After finishing up another Biblical Imagination Conference (our largest to date – 150 wonderful people!), I'm sitting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, enjoying the Upper Midwest accents and waiting for my flight back to OKC. After a full travel day on Friday and the conference that evening and all day Saturday, I got to sleep in at bit this morning in my hotel room (which rarely happens at home), so I'm feeling fairly rested and reflective as I enjoy the free wi-fi.
I've been a part of these conferences for two-and-a-half years now, developing the program and serving as emcee/educator for the first year-and-a-half through the gospel of Luke, and now finishing up in another two weeks the past year with our final Mark conference. Matthew starts up in September and will run for a year-and-a-half, and then we'll finish out with John for almost two years. When it's all said and done, it will be a total of six years that I've been involved with this initiative.
One of the things I try to facilitate during the conferences is a warm, funny (often "punny"), and vulnerable atmosphere that lends itself to folks being comfortable enough to listen without defense and contribute without suspense. A great way I've found (or more accurately, stolen from my friends Bill, Bruce, and John) that lends itself to meeting this goal is "sticky note processing" – asking conferees to write down a thought on a sticky note in response to a question, discuss it with each other, and then post it on the wall for all to read. Everyone can then check the stickies out over the breaks, and I read a few at the beginning of the next session and comment so folks know we're taking them seriously.
Yesterday afternoon, after a session on the "unmiraculous miracles" Jesus did in the New Testament and now does in our daily lives, I asked attendees to complete the sentence, "Lord, give me the eyes to see your miracle in/concerning…" The responses were both heart-breaking and, if you're involved with people to any degree, sadly all too familiar:
Lord, give me the eyes to see your miracle in/concerning…
…bringing faith to unsaved friends and family.
…my prodigal sister disowning our family.
…giving our children the daily knowledge and experience to grow up healthy and happy and desiring to know You more.
…contention in the church body.
…the lost in our state, country, and the world.
…my daughter being critical of everything that her husband says or does.
…the lives of my grandchildren.
…healing my relationship with my ex-wife to be able to communicate over family matters.
…the healing of our son-in-law's body and finding a job for him.
…Your vantage point always in every moment.
…my 3-year-old adoptive daughter and her progress and ability to talk.
…our daughter and son-in-law's marriage and how they treat and talk to each other.
…our children's lives.
…the two years of pain and suffering and death of my mother because I don't understand it.
…my job search and where you want me.
…giving me the courage, wisdom, and opportunity to teach my young grandchildren about You.
…my wayward daughter.
…my youngest daughter as she truly is, not as her illness makes her.
…the effects of a Christian friend on a unbeliever.
…bringing my brother and his wife into relationship with You.
…our church, its growth and vibrancy, and how it can touch our community.
…how to stop the persecution of Christians.
…in our finances and living situation.
…my faith in Your plans and times for the future.
…my personnel problems at work, my family conflicts, and my own depression.
…my prayers to open the eyes of close family members.
…our son watching our daughter-in-law crack under the pressure of living overseas in such an oppressive culture that devalues life.
…our budget despite the loss of income.
…our son's death.
…my son in med school who seems so far away from his Christian upbringing.
…Your work through my work.
…the loss of a visa and job in east Asia.
…my husband's careful and loving provision for me – always a model of how You love us.
…the starving people in the world.
…restoration, healing, and wholeness for my children who grew up in lots of chaos and crud, that they would be able to forgive me for their past pain.
…my 21-year-old son, who is very introverted and not motivated to move forward in life.
…returning our pastor to our church.
…the broken relationships with my youngest son and my two daughter-in-laws; I stay away to avoid troubles, even at the expense of not seeing my only granddaughter.
…my oldest son, who struggles with You, his faith, and himself.
It can be overwhelming reading all these, but when shared in the temporary community of the conference, it's amazing how God enables people to find and hold each other up in the midst of the hurt. My prayer is people can do the same in their local church communities, but it isn't easy when all of us wrestle with our own versions of the list above and have to relate longer-term than across a short weekend.
Still, by God's grace, perhaps folks can get a taste at the conference of what's possible at home and pursue this potential within a local expression of the Body of Christ. It's a lonely and lamentable existence otherwise. All it takes are a few sticky notes to figure that out.