the time. there are lots of artists, prophets, creatives, entrepreneurs, and change agents for whom this is true and it is why they are able to do what they do. cultures need people that don't fit - it's how things get moved on when they get stuck. i have been reminded of it on this trip to the US as i have met a number of people for whom that statement could be said both in okc and austin. and they are amazing gifted wonderful people. and guess what - the institutional church really doesn't get it or them too well!
i have blogged on several occasions about the church of england creating space for recognising that pioneers have a different gift/call/set of skills and acknowledging that they need these kinds of people to create new things often around or off the edges of the existing map. there is a lot of work to be done with regards to training and a number of other issues. but at least the recognition is there. again i'm left with the thought that other denominations could learn from this. if somebody is asking a lot of questions, doesn't fit, are creative - don't push them away. give them the space to create something different and new and resist the temptation to co-opt it.
the united methodist church conference in oklahoma went well. people particularly enjoyed experiencing the worship. alternative worship, because it draws on tradition and uses liturgy plays out well in mainline contexts or so it seems. i hope the church there can reflect on what to do with its creative 'don't fit' people and resists putting them in regular churches which will frustrate them and those churches probably.
i was only there for a few days so any photos were snatched on the go, but on the last day i did get to visit the bomb memorial which is stunning. i have added some photos to a set on flickr.
Excellent thoughts - what I find here in the US is the emergence of what I'd term conformist anarchy - a rebellion against the institution that ends up looking like a cooler, younger, pomo model but unpack the persona and it's all the same - and once again, those who don't fit the new missional mold end up still not fitting in with no where to go. I re-read Mike Yaconelli a bit for the book I'm writing now and his thoughts on not fitting in gave me some much needed faith fuel.
We need to keep encouraging singular voices to do their thing and help them to resist the pressures that come by those who will try to market them as "the next emergent sensation" or whatever postmodern packaging they think will bring in the bucks. What's telling is this strategy seems to be backfiring - The era of the one man religious rock star show seems to be on the way out based on book sales etc. So I'm hoping the white noise can die down and many more dialogues like the one you had in Oklahoma will continue to happen.
Posted by: becky | November 11, 2008 at 01:02 PM
mnn i wonder how we create space that help those who don't fit survive not fitting
without creating the new uber cool pack they everyone wants to get in on and then ruin
but also without creating super tight cliches where many other hurting outsides feel as not fitting in as the main stream
Posted by: matybigfro | November 11, 2008 at 05:40 PM
i jonny, i've seen you around the blogosphere, not sure where, but finally i made it by your corner. great post, it resonates loudly with me. as a member of a faith community here in Portland called The Bridge, we are perhaps the loudest and rowdiest jalopy-gospel church in our region. And we absoeffinlutely don't fit in. But we're not meant to, and I revel in that. I revel in the energy of being a part of a unique expression of the body of Christ.
And i love that MacLuhan quote. i have it printed up on my wall in front of my writing desk.
all the best...
(h/t to becky!)
Posted by: pamhogeweide | November 12, 2008 at 08:49 AM
For most of the 17 years that I've taught in university business schools I've not fitted in. What I've taught - talk, conversation and improvisation - hasn't fitted into a rational manager's curriculum and the way I've helped people learn hasn't fitted with my colleagues, who have all been experts with much knowledge to transfer to our students ... I haven't fitted in so I've had to work incredibly hard to work in a way that satisfied me and avoided being hounded too often by my managers.
Things are changing... the ideas that I've espoused for several years are starting to be picked up by my colleagues. It's incredibly exciting but
the mainstream is catching up with me... I'm becoming mainstream... a friend asked me the other day, how I was going to cope with that...
it was a strangely uncomfortable questiion to answer.
Posted by: Caroline Too | November 12, 2008 at 05:26 PM
I appreciate your reflections on your time here in OK, on that thought in particular, and I'm glad you had the opportunity to come.
Godspeed on your journey home--and hope you enjoy being here for another day.
Posted by: Nathan | November 12, 2008 at 09:25 PM
'you don't fit and that's your gift'
what an incredibly liberating thing to be told.
this post was a very good thing to read today, thanks.
Posted by: cheryl | November 13, 2008 at 04:42 AM
What worries me about Fresh Expressions in the Church of England and the idea of pioneer ministry as it's developing is that a lot of the messaging that comes from the church feels like trying to find ways to make people conform to a church way of doing things rather than giving people the freedom to belong without fitting in. I'm struck by how much of the definition of a fresh expression as set out by the national team is to do with membership, worship, services, congregations, parishes, sacraments etc. I worry that the institutional church is in danger of stifling the very movement that is trying to bring life and modern context to those of faith who want to find a new way to do things.
Posted by: Martin Poole | November 13, 2008 at 10:15 AM
aah, i remember you coming back from that cup of coffee all those moons ago... and it really was surprising.
amazingly, i was told exactly the same thing by the parish priest who ran harn hill. i too was liberated, i have been positively affected by his words ever since.
the square peg in the round hole analogy springs to mind... but i can't help thinking my square peg would easily go in if the round hole were large enough. but it isn't... and i guess until it is i will always be found on the edge. hmmmm.
Posted by: jonbirch | November 14, 2008 at 12:58 AM
Jon - the fun thing about the edge though is I get to drink beer with people like you. I got to events as press where people fit in and it bores the daylights out of me. Fine for them if they're happy but I'm bored to tears.
Posted by: becky | November 16, 2008 at 10:17 AM
I am strangely reminded of a t-shirt I owned as a teenager....
"If you're not living on the edge you are taking up too much space. No Fear"
Posted by: Robb | November 17, 2008 at 08:44 AM
Oh, I don't know...
I don't completely disagree but it seems that perhaps we are missing a vital part.
Shouldn't we let the master craftsman decide the utility of the peg and the hole and modify, one or the other, according to His Plan so that His finished product jointly fits together?
Just thinking aloud...
Posted by: Jonas | November 20, 2008 at 12:38 PM
I'm very very late coming to join this particular party, but am very blessed by what I've read here. I just moved church after 14 years of feeling really uncomfortable and genuinely wondering what was wrong with me. I stayed because I thought it could bring a little bit of helpful change, but I don't think it has, and it was at a high cost. We are also a generation who find the contraints of institution tough I think, many of us are freewheelers and churches are afraid of that.
I'm exploring Pioneer ministry at the moment so the comment above was very interesting.
Thanks, and I'll look forward to reading more now I've pitched up.
Posted by: northern girl in the south | January 14, 2009 at 05:22 PM
I think it is actually harder for a woman not fitting in because women are expected to fit in even more than men are. It's so easy to be crushed by disapproval and maybe when men get angry at that, women get upset and cry - well I do. I get angry too, but angry women aren't taken seriously.
Thank God for the Internet that allows me to sometimes make my views known in writing rather than having to see people's looks of discomfort and waryness when I don't toe the line. Today I was able to speak out on my church's website about how despicable a man was whom they invited to speak there and it turns out I wasn't the only one to feel that way. In the same way as the Net has facilitated uprising and revolution in politically oppressed countries, it allows us to be more subversive and revolutionary in what is often an oppressive environment - the Christian Church.
Posted by: Tiggy | July 08, 2009 at 09:40 AM