Center Lines - June 2008

Once again I was being led, taken somewhere I did not want to go.  A week or so after our and Troy’s annual conference sessions concluded, the Albany Area Cabinet (the four DSs from each conference, I as DCM and my counterpart from Troy) joined Bishop Hassinger and Episcopal Office Administrative Assistant Jane Schweikert for a planning retreat in Boston, Massachusetts. 

We met and spent time with the New England Conference Cabinet and leaders, in large part to strengthen relationships between them and Troy’s Vermont churches should the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference approve our requested boundary changes in July.  We also met with the New England Conference’s Director of Congregational Development to share strategies and learn from their successes, and we began to organize our calendars for the 2008-2209 church year.

This was all well and good.  The problem (for me, anyway) arose on the second and final evening when “the group” decided to see a performance of the Blue Man Group (BMG).  The BMG is three men dressed in black with their hands and whole heads (including faces) painted a bright, shiny blue.  They perform in mime to energetic music, flashing lights and video.  They jump and gyrate round the stage and behave in generally odd ways.  I knew of the group and its shtick from a television commercial a year or so ago.  I knew them and I knew I did not want to go.

Give me a mellow evening of R&B soul with someone like Harry Belefonte or folk artists like Peter, Paul & Mary and I am ready.  This BMG loud rock, this New Age-y unfamiliar “music,” this off-the-wall off-beat routine is not for me.  I did not want to go!

I was not forced to go, but given that everyone else seemed excited and willing, I did not want to be the fly in the ointment.  I agreed to go, but I did not want to go and I knew I was in for a long, uncomfortable evening.

We made our way to the small theater on a back street of Boston’s theater district.  We were among the more “senior” of those standing in line.  Around us were families, college student orientation groups, youth groups and many others.  There was an air of expectancy among young and old alike, anticipating what was to come. 

A man from the show’s staff greeted us on the street.  As he mingled he told us how to prepare and get the most out of the experience. 

I really did not want to be there. We made our way into the small theater and upstairs to our balcony seats.  At each point we were met by pleasant employees who, beyond the obligatory ticket-check, greeted us warmly and gave the impression that they actually cared that we were finding our way and were comfortable.

As we waited for the show to begin, music and video effects in the auditorium were designed to get us into the mood for what was to come.  The ambiance melded friends, colleagues and total strangers into one group, a group that “knew” it was about to experience something special.  I still did not want to be there, but at least I was seated- and I was next to an aisle; my favorite spot!

The blue men came on stage at the appointed time with their bright blue heads, faces and all.  They performed with an artistry and skill that even I (the sourpuss) had to grudgingly admire.  Their routines were filled with mime, dance, music, athleticism, comedy, pathos and audio-visual effects.  The performers were skilled, prepared and made full use of their vast array of resources. 

It was a long show with no intermission, but the audience always listened, watched and waited- expectant about what would come next.  Not once was there time or opportunity for even me to ask “How much longer?”

At show’s end all of us, this nay-sayer included, knew we had experienced something special.  We were energized, awed and enriched.  I will not say that we wanted more, but we were glad for every minute we had with the BMG.

Perhaps someone else at another time can discuss and compare and contrast this enlivening experience with our traditionally staid, less energizing worship services and Sunday morning hospitality practices.  (Yes, thank you, I know that worship isn’t- or ought not be- entertainment, but there still could/ought to be hospitality and some level of passion and spirit that captures and invigorates us. 

Again, that’s another topic for another day.) My point here is that in being open to being led where I did not want to go, I was enriched; my horizons were broadened and I experienced something I would have otherwise missed.  My evening would have been lessened.  I would have been poorer because of it.

As I look ahead to the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference in July and the changes on the horizon that it portends, I find I am being led in directions I do not necessarily want to go.  Change, I have discovered, is hard work, it is time-consuming.  It is taking me to unknown places I am not sure I want to go. 

Yet, at each reluctant step along the way I discover something- or someone- new.  There is always a new relationship to begin, a new learning, a new insight, a new idea for ministry to try.

The familiar and the comfortable give me the surety and the confidence to go where I do not want to go; to try something I do not want to try; to let my assumptions be challenged.  That is, they will give me this surety and this confidence if I allow them to.

The Blue Man Group (of all things!) convinced me I need to let that happen more often.  I’ll consider it, while I listen to my latest Peter, Paul & Mary purchase.  They are on CD now, a real change from their vinyl 33 records!


By: Reverend Mark Marino On 6/25/2008