May 7th, 2017
It was a long weekend.
It was the typical three days, but I crammed so much in, that by 2:00 AM Monday morning when I pulled into my driveway, I think I heard my body audibly sigh in relief. I had spent the weekend in Michigan, and I got there the best way I know how that didn’t require my feet to leave the ground. In other words, I drove. It was worth the nine-hour trek through the raging rain and windstorm. It was worth it for even the few hours, and sometimes only minutes, I got to spend with people as we invested into each other’s lives.
Christ Hold Fast as a conference venue has never disappointed me. Whether in Florida, where the topic was prodigals, to New York, where they expounded on the vocation of the Christian, to this weekend in Detroit, where they taught on the “I AM” statements of Christ. I missed the Dallas conference, but enjoyed online many of the messages on the parables that were being taught. I can’t say this enough, GRACE IS FOUND HERE! THE GOSPEL IS FOUND HERE! The next big conference is a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, that takes place in San Diego this October. If you can make it, you won’t be sorry. Check out christholdfast.org for more information on that.
The part of the conference that I sometimes appreciate just a little more, is the relationships formed. I write for this terrific organization, so it’s extremely encouraging for me to hear from people who have read something I wrote. There seems to be a million miles between the last word on the article, and the comment section online, so when you meet someone in person, and they know you, and they somehow connected with something you wrote? Well, it spurs you on. Let me be clear, it’s not just about accolades, but in that conversation, you can get to know someone for the first time, or maybe just a bit better than the last time. That’s one of the best things about this weekend, and about these conferences. Yes, this weekend was full of people. New people to meet, distant friends to get re-acquainted with, and the chance to shake hands with friends across the internet. Yes, I have actual friends and acquaintances on place like twitter, that I never met.
As the former overseer of a conglomerate of Lutheran writers, collected under the now defunct website moniker, The Lutheran Knuckleheads, I jumped at the chance to meet up with any of these former knuckleheaded contributors, so getting together with Kathy at the conference was a blessing. She is an awesome writer, and with every article, whether on our old website, Christ Hold Fast, or her newest place, The Gospel Economist, she continues to improve in leaps and bounds. I feel a, “I knew her when…” is in my future. It was great to catch up with her as she told me what’s going on with work and life. Along with Kathy, I got to meet some of her Michigan “posse”, which included Twitter/Facebook Alumni, Allie. Though it can seem weird, you get a glimpse into these lives and you do start feeling for them, praying, and hoping the best for them. Being able to meet Allie, and wish her the best for her upcoming wedding, was another highlight of the weekend.
Another friend who, like Kathy, I met for the first time at the Conference in Florida, was Brian. Since Florida, we’ve have some good conversations across Facebook messenger, and shared enough of our story to recognize we’ve dealt with some similar struggles. Since the conference last year, he has also grown towards a greater respect for the Lutheran distinctions of the faith. I remember saying to him in Florida that, though we didn’t hear the word “Lutheran”, much of what was being taught was Lutheran in content. I said it was as if this conference sent people back to their churches as little “stealth Lutherans”. That led to the many little conversations that we had over the past year, and him very recently deciding to find a Lutheran church to attend. Having the opportunity to hang out and share a burger with him was an encouragement to me, and when I say there wasn’t enough time in the weekend, this is the first proof of that. I’ve got a feeling we’ll get together again. As he carries a load that includes family, work, ministry, and continuing education, my prayer is that God continues to bear his load and encourage him going forward.
Between Kathy, Brian, Christ Hold Fast Creator, Pastor Dan Emery Price, and others, this Detroit Conference felt like coming home to friends for a weekend, but there is never enough time to catch up. I enjoyed making new friends, like Debbie and her husband Rodney, who graciously offered to help me when my tire went flat right before my drive home. It was awesome to meet Jim, another social “tweeter” and his lovely wife. Then there’s Matt, a Lutheran pastor I know on social media, who stopped by late just to say hi, and shake a hand. It truly felt like a glut of riches to be around like-minded people wanting to hear more about the grace of God, and the sweet message of the gospel.
But wait! There’s even MORE!
With respect to all those wonderful people I met during the conference, being in the Detroit area afforded me the opportunity to connect with even more people across social media. Of course, all these meets were done in public, because you know… “serial killers.” Outside of the conference, I go to check off two more former Knuckleheaded writers over the weekend, with another Twitter Lutheran, Mike, thrown in for good measure. It was a blessing to share a beer and whisky with Burg and Mike on Friday and Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations about life, family, theology in practice, and church. Late into my drive home on Sunday, I met up Dave, probably one of two of my first connections on twitter roughly four years ago. Many of us connected as we began to “lean” towards the Lutheran distinction of Christianity at roughly the same time. Getting to hang with him for even an hour was worth the 2:00 AM arrival at home. Have a said, “I wish I had more time?”
Despite the “I AM” statements that led the conference focus, I had my own thought about how to sum this weekend up.
Frankness is the quality of being open, honest, and direct in speech or writing. Because of time constraints, many of these conversations this weekend that might’ve begun with chit-chat or small talk, instead went straight to meatier issues. It doesn’t mean we solved them. It means we had a place, and person in front of us to voice them, and be heard. Whether it was worry about a job, changing churches, ALL the aspects of family life, good, bad and ugly, I could connect and relate more than sometimes anyone can on social media, though I don’t think it’s completely impossible. Every conversation was full of seriousness, as well as some laughter, and felt oddly comfortable considering the fact that some of them I was meeting in person for the very first time. There were times I didn’t like what I had heard, because it felt too normal, especially the struggles. But there was, at least for me, some relief there as well. There was relief to know, perfection REALLY isn’t a Christian requirement for life. Well, other than Christ’s perfection attributed to me.
I know it’s not a phrase found in the bible, but I think, because we, like Paul, wrestle with our sinful nature, and find hope in the finished work of Christ, “me too”, should be one of the greatest things a Christian can, and should say to another. Those two words can be a rescue from a life caught up in the solitude of thinking, “no one is going through what I am.” They don’t necessarily have to be stated in that specific way either. What I heard in one conversation after another, was nothing but “me too” over and again. I heard it in the struggles of life, and I heard in the acknowledge of God’s grace, which we need so often to hear. It’s the same “me too” I hear when Peter denies Christ, or Paul calls himself, “chief sinner.” But it’s the same “me too” I hear when Jesus still loves us enough to meet with us, and feed us fish, or when Paul is reminded that we are no longer condemned.
Whether you call it transparency or frankness, many have connected across social media, because it’s an element missing from their “real-world” lives. Sometimes it’s because of an awkward nature, and sometimes because of rural distances between people. Whatever the reason, there is a hope found across the internet that reminds us collectively that Christ is our rescue, and our hope. This is a collective that hears that message of hope, and can be encouraged by it to link arms as a group knowing there are others like them. People who hear what you are going through, and in some way can say, “me too”. People who hear of the rescuing work of the cross, and are encouraged in the faith to reach out to it, and say, “me too”.
The more of you I meet across social media, the more I’m convinced of two things; first, not everyone is a serial killer, or at least (completely) crazy, and second, all the “me too” statements have encouraged me to press on in the faith, because I know I don’t stand alone on an island. That is something for me that is sometimes hard to acknowledge.
If I could encourage you in one way, it would be to go out and make those connections, locally if possible, on social media if not. Be careful, for sure. Be wise, but like in any friendship or more, in that carefulness and wisdom, don’t be afraid to take a step.
By God’s Grace and His will, it would seem I have more road trips in my future. Iowa, Nevada, California, Arkansas, Alabama, Montana, the Carolinas, and who knows where else. Wherever life takes me, I look forward to more frank conversations.