A Tale of Two Gatherings
by Nathan Brown
The One Project gathering in Seattle last month [www.the1project.org] may have been the second most inspiring, encouraging, uplifting of such events that I have been privileged to be part of. I applaud and support the impulse behind this movement—Jesus. All.—and I was excited to be able to attend the gathering as part of a work trip to the US.
The need to re-focus on Jesus is a perpetual task in our denominational and individual lives. He can so easily be obscured by our busy-ness, our arguments, our stuff, even our churchiness and the day-to-day mechanics of all of these. It is inspiring to be reminded that Jesus has been our focus in the past, even amid disappointments and frustrations—and that, at times, we have needed to work to reclaim this focus. It is helpful to recognise Jesus working to transform people’s lives and communities today. And it is encouraging to be able to get together with such a gathering of people who see these things in the lives, study and ministry, and to be able to share them and worship together.
The One Project did all of these things—and did them well. I was encouraged, moved and pointed back to Jesus, “the Author and Perfecter . . .” And that’s how I left Seattle feeling—and for almost two weeks, The One Project would have been listed as the most inspiring, encouraging and uplifting such event that I had participated in.
But step back a few hours—then forward a couple of weeks.
At lunchtime on the second day at The One Project, feedback forms were left on the tables around which the discussion groups met and I filled out the form as I was seeing it at that time. I was frustrated. While it was not true or fair to say that I was feeling like we were talking to ourselves about ourselves, and while I resonated with a lot of the perspectives on church issues being presented and discussed, I wanted a bigger view. I wanted Jesus to make a difference, not just agree with me—and I wanted it to be about more than church.
Thankfully, The One Project didn’t leave me there. With the closing worship and communion service, we turned our eyes back to Jesus, if we had looked away, and some of my frustrations—or just personal hang-ups—were put into a better perspective. With Jesus in our midst, we were going from that gathering somehow changed.
Two weeks later, at the other end of my trip, I landed in Portland for another second-year conference. The Justice Conference [www.thejusticeconference.com] attracted about 4500 activists, pastors, artists, academics, students and more from across North America and 18 other nations. It featured presentations from academics, pastors and activists—from whom I had read a number of their books—and, as the title suggests, focused on the Bible’s call to “do justice,” and what this tells us both about the nature of God and who we are called to be in His world.
I was inspired, encouraged, uplifted—and challenged. I didn’t just go home changed; I went home to change the world (if you’ll forgive me for being a little grandiose).
We have been hearing regularly about revival in the Adventist church. The One Project seems part of this same impulse, albeit with some better ways of talking about it and putting it into practice. But Jesus is best understood, worshipped and followed in a context—a mission to our world that continues to be carried forward in the life and mission of the church—and the call of Jesus is lived out in a context. If we step too far away from this, Jesus becomes a nice idea, a mascot and, often, someone who looks like and agrees with me.
Whenever I hear revival talk which seems to be about our efforts to make it happen, I think back to Isaiah 58—one of the Bible’s great chapters on both revival and justice. The chapter describes the gatherings and efforts toward godliness and I wonder at our attempts at self-focused revivalism, personally or corporately. It is remarkable that the spirit of Jesus and the heart of Christianity are so other-centric that even our spiritual renewal is not about us, reaching out instead to the poor, the oppressed, the hurting and the hungry.
The One Project was a step—and a vital, positive, healthy, good one, which I continue to support and applaud—but it wasn’t the journey. The Justice Conference was a further step and a worthwhile step beyond that of The One Project. But the journey doesn’t happen in a hotel ballroom or convention centre, rather it happens as I live out the mission of Jesus by working for justice in my community on the other side of the world. And you in yours.