For the last few years my friend Julie has attended this mysterious gathering called Q. Part of her attending meant her visiting fun locals, like Portland and Washington, D.C. She would always come back, brimming full of ideas and excited for the next year’s gathering. Well, I heard that Q was coming to LA this year and knew I had no excuses (being that I live outside of LA). Now, I am at the other end of this conference and pondering what I have received, what resonated within me, during my time at Q. It’s challenging to sift through the fire hose that is Q, but as I set here and consider, these are the things that were significant during my experience.
I work in retreat ministry at a church. However, I did not go to Q with the express expectation to meet with others who work in the retreat world. Q just doesn’t seem like the venue that would necessarily attract these folks. By the end of the conference, I realized that I had come across all of the retreat people in attendance. And by no creation of my own. It felt very providential, the ways in which I was able to connect with some new friends in the retreat world.
Q is such a collaborative space and upon mentioning that I worked for a retreat center to a man at my table, he was determined to connect me with an individual he knew from a retreat house in Texas. I was able to connect with him and it was so encouraging to know that there are other centers out there with a similar vision and who have been offering these retreats for much longer than my center has. I was invited to visit their house and get a behind the scenes glimpse of how they run.
I also connected with a couple of other individuals who are offering similar spaces for retreat and renewal. Being so close to LA, I was able to invite one of these men down to tour my retreat center and give a vision for what we’re doing there.
All this to say, I could not have orchestrated these meetings on my own. I truly believe that God connected us during Q.
From the moment this man opened his mouth, there was something about his presence that made me want to cry. As a Palestinian Christian, for many, a walking contradiction flying in the face of their preconceived notions, he embodied love and wisdom in a way that I’ve rarely experienced. This is a man who has chosen the way of the cross, continually. He ended his time with a charge to all of us at Q: Do not embrace friendship with the Jews if that means you hate the Palestinians. Do not embrace friendship with the Palestinians if that means you hate the Jews.
This band opened each of our sessions up at Q. If this was high school church camp and I was putting together a slide show of the event, the background music would definitely be from The Brilliance. In fact, it is hard for me to separate my conference experience from their music. In the fast paced sprint that is Q (in which simple things like hydration were challenging for me), they provided a much needed space to pause, reflect and catch my breath. In particular, the song “Open Us” has been playing in my head ever since. Coming back, I’m determined to introduce all my friends to this band.
There were so many fascinating workshop/cultural experience topics and it was so challenging to only select one. However, I am so glad that I chose the Story workshop by Bobbette Buster. As a story consultant for Pixar, Disney and Sony Animation, Buster is an expert on the structure of story. I had taken a script writing class in undergrad, and while I enjoyed it, I was not as deeply impacted as I was during this workshop. Lately, I’ve been struck by how different disciplines seem to be coming to the conclusion that story is important, even vital. I still have much to think and ponder over, but I left the workshop wondering how the spiritual journey, with its ups and downs (thinking particularly of the Carmelite views of developmental spirituality), correlates to the three act structure. I’ve also been considering how cultivating the imagination for story, becoming familiar with our fairy tales, helps us to continue walking with God when we enter into desolation and the times when we’re faced with the unanswerable questions (entering into the gray, undefined areas of life, which seem connected with what some would call second half spirituality). I don’t have any major conclusions, but these tentacle of ideas seem somehow connected.
Pleasure vs. Renewal
Gabe Lyons, the curator of Q, ended the conference with a talk on The Imagination Wars (BTW, is it me, or would that be a great band name). His basic thesis was that we live in a world with two competing ideas on imagining the story we exist in. The first is the way of pleasure, which says that pleasure is the telos of all humanity and the driving force is to avoid pain at all costs (interestingly, flying in the face of the 3 act story structure). The second is the way of renewal, which comes through redemption of pain. The good news is to see our brokenness and inability to fix it on our own. This is the place where Jesus meets us. Avoiding pain leads to disillusionment, while Christ’s imagination causes us to lean into reality. As I listened to Gabe talk, I thought back to the many people I had met over the last couple of days and the interesting places they worked. In that moment, I recognized in my mind a glamorization of other churches, which seemed more open and willing to bring in spiritual formation. God gave me a glimpse into my own heart as I sat there. Today, for me the way of pleasure would be to seek out those churches. Today, the way of renewal is to continue with my job, my church. This is where God has called me to. This is the place of sanctification, growth, and ultimately, deeper trust in him. This may not always be true for me, but for today, this is my place of reality.
Hopes for Future Q Gatherings
While I appreciated all that Q had to offer, I would love to see future Q gatherings address the soul of the leader. I know from my own experience that there are great temptations in leadership and no matter how much one can try to cover that up, the truth will always come out. In the same vein, I think it would be interesting to dedicate one of the shorter talks to providing an experience of silence. What would it be like to lead the Q community through a moment of silence and then give some time to process the experience? We run at such a fast pace and taking the time to stop can be terrifying. Yet, there is a value to stopping, to pausing and taking a moment to listen to what is really going on internally. How do we create and structure communal spaces for silence?
I’m so grateful I was able to attend Q and meet all the interesting people, who are on their own journeys of helping to bring cultural good to the world, by the power of the Spirit.