My mom says that I was a “spirited” child. I struggled to fit in any mold my teachers tried to put me in. I joke that I was absent the day they handed out boxes, because I don’t fit into one.
I didn’t have many close friends in school because I didn’t want to only hang out with one crowd of people. I liked the super Christian kids, I liked the grungy goth kids, I liked the sporty athletic kids and the dorky smart kids. I identified with each of them and yet could not sell out to any one crowd.
In order to become clergy in the umc you have to take a psychological exam. My biggest “red flag” was that I was too open minded. (read: to be clergy is to uphold the traditions and polity of the church, so to be too open minded is a threat to the institution.)
Recently I got an email from our bishop’s assistant inviting me to participate in a thing called “m-lab” (I later found out that this meant “movement-learning action board”). Attached to the email was this quote:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
I immediately booked my flight.
The UMC M-LAB is a networking event for clergy who think outside the confines of the institution, who dream of new and different ways of doing missions, experiencing God, making disciples, and transforming the world. I met some pretty awesome people who are doing fabulous ministries and who I’m excited to keep in touch with. The key words from our leaders, “we are curio” were listen, connect, provoke, ideate, experience. We heard about various tools for design innovation and resources for innovation and creative problem solving. We heard from the great Andre Henry about the need for subversive liturgies that speak to the pain of the world, that offer space and ways to lament, to facilitate ways for people to interrupt the status quo and challenge the systems of injustice. The amazingly creative Cole NeSmith shared about elements of designing culture. The most memorable of which are: “designing culture means caring about the culture more than you care about your opinion” and “designing culture means building bridges between where people are and where we believe they can be.”
Each participant of M-Lab was invited to create and pitch a prototype design that they were excited about – some of which were “Canvas Raleigh” (using public art to promote justice); an “air bnb” type-app for churches to share resources such as shower facilities for mission trips; and Curated Worship (a museum-like experience of worship, utilizing various forms of worship both for individuals and groups in a 24/7 open/flexible space).
More than anything, M-Lab brought people together who, like me, don’t fit in a box. It was inspiring to get together and dream what the UMC can be like if we disrupt the norms, break down barriers, and create new expressions of church beyond what has been done before.
We met in the Portico in Tampa, an innovative space created from First UMC in order to be a missional, connectional space for the community. The sanctuary was transformed to be an art gallery and meeting space, and the other parts of the building now host a non-profit and a café which raises money for the nonprofit and missions. It’s a remarkable example of how creative thinking can transform our churches into something meaningful for the community.
I left tired, inspired, and ready to jump back in to ministry knowing that I’m not alone outside the box.
Here’s an invitation: Break out of the box. Be free from the bounds of conformity and the chains of “what’s-been-done-before.” Do something new, different, innovative. Create!