On the outset of starting in 2004, we felt strongly about a few things—church should be uncompromisingly relational. We also felt that life with God should saturate all of life–not just an additional “God” area to a compartmentalized life. We used “merging God and life” language to get our head around all of life being God’s. These passions were enough to gather a few of us together to do community.
With a bent toward the contemplative–together, we explored an ancient faith that many of us had only sparingly accessed prior to our coming together. Reading, praying, listening, seeing the world, the other all began to take on a greater depth. We had awoken the voices of older Christ followers–mystics, desert fathers and mothers – we were discovering new language that resonated with us.
The arts–creativity and beauty, authentic expression of the deeper things of life–were shaping our coming together as well. Oklahoma City was in a renaisance of culture–and many of us felt it. We saw it a priveledge to meet, encourage, and follow local artists getting their start in a city not exactly known for openness and creativity (a perspective of outsiders—but, we know OKC is so overflowing with amazingly creative people). Convergence as a music/art venue emerged, giving reality to what we saw as a tangible way to encourage the arts in our beloved city. We only recently closed down our venue – in order to simplify our work. However, we are still a part of the arts – and seek to continue to encourage creativity in our city.
Relationships, an inward life, the arts, were all shaping us and completely reworking our understanding (or lack of understanding) of the church. We had a great conviction for the margins–the forgotten, avoided, the other. As a small community, we launched into a work that took us to the Himalayas–northern India. We also began to see life in our city differently–movement toward hospitality and solidarity was being forged in us. We solidified our city focus when we moved into a space in the Plaza District. A neighborhood in need meets a budding arts district and we had the priviledge of forging community life right in the middle of it all. Ideas and ideals now became faces and names that we would learn from, encourage, and simply make room for. Hospitality, welcoming the stranger as a family member; Solidarity, reshaping your life to feel deeply the life of others; and Awareness, a full-bodied seeing, knowing, sensing, and doing (Ron Martoia); were terms that became foundational to our language. It was at this time that the dream of caring for families and building solidarity through a high quality “free retail shop” was born. Currently, RETHREAD is taking a break – however, we are excited about seeking continued ways to care for and live alongside those in need in our city.
Through the years we have struggled with the identity of church. Not because we are ashamed or overly critical of it. It just seems that the idea and organization of “church” as it is generally experienced and understood leaves us longing for so much more. The church, we are confident, isn’t the center stage—it isn’t what we should burn our life out committing to. The debate on what church is and isn’t is of little concern to us–I guess it takes us back to the heart of why we began. It was, and is, about relationships colliding in ways that are transforming—and this is the God work (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) inherent in shared life and the work of awareness.
We grow increasingly uncomfortable with the limits of a ‘belief as the highest goal’ focus. Ron Martoia describes a spirituality that is obsessed with the right information going in, believing the right kind of life change will result, due to what he says is a spirituality shaped “in the mechanical, cause and effect, technology-has-a-fool-proof-answer kind of world.”
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” – paul, in first corinthians thirteen
As we continue to forge forward we are continually shaped by the notion that love and grace must be our mark. We gather together, still, believing that a conversation–listening to others (including those who love us and those who don’t like us, those we understand and those we don’t, those we see as friend and our enemy) can always be transforming. We come together hoping to live as ikons of God who is, in Gerald May’s words, “at once too immanently at one with us and too transcendently beyond us to be fully felt or appreciated in any normal way.”
This is our way forward–into both obscurity and hope–believing that gathering together
matters–that we can together embrace the restoration Jesus is so readily weaving into all of life.