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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Good Friday

There was a bite to the wind, so I told the boys to wear sweatshirts. They didn’t listen so well, only one of them had one by the time I noticed; which was too late to do anything about it.

We were biking down Randolph Avenue, headed to the Good Friday event at Art House North in the West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul. We were early so that I could feed the constantly hungry teenage boys with Subway subs and still get good seats. I left the boys picnicing outside AHN as I went in to snag some seats.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the building; but I immediately fell in love with it. What a small, intimate little place it is. Things are just beginning to improve and I could already imagine what it will be like in a few years when a bunch of artists make it home. I was happy to see that it was not already ‘perfect.’ It made me relax to think that whoever was in charge was taking their time.

The boys eventually came in as the place filled up with attendees. Troy Groves opened up the night by telling us a bit of how the night came about; from them attending a conference at Blackhawk Church in Madison, WI. What happened there sparked in them the desire to have
some Blackhawk musicians and Tim Mackie come share with AHN that night.

We had come, my son, his friend Gabe and I, because J.R.R. Tolkien and comic books were on the bill. I was there because I wanted to check out AHN; but I hooked my son and Gabe into it by mentioning Tolkien and the comic books.

What was lovely to me was to see Hutchmoot friends and Church of the Open Door friends there. Again, it seemed to me like streams of my life were converging in that place. I always make a note of it when I see that happening. That was how I’d found my way to Abbey Way; the streams of Open Door and my Benedictine friends converging. It always makes me think that God is up to something; like bringing forth streams in a desert.

When Tim Mackie began to speak, I immediately liked him and was so thankful he was who he was – a young, intelligent, seemingly rooted guy. I saw Eli and Gabe perk up and listen to what he was saying. I could tell they liked him, and I was grateful. It is so hard, sometimes, to get teenagers to eat what is good for them.

Tim talked about how he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with spiritual things beginning when he was around 10 years old (or so) until he was in his teens. At that time, he spent every moment he could at the local comic book store, devouring Marvel comics.

He talked about how, when he became a Christian at age 20; he realized that the comic books had formed his imagination so that when he read the Bible he saw it for the complicated, paradoxical, mysterious hero story that it is. The comic books had given him a framework that was similar and to be found (created? originated?) in the Bible as well.

Tim went on to talk about how good story, not cheap stories, form and expand the boundaries of our imaginations. He shared with us what J.R.R. Tolkien says about these things in his essay, On Fairy Stories. I’ve ordered the essay and am anxious to read it because I worried that Tolkien and Mackie were stealing my next few planned blog posts. I’ve been thinking about the role story has played in my life and have been getting a little series of posts ready; and my thoughts and experiences line up with what Tolkien talks about in his essay and Mackie was sharing.

But since that evening at AHN, I've been thinking about a particular nuance in story. Tim was talking about books he’d read and how they formed his imagination. I am assuming most of
those books he read to himself. What his talk stirred within me was the thought: What happens when people read formational stories out loud, together? Then do you get a people’s imagination formed?

One of the most thought altering, perception shifting books I’ve read is New Monasticism: What it has to Say to Today’s Church by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. In it, JWH explained that the Bible was written to a people, for the formation of a people, together. The way he helped me understand it was that when it says ‘you’ in the Bible, it is most often translated more like the Southern, y’all. The Bible is not an introspective self-help book; but a people-help book, an everyone learning to live together well-help book.

So, I value community. I value nurturing community. I value story lived into and shared in community.

From those values our family, for years, has hosted what we call “Wrinkle” every other Saturday night. It all started when a bunch of adults, teens and kids decided we wanted to read through the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle, out loud, together. Instead of a book club where everyone reads the book alone and then comes together to talk about it; we
wanted to actually listen to a reader read the book to us.

And Wrinkle was born.

I’ve been the reader. Our family provides popcorn and fires. In the winter we gather around our living room fireplace. In the summer we’ve gathered around a campfire. Everyone listening brings some activity they like to do while they listen. People have sketched, molded small sculptures, knitted, crocheted, beaded, played solitaire, done puzzles, sewed, graded papers, and various other crafty/arty/useful things.

The ages are mixed. Single people come, married people come, families come, kids come on their own; everyone heaped together, all mixed up. I have watched a kid sit close to an artist and try to draw like they do; then show it to the artist for feedback. I have helped a young knitter learn their next needed step in their project before I start reading and then watched as they finish their project, beaming. It has all been quite amazing.

We have each been formed, shaped by those stories we shared experiencing together. We often make jokes to each other, mimic a character’s voice or laugh about a moment that was funny in the story; and what has resulted is a community that has been nurtured and formed together.

And it is good.

I wonder: How could this be shared with people who don’t do this? How can this be shared with kids who don’t have adults who take time to read to them? How could this be shared on a broader scale to nurture a larger group?

I am wondering.

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