Today I’m blogging notes from the annual Ekklesia Project Gathering — or, more precisely, I’m noting some impressions and ideas that I hear from others, or that others’ notions provoke in me. That’s one of the things Ekklesia does so well, to bring us together with people who feed our imaginations. So it’s great to see Phil Kenneson, Stan Hauerwas, Barry Harvey, Beth Newman, Trevor Bechtel, Michael and Mary Cartwright and their children, James Lewis, Trecy Lysaught, and bunches of other provocative friends.
The Gathering began with worship, at which Stanley preached a sermon on Matthew 13:24-35; I love Stan, but I’d want to argue with him about many, many features of the sermon.
Improvisation, on Sam Wells’s account, teaches discipleship about four things: First, about forming habits (developing a sense of relaxed awareness), “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton“ — formation in specific practices and habits makes possible a freedom and responsiveness learned therein. Improvisation is about learning patterns and expectation so that you do what seems obvious (though it be mysterious to someone who hasn’t shared that preparation). Second, reading status relationships: He cites the example of encountering another in a hallway, and trying to figure who will yield which space to the other. High-status roles command attention, occupy space and do not yield; low-status roles operate in the margins. Third, over-accepting: Again, he invokes the theatrical categories of accepting, blocking, and over-accepting. In “accepting,” one simply cooperates with another’s offered [narrative] sequence (one offers a handshake, another accepts it); in blocking, one refuses the other’s offer (declines the handshake); in over-accepting, one accepts in such a way as to change the terms of the narrative one is enacting. Fourth, Wells cites “reincorporation.” He explains that reincorporating involves gathering the loose ends of the performed narrative and re-associating them with the posited main narrative. Reincorporation effects a satisfactory closure to a narrative. Sam connects these four features of improvisational discipleship with the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-9. Sam’s take on improvisation impresses me, but I’m disappointed that he blocks three consecutive questions from women relative to ways that his theory might better deal with gender and racial difference.
After a break, the Gathering, ummm, gathered to talk about fasting. The Project involves a pledge to observe a daytime fast on Fridays, a fast that I observe generally (not unvaryingly). The discussion sounded very Protestant — “What should we do about fasting? Why do we fast?” I fast because it’s what we do, not because it’s predictably effectual toward a particular end. Thus I also have a hard time thinking about what we could do to make fasting better, or more effective. . . .