By: Brian Bantum
May 06, 2013
Walking in my little yard one day I felt the ground beneath my feet sink ever so slightly. Looking down I found a small patch of moss where grass used to be before the dark rain of Seattle winter set in. Knowing that moss would quickly overtake the yard I did my duty and pulled it up immediately and set the drenched pieces of earth to the side. But looking at where the moss used to be I was not quite sure what to do. So I let it be, thinking I would get to it sooner or later when I had a better plan for the whole yard.
Sadly, a few weeks later my grand plans for edged grass and manicured beds of flowers did not come to fruition. But looking at my emptied patch of grass, I found the space had taken on a life of its own. A few weeds, to be sure, but flowers too. This patch began for me a process of thinking about what else could be in the garden that I had not planned. Quite by accident I had created a “wild space” in my yard.
Wild spaces* are dangerous things. Sometimes they form from our of neglect or by accident, but they always seem to cultivate new problems and new possibilities. But can a wild space be planned? What if this wild space was surrounded with seeds that have themselves been cultivated and nurtured in wide and varied ways?
For the last two days I can’t help but think that in the formation of an Advisory Team, FTE has decided to intentionally create a “wild space” in its midst. Bringing with us varied experiences, passions and networks, we were gathered to respond to initiatives, generate ideas, and just think out loud. Ideas, relationships, callings, communities quickly took root on blank white boards and giant post-it notes. I couldn’t help but wonder at the risk FTE was taking by gathering gifted, energetic people to simply respond, talk and dream together.
We addressed “big” questions like “What is theological education?” and “Where does theological education take place?” But there is something powerful about drawing together people whose lives have been variously enlivened by FTE, sent out to be planted and grow in new communities, to then gathered together again to be given a blank board and time to reflect together. After twenty-four hours together, I could not help but think we were a wonderful and dangerous space.
“...the church must begin to imagine new ways to serve and simply be God’s presence in the world.”
Theological education, the church, the world all seem to be changing faster than we can keep up. New questions, new technologies are complicating old problems and answers. And yet if we confess that our God is new everyday and that the church is a unique presence of this God, we must also believe that these changes that seem so profound to us, are not bigger than God. But what do we do? What are our plans? What are the programs?
While FTE has partnered with the church and theological schools to create opportunities for mentorship, discernment, and training, the changing face of the church must begin to imagine new ways to serve and simply be God’s presence in the world. As I reflect on the preliminary work of this Advisory Team, I am excited to say we do not know what the work will look like. But somehow the wildness of this space, the giftedness and passion of those who occupy it gives me a great deal of hope that God is not absent from us as one world seemingly turns to another.
As we move forward in our work I am encouraged by the experiences and passions that form and inform this space. We will be asking some difficult questions about the church, about theological education and what does it mean to be a Christian leader in the twenty-first century. But as we ask those questions the constitution of this space will press us towards one exciting truth - God is working in and through us and even more, God is not contained by us. What is before us is an opportunity to not only become a wild space of new ideas and (prayerfully) speaking truth to/with FTE, but through this work, the wild spaces of God’s church might be further empowered, resourced, and encouraged so that the whole body might continue rediscover its identity in this world.
* ”Wild spaces” is a term used by Catholic theologian Emmanuel Katongole.