The Ekklesia Project Gathering is a place where strangers quickly become friends. This is my third Gathering, having come last year and once way back in 2002. I’m learning that this is a time and place for the growth and discipleship of sub-versive friendships for the sake of more clearly seeing and naming the Reign of God, for the reconciliation of the Body of Christ and for more faithful participation in the Reign of God. It is learning to see and speak with prophetic eyes and a prophetic voice.
My wife, Michelle, and I participated together this year. The topic is very familiar to us; we live with the complexities and beauty of welcoming the immigrant in San Diego/Tijuana every day. We thought we’d be able to contribute a little from our life living as regular border crossers. What we didn’t anticipate is the beautiful gift that this weekend became for us as a couple, for our relationship and for our common discipleship. We didn’t realize that Beth Newman’s reminder that God in Christ is a vulnerable God would call us to be more vulnerable with one another. We scheduled an extra day on the back end to play a little in Chicago. We sat at Giordano’s Saturday night and couldn’t stop talking about the quality of the people we met. Michelle commented on her surprise at the range of people who care about this radical discipleship. We felt a little less strange…or at least that we are in good company in our strangeness. We shared with one another some of the more meaningful conversations we had; the workshops were powerful, but it was the conversations we had at meals, in the dorms, and in between sessions that drove us to reflect on our own lives.
As we walked through the Field Museum on Sunday, we talked about our local church, the things we lament and the hopes we have for engaging our church in the coming months. The antiquated and poorly constructed Africa Exhibit frustrated me because of the lifeless and generically categorical ways they re-present the diversity of life on the Africa Continent (can you tell I’m a professor of cultural anthropology, African Studies?). At the same time it struck me how easily the church falls into being a museum that re-presents lifeless and generically categorical ideas about “the widow,” “the orphan” and “the stranger” without inviting into our midst and surrounding people who are grieving and isolated because their spouse has died, without offering to adopt the children of those who have been orphaned by parents in a deportation prison, without even knowing the names of immigrant families in our parishes. We are trying to figure out what this needs to look like in our lives.
Thank you Debra Dean Murphy, Matthew Soerens and Pam Chao for sharing stories in your workshop of your relationships with particular immigrant families and the complex ways in which your ministry with them affected you. Thank you, Gabriel Salguero, for pushing us in your workshop to carefully discern the prophetic ways the church must engage the powers and principalities of our day. Thank you, Danny Carroll, for grounding our understanding of contemporary immigrants in our oldest and deepest stories. Thank you, Gabriel and Jeanette Salguero, for stirring our hearts, minds and passions, for propelling us from this gathering with renewed energy to engage in the difficult work that lies ahead.
Thank you all for your friendship. Jamie Gates